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Poems in the Greenhouse

Yesterday was the perfect day to smell lilacs and pass under the white blooms of dogwoods on my way to the Smith College Greenhouse. The museum area is currently devoted to a show called From Petals to Paper: Poetic Inspiration from Flowers. Poems printed on placards and arranged according to flower types were selected by Liliana Farrel and Janna Scott, class of ’13, who were inspired by Annie Boutelle’s poetry workshop. Walls featured irises, tulips, and other spring flowers. The section on daffodils offered Wordsworth wandering lonely as a cloud, along with Robert Herrick, Amy Lowell, and Alicia Ostriker giving the flowers a political context. Poets including Li-Young, Mary Oliver, and Louise Gluck show flowers as solace, taunting, sensuous, exuberant, or demure.

A small room was devoted to Smith alum, Sylvia Plath. We see a draft of Among the Narcissi filled with cross-outs and new words, with still more lines and notes from an editor at The New Yorker, then we see it published in the magazine.

David Trinidad had given us a brief introduction to both Sylvia Plath and tulips in his amusing and profound poem The Red Parade. Here we find Sylvia Plath’s Tulips on the wall and can also listen to a recording on a television. The poem tells of a red gift in a stark hospital room at a time when the narrator felt as if of nurses were claiming her clothes, the anesthetist her history, and the surgeons her body, so that I believed the line near the end: “Tulips should be behind bars like dangerous animals.” I like the poem, but am glad I’m a person who can receive tulips and simply say “Thank you, what a gorgeous color!” The recording was made in 1961, two years before Plath would die by her own hand at age thirty, leaving two children.

This heart-tugging show is open until the first weekend of September.


I happen to be reading a lot of Plath right now, and enjoying spring flowers. So thank you for this!
Thanks, Jenn!
Interesting poem. Thanks. I think tulips symbolize the revival of life and hope after a bleak winter; they make me joyful.
It is a fascinating poem. But I'm with you - love tulips closed, then opening, and even as the petals fall.