The Sylvia Plath 75th Year Symposium featured several extra-curricular events for delegates and attendees. Each night during the symposium, Elisabeth Gray performed the one woman play Wish I Had a Sylvia Plath. I had the opportunity to see the play Friday night, which featured a lively but curtailed introduction by Dr. Barbara Mossberg, of California State University at Monterrey Bay. The play itself is somewhat reminiscent of Paul Alexander’s Edge, whereas Edge takes place in the last day/night of Plath’s life, Wish I Had a Sylvia Plath takes place in the last ten minutes of her life.
Gray’s character is Esther Greenwood, and the play starts with her head in an oven. In fact, when you enter the theatre, she’s already there. What followed was an emotional adventure. Alternating between deeply funny and tear-inducing sad, Gray hallucinates her way through a re-creation of events. She converses with her oven in a voice ripped off from the teacher in Charlie Brown, “waa-waa whaa-whaa”. As the hallucinations grow more severe, Esther stars in a TV show “Better Tomes and Gardens”, making different dishes, and reacting a video that plays off and on throughout the performance.
It was kind of a gutsy play to write, with serious potential to offend. The advertisement turned off several participants to the point of boycott. I admit, I found the promotion fliers offensively distasteful. While i t certainly has the potential to offend, it makes light of certain historical events associated with Plath. The video of the character Esther meeting Ned Pews (the Ted character) is absolutely side-splitting funny. This scene, and other clips from the play, appear on YouTube. The end, however, to this story is always the same. It is how the writer and actress portray the death that is a deal-breaker. Given the humor throughout, when the end comes you both expect, and almost do not expect, it to come the way it always does. I left the theatre highly amused at the funny bits, but ultimately ponderous at the very moving, almost sweet ending. A much disheveled Greenwood inches towards the oven while at the same time, her character with perfect hair and make-up reclines, as if to take a nap on the video screen. As with any emotional scene, the classical music playing rips through the heart leaving the entire audience stunned to silence, and also a few a tears.
In the Rothermere American Institute Library, an exhibit of poems in Enid Mark’s About Sylvia was on display throughout the Symposium. The poems in this collection are:
“On looking into Sylvia Plath’s copy of Goethe’s Faust” by Diane Ackerman
“Cottage Street, 1953” by Richard Wilbur
“The heroine” by Peter Davison
“Dream song 172” by John Berryman
“Wanting to die” by Anne Sexton
“Requiem for Sylvia Plath” by Luciana Frezza
“Daughters and others” by Rachel Hadas
“Sylvia Plath” by Robert Lowell
“On the death of Sylvia Plath”
“Chaucer” by Ted Hughes.
Enid Mark contributes a Foreword to the book and illustrated each poem, and they appeared throughout the library in different cases. Many of the poems will be familiar to Plath’s readers, but some were new to me. Mark was a classmate of Plath’s and runs The Elm Press in Pennsylvania. About 34 of the 50 copies are held in Special Collections and Rare Book Rooms throughout the United States and abroad.
The Oxford Playhouse held several events, including an exhibit of artwork by Kristina Zimbakova, Amanda Robbins, Linda Adele Goodine, Cassandra Slone, and Ann Dingsdale. The artwork was on display in the Top Room, all around the walls, including the window treatments! These works were all inspired by Plath and available on posters for sale; anyone interested in purchasing these should contact the organizers to see if there are extras. It also premiered an animated short film by Suzie Hanna and Tom Simmons titled “The Girl Who Would Be God”. The animation was interesting, made more so by an introduction and explanation of its creation by Hanna and Simmons. The Playhouse also ran short films by the late Sandra Lahire, who was a student under the tutelage of Jacqueline Rose. They were disturbing, particularly the one titled “Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams.” The films featured words spoken by Plath, excerpts from poems, in addition to footage of Winthrop, Boston, and other places.
Throughout the Symposium, a number of limited editions of Plath's were on display at the Divinity School at the Bodleian Library. These books made a brief appearance at the opening night festivities at Blackwell's and included the limited edition for Child, Fiesta Melons, Dialogue over a Ouija Board, and Million Dollar Month, amongst others.
The Symposium had a big Sunday bash: The Sylvia Plath Gala Celebration at the Oxford Playhouse. I wrote on this in a previous post. I left after the reading of “Three Women” so am unsure how the rest of the celebrants performed. After I left, however, Jack Harris performed his "Plath Lullaby", Hanna's animation "The Girl Who Would be God" aired, Susannah Harker read "Ariel", Natalia Thorn performed a dance to the "Poppy" poems and Tom Hollander performed "Red", which might be a poem from Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes or might be something else. If anyone cares to post on it, please leave comments!
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.