10 January 2012

Update from the Archive Day 2

The morning begin with a browse through the drafts of Sylvia Plath's poems. I started with the box with poems beginning "A-Be". I wanted to look a bit through some of the early October 1962 poems, and so looked at drafts of "The Bee Meeting" and "The Arrival of the Bee Box". As might be expected, this led me to jump the alpahbet so as to review "Stings," "The Swarm," and "Wintering. When you work with the original manuscripts, it is like reading them for the first time; you see them new and fresh. And when you work through the drafts of the poems, you are on a journey. I wanted to look at these early October 1962 poems to see if an idea I have for a paper to write and present at the Plath Symposium in October might spring to life. I'm happy to say I have an idea, I'm not very pleased to say I'm not sharing at this time.

In the process of reviewing the poems I stumbled upon, in the next box "Bi-De," a folder labelled "The Bull of Bendylaw." In this folder I found an answer to the question posed last night as regards the full table of contents for the one time collection of poems. Indeed the books full contents, and more, is captured in this list. Many of us who have worked with Plath's papers know that she kept meticulous lists of submissions, both of her own work and that of her husband. This particular typed table of contents for "The Bull of Bendylaw and other poems" was made on pink Smith College Memorandum paper. In addition to the poem titles, Plath lists the name of the periodical in which the poems were submitted and, if accepted, where it appeared. For the most part these are in code, usually of two or three letters, for example "vq" is Virginia Quarterly; and "pr" is Partisan Review. The numbers do not quite add up (Plath says the book contained 45 poems, but there are far more on the list she kept). Part of the reason for this is that her list includes many of the poems Plath composed later in 1959 at Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, NY. But rather than being a discouragement, what we actually see is the evolving book that would become The Colossus. However, some are typed and some are handwritten and below I will clearly list which is which.

The typed poems on the list are: "A Lesson in Vengence", "Faun", "Sow", "Spinster", "Black Rook in Rainy Weather", "Hardcastle Crags", "Mussel Hunter at Rock Harbor", "The Ghost's Leavetaking", "The Times are Tidy", "Frog Autumn", "Departure", "Snakecharmer", "The Disquieting Muses", "Owl", "Full Fathom Five", "Lorelei", "The Companionable Ills", "The Hermit at Outermost House", "The Bull of Bendylaw", "On the Decline of Oracles", and "Stumpet Song". At the top, "A Lesson in Vengence" has next to it a note indicating that it is to be removed. There is an double space at this poing in the list, and it continues, typed: "Maudlin", "All the Dead Dears", "The Moon was a Fat Woman Once" ["The Thin People"], "Green Rock, Wintrhop Bay", "Landowners", "The Goring", "Ouija", "Moonrise", "Sculpture", "I want, I want", "Night Shift", "The Beggars of Benidorm Market", "Point Shirley", "Suicide Off Egg Rock", "The Ravaged Face", "The Other Two", "Electra on Azalea Path", "Metaphors for a Pregnant Woman", "Man in Black", "Two Views of a Cadaver Room", and "The Eye-Mote".  In the list "The Other Two" is completely struck out. Below this, handwritten, are the following:  "Aftermath", "In Midas Country", "Medallion", "The Beekeeper's Daughter", "The Colossus", "The Manor Garden", "Mushrooms", "A Winter Ship", "The Burntout Spa", "Poem for a Birthday", and "Blue Moles." A second column contains, also handwritten: "Midas Country", "Polly's Tree", "The Sleepers", and "Two Views."

There are some differences in the abover versus what I typed up yesterday; for example "Mad Girl's Love Song", "Rhyme", and "Tinker Jack and the Tidy Wives", among others, are not present. It appears that the book changed shape quite a bit as the previous version contained a number of poems likely included in earlier book assemblages. I think of her "Cambridge" manuscript "Two Lovers and a Beachcomber by the Real Sea" which she submitted as part of her Tripos in June 1957; Plath also sumbited a book by this title to the Yale Series of Younger Poets, also in 1957 (see 9 August 1957, page 294 of The Unabridged Journals).

A photograph of a copy of the card sent
by Plath to McCurdy, March 1954.
In the afternoon we got into the nitty-gritty of the course and we were each assigned at least two letters to transcribe. The two letters given to me were to her German pen-pal Hans-Joachim Neupert from 4 July 1949 and to Philip McCurdy, 3 March 1954. The first was a four page, handwritten letter and the second was a typed on a birthday card. The card itself was cute. On the front it reads, "I try very hard / To be avant garde." On the inside, printed, it reads, "To keep abreast / Of the very best / In contemporary art and thought / And so I feel I really ought / To find some method tres nouveau / To show you that I really know / The very newest way / To say / Happy Birthday." Plath signed the card and then in order to read the letter she typed you had to open the card all the way up (the original sheet of paper was quarto in size and folded in half, and then folded in half again.

The letters were great fun to transcribe and I began annotating them based on information either in my head or that was readily available. On Thursday we are going to the College Archives to get primary source material that will help us with the Smith College related letters.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing the pic of that card - I'd never seen it before. I think it's a good example of Plath's visual humour, which was also perceptible at the exhibition of her drawings (e.g. Curious French Cat).

Have fun today! ~VC

Peter K Steinberg said...


No problem. I agree about her visual humor, and think the Curious French Cat was a lovely drawing (whoever has that now I hope will cherish it).


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Publications & Acknowledgements

  • BBC Four.A Poet's Guide to Britain: Sylvia Plath. London: BBC Four, 2009. (Acknowledged in)
  • Biography: Sylvia Plath. New York: A & E Television Networks, 2005. (Photographs used)
  • Connell, Elaine. Sylvia Plath: Killing the angel in the house. 2d ed. Hebden Bridge: Pennine Pens, 1998. (Acknowledged in)
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 3." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 119-138.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012: 11-56.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past." Plath Profiles 6. Summer 2013: 27-62.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives." Plath Profiles 2. Summer 2009: 183-208.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017.
  • Death Be Not Proud: The Graves of Poets. New York: Poets.org. (Photographs used)
  • Doel, Irralie, Lena Friesen and Peter K. Steinberg. "An Unacknowledged Publication by Sylvia Plath." Notes & Queries 56:3. September 2009: 428-430.
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Helle, Anita Plath. The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. (Photographs used, acknowledged in)
  • Helle, Anita. "Lessons from the Archive: Sylvia Plath and the Politics of Memory". Feminist Studies 31:3. Fall 2005: 631-652.. (Acknowledged in)
  • Holden, Constance. "Sad Poets' Society." Science Magazine. 27 July 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women, Motion Picture. Directed by Rachel Talbot. Brookline (Mass.): Jewish Women's Archive, 2007. (Photograph used)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Karen V. Kukil. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. (Acknowledged in)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, 1940-1956. London: Faber, 2017. Forthcoming.
  • Plath, Sylvia. Glassklokken. Oslo: De norske Bokklubbene, 2004. (Photograph used on cover)
  • Reiff, Raychel Haugrud. Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar and Poems (Writers and Their Works). Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2008.. (Images provided)
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'A Fetish: Somehow': A Sylvia Plath Bookmark." Court Green 13. 2017.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'I Should Be Loving This': Sylvia Plath's 'The Perfect Place' and The Bell Jar." Plath Profiles 1. Summer 2008: 253-262.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "A Perfectly Beautiful Time: Sylvia Plath at Camp Helen Storrow." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 149-166.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Proof of Plath." Fine Books & Collections 9:2. Spring 2011: 11-12.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "The Persistence of Plath." Fine Books & Collections. Autumn 2017: 24-29
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "This is a Celebration: A Festschrift for The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3 Supplement. Fall 2010: 3-14.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.