27 October 2012

Sylvia Plath 2012 Symposium Day 3, Part 2: The Afternoon

Yesterday, in day 3 of the Symposium, Amanda Golden kicked off the afternoon with a rivetingly brilliant paper on Plath's "Purdah", Sanskrit and so much more. The paper examined Plath's experience in working for the Sanskrit department at Harvard University, briefly, in her 1958-1959 year in Boston. Plath had some education with the language through her reading of T.S. Eliot's poem "The Waste Land" and from courses taken at Smith particularly under the tutelage of Professor Drew. Amanda's work in the archive is inspiring and thorough, as was evidence in both the slides she presented of Plath's annotations in her books, but also in the notes she took in her courses, which indicate the process by which Plath studied. Amanda spoke at length about Forster's novel A Passage to India, which she also read in the Boston year, and how reading it thus informed her short story "The Daughters of Blossom Street" and later her poem "Purdah" (a scan of the word 'purdah' underlined in her famous Dictionary - held at Smith College - was particularly resonant. Golden contended that in some ways her reading of this novel lead her to be less interested (for lack of a better word on my part) in virginia Woolf because her rendering of life was less believable/real than in Forster. Amanda is a rare, bright star.

Following on Amanda's heels was David Trinidad whose essay on the biographicl references and sources to Plath's October poems was an inspired piece. For those that were there, I think we can all agree that we could have listened to David speak for about 17 more hours. Or more. Culled down from a large piece, David focused on the poems written after Hughes left Court Green including "Daddy" and "Eavesdropper" and "Lesbos", among others. An extremely careful and detailed work of art, David's essay was, quite well received, a highlight included a calendar layout of the month with the names of the poems written in on the days in which they were composed, and other significant events, as well as contextual photographs that are important to the poems including the photograph of Otto Plath standing at a blackboard, and photographs take by Gail Crowther of the home the Kane's in St. Ives (where Plath stayed the weekend of Ocober the 13th/14th), which features in "Lesbos". I look more and more forward to anything David sets his mind to do.

Equally, Tracy Brain is another Sylvia Plath scholar who continually fasincates and impresses me. Her presentation on "Medicing in Sylvia Plath's October Poems" was very well done and stayed within the limitations of the conference, much to the disappointment of everything in the audience who, as with David and Amanda, wanted more, more, more. Jumping off from a photograph of a nearly eight year old Plath dressed as a nurse in Winthrop during her father's final illness, Tracy traced Plath's experience with the medical world and her interaction with it in texts. Citing excised text from The Bell Jar, Plath's famous Orr interview, and poems and prose, Tracy concentrated on the bee poems, "Lesbos", "A Secret", "The Applicant", "The Jailor", "Fever 103", "Lesbos", and "Lady Lazarus".

The third day of the Symposium was truly a memorable one. It was so packed with panels and conversation, it was like sprinting a marathon. I've had a chance to meet a of people with whom I've only emailed. It it is wonderful to put faces and voices with the names. But there wasn't even enough time to talk to everyone as much as I really wanted.


Melanie Smith said...

Sigh, sounds wonderful.

Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

I think this day was the all-time high!

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