27 October 2012

Review of Panel 11: Plath and Hughes

The "Plath and Hughes" panel was nearly filled to standing room only, which illustrates how important a topic this is, likely to the chagrin of some. Helen Decker spoke on "Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes Side by Side: What I Can and Can't Tell You", Rai Peterson's paper was supposed to be on "Hughes and the Two Ariel's" but she changed it to "An Effiency, A Great Beauty": Sylvia Plath's Ariel Titles", and Georg Nöffke spoke on "These Super'People: The Superimpostion of Ted Hughes' 'Brasilia' on Sylvia Plath's 'Brasilia'".

No one in the room was disappointed. The three presenters in the Walnut Room spoke clearly and expertly on their chosen topics. Decker has been at work on a book about Plath and Hughes for a while, and with any luck we'll see it soon for general consumption. She has been working both on Plath's and Hughes' appearances in periodicals together, as well as the way they wrote on the backs of each others manuscripts and typescripts. In general, and I mean this politely, Decker's presentation was a tease because as much as she could say, she didn't want to go too far. Working extensively with Plath's archives and Hughes', Decker's work looks to put her own spin on a fascinating topic.

Rai Peterson's paper sounded interesting in the printed abstract, but when she announced a title change, it suddenly grew more interesting. Rather than discuss the poems Hughes left out of or put into Ariel when it was first published in 1965 (1966 in America), Rai speculated on the ways in which the poetry collection could have been received had they been published under any of the four alternate, deleted titles: The Rival, The Rabbit Catcher, A Birthday Present, and Daddy. She highlighted how the title and title poems might have changed the reception of each work, ultimately agreeing that the poem "Ariel" and the title Ariel was by far the best choice based on the narrative arc of the contents. She interestingly pointed out that of all the changes Hughes and the editors made to the book when first published, that the title was not one of those changes.

Georg Nöffke flew all the way from South African to leave me, at least, speechless. I was terrifically excited to hear about "Brasilia" as it is an undervalued and underdiscussed work, both Plath's as well as Hughes's own response. He had a handout of images of the planned city of Brasilia, which completely adds to our understanding of some of the imagery in the poetry. Georg and Lynda K. Bundtzen also discussed at the end some of the finer points of his paper and some of the text in Hughes' poem, which continued to enlighten me on things of which I was otherwise ignorant. I was interested to hear Georg assert that Birthday Letters and the construction of both Hughes' persona in it as well as that of Plath's should be considered in a similar way (intentionally, perpahs?) that we look at Plath's construction of her own personal mythology (as expressed by Judith Kroll in her seminal work Chapters in a Mythology) in Ariel. Georg concluded that in the case of the two poems "Brasilia", Hughes was speaking over Plath, rather than more or less responding or reacting to her, her poetry and their life together.

More recap later on the individual talks by Amanda Golden, David Trinidad, and Tracy Brain!

1 comment :

Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

I simply cannot wait to read Georg's paper. Georg--if you're reading this comment, don't forget to send it!

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