27 October 2011

On Sylvia Plath’s 79th Birthday …

Readers of this blog, Plath Profiles, and contemporary American poetry will be familiar with the name of the poet and writer David Trinidad. Recently Dear Prudence, his new and selected poems, was published by Turtle Point Press and within its wonderful pages are a number of poems on Sylvia Plath.

Trinidad has a way of getting at the essence of Sylvia Plath in his poems.  His poetry shows evidence of his passion for Plath, and there is truthfulness in his methodological use of her archival materials and creative works. And of course, the range of poems held within the older, selected titles is moving. Seeing a poets progression through the medium of a new and selected volume is inspiring. I admire him and his poetry a great deal, and cannot recommend this book enough. Trinidad’s poetry is candid, intimate, and deeply affecting.  

The book is also available in a Kindle edition.

Other writing by David Trinidad worth your while is (and available free online): On the Road with Sylvia and Ted: Plath and Hughes's 1959 Trip Across America, Hidden in Plain Sight: On Sylvia Plath's Missing Journals, and Three Poems.

25 October 2011

More Sylvia Plath Drawings Online

The Telegraph has additional images and information about the forthcoming show of Sylvia Plath's drawings on at the Mayor Gallery in London (2 November - 16 December).

An additional article on the exhibit appeared on Spoonfed.co.uk.

22 October 2011

Frieda Hughes on Sylvia Plath's art

In The Observer, issue printed on 23 October 2011, Frieda Hughes has more to say on her mother, Sylvia Plath's, art in "Lines of Beauty: The Art of Sylvia Plath."  Excellently, included is a gallery of 11of  Plath's drawings.

Thank you for sharing this artwork with us, Ms. Hughes.

18 October 2011

Minority Report: A Review of Sylvia Plath and the Mythology of Women Readers by Janet Badia

The essays in Janet Badia's Sylvia Plath and the Mythology of Women Readers are tightly wound around the central thesis that there is a "reliance of literary and popular culture on the tropes meant to disparage Plath's fans, especially the young women readers among them, as uncritical consumers, as Plath addicts, and even as literary cannibals" (2). In following a discourse that "rather unabashedly constructs women readers as a body of uncritical, misguided [and] pathological readers, she traces this discourses "eruptions and evolutions throughout literary and popular culture in order to demonstrate the significant effect it has has on the production, reception, and evaluation of Plath's oeuvre" (8). She does so effectively, expertly, and carefully.

Not being female - and I did check relatively recently - leaves me possibly at somewhat of a disadvantage to read, and to be so bold as to review, a book whose focus is squarely opposite to whatever faculties I bring to it as a result of my born gender. It is a deficiency I can do nothing about. But rather than shy away from Badia's book - and its use, reliance, and concern for feminist approaches - I found myself captivated, riveted, convinced and unable to let the book sit closed for too long. The book is so good and so finely written I was happy to lose sleep over it.

Sylvia Plath and the Mythology of Women Readers both is and is not a book about Sylvia Plath. It does not engage in literary criticism of works Plath produced, but rather it chronicles and analyzes Plath's reception by her critics, her readers, and by her Estate and heirs. In brief...The first chapter examines "the anxieties about women readers that permeate the vast collection of to reviews written about Plath's work" situating "these anxieties not only within the context of Plath's career [and] within the broader discourse about gender and reading that has shaped literary culture over the past few decades" (25). Chapter Two investigates Plath as her work appears in popular culture and what that means for the public's understanding of Plath and her work. In doing so, Badia gives examples "which feature a young woman who reads Sylvia Plath's work" and "the ways in which [these instances] trivialize and even pathologize young women's reading" (63). In Chapter Three the focus turns from the popular culture (or, fictive), to "an examination of these real or historical readers, focusing in particular on the female fan culture that has surrounded Plath since the 1970s" (86). This is largely an expose on Robin Morgan's poem "Arraignment" and the heckling of Ted Hughes' public appearances, and the controversies surrounding Sylvia Plath's gravesite. As it stands, it is the most explicitly feminist-oriented chapter. The fourth chapter looks at "Ted Hughes and the Plath Reader," at his "opinion pieces, personal letters, and interviews, as well as selections from their [Frieda Hughes & Ted Hughes] poetry that speak, often quite directly, to the question of how each has regarded Plath's audience and her posthumous success" (125). The conclusion turns directly towards Frieda Hughes, who has taken a much more public approach to dealing with Plath's readers than her father had been.

In the Introduction, however, I found the most that I could relate to as a reader of Sylvia Plath. This is not to say that Badia's writing and focus on women readers will exclude those of the lesser sex. It doesn't. But I do hope it leads to discussion on this blog or via emails. And when it comes to "Literary Bullying and the Plath Reader" there is possibly a more likely chance that male readers are equally as women accused, unjustly, of reading Plath for "uncritical consumption" (7). At least, for this male reader of Plath, I feel this is the case. The central portion of the introduction I feel vilifies, rightly, literary bullying and cites as examples of such the writings of Judith Kroll, Jon Rosenblatt, Harold Bloom, Mary Lynn Broe, Tracy Brain, and Christina Britzolakis. These writers and critics (and teachers) are illustrative examples and not by any means a comprehensive list of offenders and Badia by no means discounts their work. Neither do I. As stated above, Badia's study does not concern itself with Plath's writings explicitly. But it does concern itself with how Plath's writings are consumed by her readers. Essentially there is a sharp divide between literary critics and, to use Badia's terms, those "uncritical" consumers of Plath's writings. Literary critics possess the faculties "to see the deeper meaning of Plath's poetry" (11). Uncritical consumers, or possibly the "generally educated" - regardless of their gender - apparently do not. But it is apparent that the "deeper meaning" some glean from any writers or artists work is a construction, a fabrication, a connecting of things that may or may not be present in the writing analyzed.

In that regard, literary criticism is a genre of fiction, something to which there is both a high degree of instability and improbability than something more fact based, such as Plath's biography. There are definable truths to Plath's life. That is not to say everything is known, but much is. And, in this light there are definable truths about Plath's creative writing as it pertains to its source of inspiration (her life, her emotional experiences, etc.) The application of theoretical methodologies is perhaps the most damaging and unstable of them all in assessing the value of creative writing. When one reads, or wants to read, the (auto)biography into or out of Plath's creative works it does provide an opportunity, at least, to pin down something historically concrete and irrefutable into an otherwise wide open, limitless, shifting, and trending field of interpretation. What it comes down to is that no one way of reading is right and that no one way of reading is wrong. We may and we will and we should disagree, but often in the tones of voices employed by the critics that Badia mentions as bullies we (generally speaking the uncritical consumer, irregardless of gender) are made to feel wrong. It isn't lost on me that the tone of this review has turned aggressive and that I, too, am being a bully. This is intentional. In critics minds the generally educated seem to get it wrong because they over-identify with Plath's writing (and life) or perhaps read too much of Plath's life in her writing. That doesn't make Plath's writing confessional and it doesn't make Plath a confessional poet. It makes her universal to the human experience.

If you will allow me to step (further) onto my soapbox for a bit, isn't it just simply the point that people are reading? For example, I do not have the slightest interest in the Harry Potter books, but I enjoy the fact that they are popular and that people of all ages and backgrounds read and enjoy them. Sometimes even making readers out of non-readers! And as educators, shouldn't they (generally) be supportive of all possible meanings that those readers derive from the writing? Maybe not. But, who are they (generally) to say that someones interpretation is wrong or lesser? It's the appreciation of the work that matters. In a 1961 interview, Plath herself said, "And I don't have a single gripe about people not appreciating poetry. For example, I don't like water skiing myself, why should I complain if some other people don't like poetry" (Tyler)? Plath expanded this comment - and this illustrates my rambling point somewhat - in "Context," an essay she wrote in 1962: "Surely the great use of poetry is its pleasure...Certain poems and lines of poetry seems as miraculous to me as church altars or the coronation of queens must seem to people who revere quite different images. I am not worried that poems reach relatively few people. As it is, they go surprisingly far - among strangers, around the world, even. Farther than the words of a classroom teacher or the prescriptions of a doctor; if they are lucky, farther than a lifetime."

One thing about the book design I really love is the Notes section. Not only are the notes informative, but the header for each pages lists the page range in the text for the notes contained on that page. Simple, brilliant.

As for the cover. Not very impressed. Stereotypical comes to mind? I find the images of women in a bathtub and on top of a laundry machine a bit … sexist? Maybe? Why exhibit women readers in this fashion? Is it meant to be tongue in cheek? The ghostly poem/letter extending down the page is beautiful; however, I certainly don't think either of their reading positions to be very comfortable, and the cover of Ariel is perhaps the worst Photoshop job I've ever seen, with exceptions being all of the images below... Who sits in the bath with (probably) no water in a long sleeve-buttoned blouse? And who sits, like that, on a washing machine. Mind you, I love the spin cycle as much as anyone...but this is probably a confession left for another time entirely. I tried out both positions, as can be see seen below...

This inspired me to design the cover for the forthcoming Sylvia Plath and the Mythology of Men Readers.


Buy Sylvia Plath and the Mythology of Women Readers by Janet Badia!

15 October 2011

An artist responds to Sylvia Plath

Thanks to Melanie for the link to Troy Brooks' website, in which Sylvia Plath connoisseurs can view images of his paintings from his 'Colossus' series.

13 October 2011

New Sylvia Plath thumbnail pages on sylviaplath.info

Earlier this week, I launched new thumbnail pages on my website for Sylvia Plath (A celebration, this is). The new thumbnail pages are a bit fancier than before, and I hope that it is an enhancement that makes being on the website more enjoyable. The main landing page for the photo galleries is here.

In each page, when you click a thumbnail, the image will pop up. Beneath the image will be some data about the book or place. For the thumbnail gallery of places Plath lived in, visited, or wrote about in her creative works and personal papers, etc. there is a caption beneath the image, but because of space, referential information still appears next to the thumbnail (this happens on one of the book pages, too). Depending on the resolution of your screen and the size, some of the text in the pop up box may appear below below the bottom of your screen. If you reduce the screen from 100% to something like 75% you should be able to see all the text. To escape the pop-up, click the X in the top right, hit the escape key, or click a couple of times anywhere else on the screen.

I hope you like everything! Thanks to the few people that viewed test pages and offered feedback, your assistance was quite welcome! The pages work best in Firefox and Chrome; if you are an IE user, then you may need to click the “Compatibility View” option in your browser’s address bar for everything to work. Please email me with questions, comments, concerns, etc.

Some have emailed me that they either have or had been having issues viewing the "A celebration, this is." If you are having any issues accessing the site, please let me know and I can try to resolve them with the host.

10 October 2011

Davies on Representing Sylvia Plath

P. H. Davies has recently reviewed Cambridge University Presses book Representing Sylvia Plath, edited by Sally Bayley and Tracy Brain.  As we've come to know, Davies has a keen eye and a knack for critical perspective, this review is no different.

The book's publication date was in flux for a while but it does appear now to be available in the United States (though CUP's website still says it is not available, some other booksellers do list it as in stock and available). In addition to the traditional monograph format, Amazon.com is offering Representing Sylvia Plath in a Kindle edition.

I hope to offer my own review for your consumption in a few weeks.

08 October 2011

More on Frieda Hughes & the Sylvia Plath exhibit

Our good friend in Plath P H Davies has just blogged about the Frieda Hughes article in
Vogue (UK) over on his website. Please give it a careful read.

Also he gives more information on the exhibit of Sylvia Plath's drawings on at the Mayor Gallery in London.

06 October 2011

Arlaina Tibensky's And Then Things Fall Apart


On 26 July, 2011, Arlaina Tibensky's novel And Then Things Fall Apart  was published. A working title of the book was "Bell Jar Summer," and you may remember that I mentioned it in a blog post back in the summer of 2010.

My deepest apologies to her and the books potential readers, through this blog, for failing to publicize the novel before now. And Then Things Fall Apart is the summer story of Keek as she goes through some terrible trials of not only adolescence, but of life. Parents divorcing, chicken pox, fight with boyfriend, not on speaking terms with best friends, and to top it off, she's left to stay with her grandmother, who might just be a Luddite. What does she did to get by? She reads and discusses Sylvia Plath's novel The Bell Jar and types her own story on a typewriter.

It's a very good story, well written and engaging, and the characters are drawn in a way which enables us to sympathize with them (even though from time to time I think Keek would benefit from a hard slap across the face; her father too, the bastard). Keek reminds me a lot of how I picture, perhaps, what Esther Greenwood's grandchildren might be like. There are a lot of similarities between what Keek was going through and to what her idol, Esther Greenwood, experiences. I think this shows a universality in what writers like Salinger and Plath were able to do through their writings and what their writings subsequently did for their respective generations. This goes to show that no matter the technological advances, kids are still kids and thank goodness those teenage years evaporate.

You can read more about the novel, Arlaina, and the writing process at her blog.

I certainly recommend Tibensky’s book and it has received favorable press in Publishers Weekly, MediaBistro, and the Examiner, among others.

03 October 2011

Sylvia Plath Strikes a Pose

Whilst details of the exhibition are sketchy, the November issue of Vogue (UK), reports, "On the eve of an exhibition of her mother's sketches, Frieda Hughes, daughter of Sylvia Plath, writes movingly on living with the Plath-Hughes legacy - and what it means to her - in Drawings of the Past." If anyone has access to the full article please let us know!

Thanks to Kristina "the Macedonian Madonna" for drawing our attention to this...

01 October 2011

Articles on Sylvia Plath!

The following are some recently published articles on Sylvia Plath:

Demjen, Zsofia. "Motion and conflicted self metaphors in Sylvia Plath's 'Smith Journal'." Metaphor and the Social World 1:1. 2011: 7-25.


Kalfopoulou, Adrianne. "Sylvia Plath's Emersonian I/Eye". Women's Studies. 40:7. October 2011: 890-909.

Kumlu, Esin. "The Mona Lisa Smile Of Sylvia Plath: Destroying The Distorted Picture Of Reality." Selçuk Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Dergisi 25. 2011.

Flannery Dean over at Maclean’s Magazine has written on "The Bell Jar at 40" (just like Emily Gould from the Poetry Foundation did in July).

Deanna Darr of the unassailable Boise Weekly writes on "The Greatest Lost Books Never Read," among them the tenth being Plath's "Double Exposure."
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