06 October 2010

Watch Channel 4 New story

Watch the Channel 4's news story on the recent Ted Hughes poem on Sylvia Plath!


panther said...

Where to begin ? The New Statesman and Channel Four seem to have got very excited about this poem.

I saw the Channel 4 item yesterday evening and couldn't help feeling it was voyeuristic and prurient. Do we really need this poem to tell us that Hughes was anguished over the suicide of his wife ??

Frankly, I don't believe that this poem has just been "found", had been somehow mislaid and then miraculously re-discovered. It could almost certainly have been included in BIRTHDAY LETTERS. I daresay a deliberate decision, an astute business decision, was made at that time NOT to include it. So it comes out now, to great acclaim from various people in the literary world. And from journalists, many of whom are quite happy to feed the public's prurient desire to "know more."

I don't want to know more. It feels like prying. Of course he was devastated, of course he was haunted for the rest of his life. (Elaine Feinstein seems oddly surprised by this.)

Anonymous said...

This Channel 4 report is very annoying. It's a cheek that they refer to Hughes as "that giant of English poetry" but only refer to Plath as "an American poet" (twice no less!). Why is she relativised in stature compared to him? Is it simply because the report is airing to a UK audience?

Secondly, the reporter talks - while standing on Fitzroy Road - of Plath "giving into depression" – a strange expression, almost as if it were a form of weakness.

Thirdly, there is the usual clich├ęd reference to "a love story doomed to end in tragedy".

Lastly, Melvyn Bragg talks of Birthday Letters as "one of the great collections of 20th Century poetry". I admire Hughes's poetry (particularly the early volumes), but BL was an overrated volume, more loved for the "prurient" details it conveyed than for its value as poetry. I notice Bragg is guest-editing The New Statesman this week and therefore may have a good reason for promoting this "new poem" in which it prominently features...
I just hope too many people don't get sucked into this hype.

Rant over! Have a good day everyone -

Julia said...

I agree with Panther and I'll bet that, more likely, this is an astrologically auspicious date that Hughes long ago chose to have this particular poem published. He published all his work that way.

Birthday Letters is not a great book of poetry as far as technique, craftsmanship, or even expression, but Birthday Letters is a key to understanding much of Hughes and Plath's work.

Very frustrating that New Statesman isn't releasing the entire poem online. It's going to be murder trying to get a copy anytime soon.

panther said...

Anonymous, i think we're singing from the same hymn-sheet ! Also "that giant of English poetry" is a cliche." An American poet" sounds like she was nothing out of the ordinary, just one among many.

And people do not "give in" to depression, agreed, that remark really grated with me too. Depression is not, absolutely not, a moral weakness, any more than diabetes is, or heart disease. Anyone who knows about Plath knows that she struggled very hard, was very keen to enter therapy and really get to the root of the thing. Her struggle with depression appears to border, if anything, on the heroic. Silly journalist.

Listening to the item, I tried to imagine what a viewer would think who didn't know previously about Plath and Hughes and their poetry. I think such a person would be puzzled why people (some people) were getting so excited about one poem by a deceased poet which has appeared this week in the New Statesman. A poem that "proves" that Hughes was deeply upset at Plath's death. We know he was, of course he was. The NEWS would be if someone somehow had found out beyond a doubt that he didn't give a toss, that their marriage had been a sham.

And it wouldn't have been necessary to include it in BIRTHDAY LETTERS, either. It was apparent in that volume (flawed though it is) that there was great love and pain involved. It doesn't have to be spelt out.

I think yesterday was what they call a slow news day.

panther said...

Julia, that's interesting. I hadn't considered the astrological angle but you are right, Hughes cared very deeply about these things. Also, today in Great Britain is National Poetry Day, so I suppose various news-outlets were very keen to have "a poetry story."

I found it rather intriguing when the man (Melvyn Bragg ?) said that they had approached Carol Hughes, Hughes' widow, about the possibility of publishing the poems and "eventually, she agreed." The Hughes estate have always been very astute about timings, how to maximize profit ! While being (trying to be) disingenuous.

Peter K Steinberg said...

What a lively conversation to wake up to this morning. I'm resisting commenting too much myself on the actual poem until I've managed to read it for myself. But, it is as we probably all hoped when the news of the Hughes archive acquisition broke back in 2008.

October does seem to be the month of Hughes, as well as obviously the month of Plath.

The news reports have to be dramatic and sensationalistic. And though it appears they had "time" to create a good seven minutes story, it was severely flawed. Plath, the American poet, is the author of The Bell Jar. What about Ariel, which is actually poetry? Carol Ann Duffy made me nauseous.

As for the "timing", who knows. To suggest that in 1998 (or before) Hughes said something along this lines of "publish this "Last Letter" in October 2010 about two years after you sell my papers to the British Library" is absurd! Sorry, that's snarky and I don't mean it meanly. That it is National Poetry Day in the UK is the strongest reason for me behind the publication.

Archives are chock full of unpublished materials. Not all of it gets this kind of press but given the nature of this poem and that collection (Birthday Letters) and the drama of this relationship I'm not surprised by it.

Hey BBC or Bragg, go to the Lilly Library and read Plath's circa October 1960 poem "Home Thoughts of London". Publish that!

It will be interesting to see how they follow-up with this.

Anna said...


Really! I'm not getting involved in the discussion above, because I see a few things differently, but I think it's only understandable that a poem like this is HUGE NEWS, whether the release was planned or not, whether there a different purpose behind it or not... it's still big and I know why people are excited!

I'm also not sure if the poem is needed so that people believe Ted Hughes was hurt or whatever, I think we are all just very happy that there is a poem, we didn't know before!!

Annika said...

You can read the poem here: http://nocandyforyou.tumblr.com/

Peter K Steinberg said...

Thanks Annika!


Kristina Zimbakova said...

Thumbs up for Home Thoughts from London! But yeah, media appetite can ONLY be quenched by drama, drama drama... Peter,I couldn't agree more about the publication date, I think the timing is definitely chosen because of the National Poetry Day.

And let's admit it,if it hadn't been for the biographical purport, Birthday Letters would never have been, in pure poetical terms, Hughes' 'greatest poetry book'. Plath's Ariel is on a much much higher par than his book, I am afraid.
And I am fed up with her being called an ordinary mortal, just an (inferior) American poet, and the perpetual naming of Hughes as a poetry giant etc superlatives. or maybe it is because he is MAN...

Peter K Steinberg said...


Yes, I cannot and many cannot read Birthday Letters without the biographical inquisitive eye. No doubt they are poems but Ariel is far more of an achieved thing.

My suspicion over Hughes being described as a "giant" and what not has a lot to do with his poetical longevity and output (possibly his stature too as being physically tall).

Regarding both his longevity in the field of poetry and his output, there were, of course, successes and flops. But his poetry, plays, translations, children's books and radio lectures, being the Poet Laureate, etc. all, I think contribute to this description. I don't think referring to Hughes as giant of British poetry belittles Plath in the least. I just think it's perspective in a way. I might be wrong and many of you might disagree: but I look at it almost as a literal thing. Giant also has dramatic connotations, too, which is within the theme of what the media does...


Kristina Zimbakova said...

Yes, Peter, I meant the mass media, when I referred to the superlative-qualifiers used for Hughes compared to Plath ('the wife of poet Hughes' occurs to me right now of the endless list, even when Plath is the main article topic and not her husband). I do not dispute Hughes oeuvre at all, he certainly deserved being the Poet Laureate.
Thanks for all these great links, Peter. Plathians owe you so much...

Anna said...

I think it always depeds on where the article or the news come from. If they are coming from the UK, Hughes is always "one of the greatest" etc and Sylvia his "wife and poet", but when the news are published by an American newspaper, it's Sylvia Plath "the brilliant, award-winning poet" and Ted usually the "poet laureate", but US papers tend to point out more how what she achieved, while the UK ones tend to "forget" it... don't you think?

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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.