04 February 2009

Writing to Art

Sylvia Plath's own artwork has received much attention in the last seven years. The Eye Rhymes exhibit at the Sylvia Plath 70th Year Symposium at Indiana University, Bloomington, in 2002, and the book Eye Rhymes: Sylvia Plath's Art of the Visual (edited by Kathleen Connors and Sally Bayley) published in 2007, led the way. And, artists inspired by Plath's work were given special exhibition at the Sylvia Plath 75th Year Symposium.

Plath, who considered majoring in art at Smith College, had an emotional and creative reaction to artwork, in a wide range of mediums. Doris Kraler-Bergmann's recently published Sylvia Plath's Lyrical Responses to Works of Art: A Portrait of the Artist(s) (VDM Verlag, 2008) approaches Plath as a viewer of artistic works and as one who responds, lyrically, to them. This is called ekphrasis. Merriam Webster defines this as "a literary description of or commentary on a visual work of art."

The focus of Kraler-Bergmann's book are the art poems Plath wrote in March 1958, at the request of ARTnews. Plath wrote two poems each on paintings by Giorgio de Chirico and Henri Rousseau, and four poems on etchings and paintings by Paul Klee. Though Plath wrote eight poems altogether, Kraler-Bergmann focuses on only two of them: "Yadwigha, on a Red Couch, Among Lilies" and "Snakecharmer". Kraler-Bergmamm also looks at "Sculptor". "Sculptor", written about and dedicated to Leonard Baskin, is not strictly an ARTnews poem, but it is ekphrastic.

It was this March 1958, ekphrastic-creative outburst that lead Plath to believe she would be "the poetess of America" (Letters Home, 360). Obviously that came later and at a deep consequence, and unfortunately Plath failed to see any of these poems published in ARTnews. Kraler-Bergmann's study is a good read, and a welcome contribution to this subject, as well as an inspired examination of poems that Plath thought, for a time, were the foundation upon which her reputation would rest.


Al said...

What an interesting aspect of Plath; I never knew she had considered majoring in art. I think I'll check out Eye Rhymes :).

Peter K Steinberg said...

Hi Al,

Thank you for the comment. Eye Rhymes is worth its weight in gold, and more. The essays are expert, and the illustrations beautiful. It's a scholarly coffee table book!


Anonymous said...

I highly recommend "Eye Rhymes: Sylvia Plath's Art of the Visual". Besides the early scrapbook type work, the text goes into a lot of detail about visual imagery in the poems...and her collages, as well as some of the paintings from 1950-51 at age 18 or so (around the time she started at Smith College) are quite remarkable, particularly the somewhat abstract "Two Women reading" and "Nine Female Figures" and the "Triple-face portrait" which show the influence of Matisse and are really excellent. Jim Long

Anonymous said...

Where was the Yadwigha poem originally published? I am really having a hard time finding this info.

Peter K Steinberg said...

Thanks, Anonymous, for your comment. This poem first appeared in The Christian Science Monitor on March 26, 1959, page 8. It then appeared in a limited edition Crystal Gazer in 1971. Finally, it appeared in Plath's Collected Poems published in 1981.


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