20 April 2017

The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath: In Boston

Gail Crowther's recently published The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath (Stroud: Fonthill Media, 2017) is a book I hope many people buy and read. As I was a participant in the book, I do not feel comfortable reviewing it. I do, however, feel I can promote it. The Haunted Reader is about Sylvia Plath, but also about her readers. I think in the stories Gail collected and tells, that each one of us may find a similar thing happened when you first started reading Sylvia Plath. And the wonderful thing is, even with those similarities there are more than likely significant differences in how each of us came to Plath and how we all read and react to her work.

When Gail's first book, Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning came out I took a copy of the book all around Boston and Wellesley with me photographing it in various places and situations. I decided to do the same with her recent work, though scaled back just a bit.

Here is Gail's book hanging out with some friends.


The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath considered going into the Christian Science Church, but in the end the day was too nice not to be outside.



However it was not nice enough outside to deny ourselves some refreshments -- a nice French Roast coffee, black and scalding just like Plath liked it, and a chocolate chip cookie -- at Oakleaf Cakes on Westland Avenue.


In the process of wandering around Boston's Back Bay and Fenway area, I discovered that her publisher Fonthill had already embarked on a massive promotional campaign for the book, in advance of its scheduled availablity in the US on Amazon.com on 21 April 2017.

Here is a big poster on a brick wall near the Berklee College of Music, which is home to the worst-dressed college students in the country. Thank goodness Plath is classing it up a bit with her awesomeness.


Not to be outdone, the cover was screen-printed to cover twenty or so stories of the south-west facing side of the John Hancock Tower.


All frivolity aside, Gail's book is a unique approach to Sylvia Plath and I hope you enjoy it.

All links accessed 21 March 2017.

12 April 2017

The Harriet Rosenstein Sylvia Plath archive, Update

The internet got an interesting story yesterday and today in "Unseen Sylvia Plath letters claim domestic abuse by Ted Hughes" authored by Danuta Kean of The Guardian which saw "Ted Hughes" trending on Twitter. Today, it's "#NationalGrilledCheeseDay".

Ms Kean contacted me through a friend and we discussed the sudden presence of the Harriet Rosenstein Sylvia Plath archive which I blogged about on 10 March and its disappearance by 18 March. However, Ms Kean uncovered that the archive was removed because of a pending legal concern.

Kean's article was instantly picked up by a number of other news sources, and some of the facts from it were even more quickly transformed into complete untruth.

The following are articles, listed in no particular order, that I have found on it in varying degrees of veracity. If any new articles appear they will be listed below.

Unfortunately at this time I can just compile the stories as they appear. I am not in a position to be able to comment on them.

All links accessed 11 and 12, 16 April 2017.

10 April 2017

CFP: Sylvia Plath: Letters, Words and Fragments

Dr. Maeve O'Brien (aka theplathdiaries) has announced a Call For Papers for two-day symposium to celebrate the release of The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1 at The MAC and Ulster University Belfast, 10-11th November, 2017.

The symposium title is Sylvia Plath: Letters, Words and Fragments and will be held at Ulster University, Belfast, Northern Ireland, from 10-11 November 2017. This is terrifically exciting. And that is an understatement.

Papers are encouraged but not limited to the following subjects:

- (Re)reading and recuperating Plath
- Published/unpublished Plath
- Plath and her archives
- Plath and her correspondences
- Plath and friendship
- Plath and biography
- Ecocriticism
- Representations of Plath in popular culture
- Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath
- Plath, her peers and literary influences
- Feminism and Plath
- Plath and Whiteness
- Queering Plath
- Plath and place
- Plath and voice

Papers from all disciplines are welcome - with full panels and artistic contributions especially encouraged. Please send proposals of no more than 350 words by Monday, 31 July 2017.

Please visit the conference website. You can look for updates on Twitter or Facebook. Maeve can be contacted via email, too.

All links accessed 5 April 2017.

06 April 2017

Ex-libris Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes Book For Sale

A rare book recently appeared for sale that is not for the faint of wallet. Offered by Blakeney Griffin Booksellers of London, this copy of the anthology Light Blue, Dark Blue (1960) comes from the Estate of Olwyn Hughes.

Some of the particulars from the listing:

Publisher: Macdonald, London, 1960.
Book Condition: Not Set.
First edition, first impression.
Original blue cloth, titles to spine in navy blue. With the dust jacket. An excellent copy in the dust jacket.
Price: £8,500

Light Blue, Dark Blue is "An Anthology of Recent Writing from Oxford and Cambridge Universities" and was edited by Julian Mitchell & John Fuller for Oxford and William Donaldson & Robin McLaren for Cambridge.

"From the library of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath with Plath's inscription to the front free endpaper, 'Ted & Sylvia Hughes London 1960'."

"A breath-taking copy of this notable anthology famously printing (besides a poem from Hughes's Hawk in the Rain) the first appearance of Plath's work in a regularly published book. Her privately issued publication A Winter Ship came out later in the year as did her landmark collection, The Colossus."

"Books inscribed by Plath are deeply uncommon for diverse reasons: her early death of course and also for reasons of physical isolation. The form of the present inscription - her use of the adopted surname combined with her choice to name Ted before Sylvia - seems telling and somehow poignant. We have never seen or even heard of another copy of this book bearing an inscription by Plath. (Provenance - Olwyn Hughes). Bookseller Inventory # 148"

Now, I do not mean to be a jerk but there are some peculiarities in the description such as the comment on this being Plath's "first appearance...in a regularly published book". Plath's poems appeared throughout the mid-to-late 1950s and into the 1960s in the annual Borestone anthologies titled Best Poems of (fill in the year), appearing in 1955, 1957, and 1958 as well as in 1960 and 1963. There is no need to try to drum up interest in a book with such a unique provenance with what is effectively a false statement. Light Blue, Dark Blue was printed once--not regularly-- and that is it. And then even more baffling is the statement about Plath's "adopted surname" and listing her husband's name first. First of all, "Hughes" was her legal, married surname and it is almost legendary that Plath put men first, as it were. From the time she lost the spelling bee to a boy in grade school to her comment on The Hawk in the Rain being accepted before Plath's first collection of poems, "I am so happy his book is accepted first. It will make it so much easier for me when mine is accepted".

There are other Plath books with both of their ownership names printed, such as Culpeper's Complete Herbal (1961), The Notebooks of Henry James (1958), and The Notebook of Malte Laurids Brigge (1959) but these are all "Sylvia & Ted Hughes". Several books have "Ted Hughes & Sylvia Plath". For those interested, a reconstructed "Sylvia Plath Library" can be viewed which lists books Plath either owned or for which there is documentary evidence to suggest she read.

An email inquiry to the booksellers for an image has not been answered. If it ever is, I will be sure to add it to this post.

It makes one wonder what else might appear from Olwyn Hughes's estate...

Catalog description accessed 2 April 1960.

01 April 2017

Preview The Letters of Sylvia Plath

The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1 is set to be published by Faber and Faber in England on 5 October 2017. The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2 is scheduled to follow in 2018. Volume 1 of the book will be published in the United States by HarperCollins in hardback on 17 October and in an e-book format (Kindle) a week earlier, on 10 October. This is all good news!

As a co-editor of this forthcoming two-volume Letters of Sylvia Plath, and as the moderator of the Sylvia Plath Info Blog, Faber and Faber and the Estate of Sylvia Plath have granted me permission to temporarily post online the letters of Sylvia Plath. Please keep in mind that as this is just a preview, most of the preliminary pages are absent.

So, if you click this link, you can see the letters of Sylvia Plath, volume 1.

All links accessed 31 March and 1 April 2017.

20 March 2017

Sylvia Plath's Yale Colossus

In addition to a typescript copy of Sylvia Plath's Circus in Three Rings that she compiled in Spring 1955 as she was preparing to graduate from Smith College, the Lilly Library of Indiana University, Bloomington, has a typescript copy of Plath's The Colossus and other poems in Box 8, Folder 8, that she submitted, like other collections, to the Yale Series of Younger Poets.

Plath considered marketing a book to the Yale Series of Younger Poets starting in 1955, around the time she assembled her Circus in Three Rings. Also, she intended to send something to them in June 1956. Whether these first two happened or not I am not sure. Plath did submit Two Lovers and a Beachcomber on 16 February 1957 (rejected 8 August 1957) and The Bull of Bendylaw and other Poems circa late February or early March 1959 (rejected 6 June 1959). If she missed 1958 who can really be surprised because of her teaching workload.

Plath appears to have submitted the Colossus manuscript to the Yale Series sometime in February 1960, possibly within a week or two of signing the contract with Heinemann for their edition of the book. Mrs. Plath let her daughter know that she had received an acknowledgement of receipt of the manuscript by mid-March 1960.

With the typescript of The Colossus at the Lilly is an unsigned rejection notice from the Yale University Press dated 2 August 1960. Plath had listed the return address as Wellesley so the book was sent back there. She wrote her mother on 16-17 August 1960 and told her that when it was returned to "Keep the ms. & use it for scrap." The winner that year was Alan Dugan. The previous winners that Plath went up against were: John Ashbery (1956), James Wright (1957), John Hollander (1958), William Dickey (1959), and George Starbuck (1960), whom she lost to "by a whispers". Except for Plath, not many misses there!

As I did with Circus in Three Rings below is a list of the poems in this Yale submission followed by a exact or circa date of creation for each.

The Manor Garden, before October 19, 1959
Two Views of a Cadaver Room, late July 1958?
Night Shift, late July 1958?
Sow, before January 14, 1957
The Eye-Mote, February-March? 1959
Hardcastle Crags, Summer? 1957
Faun, April 18-21, 1956
Departure, Fall 1956 or before July 27, 1958
The Colossus, before October 19, 1959
Lorelei, July 4, 1958
Point Shirley, January 16-17, 1959
Owl, June 26, 1958
All the Dead Dears, April 7, 1957
The Bull of Bendylaw, January 27, 1959
Aftermath, March? 1959
The Thin People, late 1957
Suicide Off Egg Rock, February 19, 1959
Mushrooms, November 13, 1959
I Want, I Want, Fall? 1958
The Beggars, before July 27, 1958
Watercolor of Grantchester Meadows, February 19, 1959
The Ghost's Leavetaking, March 21, 1958
Metaphors, March 20, 1959
Black Rook in Rainy Weather, November 17-18, 1956
A Winter Ship, March? 1959
Full Fathom Five, May 22-June 11, 1958
Maudlin, Fall 1956
Blue Moles, before November 11, 1959
Ouija, August 1957
Man in Black, March 20?, 1959
Snakecharmer, March 22-28, 1958
The Hermit at Outermost House, January? 1959
The Disquieting Muses, March 22-28, 1958
Medallion, before September 21, 1959
Two Sisters of Persephone, May 24, 1956
The Companionable Ills, Fall? 1958
Moonrise, before July 27, 1958
Ella Mason and Her Eleven Cats, June 2, 1956
Frog Autumn, August? 1958
Mussel Hunter at Rock Harbor, May 22-June 11, 1958
The Beekeeper's Daughter, March? 1959
The Times are Tidy, Fall? 1958
Spinster, October 19, 1956
The Burnt-out Spa, November 11, 1959
Sculptor, late July 1958?
Poem for a Birthday (Who, Dark House, Maenad, The Beast, Flute Notes From a Reedy Pond, Witch Burning, The Stones), October 22-November 3, 1959

Here are the poems in chronological order of their creation date. Or, rather, as chronological as I can make them at this point:

Faun, April 18-21, 1956
Two Sisters of Persephone, May 24, 1956
Ella Mason and Her Eleven Cats, June 2, 1956
Spinster, October 19, 1956
Black Rook in Rainy Weather, November 17-18, 1956
Maudlin, Fall 1956

Departure, Fall 1956 or before July 27, 1958

Sow, before January 14, 1957
All the Dead Dears, April 7, 1957
Hardcastle Crags, Summer? 1957
Ouija, August 1957
The Thin People, late 1957

Full Fathom Five, May 22-June 11, 1958
The Beggars, before July 27, 1958
The Ghost's Leavetaking, March 21, 1958
The Disquieting Muses, March 22-28, 1958
Snakecharmer, March 22-28, 1958
Mussel Hunter at Rock Harbor, May 22-June 11, 1958
Owl, June 26, 1958
Lorelei, July 4, 1958
Moonrise, before July 27, 1958
Night Shift, late July 1958?
Sculptor, late July 1958?
Two Views of a Cadaver Room, late July 1958?
Frog Autumn, August? 1958
The Companionable Ills, Fall? 1958
I Want, I Want, Fall? 1958
The Times are Tidy, Fall? 1958

Point Shirley, January 16-17, 1959
The Bull of Bendylaw, January 27, 1959
The Hermit at Outermost House, January? 1959
Suicide Off Egg Rock, February 19, 1959
Watercolor of Grantchester Meadows, February 19, 1959
The Eye-Mote, February-March? 1959
Metaphors, March 20, 1959
Man in Black, March 20?, 1959
Aftermath, March? 1959
The Beekeeper's Daughter, March? 1959
A Winter Ship, March? 1959
Medallion, before September 21, 1959
The Colossus, before October 19, 1959
The Manor Garden, before October 19, 1959
Poem for a Birthday (Who, Dark House, Maenad, The Beast, Flute Notes From a Reedy Pond, Witch Burning, The Stones), October 22-November 3, 1959
Blue Moles, before November 11, 1959
The Burnt-out Spa, November 11, 1959
Mushrooms, November 13, 1959

Now, back to the manuscript of the book… First off, the title page has a corner missing. It appears to have been cut, cleanly, at some point. Plath typed her Wellesley return address at the top right and hand wrote her name beneath. However, some text is missing due to the cut. This is how it reads:

26 Elmwo
Wellesley,
Sylvia Pl

A bit of the second "o" in "Elmwood" is visible as is a bit of the "a" in "Plath" is visible, too.

The list of acknowledgements on page 3 that Plath typed at the beginning is capital I Impressive. But it, as well as the quality of the poetry, was not enough to sway her jurors. Comparing this Yale submission with the contents of the book as Heinemann published it shows that like the crab in "Mussel Hunter at Rock Harbor" Plath was ever the fiddler. There are two additional poems in the Yale manuscript and, as well, some shuffled around poems.

Present in the Yale submission, but absent from her Heinemann manuscript, are the poems "Owl" and "Ella Mason and Her Eleven Cats". Also, in the Yale manuscript, "The Bull of Bendylaw" and "All the Dead Dears" are flipped. Additionally, the other notable poem is "Spinster" which is located in The Colossus after "Moonrise", while in the Yale manuscript it is four poems lower down.

What can we make of Plath adding the two poems ("Owl" and "Ella Mason") to this manuscript? Are they more "American"? What do they add?

All links accessed 7 March 2017.

10 March 2017

The Harriet Rosenstein Sylvia Plath Archive

Western Massachusetts bookseller, Ken Lopez, is selling a major collection of Sylvia Plath materials. The Harriet Rosenstein Sylvia Plath Archive is listed on his website with a sale price of $875,000. A hefty sum for, frankly, a hefty amount of important Plath and Plath-related documents. The news has me feeling like a kind outside of candy store. I can see inside, but cannot get it.


The highlight of the collections are the letters and other papers that originated with Plath's "psychiatrist" Dr Ruth Beuscher Barnhouse. Included here are 14 letters from Plath to Beuscher (as was her then surname), from 18 February 1960 to 4 February 1963. Lopez estimates the 45 pages of letters consists of "about 18,000 words". In addition to the letters, there are files related to Plath's treatment at McLean Hospital from 1953-1954. Normally off-limits, these documents may reveal quite a bit about Plath's decision to attempt suicide in 1953, as well as perhaps divulge other biographical information about a period that is generally skinny on information.



Lopez's description of the collection and inventory leaves a little to be desired. He writes, "In an interview given less than a year before her death in 1999, Ruth Barnhouse claimed that she had 'burned the dozens of letters she received from Plath while she lived in England.' This was not true."  However, Lopez's claim is not, itself, true. Plath likely wrote at least 11 letters from circa 27 September 1954 to circa 21 May 1956. The evidence of these letters exists in two places: Plath's own letters to her mother, and her pocket calendars held by the Lilly Library, Indiana University at Bloomington. Plath used these pocket calendars to track many things: dates, meals, cultural events, school obligations and letters sent (actual and/or intended). The pocket calendars end around December 1956, so who knows how many additional letters were sent from Cambridge, Northampton, and even Boston between then and December 1959.


The letters from Plath to Beuscher are undoubtedly going to be some serious, heavy, and emotional reading. The experiences Plath endured and the nature of the trust between herself and the recipient means that these letters will represent a style of writing that has no parallel. However it must also be remembered that the very nature of the relationship between Plath and Beuscher has been severely criticized. Some of the letters listed in the inventory will be included in the two-volume Letters of Sylvia Plath. However, some are new. In addition to the Ruth Beuscher letters, the letters to Elizabeth and David Compton, Suzette and Helder Macedo, David Freeman, some Melvin Woody, and Shirley and Perry Norton, would be new to the editors (me and Karen V. Kukil). There are also many letters to and from Harriet Rosenstein.


Another aspect of this archive that is tantalyzing are the interview notes, audio tapes, and correspondence Rosenstein accumulated in the early 1970s as she was at work on her unrealized biography of Sylvia Plath. Consider that these were obtained within a decade of Plath's death before so much time elapsed and memories were jumbled or forgotten. Lopez astutely writes, Rosenstein "was able to interview many people who knew Plath in widely different capacities, many of whom are no longer living and whose knowledge of Plath and views about her or her work may or may not have been preserved over time by some other means." It is conceivable that personal stories and anecdotes obtained by Rosenstein about Plath will clash with information presented in later biographies. I think in particular of Jillian Becker's papers which is impressive in its size and includes many interviews, letters, a chronology of Plath's last week and a copy of the coroner's report which has since been destroyed as part of regular records disposal p.


A notable absence is Eddie Cohen, but otherwise there are the "usual" suspects such as Marcia Brown Stern, Elizabeth Sigmund, Clarissa Roche, etc. The people from Devon would be really wonderful to "hear", and, as well, Patrcia O'Neil Pratson on Plath's first suicide attempt. Present also are some of the more peripheral acquaintances such as Iko Meshoulam, Christopher Levenson, and Plath's London neighbors. You have to wonder what W.S. Merwin said, considering he was not among those recorded! Those audio tapes need to be digitized for preservation purposes!



I would love the opportunity to go through everything to correct some mistakes in Lopez's inventory. We have to hope that these materials find their way to a research library. And, as well, that the letters are made available to be included in the forthcoming Letters of Sylvia Plath. It may be advantageous for them to know which letters are in the book and which (other than the obvious ones) are not.


In the scan above from Lopez's web page, we can see a portion the blue aerogramme containing the postmark. This must be a scan of Plath's last letter to Dr. Beuscher, which Plath dated 4 February 1963. Plath wrote a few other letters that day. The letters to Aurelia Plath and Marcia Brown Stern are also blue aerogrammes and were postmarked 5 February 1963 at 1:45 pm from London NW1. Beneath each postmark is the letter B. The letter from Plath to Father Michael Carey was sent to Oxford, and the envelope was not apparently retained. But the postmark in the above letter is for 12:45 on 8 February 1963 and also with the letter B in London NW1. Why did Plath hold on to this letter for four days before mailing it? Was it posted at the same time on the 8th as her "last letter" to Ted Hughes? Or, did Plath write it after the 4th and misdate it? It is possible some of the contents of the letter may answer this.

All links accessed 9 March 2017.

01 March 2017

Sylvia Plath's Circus Three Rings

One of the most fascinating aspects of studying Sylvia Plath's poems, particularly the late poems, is considering them through the lens of their creation date. That is one way to read them, and in doing so you can sometimes see her using words and images in a consistent fashion, but also seeing how she progresses through her subjects. For example, if you read the October 1962 poems in chronological order you can see Plath reshaping her self, if you will, in her "Bee" poems written from 3 to 9 October. After reestablishing that self (a poetic selfie?), she turns to shed external, familial subjects (burdens) like her father and mother "Daddy" and "Medusa" respectively, written back-to-back as it were on 12 and 16 October. (Plath had spent the weekend after writing "Daddy" out of town in Cornwall.) But yet the poems read quite differently when done so in the published book format. Though written second, "Medusa" appears first in Ariel: The Restored Edition, separated from "Daddy" by six poems: "Purdah" (29 October 1962), "The Moon and the Yew Tree" (22 October 1961), "A Birthday Present" (30 September 1962), "Letter in November" (11 November 1962), "Amnesiac" (21 October 1962) and "The Rival" (July 1961).

The unbelievably awesome Lilly Library at the University of Indiana, Bloomington, holds, among other treasures in Plath mss II, Sylvia Plath's manuscript book collection that she titled Circus and Three Rings and assembled towards the end of her senior year at Smith College in May/June 1955. Most of the poems were written in the final semester, January-April 1955 when Plath was taking a special studies course in poetic composition with Alfred Young Fisher. But, like her later books, Plath mined her older writing too, selecting those poems she felt held up with her more recent work.

Below is a list of the table of contents of the poems in Plath's Circus in Three Rings. The title of the poem is followed by a common and then the date of creation, if known.

I "Green as a melon our sweet world was"
Song of Eve, March 9, 1955
Wayfaring at the Whitney: A Study in Sculptural Dimensions, February 28, 1955
Black Pine Tree in an Orange Light, March 8, 1955
"Go Get the Goodly Squab", April 5-6, 1952
Winter Words, February 1, 1955
Prologue to Spring, February 9, 1955
Apparel for April, February 2, 1955
April Aubade, February 14, 1955

II "My extravagant heart blows up again"
Circus in Three Rings, September 8, 1954; revised 23 April 1955
On Looking Into the Eyes of My Demon Lover, March 6, 1955
The Dream, February 7, 1955
Trio of Love Songs, April 16-17, 1953
Love is a Parallax, 1954-1955
Moonsong at Morning, March 6, 1955
Rondeau Redoublé, January 30, 1955
Second Winter, March 9, 1955
Apotheosis, March 9, 1955
Mad Girl's Love Song, February 21, 1953
Desert Song, April 19, 1955

III "Circling zodiac compels the year"
To Eva Descending the Stair, February 20, 1953
Metamorphoses of the Moon, November 14, 1954
The Princess and the Goblins, February 19, 1955
Two Lovers and a Beachcomber by the Real Sea, March 22, 1955
Temper of Time, February 1, 1955
Epitaph in Three Parts, February 11, 1955
Ice Age II (All, all is freezing over:... [First Line]), March 2, 1955
Elegy, February 6, 1955
Lament, February 5, 1955
Danse Macabre, January 30, 1955
Doomsday, February 21, 1953

Plath divided the book into three sections. Section I, "Green as a melon our sweet world was" takes its title from Plath's poem "Song of Eve". Section II, "My extravagant heart blows up again" takes its title from Plath's poem "Circus in Three Rings". Section III, "Circling zodiac compels the year" takes its title from Plath's poem "To Eva Descending the Stair".

In creation date order, though, the poems are:

"Go Get the Goodly Squab", April 5-6, 1952

To Eva Descending the Stair, February 20, 1953
Doomsday, February 21, 1953
Mad Girl's Love Song, February 21, 1953

Trio of Love Songs, April 16-17, 1953

Metamorphoses of the Moon, November 14, 1954

Love is a Parallax, 1954-1955

Danse Macabre, January 30, 1955
Rondeau Redoublé, January 30, 1955

Temper of Time, February 1, 1955
Winter Words, February 1, 1955
Apparel for April, February 2, 1955
Lament, February 5, 1955
Elegy, February 6, 1955
The Dream, February 7, 1955
Prologue to Spring, February 9, 1955
Epitaph in Three Parts, February 11, 1955
April Aubade, February 14, 1955
The Princess and the Goblins, February 19, 1955
Wayfaring at the Whitney: A Study in Sculptural Dimensions, February 28, 1955

Ice Age (II) (All, all is freezing over:... [first line]), March 2, 1955
Moonsong at Morning, March 6, 1955
On Looking Into the Eyes of My Demon Lover, March 6, 1955
Black Pine Tree in an Orange Light, March 8, 1955
Apotheosis, March 9, 1955
Second Winter, March 9, 1955
Song of Eve, March 9, 1955
Two Lovers and a Beachcomber by the Real Sea, March 22, 1955

Desert Song, April 19, 1955
Circus in Three Rings, September 8, 1954; revised 23 April 1955

So, maybe you want to read Sylvia Plath's Circus in Three Rings? There are two ways to do it. However, though it may a challenge because, of course, not all of the poems are published.

20 February 2017

Gail Crowther's The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath: An interview with the author

In August, after submitting the manuscript for her third book on Sylvia Plath, Gail Crowther took some time to answer some questions about her recently published book The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath (10 February 2017), her second on the poet.

1. Pretend, please, that this was Twitter... In 140 characters or less how would you describe your new book The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath?
#ICYMI stories about Plath and her readers #sylviaplath

2. Now, feel free to expand a little bit regarding its about-ness!
The book is a really an exploration of what Plath means to some of her readers and why she plays such an important role in their lives. It's divided into five chapters. Chapter 1 begins with stories about the first time readers encountered Plath and then the book moves through the concept of doubling, Plath pilgrimages, Plath photographs, and Plath's objects. The book is framed by Freudian notions of identification, narcissism, mourning and melancholia, while also making use of Otto Rank's idea of the double.

3. How did you go about modifying your PhD thesis for publication? What were some of the challenges and what might have been kind of a relief to shed?
The first major challenge was cutting the word count from 110,000 down to 70,000. Luckily it was fairly obvious what needed to go which was mostly the extended academic stuff (technical terminology) you have to do in order to get a PhD, such as massive lit reviews etc., so that was a bit of relief, to be truthful. I also changed the structure slightly, cutting out my own stories and incorporating them in a different way. Then I changed most respondents' names to protect their identities and removed any photographs that would have compromised their anonymity. I was at the time, and remain, concerned about my respondents and how they will be received. I feel protective of them and I feel deeply honoured that they trusted me to share their stories, so I really hope that they are read in this spirit.

4. In the original research, how did you find your respondents?
I began by reading the ten years of archived forum entries that the wonderful Elaine Connell had maintained and I made a note of the main contributors and their contact details. I also did some general online research about people who seemed to be involved with Plath studies generally. Then I sent out a batch of emails outlining my research and asking if people would be interested in taking part. I also met further respondents at the 2007 Sylvia Plath Symposium at Oxford University.

5. Following on this, as you sought out participants, were there people who declined to participate? And, were there any stories that you found didn't fit in to your research?
Yes. Some people just didn't answer my email or others replied saying they were too busy to participate. Others had certain conditions, which seemed fair enough to me. I was a complete stranger and they were about to tell me some really personal stuff. Amazingly, the stories had a really interlinked set of themes. I did not choose my chapters, the data from respondents chose them. The convergence and similarity was uncanny – especially since I had not set any questions at all. I just asked for open, free, creative bits of autobiography outlining their attachments to Plath. There was sadly too much data to include in both the thesis and the book, so the stories are edited stories. Perhaps one day the full versions can be made available without my fiddling about with them being an issue.

6. On your website your write "Developing and extending Rose's notion of haunting I am increasingly interested in place and spaces haunted by Plath and ways in which this impacts on readers who not only form close attachments to Plath, but equally carry out secular pilgrimages to places in which Plath lived and wrote." Do you see The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath as a compliment to Jacqueline Rose's The Haunting of Sylvia Plath or as building on it?
I love Rose's book. I read it when I was a teenager and it really captured, and continues to capture, my imagination. What I hope The Haunted Reader does is to continue Rose's story. Once a cultural figure haunts our imaginations – what happens? What do people do with this figure and how does it impact on their lives? Janet Badia's wonderful book Sylvia Plath and The Mythology of Women Readers was also really important – the brilliant way she explores the kind of narratives that exist about readers. What I then wanted to do was personalise it and collect actual in-depth reader life-stories. The book wouldn't have existed without my respondents so my main aim is that readers of the book enjoy reading these stories and perhaps while they do reflect upon what Plath means to them.

Thank you, Gail, for taking the time to answer these questions!

Gail Crowther, The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath (Fonthill, 2017). Available in paperback from Amazon.co.uk and other online retailers. Crowther is also the co-author of two books about Sylvia Plath. With Elizabeth Sigmund, Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning and, with Peter K. Steinberg, the forthcoming These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath.

All links accessed 8 August 2016 and 15 February 2017.

11 February 2017

Numbering Sylvia Plath's Poems

At the time of Sylvia Plath's death on 11 February 1963, a vast amount of her papers --the majority perhaps-- were in her mother's house at 26 Elmwood Road in Wellesley. These papers now form Plath mss II at the Lilly Library, Indiana University at Bloomington. Aurelia Plath would later gave nearly 250 items to Smith College in December 1983.

Have you ever worked with Plath's early poems at the Lilly Library (or at Smith or Emory, where there can be found also some copies)? The poems are in Box 7 (poems A-M) and Box 8 (poems N-Z). Additionally, many of Plath's early poems have recently appeared at auction and if you have taken the time to view the images online, you may have noticed small penciled-in numbers in the top right corner. Here are two examples from recent auctions:

From Sotheby's December 2014 auction: Numbered 3b

From Bonhams' March 2016 auction: Numbered 21/2
Tucked away in the back of Plath mss II, Box 15, Publications Scrapbook, are four folders which hold 109 items that include, per the finding aid, "80 envelopes and folders with notes by Aurelia S. Plath". When I was at the Lilly Library in March of 2015, I luxuriated in working with these folders and was able to make lots of notes on these notes. These envelopes and folders indicate how the collection (poems, letters, etc.) was housed before the Lilly Library took ownership in 1977.

There are not just notes by Aurelia Plath, there are also some of Plath's own papers. Among these are typed authorial notes for two unnamed poems that were part of a "Setting Assignment" and an acknowledgement receipt of her manuscript Two Lovers and a Beachcomber from the Yale University Press (dated 21 February 1957). And a host of other really interesting documents that, unfortunately, I did not get the chance to work with in full. I suppose some stones initially have to be left un-turned, and it makes a return visit to the Lilly not only likely, but essential.

There are five pieces of paper in folder 67 that catalogs many of Plath's early poems. A four page document records 117 poems (with some duplicates) and an additional sheet lists another 27. For the most part, those little penciled-in numbers sync to these pages.

The first set of four pages is headed "Poems Pre 1954"; the other page is titled "Poems -- Sylvia Plath -- some copies". Both appear to have been compiled by a person identified only by her/his initials "M.H.F." and were dated 2 February 1975 and 3 February 1975, respectively. These dates correspond nicely with the period discussed by Judith Kroll in the 2007 Foreword to her incomparable Chapters in a Mythology: The Poetry of Sylvia Plath (see page xxiii, etc.).

Here are the poems and their numbers. The first document of 117 items is first. Many poems have check marks next to them (indicated in the list below with "[check]") and I believe this indicates the number of copies. So, no check most likely means one copy. One check means two copies, etc. This is reflected, probably, in the appearance of either a second number or a letter next to the numbers. So, for example, "Doomsday" below has four check marks. This should mean there are typescript copies numbered 11, 11/2, 11/3, and 11/4. In this case, the Lilly does actually hold four different typescripts of "Doomsday". Actually, there are six typescripts of "Doomsday" in box 7a: the aforementioned 11, 11/2, 11/2, and 11/4, as well as a copy numbered 51 and an unnumbered copy. At some point or other, many copies of other poems became separated -- these are the ones you may see now at auction.
Poems Pre 1954 2/2/75 M.H.F.
1 – Ice Age
2 – Circus in Three Rings
3 – Song
4 – Ennui
5 – "Suspend This Day"
6 – Dirge in Three Parts [check]
7 – Admonition [check] [check]
8 – Parallax [check]
9 – Verbal Calisthentics
10 – Paradox
11 – Doomsday [check] [check] [check] [check]
12 – Mad Girl's Love Song
         a Villanelle
13 – The Dispossessed [check] [check]
14 – Denouement [check]
15 – "Never Try to Know More Than you Should" [check] [check] [check]
16 – "Never Try to Trick Me With a Kiss" [check]
17 – Sonnet Doom of Exiles
18 – Van Winkle's Village
19 –A Peripatetic Sonnet
(by a peripatetic Smith girl)
20 – The Trial of Man
21 – Sonnet: Crossing the Equinox [check] [check]
22 – To a Dissembling Spring [check]
23 – Dialogue en Route (2 pages)
24 – Jilted [check] [check]
25 – Aquatic Nocturne
26 – Chef d'oeuvre
27 – Crime Doesn't Pay
28 – Desert Song
29 – Pan
30 – Sonnet to Satan
over/

2
31 – Dirge for a Maiden Aunt [check]
32 – Cinderella [check] [check]
33 –Sonnet for a Green-eyed Sailor [check]
34 – Moonsong at Morning
35 – Advise for an Artificer [check] [check] [check]
36 – Notes to a Neophyte
37 – Black Pine Tree in an Orange Light
38 – Song of Eve
39 – Second Winter [check]
40 – To a Jilted Lover
41 – On Looking into the Eyes of a Demon Lover [check]
42 – Song for a Thaw
43 – On the Futility of a Lexicon
44 – Danse Macabre
45 – Ice Age [check]
46 – Sonnet to a Shade [check]
47 – White Girl Between Yellow Curtains
48 – The Dream
49 – Prologue to Spring [check]
50 – Winter Words (2 pages)
51 – Dirge (2 pages)
52 – Love is a Parallax (2 pages)
53 РRondeau Redoublé [check] [check]
54 – Temper of Time
55 – A Sorcerer Bids Farewell to Seem [check]
56 – Metamorphoses of the Moon
57 – Rondeau [check]
58 – Morning in the Hospital Solarium
59 – Item: Stolen, One Suitcase [check] [check]
60 – Insolent Storm Strikes at the Skull
61 – Circus in Three Rings [check] [check] [check] [check]
62 – Notes on Zarathustras Prologue
63 – The Complex Couch [check] [check]
64 – The Scullion's Dream [check]
65 – Triolet Frivole [check] [check]
66 – Bluebeard
67 – humpty-dumpty
68 – The Dead [check]

Poems Pre 1954 3 2/2/75 M.H.F.
69 – Ballad Banale
70 – Mid-summer Mobile
71 – Carnival Nocturne [check]
72 – "Suspend This Day"
73 – Ennui [check]
74 – To the Boy Inscrutable as God
75 – Sonnet Doom of Exiles
76 – Dialogue en Route [check]
77 – Comment in "Dialogue en Route".
78 – Paradox [check]
79 – Ennui
80 – Van Winkle's Village [check] [check] [check] [check]
81 – The Dead [check] [check] [check] [check] [check] [check]
82 – Sonnet: The Suitcases Are Packed Again [check]
83 – Go Get the Goodly Squab [check] [check]
84 – The Trial of Man [check] [check]
85 – aquatic nocturne [check] [check] [check]
86 – Sonnet to a Dissembling Spring
87 – Sonnet: To Eve
88 – Sonnet: To Time [check]
89 – Dirge for Abigail
90 – The Bronze Boy [check] [check]
91 – City Wife [check]
92 – (Female) Autor(ess) [check]
93 – The Invalid
94 – I Am An American
95 – April 18
96 – Solo
97 – August Night
98 – Incident [check]
99 – Dirge for a Joker [check] [check]
100 – Ode on a bitten plum
101 – Sonnet
102 – Voices [check]
103 – The Grackles
104 – The Farewell
105 – The Stranger

4
106 – Fog
107 – Virus TV (We Don't Have a Set Either)
108 – Humoresque
109 – Family Reunion
110 – Portrait
111 – All I Can Tell You Is About The Fog
112 – housewife
113 – March 21
114 – we two have gone together (first line) (Marcia)
115 – Marcia (3 pages)
116 – she will be always (marcia)
117    Words of Advice To An English Prof
Now for the second document:
Poems – Sylvia Plath – some copies 2/2/75 M.H.F.
1 – Go Get the Goodly Squab ('53)
2 – The Complex Couch
3 – Morning in the Hospital Solarium [check]
4 – Epitaph in Three Parts
5 – Song for a Thaw
6 – Mid-summer Mobile
7 – Spring Sacrament [check] [check]
8 – Wayfaring at the Whitney – a Study in Sculptural Dimensions [check]
9 – Spring Song to a Housewife
10 – Complaint
11 – Prologue to Spring [check] [check]
12 – The Dream
13 – New England Winter Without Snow [check] [check] [check]
14 – Danse Macabre [check] [check]
15 – March 15 Muse
16 – Terminal [check]
17 – Triolet Frivole
18 – roundeau
19 – Winter Words [check] [check]
20 – Dirge [check]
21 – Notes on Zarathustra's Prologue [check] [check] [check]
22 – Complaint
23 – Elegy [check]
24 – Temper of Time [check] [check]
25 – Apparel for April [check] [check] [check] [check]
26 – Eve Describes Her Birthday Party [check] [check] [check]
27 – Harlequin Love Song [check] [check] [check] [check]
Peculiarly, a number of these poems are listed twice with two different numbers. I have not yet totally sorted out what this means -- if a second listing/number means either oversight or possible carelessness on the part of M.H.F. or perhaps another poem with the same title but with different content. In the second list, for example, the poem "Complaint" is numbered 10 and 22; yet the Lilly only has a typescript of the poem with the pencil notation of 10. The typescript for "Complaint", aka 10, is a poem Plath wrote on 6 February 1955 and bears a Lawrence House address in the top right. However, Plath wrote and published another poem called "Complaint" in March 1950 in her high school newspaper, The Bradford so it could be that a typescript of this earlier poem was numbered 22. And a poem like "Winter Words" appears on both lists, number 50 in the first one, and number 19 in the second. And, further some poems have numbers that do not appear on either of these lists, suggesting there was at least a third numbering scheme in the works. An example is Plath's poem "Bereft" which does not feature on these lists, but bares the penciled number 24 on the multiple copies held by the Lilly: 24, 24a, 24c, and a copy with no number. Where is 24b?

The numbers on the poems always had baffled me. Am I alone? And finding these lists tucked away as they are opens up some understanding as to Aurelia Plath's organizational processes. It must have been a terrific challenge to be a custodian of these papers and to view them objectively in light of the emotional pain of memories that each one may have carried.

All links accessed 18 October 2016.
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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." Plath Profiles 2. Summer 2009: 183-208.
  • 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 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: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017. Forthcoming.
  • 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.
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (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. 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. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.
  • 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. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • 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. "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. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.

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