The following is a guest post review by Jaime Jost (the Plath Profiles author of "To See What She Saw: The Influence of Sylvia Plath" in Volume 4 and "'Panic' over Puddle Jumping in Plath's 'Mothers'" published TODAY in the Volume 5 Supplement). Jaime was kind enough to review two panels: Panel 1: Plath and Religion; and Panel 5: Plath's Influences: Lowell and Sexton, the Qabalah.
Please thank Jaime (and Bridget in the post before) for their wonderful write-ups, for their fresh perspectives on the Symposium panels, and for providing us with possibly otherwise lost impressions due to concurrent nature of the conference structure. Your work, effort, and insight are all highly-valued, very much appreciated, and a valuable contribution to your fellow Plath-heads.
Panel 1: Plath and Religion
Emma Komlos-Hrobsky, editor of Pinhouse Magazine in New York,
presented her paper “‘The Black Amnesias of Heaven’: The God-Obsessed
Atheist and the Subject of Confession.” She used letters from Plath to
Father Michael Carey, who had been at Assumption College in
Massachusetts and had been transplanted to England such as Plath
herself as part of her research. The correspondence was happening in
November 1962 and included Plath’s articulate advisement of Carey’s
amateur poetry. She would sign her letters with requests for prayers
from Father Carey. Plath wished for God, hoped for God, and thought
there may be a God she had not found yet but could possibly find her,
help her. One thing Emma said that I found particularly interesting
was “If she doubts God, she also doubts her ability to play God,”
illustrating Plath’s self-doubt. She also spoke of the limits of
language and Plath’s questioning if she could be a master of the
language or if the language was mastering her.
Emma compares the work of Augustine to Plath’s poetics, stating “Much
like the work of Augustine, Plath’s poetry testifies to a conception
of the individual’s smallness before a vast and indifferent universe
and the ambiguous God that might rule over it” (from her abstract).
Raychel Haugrud Reiff, a professor at University of
Wisconsin-Superior, presented a paper she has been working hard on,
“Torment and Triumph: Plath’s Use of Christian Imagery in the October
Poems.” I must state my complete bias for Dr. Reiff up front—she was
my instructor and mentor on Plath when I was an undergraduate, and
still a valued academic advisor now that I am in graduate school.
Raychel knows more about Christian imagery than anyone I know, so I
know that even though most of her references are over my agnostic,
religiously illiterate self, that she is on point. Reiff discussed the
Christian Imagery in “Ariel,” “Nick of the Candle Stick,” “Daddy,”
“Bee Meeting,” “Fever 103,” and others. In “Fever 103,” Plath uses the
idea of rebirth. In the first half of the poem, Plath’s agony is
shown, followed in the second half by her “purity” stating she is “too
pure for you or anyone.” In “Ariel,” “Ariel” is Jeruselum. In “Lady
Lazarus,” Reiff brings in the two different versions of Lazarus in the
Bible, which she argues are each used consciously in the poem. These
are seen in the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Luke. Reiff states in
her abstract, “…her October poems shows her liberal use of Biblical
allusions, not to promote Christianity but to reveal her vision of
life: either to describe the torment of earthly life or to show the
triumph of an undefeated human being.”
Review of Panel 5: Plath's Influences: Lowell and Sexton, the Qabalah
Sarah-Jane Burton, a PhD student from University of Wollongong,
Australia, presented her paper “Literary Influence and the Boston
Trio: Plath, Lowell and Sexton.” Sarah discussed Plath’s time in
Lowell’s class in 1959 Boston, where Plath attended with Anne Sexton
and George Starbuck. She listened to Sexton’s therapy tapes to know
Sexton better, as well as visiting places they literary circle
frequented in the short but highly relevant time in these writers’
lives. Burton writes of her work, “I argue that by only considering
Plath’s earlier work and experiences retrospectively, from the
viewpoint of Ariel, critics can by academically reductive.”
Katie Rose Keenan, from Cabrini College, Glenolden, PA, presented her
paper, “Plath and Sexton’s Mutual Influence.” She writes, “In 1959,
Plath met fellow poet Anne Sexton while attending Robert Lowell’s
poetry class at Boston University.” The two women had a mutually
beneficial and fascinating friendship. In class, Keenan says, Sexton
was a “hot mess,” gorgeous, with extravagant jewelry, running late,
who sat with her legs crossed. She was a “reckless housewife” whereas
Plath presented herself as a serious, businesslike perfectionist.
Despite their outward differences, they cultivated an intense literary
friendship. Katie mentioned that Plath received in the mail a copy of
All My Pretty Ones a week before she started what would become the
Ariel poems, which is to say that that influence from 1959 may have
been reignited (if it was ever extinguished, that is) and led to that
burst of creative explosion.
Julia Gordon-Bramer, a teacher at Lindenwood University, St. Louis,
MO, and avid Tarot card reader, presented her paper, “Plath’s Ariel:
‘The Feminine Arrow into the Apocalypse.” She was met with gasps of
excitement from one member in the audience. Indeed, Gordon-Bramer
brought forth a complex reading of “Ariel,” aligning it with the
Temperance tarot card. Plath was influenced by the tarot, astrology,
astronomy, and the threat of nuclear warfare. Hughes and Plath chose
Court Green for fear of fallout and kept maps to fallout shelters.
Baby Frieda’s first outing was to a “Ban the Bomb” march.
Gordon-Bramer states, “Perhaps most impressively, however, is the
juxtaposition of the real-life history of the WWII bombings of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the sideline tales of American fighter
pilots and female foreign correspondents [in “Ariel”].”
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." Plath Profiles 2. Summer 2009: 183-208.
- 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 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.
- 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. 2000. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. New York: Anchor Books. (Acknowledged in)
- 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. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.
- 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. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
- Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
- 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. "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. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
- Steinberg, Peter K. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.
- "Banking on his passion for Plath" by Melissa Davis Haller. UMW Today. Spring 2005.
- "Sylvia Plath's Three Women to be staged in London" by Alison Flood. The Guardian. 3 December 2008.
- "FBI files on Sylvia Plath's father shed new light on poet" by Dalya Alberge. The Guardian. 17 August 2012.
- "There Are Almost No Obituaries for Sylvia Plath" by Ashley Fetters. The Atlantic. 11 February 2013.