19 December 2010

2010 Sylvia Plath Info Year In Review

Like just about any other year, 2010 for Sylvia Plath was interesting and occasionally controversial.

The year saw just one major publication by Plath, and that was the British Library’s Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath CD in April. I was fortunate enough to be asked to write the introduction, which was both a great honor and fun to do. If you have not yet purchased the CD or borrowed it from a library I would highly recommend you do (and not for the intro, mind you, but for the audio tracks). By ordering through the link on the sidebar of this blog you can save 10%. The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath CD wins, hands down, for my favorite cover award of the year. The only book by Plath published this year was by Faber who published a new, hardback edition of Ariel in May, but this was of the originally published Ariel edited by Ted Hughes.

Books about Plath were a little skimpy this year too; but those new books that did appear in print are considerably important and extremely valuable contributions to Plath scholarship. The highlight of the year is certainly Luke Ferretter’s Sylvia Plath’s Fiction: A Critical Study (review). This is without a doubt my “Book about Plath of the Year” winner. It was long overdue and on a subject highly under-considered, undervalued, etc.

Another new book that was published quite late in the year and thus had not been read & considered for its merit is Heather Clark’s The Grief of Influence: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes (Oxford, published 9 December 2010). This book is very highly anticipated by Plath scholars and will be the study of Plath & Hughes’ poetry to which others will be compared. I have been excited by Clark’s writing for years and look forward to anything else she will publish.

Other new books “on” Plath include: Daniel Huws’ Memories of Ted Hughes: 1956-1963 (Richard Hollis, published 17 February 2010), and Lucas Myers An Essential Self: Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath (Five Leaves), which appeared in time for the Ted Hughes Conference at Cambridge and is officially published in January 2011 (review forthcoming). Plath received coverage in a number of books such as Last Looks, Last Books: Stevens, Plath, Lowell, Bishop, Merrill by Helen Vendler, Diary Poetics: For and Style in Writers Diaries, 1915-1962 (Routledge) (excellent essay), and in Between the Sheets: Nine 20th Century Women Writers and Their Famous Literary Partnerships by Leslie McDowell (Overlook).

There were many individual articles printed on Plath this year, likely far too many to list. The great concentration of them appeared however in two issues of Plath Profiles. In Plath Profiles 3, there was featured special section wonderfully edited and introduced by Guest Editor Amanda Golden on Sylvia Plath and Material Culture. Also published was Plath Profiles 3 Supplement, which featured essays on the 10th anniversary of the publication of The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath and celebrated the books’ editor Karen V. Kukil.

A new blog was started by Maeve O’Brien that tracks her PhD work on Plath. If you have not looked in yet on The Plath Diaries please do this now and return later to this post. And keep checking back as there is a link to her blog on the sidebar. More articles published this year or referenced may be found on my blog looking at the article or bibliography labels.

Three major news stories saturated the Plath-waves this year. In March, Frieda Hughes published “The Poison That Drove Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes Apart” in The Times. In the article, Hughes places blame for her parents’ collapsed marriage on her maternal grandmother. This was met with the typical sensation and was largely looked as a skewed or delusional opinion. Bigger news was Ted Hughes’ poem “Last Letter.” This is the poem heard around the world; a fine example of viral poetry! The media coverage was both amusing and terrible at the same time, as the famous literary couple was one again dragged into an almost reality-TV-esque inspection. Time will determine the poems validity, veracity and worth. It certainly did spark lots of conversation on this blog; October seemed the longest month of the year. The last major news story was Sylvia Plath’s induction to the Poets’ Corner in the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in New York City in November.

It is hard to choose just a few news stories & posts to highlight as I am undoubtedly missing something that was important. I have gone through the entire year’s posts and find something I feel most passionately about are the Plath archives. “Last Letter” highlighted important archival news, that of the opening of Ted Hughes’ archive at the British Library for research. Stepping back, timed almost to coincide with the British Library’s Spoken Word CD was the news that the British Library acquired Ted Hughes’ wine-stained copy of Saint Botolph’s Review. Although it received no additional or big news coverage of its own, I located Plath’s copy of the Saint Botoloph’s Review. Well, it is not fair to say I located it but I broadcasted on the blog that is it at the University of Virginia. This is THE COPY that lead to her attending THE party where history was made. Well, I thought it was important... Olwyn Hughes sold some letters and poetry drafts from Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes to the British Library, too, which also made news in September.

The one major Plath event I attended this year was Robert Shaw’s New York production of “Three Women.” I highly enjoyed it and have since been on a kind of a “Three Women” kick, particularly interested in its major source, the Ingmar Bergman film Nära livet (Brink of Life in the US, and So Close to Life in the UK). The original UK movie poster can be seen here; and a possibly more modern(?) DVD release can be seen here (don’t you think the top woman resembles Plath?)

Aside from my Plath website being updated regularly and my activities in this blog, I suppose I had a productive Plath year. In January I spent a week with the Plath Collection on a Helm Visiting Fellowship at the Lilly Library. I blogged about my daily activities each evening, which was much fun for me; reliving those recently passed hours. And I hope you enjoyed being there with me! Part of the trip was to learn more about the books Plath read but did not necessarily keep or own: books read for school, in essays, borrowed from the library, etc. These books are being catalogued (much more slowly than I had envisioned) in LibraryThing. I was also able to visit several Boston area libraries that hold either Plath books or Plath-related things. I visited also Smith College a couple of times which is always a treat, and in November I took a day trip to the Hornbake Library at University of Maryland at College Park to examine the Frances M. McCullough Papers (more about this within the next month I hope).

I had a few publications in Plath Profiles as well as the introduction to the Spoken Word CD. In “‘They Had to Call and Call’: The Search for Sylvia Plath” I researched microfilmed newspapers for the stories that appeared on Plath’s first suicide attempt in August 1953. At the same time, it showed the benefits of sources like Google News Archive which is slowly adding to the number of known articles that ran nationwide on the subject. This work included making a collage of headlines and a bibliography, which is still growing (that is the problem with bibliographies: they are out of date before they are finished! The bibliography of articles about Plath - and books by and about, theses on, translations of, archival repositories holding materials of, etc. - that I am compiling is still in progress). Gail Crowther and I followed up on “These Ghostly Archives” from Plath Profiles 2 with “These Ghostly Archives, Redux” in Volume 3. In this piece we continued our archival conversation and made more discoveries in the Plath archives held at both Smith College and the British Library (from documents found contained within the A. Alvarez papers).

In 2011, we are getting near important 50th anniversary milestones! 50 years ago in 1961, Plath wrote The Bell Jar! This continues in importance into 2012 and 2013: 50 years since the Ariel poems were largely written and fifty years since The Bell Jar was published & fifty years since her death... But that’s getting a bit too far ahead...

In April 2011, look for a new edition of The Bell Jar by Faber. I will remind you when it is out I am sure...And it looks like Harold Bloom is up to his old tricks; in October 2011 look for How to Write About Sylvia Plath, from his How to Write about Literature series. If we have learned anything about Bloom and his attitude towards Plath, then the book will be just one page and contain the word “Don’t.” However, this title authored by Kim Crowley so maybe Plath will get better, more considerate and appropriate treatment.

Representing Sylvia PlathWe should also keep an eye or two out for Representing Sylvia Plath, edited by Tracy Brain and Sally Bayley, which is tentatively scheduled (by Amazon.co.uk) for a 31 July 2011 publication date. Say what you will, this book is by and large a compilation of essays (some modified and lengthened, but to be fair some new pieces too) given at the 2007 Oxford Sylvia Plath 75th Year Symposium. With time hopefully we’ll learn about more 2011 publications! If you hear of any articles or forthcoming books, please let me know so we can spread the word.

Look for Plath Profiles 4 in August 2011 which will feature a section of “Plath and Place” as requested by Guest Editor Gail Crowther (a.k.a. Gee Cee, the Amazing Editor). In addition to plans for a third “These Ghostly Archives” which I will co-write with Gail based on already found, really awesome archival finds, I am already at work on an essay on Plath & Place that I hope will be interesting and accepted. Maybe later this winter or in the spring I will tell you a bit about it if there is interest? Plath Profiles 4 will feature poems by the late Morney Wilson, who passed away in November 2010. Some of you will recognize her name as a valuable contributor to the Sylvia Plath Forum. Her poems are as wonderful as her comments. As usual, please read the submission guidelines in advance of sending in your work.

By the numbers this was a busy year for both this blog and my website for Sylvia Plath A celebration, this is. Indeed, the combined hits/visits exceeded 106,000 and for this I am extremely thankful! The blog itself had more than 42,000 visits; and the website, more than 64,000. On the website, the most popular pages were the biography, poetryworks, thumbs60-63, belljar, and thumbs50-55. This excludes “landing” pages such as the home page.

For the blog, a milestone was reached as I posted my 500th post during the summer! And without a doubt this year was more active for commenting, thanks in large part to some of those big news stories (wish it was due to the provocativeness of some of the posts, but...) Thanks to the Guest Poster’s, too, because it saved me a bit of writing & thinking! The top pages receiving hits on the blog this year were: Dissertations about Sylvia Plath, Frieda Hughes on the breakup of her parents marriage, Two Thumbs Up!, Sylvia Plath’s Voice, and Coming Soon: The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath.

Unless I catch wind of something neat or something major needs to be announced, this will be the last post of the year for me so that I can make some progress on my essay for Plath Profiles 4 (and maybe enjoy spending time with inbound family & the holidays). Thank you all for your comments, visits, and words of support; and for those following the blog and for those who have Guest Posted. Keep Plathing! Happy holidays & New Year.

Below is a hodge-podge list of articles I found online and/or found references to one rainy day... I have not read them all yet; waiting for a snowy day...

Diane S. Bonds. "The Separative Self in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar." Women's Studies 18. 1990: 49-64.

Carly Cate. "Restoring Sylvia—Reconstructing Sylvia Plath's Ariel." Academic Forum 26. 2008-2009: 56-59.

Julia Chin-chu Chang. "The Severance in Two Worlds: Sylvia Plath's Three Ekphrastic Poems on Giorgio de Chirico's Art Works (‘Conversation Among the Ruins,' ‘The Disquieting Muses,' and ‘On the Decline of Oracles')."

Luis Alfredo Fernandes De Assis. "Sylvia Plath's Fragmentation in the Voices of ‘Three Women'." Revista Artemis 7. December 2007: 47-55.

Zsófia Demjén. "Metaphors of a Conflicted Self in the Smith Journal of Sylvia Plath."

Roger Elkin. "Hidden Influences in the Poetry of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath." Ted Hughes Info. 2009.

Gregor Fajdiga. "The Process and Purpose of Demonizing the Father in Sylvia Plath's Poetry." May 2005.

Harold Fromm. "Sylvia Plath: Hunger Artist." Hudson Review (43:2). Summer 1990: 245-56.

Parvin Ghasemi. "Reflections of Self and Other in Sylvia Plath's "Mirror" Imagery." Dream, Imagination and Reality in Literature: South Bohemian Anglo-American Studies 1. 2007: 58-62.

Jason D. Hill. "Sylvia Plath: "Daddy" and the Creation of Moral Culture." In Beyond Blood Identities: Posthumanity in the Twenty-first Century. Lanham, Md. : Lexington Books, 2009.

Emily Hourican. "The Irish Sojourn of Sylvia Plath." The Irish Independent. September 24, 2006.

Yukiko Kashiwara. "Exploring Psychic Reality through Poetry Analysis: Sylvia Plath's ‘Fever 103'." Ritsumeikan Journal of Human Sciences 19. 2009: 15-27.

Dal-Yong Kim. “Sylvia Plath's Vitalist Occultism: ‘A Piranha Religion'." Mystical Themes and Occult Symbolism in Modern Poetry: Wordsworth, Whitman, Hopkins, Yeats, Pound, Eliot, and Plath. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2009.

Ida Kodrlová and Ivo Čermák. "Precursors to Suicide in Life and Works of Sylvia Plath and Sarah Kane." Institute of Psychology, Academy of Sciences, Czech Republic.

Siri Langholm. "Sylvia Plath: Prophet, Madwoman, or Saint?" In The Sweeter Side of Pain. Oslo: Solum Forlag, 2003.

Laurence Lerner. "Sylvia Plath." In Reading Women's Poetry. Brighton; Portland: Sussex Academic Press, 2009.

Nicholas Lezard. "Beware the Plath Copycats." The Guardian Books Blog. March 13, 2008.

Ellen Miller. "Sylvia Plath and White Ignorance:Race and Gender in 'The Arrival of the Bee Box'." Janus Head 10:1. 2007: 137-156.

Susan K. Mitchell. "'The Hanging [Wo]Man': The Reader in Sylvia Plath's Ariel." Thesis (M.A.)--Texas Tech University, 1989.

Neumann, Stepanka. Sylvia Plath's Ambivalent Depictions of the Female Identity Poetry. Hamburg: Kovač, 2009. [book]

Sylvia Plath. The Bell Jar. New York: Bantam, 1972. [book]

Susan E. Schwarz. "Little Girl Lost: Sylvia Plath and the Puella Aeternus." In Perpetual Adolescence, SUNY Press, 2009.

Susan E. Schwartz. "Sylvia Plath: A Split in the Mirror."

R. Sharma. "Terrible Fish in Sylvia Plath's Mirrors: Perception and Relevance of Mirror Imagery." The Indian Review of World Literature in English 5:2. July 2009.

Hirmawan Wijanarka. "The Aspects of Modernism in Sylvia Plath's ‘Lady Lazarus'." The Aspects of Modernism 10:2. October 2006. 130-139.

Bertram Wyatt-Brown. "Sylvia Plath, Depression and Suicide: A New Interpretation." Proceedings of the 14th International Conference on Literature and Psychoanalysis, 177-190. (If this link doesn't work, sorry: it worked for me a while ago. Here is the abstract of the paper to at least give a taste about the paper: Current biographies of Sylvia Plath--those written by Ann Stevenson, Paul Alexander, Linda Wagner-Martin, Janet Malcolm, A. Alvarez and others--have not treated the problems of Sylvia Plath's mental health in an adequate way. Following along lines that Thomas Caramagno established in his work on Virginia Woolf, I adopt a more neurological approach to Plath's manic-depression. At the same time, one cannot overlook early childhood trauma that clearly made matters worse with regard to her mental stability. Some blame Ted Hughes for infidelity and indifference. Others denounce Sylvia herself and treat depression as a result of moral weakness and selfish narcissism. Neither of these interpretations comprehend the irremediable nature of her illness before anti-depressants were available. The paper will discuss her late poetry in relation to her final state of mania which produce the incredibly powerful imagery in her posthumously published collection Ariel.)

All links accessed from 1 November - 15 December 2010.

15 December 2010

A Comparison

In England currently the cold weather is big news and is drawing comparisons to the cold, brutal winter of 1962-1963, which is relevant to this blog in so many ways. In fact, in the Daily Mail article "Will it be even colder than the winter of 1962-3? Big freeze returns tomorrow... and it's going to last for a MONTH" by Paul Bentley, Becky Barrow and Sophie Freeman (how many Britons does it take to write about the weather?), the boxed off text "The Great Freeze of 1962/63" seems a paraphrase of Sylvia Plath's prose piece "Snow Blitz." One of my favorite things to do is review the Times and Guardian microfilm from Boxing Day through early February to try to get a sense of what he media coverage was saying about the weather conditions. That the winter is still memorable speaks to its severity.

Unfortunately we do not know the date "Snow Blitz" was written, but in all likelihood it was written before she completed what would be called "Ocean 1212-W." Another prose piece Plath wrote at this time was "America! America!," which was if memory serves a commissioned piece by Punch. The recently released audio track of Plath's review of Donald Hall's Contemporary American Poetry anthology for "New Comment" on the BBC is another excellent example of her prose writing; and in a different genre to the previously mentioned works.

One thing is for sure, Plath's late prose - like her last poems - was amongst her finest writing... And I do not think Alvarez was wrong when on 17 February he wrote, "[t]he loss to literature is inestimable."

Thanks to Kim for the link!

12 December 2010

On Sylvia Plath's "Last Letter" by Ted Hughes

Even after all this time, I'm still digesting "Last Letter" but finding it easier to read now that the hoopla has died down a bit. The news stories on its publications were just atrocious and sometimes it is hard to shake initial feeds, impressions, reports, and rushed judgments. As a result, though, what was reported has to be discredited largely, and ignored & forgotten. Looking back to those long gone halcyon days of early-to-mid October 2010 and those news stories ... I can't read them anymore. They, in fact, they quite privately bore me...(in those days I regarded forgetfulness as an essential part of survival). I'd like to see the manuscripts of the poems, all of them. Hughes's handwriting is difficult at best, but a little time with them and I think much more could be known about the poem. That being said, this post isn't looking at the whole poem, but just a little bit of it.

First, though, with this archive of material now available, this term Birthday Letters now means much more than the collection that was eventually published. In typical Steinbergian fashion I cannot and do not look at the poems in Birthday Letters as poems, but I will try to untangle some of the real events that may have inspired and informed the poem.

I learned when Birthday Letters was published not to spout out as I still waver a bit on how I receive and interpret those poems and that book. Some have said the poem “Last Letter” doesn't fit: true, it feels unfinished and raw in some ways, but I don't know if that is because I was told it was unfinished or if its exclusion from Birthday Letters (and/or Howls & Whispers) makes it so. I do not have either collection memorized, but I do not recall Hughes coming as close to finding himself guilty, his behavior reprehensible - or pronouncing himself indeed as guilty - of something as he does in "Last Letter."

If "Last Letter" is "true," and Plath threatened to kill herself via letter on 8 February 1963, Hughes may be seen to be even more culpable of negligence than before. Cath rightly points out in a comment in this post, Hughes wrote to some friends in February 1963: "I was the one who could have helped her and the only one that couldn't see that she really needed it this time." I'm troubled by the qualifying "this time" but I think it is deeply meaningful; that Hughes had seen this before, had experienced Plath to a degree at this nadir, and that he had trouble differentiating this cry for help from others

This got me thinking about the possibility of an actual "Last Letter." Obviously, if there was one - and if the poem is to be believed as relating something that did happen - Plath burned it. What might it have said? Something strong enough to force Hughes to dash (not from Yorkshire as Walsh would have you believe) but from his flat at 110 Cleveland Street to 23 Fitzroy Road (driving about 2.1 miles; walking 1.5 miles).

In the poem, Hughes writes, "—-off the ashtray / Against which you would lean for me to read / The Doctor’s phone-number." All reports indicate that Plath pinned or taped her - for lack of a better word - suicide note to "PLEASE CALL / DR. HORDER..." on the perambulator which she usually left in the hallway (much to her downstairs neighbor, Trevor Thomas’, dismay). Did she leave two notes? This seems unlikely unless what she left propped on the ashtray for Hughes to read was an actual letter and not a secondary note to call the doctor at the time of her death (let the speculation begin!). So this is an instance where Hughes is likely misremembering or taking some poetic liberties or both: it's neat this way, the note is placed in the exact spot where she burned her “last letter.” It's as neat and tidy as suggesting "Edge" is her last poem when it very well could have been “Balloons”. Speaking of “Edge”, I wonder if, as Plath burned the last letter, the “strange smile” she was wearing is taken from the perfected woman’s “smile of accomplishment”, if the smiles are one and the same?

The eight lines commencing "My escape / Had become such a hunted thing" I read two ways: First, Hughes' escape from the marriage; that Plath was literally hunting for him; to find where her husband was living. Second, and actually perhaps related, is that once Hughes left her presence he felt like the prey to Plath's predator. For example, did Plath stealthily follow him to Cleveland Street and return there the following day?

A surprise visit by Plath to Cleveland Street on the 8th or 9th of February (or perhaps before this date), I think, lends support to Hughes wanting to not sleep there during the weekend of 8-10 February, or at least explains his motivation to not be at his flat. In a comment by Kim also in the above mentioned post as Cath's, she pointed out something I said in Kara Kilfoil's annotation of "The Inscription" (published in Plath Profiles 3). I proposed "that Plath may have obtained Hughes's address when staying with the Beckers which would support an argument for Plath's visit to Cleveland Street on February 9 (see annotation 74.1) as opposed to February 7."

Now, without a doubt, I believe Plath obtained Ted Hughes' address and telephone number at different times. Here's why... In her address book, now held in the Plath Collection at Smith College, Hughes’ name and address are in a different color ink (blue) than the phone number (black). Black ink was usually the color Plath used to enter information in her address book. I suggested what I suggested to Kara based on the different color inks. Blue isn't too unusual in the address book; however, it is not the norm. The black ink appears to be the same ink that she wrote her poems in and which she used to sign letters, etc. So, this suggests she obtained Hughes' telephone number whilst she was at her own flat in Fitzroy Road, maybe even from Hughes himself on a January visit. The blue ink is more typical ballpoint pen (or biro, as they are called in England) and I think must be the kind of pen she kept in her purse. It is a small detail but a very important one. The fact is we do not know when she obtained either Hughes’ number or his address; what we do know is that in a letter to Olive Higgins Prouty written on 22 January 1963, Plath wrote that she knew he was living in Soho. But we cannot know if Plath knew where in Soho the flat was.

Hughes later writes in the poem, "that [Friday] night ... I moved / With the circumspection / Of a flame in a fuse." This supports that he felt followed, hunted; he continues, "I raced / From and from, face backwards, a film reversed." So after he "saved" Plath that Friday night he went to Susan's flat at Rugby Street, where he would return for Sunday night repeat performance! Hughes writes that he goes back to Rugby Street because at Cleveland Street "You might appear—-a surprise visitation." He was either paranoid or this had happened before and later he admits “So I stayed with Susan, hiding from you.”

The reference to Susan as "dellarobbia" has sparked some confusion over the choice of word, myself included. I like Kim's point from the comments to the aforementioned post. However if we look at the words individually, della means "of”; and robbia, “madder". Of madder. Madder is defined as "a Eurasian herb (Rubia tinctorum of the family Rubiaceae, the madder family) with whorled leaves and small yellowish panicled flowers succeeded by dark berries; broadly: any of several related herbs (genus Rubia); 2a: the root of the Eurasian madder used formerly in dyeing; also : an alizarin dye prepared from it; b: a moderate to strong red."

I see this connecting to the previous lines above where Hughes goes on about the his “love-life” and its "mad needles." Someone suggested that the two mad needles were Assia and Susan; I think this makes sense as Plath cannot really be considered to have been, at this point at any rate, any part of Hughes' “love-life”, right? The image of "red" appears throughout the poem in words like “rose" and "bloody." Even "inside my own skin," "emblazon," and “fury” connote redness, something vibrant, brilliantly colored. Lastly (or firstly in the poem) Plath’s locked door, Hughes says, is red. Red is a very Plathian color and I should not have any need to cite examples from her work. Red also is a mythic color throughout Birthday Letters; the final poem was titled “Red.” In “Red” Hughes acknowledges Plath’s preference for that color, but he thinks “blue was better for your...was your kindly spirit” (BL 198). So in Hughes’ color-coded scheme for his women, Plath was blue, Alliston was red. (What of Assia Wevill? Brenda? Jill? Emma?) Can’t you just picture the official Ted Hughes limited edition Crayola box!

In the penultimate stanza, Hughes writes, " I count / How often you walked to the phone-booth / At the bottom of St George’s terrace [sic]." This has to be a memory from the lost or destroyed journals or if she had a 1963 tablet calendar like her 1962 Royal Lett’s, perhaps she made notes on that? Perhaps she ticked them off as a prisoner might do in a jail cell to mark the passing days. I do think Hughes here is story-telling that Plath made so many trips to the phone box on her last night: 'Before midnight. After midnight. Again. / Again. Again. And, near dawn, again." As Cath again has rightly pointed out, Trevor Thomas says, "I could not sleep and I heard her walking to and fro on the wood floor." It has long been said that Plath was pacing the floors. Had she been traveling up and down the stairs and in and out of the door, Thomas would likely have been altered to this and deeply bothered. He would certainly have approached her. (At least, his portrayal as an intolerant, fussy old man would have us believe he would have.) It is not likely Plath left her flat that night for several reasons, the leading reason is that the letters for which she bought stamps were not actually mailed. Thomas reported that she seemed drugged, so we can be reasonably assured Plath took her sleeping pills and maybe even her "wake-up" pills. Anne Stevenson and others report that Dr. John Horder visited Plath Sunday evening, too. (How Horder knew she was back at her flat is certainly a question worth pondering. My best guess is that the Becker’s called him? Perhaps Horder “administered” her sleeping pills as Becker had done the few previous nights?) By the morning of the 11th, she was at least clear enough in mind to protect her children from the gas (also, I think she would not have left the children alone in the flat at night for repeated visits to the phone box).

All this said, what of this "Last Letter"? It is possible that Hughes might have leaked some of the contents of an actual “Last Letter” to Aurelia Plath (should one have existed in the first place). In Hughes’ first letter to Mrs. Plath after Sylvia Plath's death, dated March 1963, he writes, "The particular conditions of our marriage, the marriage of two people so openly under the control of deep psychic abnormalities as both of us were, meant that we finally reduced each other to a state where our actions and normal states of mind were like madness. My attempt to correct that marriage is madness from start to finish. The way she reacted to my actions also has all the appearance of a kind of madness -- her insistence on a divorce, the one thing in the world she did not want, the proud hostility and hatred, the malevolent acts, that she showed to me, when all she wanted to say simply was that if I didn't go back to her she could not live...” (emphasis mine)"

Plath said it best in some excised lines from “Nick and the Candlestick”, “I leave you the mystery.”

****
N.B. The publication of “Last Letter” and the opening of the archive at the British Library will go a long way to unlocking Ted Hughes’ process of creating Birthday Letters; into the decisions that went into completing and selecting some poems, and the opposite, excluding other poems. Though I do not think that it was not acknowledged in news stories at the time, some Hughes scholars have known about the poem for years. And, hints about “Last Letter” had been available online for at least 11 months prior to the poems publication in the New Statesman. In an essay by Roy Davids called “The Making of Birthday Letters” the draft/variant first line of “Last Letter” “What did happen on that Sunday night?” appears in a list of first lines and titles of poems of Ted Hughes archive that he had worked with well before it sold to the British Library.

Davids wrote the essay between 2007 and 2009 and it can be read on his website here, and with slightly different text on on Claas Kazzar’s wonderful ted-hughes.info here (published circa 12 November 2009). Other first lines are tantalizingly provocative, such as 'The last I had seen of you was you burning / Your last farewell note...' which may be another part/draft/version of “Last Letter” or indeed another poem altogether; and 'You never meant it. In your novel...' Meant what? Which novel!?

If I had any desire to travel to London to see this stuff first hand it has now been magnified thanks to Davids’ wonderful essay which provides a rather deep glimpse into the archive.

09 December 2010

Sylvia Plath: NFL Prognosticator

& the uses of Sylvia Plath's Journals continues to grow and astound...

As we saw in the Plath Profiles 3 Supplement published in October, ten different writers worked with the Unabridged Journals and presented their findings in very different ways... Now, over at readandreact.net, the geniuses have used Plath's Journals to describe the very possible outcomes and scenarios of the fourteenth week of the NFL...

08 December 2010

More on Last Letter

These are some online articles that discuss Ted Hughes' recently published poem "Last Letter", which as you know make a big splash and dominated our lives in October. Some of them are older but in the wake of the hullabaloo they got a bit buried...

Kay Loftus of the Boston University Quad wrote "'The Last Letter' of Ted Hughes" which appeared on November 7.

The New Statesman's Lucian Robinson posted "Ted Hughes's 'Last letter': the response" on November 22, 2010.

From November 28, 2010, there is Peter Steinfels Commonweal piece "Is light the new dark?" which may be one of the first times Harry Potter and Sylvia Plath were mentioned in the same breath?

If anyone is at all interested, I am working as and when I can on my own reaction to "Last Letter" and hope to have it posted here shortly...

03 December 2010

Sylvia Plath, David Trinidad and Black Telephone

Our friend in Plath - David Trinidad - has a poem entitled "Black Telephone" published in this year's Best American Poetry (edited by David Lehman and Amy Gerstler).

David sent the following "Process Note" to me about his "Black Telephone," which originally appeared in Tin House.

"The actual telephone that inspired this poem is in an unwatchable Natalie Wood film from the early sixties, Cash McCall. There's a closeup of it at the beginning of the movie. But I had telephones on the brain; that’s why it captivated me. I was in the middle of writing an essay about the telephone incident that precipitated the end of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes's marriage (Plath pulled the phone cord out of the wall when she intercepted a call from Assia Wevill, with whom Hughes was having an affair), and the way that incident reverberates in such poems as Plath’s "Words heard, by accident, over the phone" and "The Fearful" (and even "Daddy") and Hughes's "Do Not Pick Up the Telephone." Thus I was thinking about the telephone as "trauma object" (Catherine Bowman’s term) and as an instrument of terror in movies like Sorry, Wrong Number and Midnight Lace. So deep was I into research about Plath and Hughes, I knew that their Devon telephone number, before Plath severed the connection in July 1962, was North Tawton 370; after it was reinstalled a few months later, in early November, it changed to North Tawton 447. I was astounded to realize that Plath was without phone service when she wrote the bulk of her Ariel poems that October, a fact that explains, in part, the urgency of the work.

"Certain that Plath would have appreciated my attention to detail, I had to find out the model of her telephone. It would have been from the 700 series (706, to be exact), available in Britain from 1959 to 1967; "subscribers" rented their phones from the General Post Office, and had to wait several months to have them "fitted" by a GPO engineer. The interval, then, during which Plath was cut off from the rest of the world, which ironically helped facilitate her great poetic output. Of course once I knew the model, obsessiveness (or should I say fetishism) led me to Ruby Tuesday, a store in Shropshire that sells vintage telephones on eBay. From them I bought (for £65, plus another £30 for postage) an example of the very phone Sylvia angrily ripped from the wall. It sits here on my desk, magical by association, and beautiful (to my mind) in its shiny black obsolescence."

Congratulations David! Read the poem here.

The black telephone images here are supplied courtesy of David Trinidad. Trinidad, as you may know, had three poems published in Plath Profiles 3 and the essay “Hidden in Plain Sight: On Sylvia Plath’s Missing Journals” in Plath Profiles 3 Supplement this year. If you haven't read these poems and the essay yet, please treat yourself this weekend.
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