15 October 2010

Al Alvarez gets harsh...

Al Alvarez has posted a short follow-up on the Guardian Books Blog "Ted Hughes's 'Last Letter' to Sylvia Plath: Second thoughts." The subtitle being, "On reflection, I realise I wasn't harsh enough on the poet when I considered the poem." I can see Alvarez wiping his hands clean and I suspect that the haze of the first impressions craze has died down and we're moving into possibly the more contemplative phase.


Dirt said...

While I agree on one hand, I have to wonder if this "second thought" is Alvarez trying to assuage his own guilt of "abandoning Sylvia"?

Joseph Hutchison said...

I get tired of the way every discussion of Plath and her work gets dragged into psychology—that is, the way it becomes a tool for analyzing the poet. The greatness of her best work is rooted, in part, in the non-utilitarian nature of it. It is elemental, chthonic, archetypal, radiant—a midsummer night's nightmare. Let's look at and into it rather than putting the ghost of Sylvia on the analyst's couch.

Catty said...

I read the poem the Friday after it was published at an Arvon advanced poetry workshop (in the Ted Hughes Room, no less). It wasn't well received. A lot of people (myself included) felt it was too prosey and filled with a lot of "getting to somewhere" bits. It could certainly have done with some editing. That whole bit about the downstairs neighbour didn't really add anything.

Peter K Steinberg said...

Hi Catty,

I suspect the prosiness feeling is a result of the poem being largely unfinished. Didn't they kind of compromise on a version or something, there being no typed, final draft?

Of all the poems considered to be Birthday Letters poems that I have read, this one does have a rawness to it. However, on the whole those I think that part of what makes Birthday Letters a cohesive entity is in many respects, that many poems do have a prosiness about them. So I see it fitting, even though it is technically not complete.


Marion McCready said...

Hi Peter, in a Guardian article concerning the poem it says that Hughes had given Carol (Hughes) a "typed fair copy of it". Don't you think that this sounds like a final draft?

Peter K Steinberg said...


Yes, indeed it does. Thank you for the comment. I have to admit I gave up reading the media coverage surround "Last Letter" finding it severely deficient and quite poorly written: so I missed this bit o' information.


George Fitzgerald said...

And still, since Hughes chose not to include it in "Birthday Letters" -- typed version notwithstanding -- we needn't judge it against those he did include. His judgement is what counts. its value is in the expression of raw feelings and of what, we may presume, actually happened. It's a tiny segment of biography -- we're all obsessed with his and her biographies and so naturally it is valuable. It is sensational and adds poignant details we had no knowledge of until this unpolished poem's unearthing. It adds, too, to the hurt we know of those tragically tangled lives. I'm grateful for it.

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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.