29 March 2012

Sylvia Plath's Readers and Paper Dolls

A few brief items to relate today.

Sylvia Plath's one-time rival, Adrienne Rich, died yesterday (28 March). Read an obituary here. Plath met Rich in April 1958 after a reading Hughes gave on the 11th  at Harvard. From her Journals, Plath wrote "...I would posthaste recover but I must hear Ted read at Harvard tomorrow (& look forward to meeting the long looked-at poetess Adrienne Cecil Rich)..." (365).  After Hughes' reading, Plath, Hughes, Rich, her husband and Marie  and Jack Sweeney had dinner out in Boston's North End at "Felicia's just off Hanover Street" (365) Felicia's was located at 145a Richmond Street (pictured here is the building in April 2010). Plath's description of the evening continues on page 369. Makes for fascinating reading. For more on Plath's Boston, please read (or re-read) Gail Crowther's "Virtually There in Boston."

There is a new book (novel) which contains within its boards "people who are obsessed with Sylvia Plath." Read more about The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits.

Jeanette Stewart at the Star Phoenix in Canada reports that "Plath's paper dolls come to Mendel." The paper dolls are housed among many other great treasures at the Lilly Library in Bloomington, Indiana. The Mendel Gallery is in Saskatoon (aka in the middle of nowhere), Canada. You can read more about the "Paper Doll" exhibit here.

28 March 2012

The Colossus: A False History of Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes

Thanks to S Miles for alerting us to the following video: "The Colossus."   Per the anonymous contributor to IMDB, "The Colossus" is "a falsified account of the romance between authors Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes that ended in her death and his public disgrace. Through the words they shared with the world, The Colossus tries to uncover the emotion brimming beneath their love and its slow demise." Quite a strange little video starring Laura Jorgenson and Scout Tafoya... After watching this video, "I am none the wiser."

25 March 2012

Plath Profiles Volume 5 Deadline: 1 Week Away

The deadline for submissions for Volume 5 of Plath Profies is one week from today. Submit soon!

And for the love of Sylvia Plath, please follow the following when you submit: Times New Roman, 12 pt., double-spaced, MLA, nothing in the header/footer, footnotes NOT endnotes. Thank you.

The claw
Of the magnolia,
Drunk on its own scents,
Asks nothing of life.

19 March 2012

Review of Poetic Memory by Uta Gosmann

Review of Uta Gosmann, Poetic Memory: The Forgotten Self in Plath, Howe, Hinsey, and Glück (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2012), 243 pages. $85. ISBN: 978-1-61147-036-9.

Poetic memory, according to Uta Gosmann, "posits that the self is more than the compound of a person's remembered biography" (1). It "reaches beyond the accountable facts of a life toward the notion of a self that is dynamic, expansive, and full of potential" (1). "Poetic memory" is an interesting theory and one that Gosmann defines and supports throughout her text with clear expertise and mastery.

Naturally I was very enthusiastic to read the Plath chapter, but I was equally as excited to dive into those on the poetry of the contemporary, living poets: Susan Howe, Ellen Hinsey, and Louise Glück. Howe and Hinsey were new to me; I had not previously read them. Glück is about the only living poet I take seriously, having an admiration and respect for her work that leaves me shuddering for its soulfulness, depth, and beauty.

Well-written, this is an academic book through and through. But it is neither stuffy nor full of itself, the way many academic tomes are. It is readable, enjoyable, and well argued. As a result, I finished the book happily with the impression that it was outside the scope of any meaningful criticism, and for those familiar with my reviews you know I like nothing better than to have something about which to be critical when it comes to Plath. Rather, I found the presentation of Hinsey's poems excellent and has lead me to want to read more of her work. The chapter on Glück is an absolute star. I cannot claim to fathom, understand, appreciate, or believe in psychoanalysis but I was absolutely riveted by Gosmann's reading of Glück's Averno.

There are two minor things which can be remotely criticized about the book, and in particular the Plath chapter. The first is petty: in introducing the poems by Plath which Gosmann will closely read, she introduces "The Colossus," "Daddy," "Lady Lazarus," and "Words," and then immediately launches into "Full Fathom Five." Why this was excluded I cannot … fully fathom (high five!). The only other thing I can muster is that I want more! The Plath chapter is good, but I felt that exploring those five was not enough. There are of course a plethora of Plath poems in which the poets' memories are recalled and that have that bit of controversy about them: are they personal/biographical?, confessional?, distortions/manipulations/appropriations?, chapters in a mythology?, etc.? Some poems that might have been included would be the "The Stones," "Dream with Clam-Diggers," "The Disquieting Muses," and "In Plaster." In fact, an examination of some of the lesser known poems - at this point - might have been refreshing. Plath was an intertextual writer and exploring her "poetic memory" might have been richer and deeper had the sources for the memories been explored in a more explicit fashion, especially given that Gosmann "posits that the self is more than the compound of a person's remembered biography." Plath's journals are - as Tracy Brain has rightly argued - "a writer's notebook where she tried out various tones and emotions. As journals so often are for writers, Plath's were a place to play with and store material that she would later use...There is too large a gap between Plath's 'real' experiences and the mediation of writing for us to use the Journals as simple documentary evidence of her mental state or emotions" (in Gill 143 ). At the same time, Susan Van Dyne writers "In her letters and journals as much as in her fiction and poetry, Plath’s habits of self-representation suggest that she regarded her life as if it were a text she could invent and rewrite" (in Gill 5). I think both of these statements argue positively that Plath's "poetic memory," as Gosmann theorizes, could have used other sources for support than just the poems.

In the poems of Plath's that Gosmann discusses, the narrator is "I". This often leaves to confusion/conflation between the poet and the speaker. As a person who dabbles in biographical readings of Plath, I enjoy discovering the biographical sources - when identifiable - to the poems as well as appreciating whatever other merits are there to the poems creation: technical aspects, etc. But how does "poetic memory" work with where the speaker is arguably Plath but is not "I"? For example in "Dream with Clam-Diggers" the subject of the poem is the third person singular "she," but it is undoubtedly Plath - or a persona of Plath. As a distancing measure, how does Plath's use of she - the omniscient point of view - match up to poetic memory? Just some thoughts...

At $80, this book is out of budget for many of Plath's readers and many of this blog's readers (no, I am not calling you all cheap), but getting it from the library is certainly a recommended option to read what is - plainly and simply - a good and original book.

14 March 2012

Sylvia Plath's soup cake, and other things

A few things of interest to pass along today:

  • Over on The Gay Wife, the gay wife made "Sylvia Plath's 'Tomato Soup Cake'."
  • Call for Papers: The Ted Hughes Society Conference, Pembroke College, Cambridge University, 14th-15th September 2012

    The Conference will include David Morley and other Guest Speakers.

    Topics of interest include, but are not limited to: Ecopoetics, Manuscripts / Archives / Special Collections, Collaboration, Works for Children, Nature, The Media, Sylvia Plath, The Goddess, Myth, The Classics, and Translation

    When you submit, please include a summary of your affiliations, research and research interests. We are seeking to publish conference proceedings in the form of a book. The deadline for the submission of abstracts is 30th April 2012. Email: thetedhughessociety@gmail.com
  • And, remember, too, please, that there will be a Sylvia Plath Symposium in October at the Indiana University, Bloomington.

08 March 2012

Sylvia Plath was busy...did you know...

Sylvia Plath served on the Press Board at Smith College in the fall and spring of her Junior year (1952-1953) and then again briefly upon her return to college from her breakdown, suicide attempt, and recovery in the spring of 1954. Did you know that during her time as Press Board correspondent, Plath wrote and had published at least 24 articles in the local newspapers?

Mostly unacknowledged in the printed newspapers, the Smith College Archives holds typescripts of press releases that Plath wrote covering campus and local events. Armed with copies of these typescripts, with Plath's name typed in the top right of each press release, I searched through microfilm reels of the various Pioneer Valley newspapers, hunting for the appearances in the newspapers of these articles Plath wrote. Below is a bibliography of those journalism pieces Plath wrote.

"Freshman at Smith Will Meet Local Ministers." Daily Hampshire Gazette. October 1, 1952: 9.

"Freshman to Greet Pastors of Churches." The Springfield Daily News. October 1, 1952: 32

"Smith Events." Daily Hampshire Gazette. October 2, 1952: 15.

"Succoth Service." The Springfield Daily News. October 2, 1952: 32.

"Can Rent Reproductions." Daily Hampshire Gazette. October 2, 1952: 15.

"Lectures Arranged by Hillel Foundation." The Springfield Daily News. October 17, 1952: 32.

"Varied Religions and Cultural Program Planned For Smith College Students." Daily Hampshire Gazette. October 17, 1952: 6.

"Cheers, Jeers Promised for Smith Game." Daily Hampshire Gazette. October 27, 1952: 8.

"Smith Girls Will Get Chance to Jeer Faculty." The Springfield Daily News. October 27, 1952: 30.

"Week-End Dance." Daily Hampshire Gazette. November 7, 1952: 5.

"Hillel Group Plans First Social Function." The Springfield Daily News. November 7, 1952: 32.

"Mrs. L. Diem of Cologne Visiting Smith." Daily Hampshire Gazette. November 11, 1952: 5.

"More Than 100 Varieties of Chrysanthemums Will Be Seen at Lyman Plant House." Daily Hampshire Gazette. November 11, 1952: 6.

"Chrysanthemums are on Display at Smith." The Springfield Daily News. November 11, 1952: 9.

"Newly Revised Edition of 'Smith Review' Has Articles by Students." Daily Hampshire Gazette. December 12, 1952: 7. (heavily edited from the two typescripts at SCA)

"College Group Will Debate on February 11." Daily Hampshire Gazette. December 12, 1952: 7.

"Student’s Prize Story Featured in Review." The Springfield Daily News. December 12, 1952: 32.

"Drive for Hymnals at Smith College." Daily Hampshire Gazette. March 13, 1953: 8.

"Passoved [sic] Will Be Marked Monday at Smith College." Daily Hampshire Gazette. March 21, 1953: 4.

"Smith College Seder." The Springfield Daily News. March 21, 1953: 7.

"Smith Christians Group Points to Achievements." Daily Hampshire Gazette. May 14, 1953: 23.

"Smith College Field Events Saturday Afternoon, Night." Daily Hampshire Gazette. May 15, 1953: 1, 12.

"Float Night at College." The Springfield Daily News. May 15, 1953: 9.

"14 Colleges to Take Part in Poetry Reading Festival." Daily Hampshire Gazette. May 6, 1954: 9.

These pieces are largely a giant step away from the creative writing Plath is most known for, and also quite a bit less "interesting," for lack of a better word, than the articles Plath would write from Cambridge University and then through the later 1950s during her Boston year which appeared in the Christian Science Monitor.

Plath turned back to this genre of writing in the early1960s, first doing book reviews for the New Statesman and then writing pieces for Punch ("America! America!") and the BBC ("Ocean 1212-W). And in that regard, I think "America! America!" and "Ocean 1212-W" read like companion pieces. There is overlap as "America! America!" merges early school experiences in Winthrop with those of Wellesley...Plath even touches upon the subject matter she explored in her short story "Initiation." And "Ocean 1212-W" takes place completely in Winthrop with the exception of the end where her family leaves the seaside: "And this is how it stiffens, my vision of that seaside childhood. My father died, we moved inland. Whereupon those nine first years of my life sealed themselves off like a ship in a bottle - beautiful, inaccessible, obsolete, a fine, white flying myth."

Continuing on this association train, in the joint BBC interview with Owen Leeming, Ted Hughes makes a similar comment about his own childhood. In discussing a family move in childhood, Hughes comments..."We left Mytholmroyd when I was about eight then all that was sealed off, we moved to Mexborough which was industrial and depressing and dirty … but it was really a very good thing. It became - it became a much richer experience for me than - than my previous seven years had been but in being as different it really sealed off my first seven years so that now I have memories of my first seven years which … seem almost half my life. I've - I've remembered almost everything because it was sealed off in that particular way..."

Sorry...back to the press releases... While it is generally well-known and reported in biographies that Plath served on the Press Board -- for example Paul Alexander references that her articles "appeared regularly" -- no biography has really ever discussed either the events about which Plath wrote or spelled out the number of articles which did appear. Obviously a number of these articles appeared in at least two newspapers on the same day -- so the numbers are a bit skewed -- but it does show a weekly, and sometimes daily, commitment to her responsibilities. And tantalizingly, there could be even more! What these articles do help to illustrate is Plath's engagement with Smith College life and activities before her breakdown the following summer. In addition to her regular school studies, her creative writing and journal-writing, Plath was clearly writing many releases for Press Board and maintaining, no doubt, an active social life. It kind of helps to put things into perspective as things later played out in June and the summer of 1953.

Prior to locating these typescripts in the Smith College Archives, these writings were largely unknown and consequently, were not present in previous bibliographies.

04 March 2012

Sylvia Plath Rocks Cleveland

"Three Women" by Sylvia Plath, and "Elegy for a Lady" by Arthur Miller, are going to be performed at Cleveland's Kennedy's Theatre this spring.

The shows will be on Fridays and Saturdays from April 13 through April 28 and May 11 through May 26 at 8 pm. There will be one Sunday Matinee on April 29 at 3 pm. Tickets are $15.

Kennedy's Theatre is located at PlayhouseSquare, 1501 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH.

01 March 2012

Deadline for Plath Profiles 5 closing in

The deadline for Plath Profiles 5 is in one month - on 1 April 2012. Visit Plath Profiles and read the submissions page! If you have any questions, please email either Bill Buckley or myself!

Plath Profiles is the only journal - online or in print - dedicated to the study of Sylvia Plath.
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Interviews