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Letters About Literature National Winners 2003

National Winner, Level 3: Abby Swegarden


I wish you more happiness than you got out of life. You deserved the best. I wonder if you saw my mom and I reading you when I was younger, and me not understanding a word of it. I wonder if you saw the words swimming in my head as a stupid 11-year-old. I wonder if you saw me reading your book of poems in the psych ward at Prairie Psychiatric Hospital, and wondering how I could've been so blind to your brilliance as a child.

But, what I really wonder, is how you could even think of belittling yourself as much as you did in your writing, and as much as you did in your life. I believe it takes time to love yourself, as most people. But you didn't even try. YOU DIDN'T EVEN TRY. You knew how brilliant the Ariel poems were when you were writing them, and what I don't understand is why you didn't both to stick around to see how much the world could relate to them. I dont' understand how you could leave what you worked so hard for in a heap of embarrassment and nothingness. I dont' understand how you could know that they were so inspiring and amazing, and not even both to live out the praise you would've gotten for them. I do not understand that.

But. At the same time, I do. I've been there. I understand what happens and what I feels like when all you want to do is take the knife in the kitchen and open your veins until all you can feel is blood seeping out. I understand that it doesn't matter that the one thing keeping you alive before can do absolutely nothing for you anymore. I understand that you can try so hard to care about something, and it slips through your fingers like silk. I understand how you can't believe in anything anymore, not even the thing that made you famous or that made you love so long ago (even though it was probably just days, even weeks) and, I understand how everything can change in a mere second.

So maybe I don't know what I'm trying to say. Maybe all this letter is is a letter of selfishness because I still want more. Because I didn't' want to see you, an amazing writer and someone who could reach the depths of the darkness of my heart so easily it hurt to breathe just disappear like that. Like I did. I didn't know what to do with myself, and you probably didn't either. But I do remember sitting in the living room and telling my mother I would like to meet you one day, and she would tell me I couldn't. I would ask why, and she would say "because . . . because, you just can't. She doesn't exist anymore." And I would leave it at that, because there was nothing else to say. I would listen to her read everything form "Daddy" to "Mad Girl's Lovesong" (that was my favorite, Iwould read it over and over again. And what's funny is it's retained its original authenticity in my life and has played a huge part in analyzing every relationship I've ever had. They all fit into that poem. Every one.) And I would fall in love with every word. I couldn't help myself.

So today is a day that I am remembering what you gave me. You helped me to shape my childhood and you helped to shape the person I was Last Summer, the girl with red arms and tears stained onto every one of her days. You helped me come out of that, and you helped me realize that wishing someone was alive doesn't do anything for you, or for that person. It just makes you long for them. I tjust makes you miss soemthing that you can't have even more. You, and life in general, taught me that you have to just accept things, like yourself, and just move on. You have to do it in order to simply survive. To live from day to day. You have to realize that no amount of scars on your arms or of Tylenol in your upset stomach is going to make things better. Only you can do that, and only you. You're all you've got.

I'll give you something in closing. I love these. And I think, if you were to have survived, you would, too. I wish you great happiness, wherever you are. You mean everything to me . . . sometimes.

It just gets hard to believe
That god sent this angel to watch over me
Cause my angel
She don't receive my calls
Says I'm too dumb to . . .
Too dumb to fight
Too dumb to save
Well, maybe I don't need no angel at all.

Abby Swegarden

What the Judges Had to Say About Abby's Letter

I love her passion, her desperation in the face of realizing Plath gave up, depriving her (and the world) of more work. She truly speaks directly to Plath, taking risks as well." (Suzanne Barchers, Managing Editor, Weekly Reader Corporation)

Incredibly personal opening paragraph that urges the reader to read on, to learn more about this letter writer. In paragraph two, the use of repetition "I do not understand" is a point of emphasis, of rhetoric, and not of lack of imaginative writing. It helps to express the writer's frustrations and helps the reader to understand that frustration. Then to follow in paragraph with a similar construction, the repetition of "I understand" reveals the writer's real dilemma I get but I don't; I get it but I reject it. The concluding verse mirrors this theme, providing a tightness to what may at first appear to be a rambling stream of consciousness. Rather, this writer has planned what she wanted to say and how she would say it and does so with powerful prose that is at times painfully honest. (Catherine Gourley, National Director, LAL Reading Promotion Program)