27 October 2012

Review of Sylvia Plath Symposium Panels 1 and 5

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”].”

-Jaime Jost

1 comment :

Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

Thanks, Jaime! How wonderful that you filled in where Briget left off! ;-)

Those gasps made me happy indeed. It is great to have one's presentation affect others so deeply.

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