14 November 2017

Letter in November: A London Postscript to the Sylvia Plath Conference

[This blog post was mostly written after/during too much to drink, at nearly "Midnight in the mid-Atlantic" on my flight back, back, back to Boston (not "On Deck", but far, far, back in coach...) ~pks]

I am so stupidly happy. After leaving Belfast, after such wonderful days at the Conference, after too many night of getting too little sleep, after meeting so many wonderful people and after having so many wonderful conversations, I had a long, six-hour layover in Heathrow airport before my connecting flight from Belfast to Boston. The idea of spending just about as much time in the airport as I would in the plane was unpalatable; so I decided it was worth the effort to zip into London for at least two hours; to make my way of course to Primrose Hill; to walk around and be beaten by wind, rain, air, sun: whatever the elements were offering that unknown day in the future when plans were made.

After learning that someone whom I have wanted to meet for years was unable to make the Sylvia Plath Conference in Belfast, Nick Smart and I coordinated to meet for a little walk about and lunch. Nick was at the Plymouth Uni talk back in March 2013 that Gail Crowther and I gave but had to bolt immediately after as he had traveled a long way to attend and have a long evening's, a long night's drive back home. To my delight Nick brought his wife (and most definitely his better half, sorry, Nick), Kathrine, and we three met at 3 Chalcot Square. A more perfect postscript to Maeve O'Brien's conference could not have been planned.

Plath's plaque is still very English Heritage blue; but the house is now pink. Previously yellow, lavendar (sic., to spell it like Plath did), and ages ago white, this soft color is the most, perhaps, befitting Plath's memory in the memory of the house. Having been previously in the flat I pointed out the bedroom window as well as the two living room windows. We walked the very short walk to 23 Fitzroy Road; now free of the scaffolding that enfolded it on my last couple of visits. The brick work is clearly clean; and the mid-autumn weather and sun could haven't been better than it was on this Remembrance Sunday to remember Sylvia Plath. The golden hue of the trees at Primrose Hill in at the end of the street were like a shock of daffodils, in a way.

We lunched at the Princess of Wales on the northeastern corner of the intersection of Chalcot Road and Fitzroy Road. A superb meal with excellent gossip and conversation about the conference --- oh! wouldn't you like to know! (like Plath's "Mirror"; I was "not cruel, only truthful")--- (As an aside, the Camden Pale Ale is brilliant).

After lunch we were going to re-stalk both Plath houses when I decided to slightly trespass at 3 Chalcot Square. I had remembered from my previous visit with Gail on 8 February 2014, that "Morton" was still listed as the occupant on the door buzzer for the attic flat. Morton being the surname of Mary, who is memorialized in several of Plath's letters but also perhaps more poignantly in Plath's "Leaving Early". I scooched up the walkway to the door and then exclaimed, "She's still listed"... though long deceased... and Nick and Kathrine came to look...

It was then the front door opened and the owner of the house appeared before us. Dr. Glover was as I remembered him from my first two meetings: jovial, friendly, welcoming. As it turned out, the flat on the second floor (third, American) was vacant and he invited us actually to tour the flat! He disappeared to find the keys and left us on our own. This feels like one of those strange Plath convergence-coincidences that I suspect we have all encountered at one time or another? And so, like the panther of "Pursuit", we three started "Coming up and up the stairs."

We unlocked the door and were faced with a nearly empty flat; barren of evidence of the lives I last encountered. It looked, as such, both bigger and smaller. We toured each room, looking at walls, ceilings, floors, windows, the pink flamingo shower curtain. The dust show where the tenants never cleaned; the floorboards creaked, the sun dazzled in the south facing kitchen windows and the Square burst with color of trees and grass and the painted faces of houses. It was a most unreal, but a very real experience to be back in these rooms in a situation that could never, ever, have been imagined after the last memorable time.

Stairs from ground floor

Stair landing

Bedroom doorway into hall,
where TH set up a card table to write


Bedroom (living through door on right)

The living room

Living room from Kitchen
Kitchen from hallway, ©Nick Smart

Kitchen, ©Nick Smart

Nick and me
Dr. Glover came to check on us as only was right to do as we had been in the flat, flabberghasted with confused surreal delight, for 15 or so minutes. In the back of my mind was "I have to get back to Heathrow", but it was the last thing I could for myself to do, to willingly leave this space. He told us a few anecdotes and then we descended the carpeted stairs, in shock, in awe, in the aura of Plath. I was kindly driven to Paddington (after too kindly being treated to lunch) where we said our too-soon goodbyes. But it was perhaps the best possible, most purely lucky postscript one might get to what was a impossible to believe dream of a conference in Belfast.

Left view from living room window

View looking straight down from living room window

Right view (towards Fitzroy Road) from living room window

Work, the next day, within twelve hours of touching down at Boston Logan, was an insult.

What I hope though, is that these photographs and this exceedingly dodgy video, conveys some of the space of this house, of this ghostly, living archive...

Here is a two or so minute video from inside the flat. I apologize if the quality is awful:

All links accessed: 14 November 2017.

13 November 2017

Sylvia Plath Conference Summary by Bella Biddle

There are two many things that Bella Biddle is to try to define her. Meeting her at the Sylvia Plath conference in Belfast, hearing her paper, and a choral composition of "Nick and the Candlestick" was a definite highlight.

Bella kindly wrote up some summary thoughts of two panels on the second day that she attended and I cannot express how grateful I am for this as it provides a concrete review of talks I would have liked to have heard.  Without further ado:

For the 11:30 panel, I opted for Panel A: 'Now there are these veils' which saw Cathleen Allyn Conway, Georg Nöffke and Dr Gary Leising discussing theoretical interpretations of Plath's poetry. Cathleen discussed the vampiric identity Plath builds for herself in poems such as 'Lady Lazarus', comparing them to vampires from Bram Stoker's Lucy to Drusilla from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She discussed the issues of consent and empowerment vampirism provokes in literature, and described how she uses found phrases from Sylvia Plath's canon to create her own "franken-poems", which were both moving and enlightening. Georg Nöffke's paper - "Dying As an Art: Performing Suffering, Suffering the Performance of Death in Sylvia Plath's 'Lazy Lazarus'" gave us an insightful overview as to how Plath's death might be interpreted as her rejection of a patriarchal society. Dr Gary Leising finished the panel with great flair, exploring Plath's use of synedoche, and the way that Plath breaks down her body in poems such as 'Daddy', and prompting some great discussions in the subsequent panel as to how Plath might have used her own poems as synedoche within her collections.

At 14:45, I attended the panel; "Personal Reflections: A Safe Space to talk about what Sylvia Plath means to us as fans and readers" which was nothing if not intensely moving for all of us. Alexandra Davis spoke beautifully on her experience as both a student and a teacher, and how the ways we teach Plath can impact children both for better and worse. Lisa Wagoner read a personal essay, documenting the emotional and academic impacts Plath's poetry had on her as a person, and showed us her "I am I am I am" tattoo - which Anna Dykta recognised from her blog! Finally, Jennifer L. Reiger read an excerpt from her essay "You Mean Ted Hughes' Wife?" which had the entire room misty eyed. The subsequent discussion was rich and personal, as the audience attempted to tackle the ways we feel about Plath emotionally. From the way that we all feel so personally linked to her, and yet are aware that love for Plath is so common as can fill a conference, to the way that we fetishise and/or elevate her work, her life, her death, it was the most sensitive and raw talk of the conference so far.

Thank you so much, Bella! If anyone else wants to contribute their own commentaries, thoughts, reviews, of any aspect of the Conference please just get in touch!

All links accessed 13 November 2017.

12 November 2017

Sylvia Plath: Letters Words and Fragments Conference, Ulster, Day 2

What is better than the first day of a Sylvia Plath Conference? Maybe the second day. However this time the second day was also the last day and as such this is both joyful and tearful.

In theory with a later start to the day many could have slept in. I know for me this was not the case; and I know for some they stayed up late making revisions to their still-to-be-given papers. I was going to again rehearse my own, but decided against it. Day One was so spectacular in large part because all the panels ran in succession, or, because there was nothing concurrent from which to make choices. Day two featured those choices that had to be made and so I have only my own perspectives from the panels I sat in on to discuss here. If anyone out there wants to write a summary of the panels that heard -- even if it is one I mention here -- please sent me some text.

The first panel of the day I heard as Panel A "Sylvia Plath and..." which is a great title. Chaired by Emily Van Duyne, the presenters were Sarah Fletcher (Influence of Anne Sexton on Plath, formally), Di Beddow (Plath and Cambridge), and Mélody Sánchez Camacho (Plath and Atwood). Each of these presenters enraptured us with their work on Plath and [a variety of topics].  I particularly enjoyed learning new connections between Plath and Sexton and Plath and Atwood (neither of whom I've read much). Sarah Fletcher illustrated the really unfair way that Plath has been lauded but Sexton ignored or shunned in large part to their educational backgrounds but yet that Sexton was in some ways ahead of Plath and was able to teach her. Di's project on Plath and Cambridge is up my alley and she seeks to charts the relationship between Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath at the beginning; a sort of reparation. The subject of Mélody's talk, a comparative study of "corpse" poems, might be a bit morbid, perhaps, but I was enthralled to see her findings and connections between Plath and Atwood in their poems. Thank you all for sharing your time and work with us.

There is much great work being done on Sylvia Plath at the moment and these bright young scholars will keep Plath studies interesting, relevant and progressing.

The second and panels may have been the toughest as there were three from which to choose. I opted for Panel B here because Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus seemed to blitzkrieg Belfast with three of the four panelists from that school. The fourth presenter was from Ball State, in it was essentially an Indianapalooza. Dr Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick, Bailey Burnett, Brandi Rund, and Courtney Watkins spoke on "Teaching and Learning in Sylvia Plath Studies and Women's Studies: Community Engagement, Digital Humanities, and Service Learning". This was chaired by Amanda Golden who has long been interested in and held, I think, a leadership role in Plath and pedagogy. Seeing the work that students and doing with research and how this is being expressed through exhibits and other events in community engagement and service learning is inspiring. Educators must nurture this; this is vital work.

Lunch was a mob-scene of food and talk and book sales and signing so I came in late, wiping my lips, to the third section this day I decided to sit in on Panel A "Plath as Cultural Currency: Advertising, Clothing and Film" chaired by Danielle K. Nelson and featuring talks by Dr Jonathan Ellis (Plath as punchline), Nicola Presley (Plath, television, and TV advertising), and Rebecca C. Tuite (Plath, self-identity and sleepwear). I was torn as I love The Bell Jar and wanted to see that too; but these papers in Panel A were I think less familiar to me. I loved loved loved each of these talks. Ellis took on those who, I think, were critics of Plath and dismissive of aspects of her production. I missed the first part of it so that's what I'm fuzzy here. It's certainly my loss. Nic Presley's energy and enthusiasm on Plath and television was delightful and her talk looked at "The Wishing Box" and "Child", but showed bits from Plath's journals and The Bell Jar, too. Rebecca C. Tuite show Plath's and her sleepwear as a student, mother, and writer. Illustrated with tons of examples from magazines about the things which Plath was reading and seeing and quite likely also wearing. Thoroughly impressed with each of these talks; the ranges of subjects on the whole was inspiring.

I am sorry to say that I missed the fourth panel as I did in the end decide to get some quiet time to prepare for the keynote talk that I was giving with Karen V. Kukil. So, if anyone would like to send something in about their experiences, impressions, and reactions to these please please please do so. I am certain the readers of this blog would enjoy it.

The Conference closed with talks by Karen and me on Plath's Letters. It was particularly thrilling for me to sit in on the papers and hear how so many people had already made use of the letters for their presentations. It also makes me feel that many of them were written really in the last few weeks since the book has not been out for that long!

Karen spoke most eloquently on "Beyond Letters Home: Sylvia Plath's Unabridged Correspondence".  Karen gave a history of how Letters Home came into being and her own history with regards to editing Plath's Journals and the set up and structure for editing the letters. Karen expertly illustrated Plath's different voices to her correspondents and show that these letters are an art form, pieces carefully and conscientiously constructed with all her thought and energy. My own talk was called "Sylvia Plath's Letters and Traces". I spoke for about twenty minutes on my role in the editorial process and then spent the last ten minutes showing the work I did on that piece of carbon typing paper I found at the Lilly Library with hidden, lost Plath poems impressed into it. I hope it went over well.

Following the talks we had a Q & A with conference organizer and Plath scholar Maeve O'B'rien. And, following that a closing wine reception in the Foyer (though I never made it out there: I'm grateful to Maeve for bringing the wine to me).

In the reception and in fact over the course of the conference, I met so many kind people and felt I really got a good handle on names, faces, and projects. It is an exciting time in Sylvia Plath studies and an event like this shows that Plath's works and words do and have and will, as she writes in "Context", traveled "farther than a lifetime."

Showing all day in the Foyer was a PowerPoint slideshow that I made showing Plath's life in photographs. When I initially conceived of the idea to do this I thought "Oh, I'll assemble everything and it'll be about 100 images." I was wrong. There are more than 300 of them (and some slides and two to four images!). Jonathan Stephenson suggested five second per photo which meant the loop took about thirty minutes to cycle through. Hope it was enjoyable.

After the conference officially concluded many went for pizza and/or drinks nearby. I was able to have a nice quiet dinner with Gail Crowther and catch-up with her. Afterwards we joined many in the loud Duke of York pub for many drinks. I planned to stay until 10, so when I got home at 1 am I was mightily confused at how the time fly by. Chatting all night with Gail, Emily, Georg, Stephanie, Anna, Sarah, Bella, Mélody, Maeve, Gary, Jonathan, Katherine, and anyone I missed out on was outstanding. Lots of laughs, lots of Plath, lots of Guinness and wine and other drinks whose names I know not. Here's a few of us at the end of the night: Bella, me, and Mélody. Hope you don't mind my sharing it! Sorry I look like a dork.

Sadly, now, many of us are headed back to our homes after a vibrant few days in the city of Belfast. Maeve O'Brien was a star, the hosting facilities were comfortable, and the city was under chilly and occasional rain but was welcoming. For many of us it was our first time in Belfast and I could not be more impressed with its buildings, culture, pubs, and people. Hope everyone has smooth, safe, and on time travels home. Thank you so much Maeve. Thank you Jonathan! Thank you Eilish. Thank you everyone else whose names I do not know. Thank you Ulster University. Thank you Belfast. And thank you to all the people that registered, presented, and made these last few days memorable. Thank you again, Maeve.

11 November 2017

Sylvia Plath: Letters Words and Fragments Conference, Ulster, Day 1

Being at a Sylvia Plath Conference often means you end up, quite quickly, in a stupor of over-stimulation from the talks. This conference is, thus, typical. Even the act of collecting my name tag and programme took on a kind of wonder as you meet people that you have emailed with or conversed with over social media. This is what happened when I met Eilish, who was on the desk helping out (and doing a wonderful job of it).

The first panel of the day after some introductory remarks by Dr. Thomas Maguire was "Leaving Traces: Archives and Biographies" and featured four speakers: Danielle K. Nelson, Dr Amanda Golden, Dr Gail Crowther, and Christine Walde. And I cannot fathom a better start to it. I wish I had the expertise and composure Danielle has when I was her age. Her exploration of the "I" in Plath's Journals and problems of biography. Amanda revealed a never-before-seen photograph of Plath in Rome before turning tables to discuss a typographical error in "Blackberrying" that persists to this day. Gail Crowther wowed the crowed with a discussion of the Living Archive. Christine Walde discoursed on the annotations made by readers of Sylvia Plath's poems and had a small exhibit of them on the wall.  It was a thrill to chair this panel even though I had little idea of what to do and how to do it

Chaired by Jonathan Stephenson, panel two was "Visualising Plath's Poetry: Artistic Critiques and Responses". The speakers here, Dr Ikram Hili (Poems as watercolour paintings), Carmen Bonasera (Ariel, chromatic & natural imagery), and Bella Biddle (Plath and art) concentrated convincingly on the use of color in Plath's poems. I really could have listened to each the entire day, only, as I know they each only scratched the surface on these topics. Bella Biddle played a beautiful choral composition of "Nick and the Candlestick" which hauntingly swirls in my head at this very moment.

The third panel was chaired by Gail Crowther and had just two exciting speakers: Julia Gordon-Bramer on Plath and Whiteness and Siana Bangura on "Black Women Don't Get to Confess": Sylvia Plath re-read through a Black Feminist framework. These talks were interesting and lead to lunch.

After lunch, panel four considered Aurelia Schober Plath. The papers by Dr Adrianne Kalfopoulou (making of the Plathian voice), Catherine Rankovic (Aurelia Plath's Gregg shortland annotations), and Dr Janet Badia (mother-daughter intimacy in the archive) was better and more energizing than coffee. I am fairly certain my jaw hit he floor every few minutes during these presentations. It seems there is a lot of interest in Aurelia Schober Plath and got the impression people are just beginning to scratch the surface of her as a woman, as a wife, and as a mother.

Nicola Presley chaired the Ted Hughes panel which you might think was mean. But she was awesome as were the four talks by Dr Carrie Smith (Manuscript drafts of Ted Hughes' Cave Birds), Dr Mark Wormald (Plath, Hughes, Wevill, pikes and shrikes); Terry Gifford (Hughes editing Plath's "Child") and Dr Holly Ranger (Plath in Tales from Ovid). I cannot say anything about these papers other than they blew me away. It was a particular highlight to meet each of the speakers as I knew their names and read their work but never come across them. In the end, initially, the audience was left speechless. I was a bit agitated as during Gifford's talk I recognized that his paper and conclusions were faulty and discussed this with him privately, afterwards, as I could not muster courage or what have you to do so to within earshot of the assembled audience.

The sixth and last panel of the day, chaired by organizer Maeve O'Brien was 'Gaslighting' Sylvia Plath: Critical Responses / New Directions and was spirited. The presenters were Peter Fydler (publishing watershed in 1975-1976), Dr Tim Hancock (Another 'Ariel'), Dr Chiara Luis (ripping apart the excessive reaction to Plath by Terry Castle), and Emily Van Duyne (Plath, Hughes and literary abuse). Each convincingly discussed their topics, often with humor, which was much appreciated at the end of the long day.

Overall, it was fantastic to meet and see so many people, talk Plath (and Hughes) (and other stuff) and spend good quality time with like minded folks. Dinner, hosted in the Native, was lovely with great food, excellent drinks, and of course over-stimulating conversation (which somehow morphed into a brief discuss of Hobbits procreating... but do not ask me how we got there).

So many people were tweeting about the day so make sure to look at #sylviaplath2017 in the Twitter.

Registration for Day 2 of the Conference starts in about three hours...

All links accessed 11 November 2017.

10 November 2017

Sylvia Plath: Letters Words and Fragments Conference

Today begins the Ulster University Conference: Sylvia Plath: Letters Words and Fragments. The conference was organized by Maeve O'Brien and a massive thank you is due to her for that.

Last night there was a pre-conference meet-up a the Sunflower on Union Street. Though it was raining there were some 20 or so people there. New faces, familiar faces and lots of camaraderie. 

Look for conference updates here throughout the two days of the event, I hope. But certainly by next week after everything is said and done and processed. 

07 November 2017

General Sylvia Plath Info Blog Update

Well, things have been kind of crazy for the last six weeks or so. With the publication of The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1: 1940-1956 in the UK and the US, and then participating in one event, following other events, looking for reviews, etc. it is not hard to imagine why! But I wanted to give a general update at this point in time on a few things.

First up, those reviews: I have started to list review of the Letters on my website for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is. in the "Reviews of works by Sylvia Plath" page. This will be updated as I learn of reviews. The good people at Faber and HarperCollins have sent several to me which is wonderful. If you know of any not list please do let me know about it. I do not read them all but it will be helpful I think to have them tracked.

In August and September I did three posts on "The Education of Sylvia Plath", looking at her courses and writings for each academic year: 1950-1951, 1951-1952, and 1952-1953. I do have two more posts planned so fear not! Those will appear before too long.

One thing I have not blogged about since 10 April of this year is the Belfast Conference: Sylvia Plath: Letters, Words, Fragments. The programme was recently made available and it looks positively, mind-bogglingly awesome. This is the fourth major international Plath conference following ones held at Indiana University in 2002 and 2012, and one held in Oxford in 2007. Just a few of us will have been to all four of them and what I find most awesome is how each conference produces a new crop of people with unique tastes, interests, and perspectives. Maeve O'Brien deserves major congratulations for organizing the conference. I am leaving tonight for the conference and hope to blog about Belfast and the presentations. If you are attending and want to write up your observations and feeling about anything in a guest post, please do reach out to me there or via email!

After The Letters of Sylvia Plath were published I decided to treat myself to a purchase or two. I did not know what I was going to buy, but them stumbled on a publication that I did not previously know about.

In their Spring 1978 issue, Antaeus published two poems by Plath: "Stings (2)" and "Words heard, by accident, over the phone". The poems appear on pages 41 and 42 respectively. These are missing from Stephen Tabor's otherwise excellent Annotated Bibliography and were the first periodical publications for each (both did appear in the limited edition Pursuit, published in 1973). The cover and poems are both now on my website.

The other purchase I made was the November 1965 issue of Mademoiselle which printed Plath's poem "November Graveyard." A mostly random publication of this poem, for sure.

Since I drafted this blog I got another special treat and will blog about that later on in the month.

With the end of the year fast approaching it is time to start trying to make sense of Sylvia Plath in 2017. This year has seemed a convoluted whirlwind of activity for me. What about for you? I will try to summarize the year as I have done in the past with a Year in Review piece.

Additionally, I look forward to some updates to my website that I hope you will like in early 2018. Speaking of 2018: did you know that my website will be 20 years old in 2018? Twenty!

All links accessed 28 October 2017.

03 November 2017

Sylvia Plath short story at Bonhams Auction

Bonhams, London, is auctioning a seven page typescript copy of Sylvia Plath's 1949 short story "The Dark River" on 15 November 2017. Lot 239 is expected to reach £600-800/US$ 800-1,100.

The Lilly Library holds two typescript copies of Plath's "The Dark River". The first copy is the top sheet; the auction copy here being its carbon. The Second copy at Lilly was typed later and reflects the changes suggested by the red pencil annotations on the auction copy.

If anyone buys this for me I will be quite grateful.

Thanks to Jonathan Bate for informing me about the auction.

All links accessed 26 October and 2 November 2017.

01 November 2017

Two New Books on Sylvia Plath's Poetry

Poet, writer, teacher, and tarot card reader Julia Gordon-Bramer has recently published two books on Sylvia Plath's poetry.

Author of many essays on Plath and the book Fixed Stars Govern A Life: Decoding Sylvia Plath (Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2015), Julia is at work on a series of "Decoding Sylvia Plath" books that each explore a single poem.

The series expands upon her Fixed Stars Govern A Life findings, in a more conversational, playful tone. Each book focuses on a single poem, starting with what Julia thinks of as Plath's "greatest hits."

"Decoding Sylvia Plath" explains some of the more complicated and tough concepts in her earlier monograph using simple analogies. Julia especially wants students and young people to see how much there is to Plath's work, and since she has been teaching these for a couple of years now at Lindenwood University, she includes a complete class plan at the end of each book.

The first in the series is Decoding Sylvia Plath's "Daddy": Discover the Layers of Meaning Beyond the Brute published by Magi Press on 6 October 2017.

The second book in the series, Decoding Sylvia Plath's "Lady Lazarus": Freedom's Feminine Fire, was just published, also by Magi Press, on 23 October 2017.

Julia will be presenting a paper on "Sylvia Plath and Whiteness" at the Sylvia Plath conference in Belfast on 10 November 2017.

All links accessed 28 and 30 October 2017.

27 October 2017

Guest Blog Post: Sheila Hamilton on The Letters of Sylvia Plath

The following is a guest blog post by Sheila Hamilton on the recent publication of The Letters of Sylvia Plath. In the spirit of full disclosure, I supplied to Sheila the parenthetical count of letters addressed to Aurelia Schober Plath. ~pks

Like many people, I was very pleased (understatement) when I heard on this very blog that Peter K.Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil were busy at work on a book of Sylvia Plath's letters. The book was going to be in two volumes, it was going to encompass letters from her early childhood to her tragic death at the age of 30, and it was going to contain her letters to many different people: mother, husband, other relatives, girlfriends, boyfriends, colleagues, editors. It was clear from that first announcement that the publication of these letters was going to be a major event. Vol. 2 is, I understand, currently in the pipeline but as of October 2017, and on both sides of the Atlantic, we have Vol 1, brought out by Faber in the United Kingdom and by HarperCollins in the United States.

I have the British version in front of me as I write this: excluding the extensive Index, this hardback runs to 1,330 pages and can safely be described as "monumental." The first letter in it is dated February 19th 1940 and was written when Plath was seven, to her father; the last one was written on October 23rd 1956 to Peter Davison, an editor and former boyfriend, four months after Plath's marriage to Ted Hughes. Between these two points exist 836 more letters. No project of this kind could possibly be expected to contain every single letter Plath wrote during these 16 years and, sure enough, there are absences. There are very few letters here to her penfriend from college years, Eddie Cohen: (an ex-wife destroyed most of them.) There are very few to Richard Sassoon, and those that are presented here are self-consciously "literary in tone" ("Words revolve in flame and keep the coliseum heart afire, reflecting orange sunken suns in the secret petals of ruined arches" begins one letter from November 1955.) Such gaps in the record are inevitable. But what we are given here is magnificent, a treasure-trove for anyone interested in Plath, and twentieth-century poetry, and academic and literary life in America and England in the 1950s. Because many of the letters are long and very detailed, you can read them as a kind of Bildungsroman, chapters in the life of an interesting and gifted young woman.

When I first suggested to Peter that I would like to write a guest blog in response to the letters, the Letters had not yet arrived. I thought I might like to focus on some of Plath's many friendships, or on the letters written leading up to (and possibly even during) her serious breakdown in 1953: the possibilities are almost endless. But fascinating though those letters are, I have been left feeling that I don't want to create an Elephant in the Room. The Elephant being, put bluntly, Sylvia Plath's relationship with her mother, Aurelia Schober Plath. If Letters Home, edited by Aurelia Plath herself in the mid-1970s, hinted (unconsciously, for the most part) at a troubled mother-daughter relationship, these "new" letters more than confirm our misgivings. That Plath wrote letters to her mother is not in itself remarkable. But the sheer number of them is. (There are 550 total letters to ASP in V1. 549 to ASP as a sole recipient and 1 to ASP and Warren Plath, jointly.) And what's most troubling, to this reader at least, is the tone in which these particular letters are written. A breathless, anxious tone which strongly suggests a terrible and terrifying need to please. There is little that Plath does not share with her mother, even details about dates, physical descriptions of the various boys she meets. We get the entire curriculum of Smith College in minute detail: lots of essay titles, lots of detail about the essays themselves and then, most importantly, the grades. We hear, too often for it to be healthy, all about finances, down to piddling details about the cost of a pair of shoes or a cup of coffee. All this is, as they say, telling. And we hear about achievement or rather, Achievement. It will not be news to Plath enthusiasts that Plath was an overachiever but what comes through here, very loud and clear, is that she overachieved vicariously, too! Though Plath does describe various boyfriends physically, what she homes in on even more is the academic prowess of these young men. One is aiming for Harvard, another is bound for Yale, still others are on Fulbright programmes or in receipt of Guggenheim grants. Somehow the daughter has to tell all this because, somehow, the mother needs to know it all, needs to know that her daughter is top of the class, summa cum laude and, what's more, associating with a whole array of people who are also top of the class and summa cum laude. Ultimately, the message that such a child gets is: I will only love you because of your achievements. Do what you choose but make sure it's what I want.

There is so much to enjoy in this volume: Plath's holiday jobs, her first term in Cambridge, her travels to Paris and the South of France, the interesting and interested letters to a German penfriend Hans-Joachim Neupert which reveal how Plath's political and historical awareness was in place as early as her teens ("We saw some colored slides of the ruins in large German towns last Sunday, and they were a sad contrast to the jolly story in your letters."). But the heart breaks, too, as we see more clearly than previously some of the stresses that Plath was up against all her life.

All links accessed 26 October 2017.

23 October 2017

Faber Reissues Sylvia Plath's Crossing the Water and Winter Trees

The Letters of Sylvia Plath may have dominated your attention this autumn, but Faber and Faber reissued two classic Sylvia Plath poetry books on 5 October: Crossing the Water and Winter Trees.

Both of these first appeared in England in 1971 and serve as a bridge of poems between The Colossus and Ariel to Plath's growing legions of readers and fans. The contents of these editions varies between England and the US and it is all really rather too involved to go into now for the purpose of this blog post, which is to encourage you to buy these two books!

Faber's reissue reset the text for both books and made other house-style changes such as, for example, bringing their covers up to their current design. They are gorgeously sleek and clean looking. You can see the historical covers over on my main website for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is.

One small change to note, though, involved updating the poem title of "Small Hours" to "Barren Woman". The poem was originally published as "Small Hours" in the London Magazine (August 1961) and later in the 1971 edition of Crossing the Water. However, in Plath's Collected Poems (1981) the title changed to "Barren Woman". At some point between its appearance in London Magazine and her death, Plath renamed "Small Hours" to "Barren Woman". The title change is reflected, Karen V. Kukil has observed, in the typescript of Ariel Plath prepared before her death.

You can buy both books on Faber's website, or via Amazon.co.uk (Crossing the Water and Winter Trees), and through other book retailers.

All links accessed: 17 and 18 October 2017.
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Publications & Acknowledgements

  • BBC Four.A Poet's Guide to Britain: Sylvia Plath. London: BBC Four, 2009. (Acknowledged in)
  • Biography: Sylvia Plath. New York: A & E Television Networks, 2005. (Photographs used)
  • Connell, Elaine. Sylvia Plath: Killing the angel in the house. 2d ed. Hebden Bridge: Pennine Pens, 1998. (Acknowledged in)
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 3." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 119-138.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012: 11-56.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past." Plath Profiles 6. Summer 2013: 27-62.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives." Plath Profiles 2. Summer 2009: 183-208.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017.
  • Death Be Not Proud: The Graves of Poets. New York: Poets.org. (Photographs used)
  • Doel, Irralie, Lena Friesen and Peter K. Steinberg. "An Unacknowledged Publication by Sylvia Plath." Notes & Queries 56:3. September 2009: 428-430.
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Helle, Anita Plath. The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. (Photographs used, acknowledged in)
  • Helle, Anita. "Lessons from the Archive: Sylvia Plath and the Politics of Memory". Feminist Studies 31:3. Fall 2005: 631-652.. (Acknowledged in)
  • Holden, Constance. "Sad Poets' Society." Science Magazine. 27 July 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women, Motion Picture. Directed by Rachel Talbot. Brookline (Mass.): Jewish Women's Archive, 2007. (Photograph used)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Karen V. Kukil. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. (Acknowledged in)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, 1940-1956. London: Faber, 2017. Forthcoming.
  • Plath, Sylvia. Glassklokken. Oslo: De norske Bokklubbene, 2004. (Photograph used on cover)
  • Reiff, Raychel Haugrud. Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar and Poems (Writers and Their Works). Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2008.. (Images provided)
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'A Fetish: Somehow': A Sylvia Plath Bookmark." Court Green 13. 2017.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'I Should Be Loving This': Sylvia Plath's 'The Perfect Place' and The Bell Jar." Plath Profiles 1. Summer 2008: 253-262.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "A Perfectly Beautiful Time: Sylvia Plath at Camp Helen Storrow." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 149-166.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Proof of Plath." Fine Books & Collections 9:2. Spring 2011: 11-12.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "The Persistence of Plath." Fine Books & Collections. Autumn 2017: 24-29
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "This is a Celebration: A Festschrift for The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3 Supplement. Fall 2010: 3-14.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.