24 December 2012

P. H. Davies: A Life of Sylvia Plath

I did not expect the tributes for Sylvia Plath to start until closer to the anniversary of her death, but the fine poet and writer P. H. Davies has recently published A Life of Plath: both a blog post as well as a selection of poems written about her and inspired by her. It is the first tribute, therefore. And it is also the one by which all the others - that are I am sure forthcoming - will be compared to. My own 11 February post is currently in draft form, but reading Davies' now makes me want to scrap the whole things and start over.

23 December 2012

Sylvia Plath 2012: Year in Review

The Sylvia Plath 2012 Symposium dominated my thoughts this year. From January through October it was all I could think about, and not just because I was giving a few papers: but it was a chance to meet some of you, talk Plath and other subjects, and learn faces and voices to accompany your written words via comments and emails. The Symposium did not disappoint. The chance, too, to spend some time in the archives at the Lilly Library was something most of the attendees took advantage of: and it was really wonderful to see people interacting with Plath's papers for the first time. A new strain of archives fever was born! A number of us there had attended all three of the Symposia (2002, 2007, 2012). While no awards were given out for that, it was a small sense of pride.

Looking back through the blog to see what in the world was going on, largely from my perspective, in Sylvia Plathdom, shows quite a varied year. In January I spent a week at Smith College doing both some archives research and attending a documentary editing class taught by Karen V. Kukil. I pitched in bits of information when I could, but being around the students and learning the tricks of the documentary editing trade was really interesting. We edited letters from Sylvia Plath to a number of people. I was lucky enough to transcribe one letter to Phil McCurdy from 1954 and one to Plath's German pen-pal Hans Joachim-Neupert from 1949. I gave, throughout the week, updates from the archive which gave some of the information I was learning but not all. Got to save some stuff for the blog for a rainy or snowy day! The general January 2012 archive is the best way to see these posts, that is, if you care to review them!

The following is a list of some of the more -to me- memorable posts from the year, for various reasons, and ones that might possibly have garnered more comments from readers.



I am interested in metrics. I check, daily, stats on the website and blog which includes pages hit, keyword searches that yield hits, etc. In the past I've detailed the most and least popular pages. From December 1, 2011 to November 30, 2012, the top five pages hit on my website "A celebration, this is" were: biography, poetryworks, belljar, proseworks, and prose thumbnails. During that same time period, the top five pages, by time spent on that page, were: Biography, Johnny Panic synopses, The Bell Jar, Publications, and Dissertations about Sylvia Plath.

New books in 2012 by and about Sylvia Plath (and Ted Hughes) included:

  • Poetic Memory by Uta Gosmann
  • How to Write about Sylvia Plath by Kimberly Crowley
  • Critical Insights: The Bell Jar edited by Janet McCann
  • Depression in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar edited by Dedria Bryfonski
  • Sylvia Plath's Fiction: A Critical Study by Luke Ferretter (Paperback)
  • Poet and Critic: The Letters of Ted Hughes and Keith Sagar
  • Ted and I by Gerald Hughes
  • Sylvia Plath: Poems selected by Carol Ann Duffy
  • The Poetic Art of Sylvia Plath: A Critical Study of Themes and Techniques by Raihan Raza
  • With Robert Lowell and his circle : Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Elizabeth Bishop, Stanley Kunitz, and Others by Kathleen Spivack
  • Analyzing Sylvia Plath by Alice Walsh (fiction)


How many of them did you read? I read most of them and feel that some were more successful than others. The majority of them were reviewed throughout the year on this blog, some positively and some not so much! The Duffy selection of poems published by Faber is the leader in my mind because at least it's a book "authored" by Plath; of Plath's works. Duffy's selection of poems is really interesting, especially when compared to the previous selected poems of Plath, edited by Ted Hughes (there was an additional selected poems edited by the late Diane Middlebrook which was published by Knopf in 1998). A comparison and critique of these three selections would be fascinating in how the selectors exhibit the evolution of Plath's poetics: their vision of Plath, in some way. Back to the books of 2012...Of the critiques, though only just a chapter long, Uta Gosmann's is the most original.

Books to look forward to in 2013, so far, are:

  • The Bell Jar 50th Anniversary Edition (Faber) by Sylvia Plath
  • Claiming Sylvia Plath: The Poet as Exemplary Figure by Marianne Egeland
  • The Lost Journals of Sylvia Plath edited by Peter K. Steinberg (just kidding)
  • American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath by Carl Rollyson
  • Mad Girl's Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted by Andrew Wilson
  • Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 by Elizabeth Winder
  • How to Analyze the Works of Sylvia Plath by Victoria Peterson-Hilleque
  • Plath Profiles 6
  • The Journals of Sylvia Plath (probably a re-issue): 5 September 2013
  • Sylvia Plath Drawings by Frieda Hughes: 5 September 2013


No doubt 2013 is all about Plath's life, even though the sensationalism of the 50th anniversary of her death will be more headline-making. It is also the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Bell Jar. Where do you rank The Bell Jar. Is it as important as her poetry? Are they even comparable? This might more apply to longer-standing Plath scholars, but how different is Plath's literary reputation now than it was in the mid-1970s? Is she better off? Worse off? These are questions I'm sure we'd all like to take a stab at answering. If you feel like exploring this, please consider this blog as a place to voice your opinions.

Thank you all for reading. Thank you for commenting. Thank you for following and tweeting and retweeting. Happy holidays and Happy New Year. Be well.

Unless something significant occurs between now and 1 January I am taking a few days off from the blog. But, I will check comments. Was there any post that was your favorite throughout the year? If so, leave a comment and let me know why. It might help me to continue to build content next year.

Remember that when you are on the internet, you should also read The Plath Diaries (and follow her on Twitter) and A Piece of Plathery.

15 December 2012

Ann Skea on Sylvia Plath, Ariel, and the Tarot

Ann Skea, a very well-known and well-respected Ted Hughes scholar, has recently begun to look at Sylvia Plath, Ariel, and the Tarot. Readers of this blog and Plath Profiles will know that Julia Gordon-Bramer is also interested in approaching and interpreting Sylvia Plath's works through the lens of Tarot and Cabbala.

Skea writes on her website that this is a work in progress (and helpfully puts the last updated date on the homepage). She says, "It is true that I am best known as a Ted Hughes scholar and I have published widely on his work, including studies of his use of the occult, but the poetic interaction between Hughes and Plath was so close that it is impossible to study Hughes' work without also becoming very familiar with Plath's. So, I was very interested to read Julia Gordon-Bramer's papers on her study of Plath's use of Tarot in her original ordering of the Ariel manuscripts."

Skea will take her approach to the 22 poems which fit the Major Arcana. The first chapter looks at "Morning Song", "The Couriers", and "The Rabbit Catcher". These are the first three poems in Plath's Ariel (that is, Ariel: The Restored Edition). For information about which of Plath's poems match with which card in the Major Arcana, please see Julia Gordon-Bramer's "Sylvia Plath's Spell on Ariel: Conjuring the Perfect Book of Poems Through Mysticism and the Tarot" from Plath Profiles 3. Though, if I read Skea correctly, there may be some differences in the cards or the poems: certainly in the readings of them.

Skea writes "The poems were not, after all, written in the order in which she arranged the manuscripts. And Frieda Hughes, in her Foreword to Ariel: The Restored Edition, writes that Plath "last worked on the manuscripts arrangement in mid-November 1962", which suggest that, as with her other books, Plath rearranged the order of the poems several times." If we read Plath's arrangement of the poems as being informed by the Tarot, etc. can there be any possible way to read their individual composition in a similar fashion? I am interested of course in how Plath arranged her poetry collections, but how do we interpret them in the order of the creation/completion? This is something I am growing particularly interested in and I wonder if Tarot plays a role in this? At least, I think a definite narrative is evident where the composition of the poems is concerned...

I think this is a very interesting development in Plath studies because it shows one scholar building on and responding to another. The Tarot (and Cabbala) are not (for me) the easiest things to comprehend and I am looking forward to reading all that I can in the attempt to better understand this way of interpreting not only Sylvia Plath's poems, but possibly also Plath's vision for the arrangement and structure of her magnum opus. I am a big fan of Skea's work on Ted Hughes, and I also believe I'll be a big fan of her work on Sylvia Plath as well.

13 December 2012

Seven Days of Sylvia Plath Gifts: Day 7

Day 7 - Sylvia Plath by Peter K Steinberg

On the 7th day of Plathmasnukkahzaa my true love gave to me
A biography that no one has read...

Ha ha! I mean, ho ho ho! Merry Plathmas to you all, and if you read my book: to all a good night!

Guaranteed to cure insomnia!

"It is guaranteed
To thumb shut your eyes at the end"...

Seven Days of Sylvia Plath Gifts: Day 6

Day 6 - Eye Rhymes: Sylvia Plath's Art of the Visual edited by Kathleen Connors and Sally Bayley and Sylvia Plath: Her Drawings (Catalogue)

On the sixth day of Plathnukkazaa my true love gave to me
A gift that keeps on giving

Unfortunately out of print, Eye Rhymes: Sylvia Plath's Art of the Visual is a revolutionary book in Plath scholarship. The reproductions of Plath's art, as well as Kathleen Connor's essay "Living in Colour," make this book a must have for any Plath reader, fan, what have you. It is expertly done; a book to be cherished and studied. In fact, buy two. Pair reading Eye Rhymes with a delicious Cabernet Sauvignon to accentuate the tannin's and rich, fruit-peppery oak pomposity. Wine not your style? Eye Rhymes also matches quite nicely with a dark, spicy, cold winter beer. I'd say go for "the clear beer of Vienna" here, but we know it not to be either "very pure or true."

Oh, you're a teetotaler? Then why not pair Eye Rhymes with a copy of Sylvia Plath: Her Drawings, the catalogue from the same-named exhibit at London's Mayor Gallery that ran in November and December 2011? The catalogue was printed in limited quantities (1000), and I am not sure if any are available. But a quick email to the gallery should, I hope, yield an answer. Some of these drawings were reproduced in the back of the American edition of Plath's The Bell Jar. And a slideshow of the drawings from the exhibit is, at the present time, still running in the sidebar of this blog. 

12 December 2012

Seven Days of Sylvia Plath Gifts: Day 5

Day 5 - Limited and First editions by Sylvia Plath

On the fifth day of Plathmasnukka my true love gave to me
Pretty things to sit on my shelves

Uncollected Poems,
Turret Books, 1965
Limited to 150 copies
Do you like pretty things? If you like pretty things, Fuggetta 'bout jewelry, collect Sylvia Plath first and limited editions. If you love or like someone, this is the perfect gift to give because rare books typically gain in value in ways that other merchandise does not. A car, for example, which is on many people's wish lists, loses exponential value the moment you take it off the lot. A bobblehead or action figure, too, once out of the box, loses its value. But, a rare book? The moment you buy it its value increase because it is off the market. This makes the remaining copies more valuable, too, due to concomitant scarcity. You can find many limited editions for sale from ABEBooks. For a list of titles and cover images, please see my website.

11 December 2012

Seven Days of Sylvia Plath Gifts: Day 4

Day 4 - Sylvia Plath's Fiction: A Critical Study by Luke Ferretter and The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath edited by Anita Helle

On the fourth day of Plathmaszaa my true love gave to me
Books to put Plath's works in context


In Sylvia Plath's Fiction: A Critical Study, Luke Ferretter breathes life back into Plath's prose which largely has been ignored. One may want to buy Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams too, and, while you are at it, request photocopies of Plath's short stories from the archives (primarily from Smith College, Indiana University and Emory University) to help as you read this book.

And, the journey into archive of Plath has never been so fully examined as in The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath edited by Anita Helle. Though published in 2007, this book has not lost any relevance, and remains among the most important works on Plath to ever see the light of day. In two parts, "The Plath Archive" and "Culture and the Politics of Memory", the essays in this book situate the reader in the former section with the writer as they physically discuss Plath's papers, voice, etc. In the latter, readers take only the slightest step backwards in essays that deal directly with Plath archives though through the lens of a contextual approach.

10 December 2012

Seven Days of Sylvia Plath Gifts: Day 3

Day 3 - The Journals of Sylvia Plath edited by Karen V. Kukil

On the third day of Plathzaa my true love gave to me
A 732 page book

Published in 2000, The (Unabridged) Journals of Sylvia Plath is the book to read if you are interested in Sylvia Plath. Within its pages both a life and ideas are captured. The editing is superb and the notes in the back are truly a valuable resource. In addition to recording events from her life, Plath's journals are a place where she drafted poems and stories and letters, using it, too, to sketch and to document important historical events such as the D.H. Lawrence obscenity trial in London, which she attended on her birthday in 1960. As well, Plath's journals were kept to record a dossier of information on her neighbors for use, mostly likely, in future stories and novels. That is, unless Sylvia Plath was an undercover CIA agent? We know that the CIA liked Smith College women (eg. Julia Child). Just sayin... nothing like starting a rumor for the holidays...

09 December 2012

Seven Days of Sylvia Plath Gifts: Day 2

Day 2 of Seven Days of Sylvia Plath Gifts: The Bell Jar and The Collected Poems

On the second day of Plathnukkah my true love gave to me
Two tomes for my entertainment...

These two books, The Bell Jar and The Collected Poems, provide the greatest overview to Sylvia Plath's creative works. The Bell Jar, originally published nearly 50 years ago under the name Victoria Lucas, is a really funny, great read. It does many things at the same time: tells a coming of age story; is a response to the social climate of the period covered in the novel; and much more. There are different editions of The Bell Jar out there with textual variations, so in order to read the one Sylvia Plath herself sanctioned, read the 1963 Heinemann edition if you can afford it, or any Faber edition published between 1966 and 1996. Faber is releasing a 50th anniversary edition of The Bell Jar on 3 January 2013. It would have been better to release it on the 14th, just as the book was originally in 1963...Not sure if the text block will be restored to the one of which Plath approved but time will shortly tell.

In the past I admit to spending more time reading the individual poetry collections, but in doing so, I have cheated myself out of the glory that is a more or less full presentation of Plath's (mature) poetry. The Collected Poems won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in April 1982. Why not buy the book and find out why?

08 December 2012

Seven Days of Sylvia Plath Gifts

For the next seven days, I am going to suggest a perfect Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa - er, Holiday - gifts by or about Sylvia Plath. These are perfect gift ideas for friends, lovers, acquaintances, or enemies.

On the first day of Plathmas my true love gave to me:
A CD of rare recordings....

Day 1 - The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath (British Library Publishing, 2010)
(Order from British Library) (Order from University of Chicago Press)

The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath, with an introduction by - ahem - Peter K Steinberg, is the perfect gift for the holidays. Offering a range of rare Plath recordings, The Spoken Word is an instruction audio compilation. As you listens to Plath's speaking voice, you learn how to read those poems: the meter, the stresses, the line breaks, etc. The interviews add a human dimension to Plath, and Ted Hughes, too. The "Two of a Kind" recording is worth the price of the CD alone, offering glimpses at the poetic ideology of the 20th century's most famous literary couple, at a time just before Plath's full voice matured. The interview conducted in January 1961, precedes Plath's miscarriage and appendectomy by weeks, as well as the composition of "Tulips" (also on the CD) and The Bell Jar. Hearing Plath's introductions to several poems, also, informs how we can approach the works based on these authorial comments. The last track was recorded just a month before Plath's death and shows her at her critical best, astutely reviewing Donald Hall's book Contemporary American Poetry. Plath was excluded from the anthology, but a fun game to play (for children aged 14 and higher, only) is: how many of her own poems can you spot that she references in her review? A truly unique gift item that is a gift that keeps on giving. Order now! That's an order!

05 December 2012

Event: Helen Vendler on Sylvia Plath

On Wednesday, 9 January 2013, the unequaled and venerable Helen Vendler will present a 3 hour long talk on Sylvia Plath at the Warburg Lounge, Unterberg Poetry Center, part of New York's 92nd Street Y (Lexington Avenue and 92nd Street) in New York City. The event will run from 6 pm to 9 pm and registration starts at $160.

Per the website, "We’ll look at some Smith College juvenilia to investigate her early aims and then at some late and posthumously published poems to see what drove her most original imaginative works. The aesthetic criteria for evaluative judgment will be examined in these contexts."

So far as I have learned, this is the first event somewhat associated with the 50th anniversary of Plath's death.

Helen Vendler is the A. Kingsley Porter Professor of English at Harvard University and the author of Coming of Age as a Poet: Milton, Keats, Eliot, Plath; Poets Thinking: Pope, Whitman, Dickinson, Yeats; and Last Looks, Last Books: Stevens, Plath, Lowell, Bishop, Merrill.

92Y Unterberg Poetry Center
1395 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10128
tel: 212.415.5760
fax: 212.415.5416
unterberg@92Y.org
www.92Y.org/WritingProgram
www.92Y.org/Poetry

04 December 2012

Some Aspects of the Journey: A Review of Kathleen Spivack's With Robert Lowell

With Robert Lowell and His Circle by Kathleen Spivack (Northeastern University Press, 2012) is a veritable who's who of poets over the last 50-plus years. As a memoir, similar to Ted and I recently published by Gerald Hughes, it is not without some faults. Spivack writes, "What I have tried to record in this description of Robert Lowell and his circle were some aspects of the journey as I lived it" (213). However, the remembered memories written over the course of many years - some of those "aspects" - are false. And even just the smallest, misremembered fact throws the entire book under suspicion in what is a very tricky genre. Such as Spivack's comment that during the spring semester of 1959, in Lowell's classroom which faced Commonwealth Avenue, "each class extended longer than scheduled, and the afternoon got colder and darker" (34). However, in springtime, the afternoon light actually extends by a minute or so each day. I understand what she was trying to say, it's just that as a prose writer her imagery lack veracity.

Naturally I gravitated to Spivack's memories of Sylvia Plath. These I digested eagerly, but not without some discomfort. I want to believe the quoted conversations took place but cannot. If these are drawn directly from Spivack's journal/diary written directly after the events took place - that is another story, but there is nothing to suggest this is the case. If I am wrong: tell me then in the text that you're quoting from your diaries. References to Plath dot the book entirely, but the largest section is "Sylvia Plath 1959-1960" on pages 31-42. Spivack's memories of Plath are partly her own, and partly Lowell's, and partly Plath's own words from her journals and other writings. Needless to say this is problematic. Spivack "met" Plath in print before they even in person, as she recalls reading Plath's poem "Doomsday" in Harper's (May 1954). I find this more interesting than anything else in the section because it shows Plath being read on a national level. Many of Spivack's impressions of Plath are not new, but there is an occasional bit that provides a glimpse of the type of person Plath was, such as "The achievement of her poetry at the time [1959] seemed to lag behind the scholarly achievements of her mind and critical ability" (33). We largely consider Plath in terms, solely, of her writing. But few have spent much time and effort on her education.

One of the statements in the memoir section on Plath that is outright false involves a poem Spivack says "appeared in the class": "The Manor Garden" (32). This is a lie. If a lie is considered an exaggeration, this I hope we can agree it is wrong, at least. If Plath attended Lowell's class in the spring of 1959, there is no possible way Plath presented a poem she wrote in, circa, October 1959. It is more likely Plath brought in "Point Shirley", "Suicide Off Egg Rock", or even "Electra on Azalea Path" which seem far more inspired by both the events Plath lived that spring, as well as being topically relevant to the course, the instructor, some of the classmates (Anne Sexton, in particular), and as  the products of Plath's resumed therapy with Dr. Beuscher. When I read this part, the truthfulness of the book, and my expectations, fell precipitously and, I admit, I lost interest. Another poem apparently discussed in class is Plath's 1957 poem "Sow". But I do not know what to believe at this point.

Later, on page 38, Spivack discusses how she was at West House, Yaddo, in the same room where Plath wrote The Bell Jar. But, Plath didn't write The Bell Jar there, she wrote The Bell Jar in London, largely if not completely at 11 St. George's Terrace in the house of W.S. Merwin. And on the following page, Spivack claims that Ariel: The Restored Edition is Frieda Hughes's arrangement of poems. Whoa nelly. This is not even worth further comment.

The impulse to write this book as opposed to Gerald Hughes's Ted and I is different and as such the expectations are different. Gerald Hughes is a man who has primarily lived a private life, and so the expectations for his sort of memoir are vastly different to Spivack's, who has largely (creatively) lived a more public one. That Spivack worked on this book for years illustrates her labor of love over the contents and speaks volumes over her friendship with Lowell, and acquaintance with the others mentioned in the book. It is a good, friendly, easy-to-read book. Additionally, this is the impression I get from Spivack herself. But there is periodic, significant repetition that damages the narrative flow of the book; and likewise, there are enough examples of the faultiness of memory, in even the smallest of sections (like the Plath, which is strangely longer than the Sexton section even though she had a longer relationship with Sexton) that casts doubt over everything else within the covers. It is possible the memories of Robert Lowell are more true, or less false, but I would not necessarily know. As a reader I want to trust the writer and what the writer has written, but in With Robert Lowell and His Circle I simply cannot.

01 December 2012

Ian McEwan's Sweet Tooth for Sylvia Plath

For the second book in a row, Sylvia Plath features briefly in an Ian McEwan novel. Plath was name-dropped in McEwan's Solar (2010), and in his just published novel Sweet Tooth, she again is mentioned. On page 189, McEwan's protagonist Serena Frome (rhymes with "plume") receives as Christmas gifts hardback books of Sylvia Plath's poetry.

I know it is fiction, but the poetry books Frome received were most likely Crossing the Water and Winter Trees which were published in 1971. Although naturally Ariel and The Colossus were also available at this time in hardback, as well.

It is really amazing what Ian McEwan will do to get mentioned on this blog.

27 November 2012

Unveiling the Face of Sylvia Plath

Press Release

Celebration of Ariel and New Plath Portrait at Smith

NORTHAMPTON, Mass.—The Poetry Center and the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College are pleased to announce the unveiling of a stunning new portrait of Sylvia Plath ’55 by Susan Seidner Adler ’57. The celebration of the acquisition of the painting and the 50th anniversary of the creation of Plath’s Ariel poems will take place on November 29 at 7:00 pm in the Poetry Center.

The large oil-on-canvas painting depicting a college-age Sylvia Plath with a draft of her iconic Ariel poem “Stings” in the background was recently commissioned by Esther C. Laventhol ’57, a housemate of Sylvia Plath at Lawrence House during her junior and senior years at Smith. The evening’s festivities will include a Q&A with the artist and donor of the painting, followed by readings of favorite Plath poems by students, faculty, and curators.

Light refreshments will be served following the reading. Sponsored by the Poetry Center and the Mortimer Rare Book Room, the event is free and open to the public. For more information please contact Jennifer Blackburn in the Poetry Center (jblackbu@smith.edu; telephone 413-585-4891) or Karen Kukil, curator of the Sylvia Plath Collection in the Mortimer Rare Book Room (kkukil@smith.edu; telephone 413-585-2908).

For disability access information or to request accommodations, call (413) 585-2407. To request a sign language interpreter specifically, call (413) 585-2071 (voice or TTY) or e-mail ODS@smith.edu. All requests must be made at least 10 days prior to the event.

24 November 2012

Did you know... Sylvia Plath and Bartholomew Fair

In the fall of 1955, in her first term as a graduate student at Newnham College, Cambridge University, Sylvia Plath played the role of Alice in Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair (1614), produced by the Amateur Dramatics Club in Cambridge from November 24-December 3, 1955.



Alice's role is "mistress o' the game." The role has just a five lines (and a fight!). Did you know … what those lines were?

They were:


  • "A mischiefe on you, they are such as you are, that undo us, and take our trade from us, with your tuft-taffata haunches.";
  • "The poore common whores can ha'no traffic, for the privy rich ones; your caps and hoods of velvet call away our customers, and lick the fat from us.";
  • "Od's foot, you Bawd in grease, are you talking?";
  • "Thou Sow of Smithfield, thou!";
  • "Ay, by the same token, you rid that week, and broke out of the bottom o'the Cart, Night-tub."

    (source, with some "corrections" made; I should add this source was not necessarily the script from which Plath read)


Plath originally got no part in the production, saying in a letter to her mother written on November 7, 1955, that "Acting simply takes up too much time. I was really glad I didn't get a part in the coming production of Bartholomew Fair (although, of course, it injured my ego slightly..." (Letters Home 194).

But, by November 21, 1955, Plath had been given a role. She writes to her mother, "I have five lines as a rather screaming bawdy woman who gets into a fight" (196).

Perhaps the fight served as training for February 25, 1956!?

Postscript: Prior to her role as Alice in Bartholomew Fair, Plath performed as the mad poetess Phoebe Clinkett from Three Hours After Marriage written by Alexander Pope. John Gay, and John Arbuthnot (1717) (read it here). This was one of three "nursery" productions the ADC produced on 22 October 1955 (the same day that Plath saw Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh in Cambridge).

19 November 2012

Lost Sylvia Plath Poem Stunned Us in 1998: Or did it?

Unbelievable. Simply the only word I can think of to describe November 19 & 20, 1998. How did we miss it? How did we not know? The (Sylvia Plath) world was still reeling from the publication of Birthday Letters and the then quite recent passing of Ted Hughes.

Just three articles (per Lexis-Nexis Academic) ran on this particular story and appeared in The Guardian, The Evening Standard, and The Irish Times. The headlines were provocative to say the least...The Guardian article, authored by Rory Carroll, used "Discovery of Plath's Forgotten Teenage Poems Dismays Friends." The Evening Standard tried out "Early Plath Platitudes Dismay Poetry World." And, The Irish Times said "Plath Find Sheds Light on Sexuality."

The first paragraph of Carroll's article reads, "The literary world was stunned last night after the discovery of three forgotten Sylvia Plath poems revealed both sexual disgust and technical immaturity, providing an embarrassing footnote to her legacy as one of the century's greatest poets." What a terrifically awful sentence! Everything about it...This is, or rather was, an instance where new "news" was kind of old news. And was the literary world literally stunned? Three articles? Does that count for a stunning? The poems referred to in this article were published originally in 1975 as Trois Poemes Inedits, so they can actually be hardly considered "new." However, what is so amazing is that Rick Gekoski, a bookseller, simply found a copy of the book - with the original manuscript of one of the poems - on a shelf in a New York bookshop!

I am not sure how the literary world was really stunned by the news considering that so few newspapers seemingly picked up on the story! Certainly in the Plath world it was not noticed: at the time the then very active Sylvia Plath Forum did not have any posts on it. Stunning!

One of the poems was printed in the above-mentioned Guardian article, and Gekoski, said, "I don't think anyone would rate it as a great poem, but it has a raw power. It's at a pitch and intensity in its treatment of sexuality that I haven't seen in any of her other poems. Anyone who wrote this was capable of great poetry." On the quality of a poem that must be considered juvenilia, Al Alvarez commented, "It just shows that from tiny acorns mighty oaks grow." Amazingly, the poem printed in the article is different (longer by four lines at the beginning) from that published in Trois Poemes Inedits.

Regarding the poem as printed in the Guardian, the poem begins with four lines that were not a part of the poem as it appears in Trois Poemes Inedits! These four missing lines are: "I lean outward toward the sky / And should fumble in if I / Were not held here cleverly / By the threads of my identity". Then it comes in harmony with the Trois Poemes Inedits version: "The sweet sickish female odor..." The poem in Trois Poemes Inedits and the one in The Guardian also differ by the line breaks, capitalization, etc. Why these four lines were excised from the limited edition is a curious omission.

100 copies of the book Trois Poemes Inedits were printed by J J Dufour in Paris, 1975. Three of the one hundred were "especial." Each of these three included the original manuscript of one of the poems printed. There is at least one copy of Trois Poemes Inedits for sale via James Cummins Bookseller in New York City. If interested, please contact the seller through his website. Aside from some copies which are undoubtedly in private hands, WorldCat lists only one in a library. That copy, held by the Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is one of the 97 that are not "especial." I wrote a bit about Trois Poemes Inedits in November 2010 after seeing a proof copy of it for sale at the Boston Book Fair. In that post I mentioned that Smith College has one of the three "especial" copies. What I failed to say then is the title of the poem in manuscript in their copy, which is numbered 3 in the book, is "A time of clear white understanding." Not sure where numbers one and two are, but I would love to see them.

17 November 2012

Sylvia Plath Books at the Boston Book Fair

This years Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair did not dissapoint when it came to getting to see and touch rare and valuable Sylvia Plath books. There is the perennial first edition of The Colossus signed by Plath to fellow poet Theodore Roethke that I am glad seems impervious to selling from the fine bookseller James S. Jaffe Rare Books. At $50,000 it is the Mercedes Benz of books. Only, people buy cars. If only they realized that a book will not depreciate so swiftly... If anyone out there feels so inclined, I am more than open to receiving this book as a gift. Thank you. Jaffe also brought a stunning first Faber edition of Ariel ($4,000) as well as a signed, limited edition of Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes ($850).

On a side note: please for the love of sanity, alphabetize your displayed books. This persnickety peruser refuses to detail your Plath books if you do not alphabetize. Thank you.

Paul Foster brought their copies of Plath limited editions: The Green Rock and A Day in June. These are always nice to see.

Peter L. Stern had on display the delicious $12,500 copy of the first Heinemann Victoria Lucas The Bell Jar complete with a custom made box to protect it. Like Jaffe's Colossus I would gratefully receive this into my heart if a reader of this blog feels kindly towards me.

Between the Covers, one of my favorites, had the long galley proofs of Crossing the Water on display for $2,000. BTC also had on display the first Harper & Row Ariel, and first Faber editions of Crossing the Water and Winter Trees. All in drool worthy condition.

The last highlight for me was meeting Lisa Baskin of Cumberland Books. Lisa is the widow of Leonard Baskin. Pretty cool. I expect there were more Plath books there that I did not see, but my primary purpose today was work-related, and so did not get as much of a chance as I normall do to walk around and browse.

15 November 2012

2 books by Sylvia Plath Now Available

There are been two recent publications of books authored by Sylvia Plath. The first is Carol Ann Duffy's selection of seventy-five poems by Plath, with a foreword by Duffy. Published on 1 November, the book is available in the UK in hardback and on Kindle; and in the US, you can buy it on Kindle (or order the hardback book from the UK site). Duffy's introduction was reprinted in The Guardian on 2 November 2012.

The other "new" book is The Bell Jar in a Kindle edition, which was published in mid-August. A different Kindle version -published on 8 November- was online for a couple of days, but has now disappeared. The Bell Jar has been available in a Kindle edition to UK customers for quite some time.

While at it, it appears that Ariel: The Restored Edition is now also available to US Kindle customers.

A general reminder: one does not need the actual Kindle device to enjoy Sylvia Plath's books in an eBook format. Kindle offers reading apps for your PC and your smartphone.

14 November 2012

Boston Book Fair this weekend: Sylvia Plath Books!

Collect Plath Books Yoda Does
This weekend is the 36th Annual Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. Are you going? You should consider it. It is like a petting zoo for nerds. In the past, I have reported on the rare and valuable Sylvia Plath books and related materials that I have seen and I see no reason to deviate from this pattern. So, I hope to have something written up for Sunday. I have rummaged through the list of sellers to see what Plath books they might have, and have made a couple of small requests for sellers to bring specific stock items for purchase. Small things because, frankly, that $50,000 The Colossus signed by Plath to Theodore Roethke is still outside of my budget...

13 November 2012

Newly Published Books About Sylvia Plath


Published officially today by the Northeastern University Press is Kathleen Spivack's memoir With Robert Lowell and His Circle: Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Elizabeth Bishop, Stanley Kunitz & Others. 256 pages, ISBN: 978-1555537883. Retail price: $19.95.

Order from the publisher:  Or, buy through Amazon.com.

Also published today is Analyzing Sylvia Plath (an academic mystery) by Alice Walsh. The book is available in paperback and as a Kindle ebook.

10 November 2012

Book trailer: American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath by Carl Rollyson

American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath by Carl Rollyson is a much anticipated biography (St. Martin's Press, 2013). Donald Spoto calls this new Plath biography "compulsively readable." Lois Banner says Rollyson shows how Plath "both shaped and reflected her times, becoming a symbol for our age."

Carl has recently made a book trailer for his American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath. (Mind you, this is not a trailer for a movie...just an advertisement for the book.) American Isis is the first full length biography of Sylvia Plath since 1991, and benefits from: a wide range of recently opened archival collections in the US and England; the 2000 publication of Plath's Unabridged Journals; interviews with friends and students from Smith College; and features new information from A. Alvarez, David Wevill and Elizabeth Sigmund.

In conjunction with the release of this book trailer - a novel idea, by the way, to promote both the the book itself, the subject, and the act of reading - Rollyson will start Tweeting sentences from his book on Twitter (@crollyson). Follow Carl on Twitter to get a sneak preview of American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath.

Buy the book American Isis from Amazon.com; or the US Kindle edition. Or, buy the book American Isis from Amazon.co.uk.

----

Are you intrigued about the cover photo for American Isis? I sure am. The photograph was taken by Plath's fellow Lawrence housemate Judy Denison, whom Rollyson interviewed for his book. Plath was a resident of Lawrence in 1952-1953, Spring 1954, and then 1954-1955; Denison matriculated in the fall of 1953 and graduated in 1957. Denison took the photograph in April 1954: just barely over two months after her return to Smith from her breakdown!

In an undated letter to her then boyfriend Gordon Lameyer, which can be accurately dated based on the evidence in the letter to November 6, 1954, Plath begins her letter with a description of the probably the same apparel worn in the photo. The letter cannot be quoted as it is unpublished, but suffice to say she describes herself as wearing that day an old Navy sweater, Oxford gray Bermuda shorts, and knee socks. Sounds like the photograph on Carl's book, no?

07 November 2012

Review of Ted and I by Gerald Hughes

Memoir is a tricky genre. On the one hand the subject of the memoir is greedily consumed by its readers; on the other hand questions surrounding the veracity of memory come into the forefront. Memoirs of Sylvia Plath have been particularly scrutinized: even the ones written in the first decade or so after her death when memories are presumably fresher.

Ted and I by Gerald Hughes (Robson Press, 2012), brother of the poet, is a book worth reading. In some ways Gerald is "the other" or is "an other" in the life of Ted Hughes: a dream, an ideal, that would never be realized. Ted and I is divided into three sensible parts; "Childhood"; "The War Years"; and "Keeping in Touch". Each part is further divided into subparts.

"Childhood" was the least emotive part of the book: a series of broken memories, shorter staccato vignettes and mostly nondescript that in some ways could describe the childhood of any myriad of boys and girls. Not a criticism by any means, just a failure to engage the reader in a period of time long ago...Ted Hughes himself spoke about these years quite convincingly as being crucial to his development. Particularly so in his "Two of a Kind" interview with Sylvia Plath and Owen Leeming in January 1961. Ted Hughes says, "when I was about eight then all that was sealed off, we moved to Mexborough which was industrial and depressing and dirty and - oh well at the time made us all very unhappy but it was really a very good thing. It became - it became a much richer experience for me than - than my previous seven years had been, but in being as different it really sealed off my first seven years so that now I have memories of my first seven years which - my first seven years seem almost half my life. I've - I've remembered almost everything because it was sealed off in that particular way and became a sort of brain - another subsidiary brain for me." Readers of Sylvia Plath will note with particular interested how the image of childhood sealed off would be reused more succinctly in her own way in her late January 1963 prose piece which examined the landscape of her childhood: "Ocean 1212-W".

"The War Years" was incredibly moving and well written. The stories and experiences of Gerald Hughes during this time make the book memorable, as well as the last part "Keeping in Touch". Readers of this blog will find "Keeping in Touch" of the most interest for this is where Sylvia Plath is inserted into the story. The never published before photographs complement quotations from previously unpublished letters from Plath's to Gerald and his wife Joan, whom she never met. The original letters from Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes to Gerald and Joan are part of Hughes mss II at the Lilly Library. These letters of course were readable in the Reading Room, but before now not really ever quotable. They provide some biographical information, are mostly chipper, show some wit, and in my opinion make Plath quite a likable figure when compared to the impression one gets when reading her letters to her mother in Letter Home. Gerald even says of the tone of the correspondence: "We felt close" (144).

As the memoir progresses we see Plath pass. Gerald describes Plath's death as "dreadful" (163). But in citing some of his brother's letters, we get a differing opinion from the one so often discussed in biography. What is generally reported is that Hughes and Plath were close to repairing their relationship; that they were two weeks away from reconciling things. But in Ted and I, we see Ted Hughes writing to his brother, "All this business has been terrible - especially for Sylvia - but it was inevitable" (163) Gerald describes the breakup, in Ted's words, as a "relief" (163). This is not dredged up to pick a fight with the Hughes family or Hughes readers and fans, but it does show that the dissolution of the marriage was messy and in some ways we will obviously never know what Ted Hughes' intentions were, nor where the relationship actually stood. Maybe we are not meant to.

Gerald Hughes writes sincerely about his brother post-Plath. The paragraphs on Plath's nervousness surrounding the publication of The Bell Jar are difficult to read, but also highlight an under-exposed circumstance in the last weeks of Plath's life: how publication of the novel affected her under all the circumstances she was living in during January 1963. Not to digress too much, but how different might Plath's situation have been had The Bell Jar been published in 1962, as was originally planned by Heinemann? Copies of the proof of the novel have a copyright date of 1962. The novel's publication was of course delayed because Plath one the Saxton grant, and Heinemann were quite gracious in delaying it so she could claim all the reward money. Remember that as the novel was already completed, Plath just bundled it up into four installments and submitted it quarterly per the requirements... Had the novel been published in 1962, it might have been before the breakup of her marriage and she might have been in a different frame of mind to see her story out there. All these "might have"'s are largely speculative, of course, and also rhetorical in nature.

Back to Ted and I and the chapter "Keeping in Touch", Assia Wevill and her daughter Shura pass, too, and eventually Ted Hughes. These episodes are treated naturally, with tact and genuine feeling, so that with each death the reader cannot help but feel affected for the personal way in which she or he engages with Gerald Hughes' writing. The reproduction of Gerald Hughes' artwork are quite impressive, and show a creative talent running through the family.

Ted and I, with a foreword by Frieda Hughes is a good book. Overall the sibling and family love is clear and candid. Thank you Gerald Hughes, and Frieda Hughes, for getting these memories in print. Buy the book from The Robson Press.

04 November 2012

Walkers of Air by Auralaria

I received the following link from Luisa Pastor, director of "Walkers of Air". Pastor runs a performance poetry group and audiovisual, called Auralaria, in Alicante, Spain - a place we all know of this place as a site where Sylvia Plath spent a part of her honeymoon with Ted Hughes, and from Spanish-themed poems like "Alicante Lullaby", "Fiesta Melons", and "The Goring", to name a few. Auralaria's recent work is devoted to the figure of Sylvia Plath and consists of a videopoem inspired by a fragment of her poem "Three Women", which they have titled "Walkers of air", a phrase spoken by the First Voice (also known as The Wife).

You can see the video either on their blog, or via a YouTube link.

01 November 2012

Guest Post: Into the Sylvia Plath Archives by Julia Gordon-Bramer

[The below is a guest post by Julia Gordon-Bramer. Sylvia Plath Info is interested in guest posts on the archival experience. For many, the Sylvia Plath 2012 Symposium was the first time working with original Sylvia Plath materials, and these impressions, if not too personal and private, make for fascinating reading and consideration as the interaction with Sylvia Plath becomes more tangible; more real the the print in books. - pks]


I hadn't known exactly what to expect, how it would actually feel, to step into the Sylvia Plath archives at Indiana University's Lilly Library. I had read of Peter K. Steinberg and Gail Crowther's Plath-archival experiences at Smith College and other archives, and these past few years I have been over my share of photocopied early versions of Plath's poems, for which I'd paid something like ten cents a copy for each side, plus the postage of a large block of paper delivered to my home. I was used to seeing Sylvia Plath's clean, rounded handwriting, her cross-outs and side-line musings. But what would the archives themselves be like?

I added two extra days onto the beginning of my Plath 2012 Symposium trip to immerse myself in the archival experience. Little did I know that I would spend every possible second there, even forfeiting lectures I had originally wanted to attend, and that six days in the Lilly would still not be enough.

The Lilly Library is unlike any other library to which I had previously been. In real life, it is not as large and grand as its picture. It is not a place with shelves of books, but rather rooms of displays and the closed-off archives behind two great, locked doors. Registration takes place first, with a picture ID required. All unnecessary belongings, including purses, jackets, and pens are stored in a locker. There is no food or drink. One is given a pass and buzzed into the room. On the archive side, a doorbell tone lets the desk attendants know you're coming. The pass then goes to the desk and one is directed to the listings of the archives, to make your requests.

On my arrival, I honed in on Plath Profiles'/Sylvia Plath Info Blog's Peter K. Steinberg right away, and shook his hand hello. This was the first time we'd met in person after a long online relationship through my contributions to the Profiles and occasional guest blogs. Next to him were other names I knew: poet David Trinidad, and scholar Amanda Golden. We made our quick hellos, everyone there to work while we could. There would be time to socialize after hours.

As it was my first archival experience and I wanted to review a little bit of everything. I selected the Plath mss. II correspondence box from 1955, for starters. I also had a lot of interest in the annotations of Plath's books, and I made a long list of those I wanted to see. I wanted to see what had not been published. To touch the untouchable.

The air is necessarily cool and dry, and most of the time, the sounds are papers rustling and hushed tones, the occasional cough or sneeze, and sometimes an excitable gasp or an aha! escapes a scholar's lips, or else, there is the full-volume whisper to call a friend over to see. It is an atmosphere of suspense, a perpetual build-up of anticipation toward what might be found next.

Gluttonous me, I thought, Give me everything. Little did I know the magnitude of a file of a single year of letters, which took me a full two days to get through. In fact, I never could have seen everything in one visit. I made mental plans to schedule in another week at the archives—soon. That four-and-a-half hour drive from St. Louis to Bloomington, Indiana is perhaps not ideal, but it is workable, I reasoned. I will just need to somehow postpone all other responsibilities. Family, teaching, my tarot clients… could they make do without me for a while longer? I wanted to postpone my own life to curl into Sylvia's for a month or two. I wondered: would anyone really miss me? [pks editorial comment: yes]

The attendant placed a blue blotter on the table for me to lay the papers on. I was given a small rolling table to hold the large brown cardboard file box full of folders beside me. A long thin rectangular piece of cardboard is library-standard equipment to hold one's place. Weighted cords, to keep books open, and magnifying glasses for tiny annotations are available at the front desk. I was to write in my own notebook only in pencil. No photographs were allowed of anything, which meant a lot of either typing if you'd brought your laptop, or writing in long-hand. I don't like my laptop—and there is something about long-hand that brings me closer to the work. I feel more a part of it, more connected to feel it in the way of recreating the letters, and this was work that I definitely wanted to feel a part of. Long-hand it would be.

I sat with Plath's letters, remembering the bits from Letters Home and able to once and for all finally read everything Aurelia had censored for publication. I was able to see Plath's application form for graduate school at Radcliffe, and to experience the horror and insult of personal and subjective questions about nervous temperaments and morals. Questions like these were common place in school files of the 1950s, in addition to nude photos determining scoliosis, and more.

We owe a great debt to Aurelia Plath's smother-mothering. Without her incredible doting, her saving of everything and careful attention to chronicling and preserving every detail of her daughter's history, these archives would not exist. And Aurelia's meticulous German-Austrian ethic passed the traits to her daughter, creating searchable, dated documentation, seeming to anticipate its importance even before Plath died. If Sylvia Plath had been born to a "normal" mother, there would be merely a handful of baby pictures, a couple relevant letters, and maybe some yearbooks. End of story.

It was in the reading these 1955 letters that I grew fond of Plath's boyfriend, Gordon Lameyer. He was deeply devoted and poetic, if a bit self-absorbed. Later at dinner, my friends would mock me that I had a historical crush, and my group of other Plathians had decided, in accordance with Plath evidently, that he was too dull for her in the long run.

I mused at Sylvia's careful use of all available space, typing on all sides of the paper, in margins, and even unfolding greeting cards to type inside them. On a quick afternoon break I called my British mother in the middle of the day, as I could not stop thinking of her, seeing the Bible-paper thin, blue Par Avion air mail paper of letters to and from her home that filled my own childhood. I got to "know" that major heartbreak of Sylvia's, Richard Sassoon. He wrote so many letters, half in French and only half-legible, so full of arrogance and drunken rants that I began to despise him. He was passionate, gooey, and the evidence suggests, occasionally abusive. He was a dark and dysfunctional mix that probably appealed to Sylvia's masochistic side. He was no Gordon Lameyer, I'll tell you that. It is a curious thing to read deeply and come away feeling you "know," and even dislike a person never met.

Dinner was usually at the Siam House, as the small early group of us was either vegetarian, vegan, or "vegan-ish," as I like to say. At dinner we chuckled over the long and overlapping list of Sylvia's boyfriends, of the complex chart that might be made and the Six Degrees of Separation to Sylvia Plath. It was a bonding dinner of finishing each other's thoughts, mingling with people of the same mind, and feeling like I finally found a place where I belong which would set the tone for the entire week.

The library is open from nine to six weekdays, and nine hours is simply not enough time. It is certainly not enough to waste upon meals and breaks, and this may be one of my first vacations where I lost a pound or two. There was just no time to eat.

In Plath's 1955 letters, I found some key details supporting the work I've been doing that will be invaluable. I formulated new questions and new pursuits, but most of all, I had fun. Sylvia was coming to life for me in a way she never had before, always censored by her mother or Ted Hughes, or slanted to meet an author's take, or simply cut for space.

On my third day there, I moved out of her letters and into Plath's personal library, reading book annotations. This turned out to be a gold-mine for my work. Peter, beside me, pored over her tiny little calendars, loaded with details both mundane and fascinating.

"You're gonna want to see this," he said, pulling me over and sharing the date Plath purchased her book on the tarot at Charing Cross. Woo-hoo!

Working with book annotations might be the strangest inter-textual game ever: First, there is the author's idea and words on the page. Then, Plath's underlinings as she processed these ideas and added marginalia. Then, occasionally either Ted Hughes' or Aurelia Plath's take on Sylvia's thoughts. And of course, our own ideas about it on top of it all. It is our words about the words of words of words. The resonance of this emotional response is occasionally breathtaking. To see the underlines and comments is to feel it with Plath, and to be taken back in time. At dinner again, we discussed time, how it has no end and no beginning, how Einstein said it is all happening at once, how Plath was indeed with us, perhaps right there at the table beside us.

Back in her books, I watched how Plath circled similar sounds, finding the poetry even in prose. I watched how she identified patterns and contrasts, how she revered the imagery and symbolism. I watched how she saw parallels with her own life. It was a wonder to see how her mind worked, even in reading. I will never read the same way again.

Over the course of the week, I got through Plath's annotated copies of The Unicorn: William Butler Yeats' Search for Reality by Virginia Moore; The Portable James Joyce; Huxley's Heaven and Hell; and George Eliot's Middlemarch. In moments I was full of glee with a new discovery. Other times I was close to weeping, feeling her comments, knowing what would come later. Next to me, poet Annie Finch turned through Plath's childhood greeting cards and photographs, sharing the especially amazing ones with me. I felt like I got a double archive experience with her generosity.

There is so much more to say: about the lectures, about the camaraderie, about the discoveries. Perhaps I will write another guest blog and cover a lecture or two that hasn't been reported on. Some of this work will most definitely find its way into my book and future papers.

Over my symposium nights I dreamt of Plath's "Finisterre," and zombie-like intruders who would not die, and then, on the night before my last, a spectacular dream of Plath standing in my room, all shadows, her perimeter defined by electricity and stars. She was too beautiful and frightening to look at for long. And yet, I could stay in those archives forever.

By Saturday evening, my three-subject, 150-page notebook was nearly full. My family was calling relentlessly, asking questions about the cat's insulin shots, and about scheduling next semester's classes, and paying for my son's marathon portraits. My family in Ocean City, Maryland was panicking over the oncoming Hurricane Sandy. I was missed. Real life wanted me back.

I will return soon.

31 October 2012

Sylvia Plath 2012 Symposium Photo Dump

In working through the photographs and files from the week in Bloomington, I have found the following that I thought others might like to see (primarily those who were not present, but also those who were because there is never enough).

The first three are from the IU Art Gallery and features some of the works by Kristina Zimbakova and Linda Adele Goodine.




The next are all from the "Transitions" exhibit in the Lilly Library.









As we leave October behind, it can only be described as memorable. Tomorrow we will have a guest post by Julia Gordon-Bramer on her experience in the archive. If you, dear reader, are so inspired to write something about your own experience with the archive: this is an open call for a guest post to get your impressions, which are as unique as snowflakes.

28 October 2012

Sylvia Plath Symposium Panel Reviews by Lauren Benard

The following are reviews of Panels 2 and 9 by Lauren Benard, author of Plath Profiles 4 essay "Taking on a Mourning Her Mother Never Bothered With: Esther's Anguished Memory and Her Resistance to a Domestic Life in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar". Thank you, Lauren, for these reviews, I know I am not the only one who appreciates it.

Panel 2: The Bell Jar

Peter K. Steinberg (the man behind the Sylvia Plath Info curtain) spoke on “Sylvia Plath: Palimpsestic Writer in The Bell Jar.” Steinberg opened by stating how Plath and Hughes often overwrote each other; however, rather than only focusing on the lexical connections between their works, it is important to understand her own influence on her writing. It is important to read her writing for her own intertextuality. The Bell Jar entrapped Plath as much as it worked for her as an enabling device. After the novel was published she better expressed her anguish. He shares that there are more than twenty similarities between “Tongues of Stone” and The Bell Jar. In fact, many of her journal entries and poems resurface in the novel. In a way she was a “self-plagiarist.” Steinberg focused on poems such as (but not limited to): “Two Views of a Cadaver Room,” “The Babysitters,” “The Moon and Yew Tree,” and “Stopped Dead” and their influence within the novel. One example was that of the moment in The Bell Jar when Esther attempts to drown herself, but “each time popped up like a cork,” which also appears in “The Babysitters” with the dolls described as “two cork dolls.” Also, in The Bell Jar, Elaine (one of Plath’s selves) illustrates “drops of sweat dripped down her back one by one like small insects” in her story. Steinberg eagerly researched where else Plath had used this phrase and discovered the moment in “Tongues of Stone” when Plath writes “[t]ears crawling like slow insects down her cheeks.” The paper was delivered with light humor and eloquence. His talk came to a close by unfolding the idea that: Plath’s connections -- through sweat, tears, and blood-- a marvelous interconnected body of work is created.

Jessica McCort (Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA) presented the paper: “‘This Smith Cinderella’: Breaking the Glass Coffin in The Bell Jar.” The presentation began by her quoting from Plath’s scrapbook and illustrating Plath as “a modern Cinderella.” The motif of The Bell Jar parallels to that of the glass coffin: as girls reach adolescence, they are objectified. She comments that Plath often thought of herself as a revisable text and also uses the palimpsest metaphor to describe how Plath was stained by fairy-tales. She likens Esther to Alice as “falling into a childhood past.” However, Plath’s fall ends with her abrupt shift and reconstructed sleep. The fairy-tale---particularly the dominant marriage plot-- is used as a frame when Buddy asks Esther “I wonder who you’ll marry now?” In addition, McCourt alludes to the blood imagery that surfaces in The Bell Jar as a reclamation of sexual awakening. Plath’s recomposed self (unlike that of Humpty Dumpty) lies at the root of such a connection. I was very inspired by McCourt’s presentation. She made distinct connections to the use of fairy-tales in Plath’s text that left me wanting to investigate more into the topic myself. I’ve set a new goal for my next archive visit. Thank you!

Panel 9: Ariel theoretical/ metaphorical interpretations

Catherine Leigh Reeves’ (University of Wyoming, Laramie) presented her paper, “‘Oh love, how did you get here?’: Plath’s Maternal Imagination.” She outlines the violent discourse surrounding the speaker’s desire to consume the child back into the confines of her body. Reeves incorporates poetry by Toi Derricotte, Molly Peacock, and Mina Loy to support her reading of Plath’s “Nick the Candlestick” paired with “Edge.” Reeves explains that maternal poetics permeate these works because the child is often viewed as a loss as well as an extension of self. “Nick the Candlestick” parallels a moment in Plath’s journal when she writes how she wants to “crawl back abjectly into the womb.” Also, “Edge” demonstrates how the dead body wears a smile of accomplishment. Reeves also comments on the complexity of female experience/ the female body in “Three Women,” and that unnatural imagery is used to illustrate natural impulses. Reeves shared this portion of her M.A. thesis with confidence and clarity; the dedication to her project strongly showed.

The panelist Rachel Schaefer-- who studied at the American University in Cairo, Egypt--discussed “Plath’s Ekphrasis and Expressionism” by stating the poems in Plath’s final years are her own form of art. It appears that Plath was influenced by expressionist and surrealist paintings because she writes in a chopped and distorted style. Schaefer points out that Plath takes common images and uses them in uncommon ways to capture her reader. She displayed specific artwork by Paul Klee, likening “Virgin in Tree” to the fig tree in The Bell Jar. In addition, she presented Giorgio Dechirico’s “Disquieting Muses” and “Enigma of the Oracle” as well as Henri Rosseau’s “Snakecharmer” and “The Dream” to capture specific artwork that influenced Plath’s writing. Schaefer presented many visuals of the artwork to advance her argument. Overall, her work was well-informed and offered a fresh perspective on the matter.

Jennifer Hurley Yaros (Valparaiso, IN), the final panelist, examined the topic of morality in her paper “Plath’s Response and Repair in Ariel poems.” In doing so, she put Margaret Urban Walker’s essay “Moral Repair and Its Limits” in conversation with Sylvia Plath’s poems “The Jailer” and “By Candlelight.” Yaros understands that Plath’s mission was to understand and restore her own life. When discussing “The Jailer” she refers to the female slave/ animalistic qualities of the poem. Moreover, she posits that Plath felt morally wrong or responsible for leaving her children; as if she predicted her suicide in “By Candlelight.” Although Plath was heavily impacted by worldly and personal events, her own words were, perhaps, “not enough to save her life.” The final lines of her presentation could be interpreted in several ways, which left me interested as a listener. The paper was strong overall because she opened ideas up for consideration rather than closing them down. Thank you!

These brief reviews cannot replace the wonderful presentations, but please do enjoy!

-Lauren Benard

27 October 2012

Day 4, Part 2 of the Sylvia Plath 2012 Symposium: The Afternoon

This afternoon was also a good - no, a great - way to conclude the Symposium. As with the other post today, I've just decided to post my notes, relatively unedited!

Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick: "Sylvia Plath and Trauma: Reading the October 1962 Poems"

Part of a book on modernist and contemporary poets. Two terms in trauma studies are "acting out": nightmares and reliving experiences and "working through": the process of the subject trying to make sense of the traumatic experience. Attempts to come with a narrative that hangs together about that experience, enables her/him to begin to work through it, to put the episode behind her.

"A Birthday Present"

Calm and resigned voice anticipates "Edge" and "Words". Line "I am alive only by accident" is the trauma event about which the speaker needs to work through. Trauma leads to a fetishization of death.

"Lady Lazarus"
Founding trauma is part and parcel as to how the speaker identifies herself "I am your opus..." Repetition of suicides is an aspect of the trauma.

"Ariel"
Speaker is metaphorically hooked: caught in the trauma. "Ariel" over-determined trauma script. Speaker propelled by outside forces, not her own will. Speaks to acting out.

"Daddy"

In "Daddy", the use of Holocaust imagery Plath ramps up emotional intensity to emphasize her trauma. Because of her experience seeing images from WWII, Plath may have suffered from a secondary identification with the war victims. While in "Ariel" Plath acts out, "Daddy" is Plath working through the trauma, in an effort to put the experiences behind her. Demise of her marriage (abandonment and betrayal) is the great traumatic event that spurned on "Daddy" and other poems like it. Speaker is so traumatized she can "hardly speak". But in the poem Plath is able to work through the trauma and to find the language to finally break "through".

Lynda K Bundtzen took the stage next for a talk about Plath's Bee Sequence poems. Talking about the manuscripts, but not all of the bee poems because time won't allow for it. Our loss.

Perhaps the bee poems represent her fears of being & becoming a honey-drudge  a housewife, who fears the cultural death of being awy from the city and life she wants. "The Bee Meeting" is a serious of questions with no answers offered: full of fear: questions of author-ity and authorship. Loss of identity, no sense of self or others. "The Arrival of the Bee Box" and "Stings" still ask many questions. "The Swarm" is manipulated easily, "dumb". In "Wintering" the speaker admits "It is they who own me."

Bundtzen highlights Plath's struggle in concluding the final line of "Wintering" based on her studying of the manuscripts was really fascinating. Although I've seen the manuscripts in person, for some reason the way in which she read them enabled me to feel that struggle quite palpably. She also quoted many of the other words and lines and stanzas that Plath toyed with in the creation of this five-part allegory.

Bundtzen's conclusion on "Wintering" was an eloquent few minutes comparing the poem to Hughes's departure, likening his departure from Court Green to the annual expulsion of the drones (the "massacre of the males" according to Lynda) from the beehive.

Langdon Hammer of Yale spoke on "Plath's German." Hammer memorably gave a version of this talk in both the Oxford 2007 Symposium and the one day gig at Smith in April 2008. I am eager to see what modifications have been done to the paper in the last four and a half years. His paper focuses on Plath's relationship as a writer with the German language.

Heather Clark and Anita Helle followed Langdon Hammer, on the theme of Plath, German and Otto Plath, talking about Otto Plath’s FBI files (Clark) and scientific works (Helle).

Clark's talk on Otto Plath looked at the German/American persecution in the lives of the Plath. The fear, anger and insecurity of the interrogations. Plath, a pacifist, dove into work as a result and this lead him to take a distance approach to love, life, and fatherhood. As Germans, both Otto Plath and the Schober family had much to be concerned about during World War I and during World War II. These narratives were explored by Plath herself in her poems, as well as in her journals, and in short stories: most notably "The Shadow". Heather's long discourse into the immigration history of the Plath family was fascinating, filled with so much new information that will greatly benefit how we understand Sylvia Plath's heritage.

Anita Helle then took the stage in an Otto Plath one-two punch. Anita had a handout with a selected bibliography of publications by Otto Plath which is a genius thing to have done! "Alternative Lineages: O.E. Plath, Sylvia, and Zoological Modernism." She pointed out a line in "The Beekeepers Daughters" that mirrors something that Otto Plath wrote in his book Bumblebees and Their Ways! very interesting fact. Anita's talk goes towards some lengths to de-mythologize and demystify Otto Plath by highlighting his contributions to science, by taking advantage of older, now digitized materials (scientific papers from scientific periodicals) that are available online. Another very novel approach to the subject of Otto Plath. This includes wading through technical papers on larvae, for example. Zoological Modernism focuses on insect societies. Anita did some wonderful work with the photograph of Aurelia, Otto, and Sylvia that accompanied the FBI story this summer, taken in the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, circa summer 1933. It is the only known photograph of the three of them together. I like the work Anita is doing on this, but I am utterly intimidated by the genius that she exudes.

The last panel of the day was a round table on archiving Otto Plath with Heather Clark, Anita Helle, Langdon Hammer and me. Me! The one horizontal among all the uprights! I do not feel qualified to review this, being a part of it: so if someone out there wants to do a write up, please email it to me!

The last "event" was a book signing at 7:30. Next? Home sweet home!
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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.

Interviews