27 October 2007

Day two of the Sylvia Plath 75th Year Symposium

The morning started with an informal, optional forum of a new journal called Plath Profiles, conceived by Prof. Bill Buckley of IU Northwest. The journal, which will be online and in print, though in print less frequently, will feature a variety of content ranging from standard academic essays to note and reactions to single poems or groups of poems, to interdisciplinary thoughts to Plath’s work. And much, much more. A second part to the Forum will take place today, to further brainstorm.

Following this, Lynda K. Bundtzen and Tim Kendall presented on very interesting subjects. Bundtzen’s paper “Confession, Contrition, and Concealment in Ted Hughes’s Howls and Whispers”; which is a chapter, or part of a chapter of a longer work on Hughes. Howls and Whispers, for those who do not know, is a small, eleven poem collection printed in limited numbers (110) and intended for ownership by rare book rooms, special collections, or very wealthy private owners. They are poems written in a similar mind to Birthday Letters, but left out for reasons she explains. Unlike Birthday Letters, the poems in Howls and Whispers do not follow a set chronology, which makes it more difficult to get into and through the poems. I likely did her talk no justice just now, but please look forward to her book…

Tim Kendall’s paper, “Sylvia Plath and the purpose of poetry” went through some poems of Plath’s that he called failures. Poems like “Winter Trees”, “Stillborn”, and “The Jailer”. These are poems Plath perfects in other ways, using similar imagery. “Winter Trees”, composed on 26 November 1962, he contends is a “transitional poem”, caught in the unfortunate position between the Ariel poems and the 1963 poems. He gave a careful, considerate reading to both “Winter Trees” and “Words”.

After lunch, I sat in on the panel Plath and Hughes Manuscripts Verso, which featured papers by Emma Hoare (“Double exposure: Plath’s poetry drafts”), Helen Decker (“The shared sheets of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes: The double-sided manuscript collection”) and Uta Gosmann (“Double inscriptions: Plath’s “Amnesiac” and Hughes’s “The Calm”).

Decker stepped up first and talked about a Christmas card from Plath and Hughes in 1960 to their friends Ann and Leo Goodman. Ann, nee Davidow, and Plath met at Smith in the fall of 1950; but after the first semester, she did not return. They maintained friends as correspondents, only occasionally seeing each other before Plath’s death. The paper was well researched and presented, featured nifty PowerPoint slides, and was very enjoyable. Decker compared Hughes’s handwritten note to Plath’s typed note in the card, which harks back to Plath’s description of their writing desk on their honeymoon; Hughes’s side was unkempt; Plath’s in perfect order.

Emma Hoare conducted research at the Lilly Library, and discussed Plath’s re-use of her own manuscripts, which is a very nice and welcome change from the focus of just those manuscripts that Plath and Hughes both wrote on in the creative process. She concentrated on a short story from 1955 titled, “Home is where the heart is” and a nine poems that appear on the verso, each poem written between 1952 and 1955, but most undated. The poems and short story do have an element of “call and response”, to quote Diane Middlebrook. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Uta Gosmann’s paper argues that Plath’s manuscripts develop a character of their own; though she writes on the back of something Hughes composed. In “Amnesiac”, as with other poems, Plath takes ownership through “writing over” and writing “against” Hughes’s play “The Calm”. She points out that Plath tended to write “upside down”, in that she flipped Hughes’s draft over, and the wrote from bottom to top. A nice talk, with the use of an overhead projector which is a lost, but welcome art.

There is so much more to say…Steven Gould Axelrod discussed Plath and Torture, a talk that combined modern day war and its consequences to Plath’s use of torture in her poetry, both as a victim and perpetrator. Linda Wagner-Martin, whom I met that morning over breakfast, discussed her experiences in the Plath archives dating back to the late 1970s and talked, in particular about Plath’s poetry sequence “Poem for a Birthday” which ends the British edition of The Colossus, but was broken apart for the American edition printed two years later.

More to say more to say, but later!

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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.