28 October 2008

10 & 47

10 years ago today... Ted Hughes passed away.

47 years ago today... Sylvia Plath published her short story "The Perfect Place" in the women's magazine My Weekly. The working title for this story was "The Lucky Stone", and typescripts are held by both the Moritmer Rare Book Room at Smith College and the Robert W. Woodruff Library at Emory University.

This was the last short story that we know of that Plath published in her lifetime. Irralie Doel and I spoke about this story on 28 October 2007 at the Sylvia Plath 75th Year Symposium at Oxford. To read more about the story, please see my paper "'I should be loving this': Sylvia Plath's 'The Perfect Place' and The Bell Jar" in Volume 1 of Plath Profiles.

25 October 2008

Links, reviews, etc. - Week ending 25 October 2008

Below is a list of links and other newsworthy items from the week that was.
  • The Cambridge Introduction to Sylvia Plath by Jo Gill has had a somewhat roaming US publication date. Having moved from 30 September to 30 October to 30 November, Amazon.com now has the publication date set for Monday, 27 October. Also know as the birthday of Sylvia Plath, Dylan Thomas, and countless others. The book is listed as In Stock according to Cambridge University Presses US site; and it is also available as an eBook using the Adobe eBook Reader.
  • Blake Morrison remembers Ted Hughes in The week in books in The Guardian.
  • The Guardian also gives us a glimpse into A. Alvarez's writing room.
  • The Chronicle Herald (Canada) reports last Sunday on the sale of the Hughes papers.
  • The Whitman College Pioneer (Walla Walla, Wash) reports that the Citizens for Academic Responsibility wants Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar should be removed from school curriculum. [Go ahead: If you ban it, it will be read.]
  • Freida Hughes will publish a new collection of poetry in 2009. Be on the lookout for The Book of Mirrors in spring (USA) and in the autumn (UK).

20 October 2008

Sylvia Plath events

There are two events worthy of note in the next month.

On Monday October 27, 2008, Kate Moses will highlight a Sylvia Plath Symposium at Pacific. The other speakers will be Camille Norton, Diane Borden, and Xiaojing Zhou."Life Into Art: A Symposium on Sylvia Plath" will be from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom in the DeRosa University Center. Click here for more information...

The Ted Hughes Festival will be held from 22-28 October in Mytholmroyd. Anticipated participants include: Amanda Dalton, Ian Duhig, Frieda Hughes, Glyn Hughes, Mark Piggott, Keith Sagar, John Siddique, Lemm Sissay, Anne Stevenson and Anthony Thwaite. Visit the website for the Elmet Trust for more information and a complete schedule.

17 October 2008

The peanut-crunching crowd

As expected - probably - there has been some criticism that has sprung from the big news this week that the British Library had acquired some of Ted Hughes' papers. Heather McRobie's response "Can't we leave Hughes and Plath alone? We have their poems. We really don't need access to every corner of their lives" is one such example.

The short answer is "No". We cannot leave them alone. And it is arguable that by having access to every corner of their lives does add incredibly valuable insight to their poems. Archival materials allow for the assessment and the reassessment of the subject. Therefore, it is vital that saved materials be made available for use by the public.

There is, undeniably and unfortunately, a gossipy aspect to the story of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. The news of additional archival material being sold was picked up so widely because news about Plath and Hughes does sell papers, and will be clicked on by readers on the Internet. People are interested - and what does it matter why or in what fashion? Of course the media jumped right to the inclusion of materials relating to Ted Hughes' Birthday Letters. Having perused the finding aid available at Emory University, I often wondered if there were extent manuscripts of these poems.

The better attitude is that serious scholarship can and will - and has - benefited tremendously from these respective archives opening up for use. Every paper or book published on Plath and/or Hughes uses archival material; this is especially true of books published on these two poets in this century. Having worked with Plath's archives a good deal, I can say that in reading & researching poem drafts, short stories, early versions of The Bell Jar, as well as unpublished letters and other biographical materials - the end result is always a deeper understanding of her creative process and the product of that process. I am certain I am not alone in this. Plath scholarship has vastly improved because of this access to her papers. It enables a deeper reading and understanding of her work and her life.

The United States holds two major Plath archives, and with a massive amount of Hughes' papers (and some of Plath's too) available at Emory University, scholars are now seeing works created by Hughes during their brief lives together. Diane Middlebrook's Her Husband: Plath and Hughes - a marriage and Eilat Negev and Yehuda Korens biography of Assia Wevill, A Lover of Unreason, both owe much of their information to those papers in Atlanta. If biographical information assists in this quest for understanding the works, so be it.

Plath and Hughes have been labeled the literary couple of the 20th century. The first word of that phrase, literary, defines them more than anything else. It instructs, ultimately, that for which they are known. And, because events happened as they did, their lives, deaths, and afterlives as a result are "interesting." And because their lives are so interesting, Ms. McRobie even got to write about it! The research and interviews Kate Moses undertook to write Wintering was remarkable and extensive. Likewise, Koren and Negev's A Lover of Unreason attempts to give shape and meaning to lost lives that had, essentially, been forgotten, ignored, etc. For the record, Wintering does not just focus on the last months of Plath's life; "the Plath-word" does not guarantee financial success for the author or film-maker; and Assia Wevill was a poet - her translations of Yehuda Amichai (published in March 1969 by Harper & Row) could not have been done if didn't have poetic talents.

Perhaps Ms. McRobie will be surprised by what use the scholars make of Hughes' archive and what private details may or may not exist and come to light or stay hidden deep within the snares and hooks of Hughes' handwriting. Perhaps I might be as well. If the collection is available by the end of 2009, we still won't know for up to 14 months what is in these papers, and it will be longer still before scholars truly understand and publish what they learn. Ongoing research may get missing pieces filled in; previous research can potentially be further supported or perhaps refuted. I suspect Ted Hughes was private enough that anything he might not of want to have saved likely would not have been saved. Would Ms. McRobie prefer that librarians and archivists refuse to care for these documents because "the peanut-crunching crowd" wants an archival striptease? (As an archivist, well, nevermind...) Sometimes it is the private, biographical details than can inform and explain bits of the poetry. And I trust that most scholars will use the information they obtain in a responsible and ethical manner, no matter what form their research ultimately takes. If the output is something along the lines of what Emma Tennant or Susan Fromberg Schaeffer produced, it is easy enough to ignore it. Perhaps this biofictive micro-industry is what Ms. McRobie is really taking issue with? However, for the rest of us the materials that are now available and will become available will be crucial to the continually evolving examination of their work.

14 October 2008

Ted Hughes papers go to British Library

The following is a list of articles and links of the recent sale of Ted Hughes papers to the British Library...

Last updated: 17 October 2008

Rough-hewn genius of Ted Hughes laid bare in unfinished verses - The Times

British Library's £500,000 Ted Hughes catch
- The Guardian

Library acquires Hughes archives- BBC

Ted Hughes 'regretted not publishing Sylvia Plath Birthday Letters sooner' - The Daily Telegraph

Ted Hughes archive to remain in UK - The Times

Ted Hughes and the Birthday Letters - The First Post (Cheltenham)

Fishing for inspiration - Ted Hughes' journals - The Scotsman

British Library acquires Ted Hughes archive - The Peninsula (Qatar)

British Library buys $1-million archive of poet Ted Hughes - The Canadian Press

British Library acquires Ted Hughes archive for nation - The Herald

For more information, please see the Ted Hughes page at the British Library.

Call for Book Covers, Take 3


The kindness of the Flur's and their Swedish cover collection has prompted me to repost this Call for Sylvia Plath Book Covers!

On my website, A celebration, this is, the book cover galleries and photographs receive thousands of hits per month.

Do you have any Sylvia Plath book covers that I do not feature on my website? If so, please send me a scanned image of it at at least 200 dpi, and every few weeks I will add them to the web site.

I am looking for books by Plath and about Plath, in any language.

11 October 2008

Links, reviews, etc. - Week ending 11 October 2008

  • The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D. C., opens a new exhibition on 10 October called "Women of Our Time: Twentieth Century Photographs". The exhibit runs through February 1, 2009. The photograph of Plath by Rollie McKenna, taken in Boston in 1959, is included. And, there is an online gallery, with some contextual information on Plath. It is not the best piece of writing on her.

  • Along with the exhibit comes Women of Our Time: An Album of Twentieth-Century Photographs by Frederick S. Voss, with a preface by Cokie Roberts, 2002; 176 pages; hardcover, $35 (ISBN 1-85894-169-5). Anne Sexton is also one of the featured women. The National Portrait Gallery is located at Eighth and F Streets, NW, D.C., 20001. They are open daily 11:30 a.m.-7:00 p.m. daily - however they are closed on Christmas Day. Admission is free.

  • Published this month is Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar and Poems (Writers and Their Works) by Raychel Haugrud Reiff. Published by Marshall Cavendish Benchmark Books (NY), the book is $42.79 (076142962X). If this is too much to spend, keep an eye out on WorldCat to see if the book is in a library near you. At 144 pages, the reading level suggested by Amazon is 9th-12th grade, so it is likely another introductory examination of Plath. Though, the title suggests it is less biographical than perhaps critical.

  • BBC Radio 3 will air a programme on Elegy on Sunday 12 October, 2008, at 22:15 (local time) - certainly an elegiac time of the day. They may be using a portion of Plath's poem "Daddy". Let's hope that they do; it's the 46th anniversary of that poems composition.

  • I recently received via email scans of five Non-English book covers by or about Sylvia Plath from Florian and Sonja Flur. The books, all Swedish editions, are Glaskupan (The Bell Jar), Johnny Panic och Drömbibeln (Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams), Sängboken (The Bed Book), Ett Diktarliv (Bitter Fame) by Anne Stevenson, and Övervintring (Wintering) by Kate Moses.

07 October 2008

Sylvia Plath collections: Woodberry Poetry Room

Sylvia Plath collections: Woodberry Poetry Room

Sylvia Plath gave two readings for the Woodberry Poetry Room ('WPR', or 'Poetry Room') in 1958 and 1959. The Poetry Room has one of the largest collections of recorded poetry in the world. As I work there, I am assisting in a project to digitize the recordings to make them available either to the Harvard community, or the whole world wide web.

In a routine visit to the stacks to select reel-to-reel tapes to digitize, I found the original cardboard box containers for the Plath recordings. Most of the containers feature minimal information, likely in either a curator's hand or the audio technician. However, when I pulled the Plath boxes off the shelf, I was amazed to see that she herself had written the track listings on the back.

The recording for Friday June 13, 1958 is written in a pink ink. It may have been red, but the color appears pink to me. There are two poems per available line. The recording for her February 22, 1959 is written in pencil, and includes a doodle. Each poem is written on the available line, and as Plath read 17 poems, she needed two columns. So, she drew a line dividing the two halves. At the top of this line is the doodle. The doodle is a head & face, and the line appear to be coming out of the doodle heads mouth area, like a tongue.

Along the side of the 1959 recording is "Titles listed by Sylvia Plath". This was written probably by Jack Sweeney, then curator of the room, but could have been by Stephen Fassett, whose recording studio was at 24 Chestnut Street in Beacon Hill, just a one minute walk from 9 Willow Street, where Plath and Hughes lived.

As of this time, the boxes are not catalogued but if you're in the Lamont Library area and want to see them, come on by - though setting an appointment is recommended. Though many libraries at Harvard are closed to the public, the Woodberry Poetry Room (Room 330 in Lamont Library) is open to the public. All one needs to do is present an ID at the entrance.

04 October 2008

Links, reviews, etc. - Week ending 4 October 2008

  • A friend of Plath's from Smith, Enid Epstein Mark, passed away this week.
  • It has been just over a year since Elaine Connell, moderator of the Sylvia Plath Forum and author of Sylvia Plath: Killing the Angel in the House, passed away. Her legacy lives on as a resource to which I still regularly turn and I know she is well loved and missed.
  • The Cambridge Introduction to Sylvia Plath by Jo Gill (Cambridge University Press) is now available through their web site in both hardback (£35.00) and paperback (£10.99) editions. Amazon.co.uk also has this title in stock. The Cambridge Introduction to Sylvia Plath is scheduled to be available through Amazon.com (paperback, $19.99) on 31 October.
  • Plath Profiles is accepting submissions for the 2009 volume. Please click the link and view the submission guidelines. Please email me if you have any questions.
  • On a similar note, if you have read Volume 1 of Plath Profiles and have responses, comments, questions, or other musings in reaction to the essays - or to the journal in general - please consider submitting them. We seek to create a dialogue between Plath scholars and Plath readers - similar to the Sylvia Plath Forum - but focused on the essays and the journal.
  • The Letters of Ted Hughes received two reviews, both courtesy of The New York Times. Richard Eder reviews the book in his "Yours Sincerely: A Poet on Fish, Bulls and Love". Gregory Cowles, in Paper Cuts - a blog about books, reviews it briefly in his "Dear Mrs. Plath", which reprints Hugheses first letter to Aurelia Plath after the suicide of Sylvia Plath. The letter was dated 15 March 1963.
  • Over on the sidebar, there is now a list of those who follow this blog. Thank you to those who have signed on as followers. Others, I'd love to know who you are, too!

01 October 2008

A celebration, this is updated

In time for October - to what can be regarded as "Sylvia Plath's month" - the new "A celebration, this is" is online. The design is all new and it should be easier to navigate. It is also roughly the ten year anniversary of this website for Sylvia Plath.

There are a couple of significant changes that I would like to point out. Individual pages for poetry (Ariel, Ariel: The Restored Edition, The Collected Poems, The Colossus, Crossing the Water, Winter Trees, and audio recordings) and prose (The Bell Jar, Johnny Panic, The Journals, Letters Home, The Unabridged Journals, and Children's stories) are now merged together into Poetry Works and Prose Works pages.
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