The morning commenced with an opening by Barbara Mossberg. It was a passionate address welcoming all to the event, commenting on Plath’s continued, yet, rising importance internationally as a vital 20th century poet, re-made and re-evaluated, in a sense, in the 21st century.
The first session I attended was the literary panel “Plath, Sexton, and the Literary Market”. The panelists were Luke Ferretter, Jo Gill, and Melanie Waters. Ferretter discussed Plath’s short fiction in relation to the Ladies’ Home Journal and other magazines for women. In particular, he talked about her short stories “In the Mountains” and its successor “The Christmas Heart”, which is held at the Lilly Library. Other stories discussed were “Platinum Summer” and “The Smokey Blue Piano”, unpublished stories also held by the Lilly. The stories and articles that ran in the Ladies’ Home Journal were a focus, as was Plath’s mistaken belief of thinking her stories were LHJ material.
Jo Gill discussed, for the most part, Anne Sexton, and in particular about photographs of the poet compared and contrasted to what Sexton reveals via her “confessional” poetry. How images of Sexton expose, in different ways, words committed to paper. It was an interesting discussion, and no doubt may be expanded upon in her forthcoming Anne Sexton’s Confessional Poetics (University Press of Florida).
Melanie Waters discussed both Plath and Sexton, but spent more time on Plath’s giving a very interesting and compelling re-reading of “Lady Lazarus”. It was a convincing paper, and a welcome re-interpretation of one of Plath’s most well known poems.
The afternoon sessions, I had the fortune and pleasure to moderate “Sylvia Plath Family Romance”. It was a loaded session, with six fulfilling presentations by Susan Bowers, Nick Owen, Kara Kilfoil, Aubrey Menard, Ann Walsh, and Kristy Woodcock. I found it difficult to take notes, pay attention, and keep time, but each presenter was quite respectful and stayed within their allotted 20 minutes. Not to belittle any presentation, I particularly enjoyed Kara Kilfoil’s paper on Frieda Hughes’ somewhat contradictory behavior regarding her mother’s estate; Aubrey Menard’s discussion on Plath’s matrilineal cycle, and Ann Walsh’s expose on Winthrop and “Electra on Azalea Path”. I wish I’d’ve know about her visiting Winthrop this summer as I’d’ve shown her around!!! You know, given her the Winthrop-treatment.
The question and answer session that followed was somewhat passionate, with a dialogue between Richard Larschan and Kara Kilfoil and an anonymous American supplying some quality entertainment.
The highlight of the day, possibly, took place with talks by featured speakers Anita Helle and Richard Larschan. Both concentrate on Plath’s Winthrop background, though each respectfully in very different ways. Winthrop’s day in the sun!! Anita showed rare, possibly never before seen photographs of the young Sylvia Plath, photographs sent to her family from Aurelia from the 1930’s through the 1950’s. She discussed reading the photographs, which involves a very critical knowledge of the history of photography as well as an investigation into the Plath family history. She argues that the photograph album both identifies and produces an identity for Plath, drawing on poems from “Sonnet to Satan” and “Bluebeard” to “Paralytic” as well as some text from Plath’s prose.
Richard Larschan’s discussion on Plath’s non-fiction prose from 1962-1963 (“Ocean 1212-W” and “America! America!” dispelled some of Plath’s mythic exaggeration. He drew on his personal relationship with the Plath family (Aurelia) and deconstructed each piece, separating fact from fiction, biography from autobiography. It was wholly convincing and enjoyable.
A great day; I’ve no idea what took place in the other sessions so any panelists or attendees, please submit comments full of impressions, reviews, etc. that may help to bring about a fuller picture of the important events taking place in Oxford this weekend.
The evening ended at Blackwell's Book Shop on Broad Street with a selection of sandwiches, champagne, and wine. Attendees were treated to a poetry reading of Plath's poems, and original poetry. Books were for sale, conversations were had, and seeds planted for future projects, ideas, and ways of promoting Sylvia Plath.
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.
- "Banking on his passion for Plath" by Melissa Davis Haller. UMW Today. Spring 2005.
- "Sylvia Plath's Three Women to be staged in London" by Alison Flood. The Guardian. 3 December 2008.
- "FBI files on Sylvia Plath's father shed new light on poet" by Dalya Alberge. The Guardian. 17 August 2012.
- "There Are Almost No Obituaries for Sylvia Plath" by Ashley Fetters. The Atlantic. 11 February 2013.