04 October 2013

Sylvia Plath Collections: Poetry Archives - University of Chicago

The first post about Sylvia Plath archives in this, American Archives Month, is one that I began writing in March, 2010. Shocking! The archives of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, from 1912-1961, are held in the Special Collections Research Center at the University of Chicago and contains documents originated by Sylvia Plath. The collection includes typescripts by Plath, marked up with editorial instructions; correspondence; and proofs, many with autograph annotations by Plath.

The poems in typescript and/or proof are:

"Wreath for a Bridal", "Dream with Clam-Digger", "Strumpet Song", "Metamorphosis" (later titled "Faun"), "Two Sisters of Persephone", and "Epitaph for Fire and Flower" from Poetry 89 (January 1957: 231-237).

"The Snowman on the Moor", "Sow", "Ella Mason and Her Eleven Cats", and "On the Difficulty of Conjuring up a Dryad" from Poetry 90 (July 1957: 229-236).

"On the Decline of Oracles", "The Death of Myth-Making", and "A Lesson in Vengeance" from Poetry 94 (September 1959: 368-371).

The correspondence is between Plath and editors Karl Shapiro and Henry Rago. Also included are a couple of letters about Plath. In the letters held in the archive for the period between 1956 and 1961, Poetry apparently rejected only one submission from Plath, and that was "Poem for a Birthday".

The letters to Shapiro and Rago are cordial and professional in tone and nature.

On 17 April 1956, Plath sent a batch of poems for his consideration, mentioning that her poems have previously appeared in The Atlantic, Harper's, The Nation, Mademoiselle, and the New Orleans Poetry Journal. There are two letters to Henry Rago.

On 7 May 1957, Plath writes to say how pleased she was to know Poetry accepted four poems ("The Snowman on the Moor", "Sow", "Ella Mason and Her Eleven Cats", and "On the Difficulty of Conjuring Up a Dryad" all published in July 1957) and submits notes about herself for the contributors section. She updates him on her address (soon to be 26 Elmwood Road), that he has a British husband and that she will spend the summer on Cape Cod writing before teaching at Smith in the Fall. Lastly, Plath mentions that recent work was accepted by Accent, The Antioch Review, and the London Magazine. The letter was printed in Dear Editor: A History of Poetry in Letters (Norton, 2002, see page 434)

On 25 June 1958, Plath writes to Rago submitting a group of new poems written after a year spent largely teaching and not writing.

Another letter is addressed to the Copyright Department of Poetry and is dated 7 October 1961. In this letter she is asking, for Knopf, for copyright assignment to Plath for several poems that were to appear in Knopf's 1962 edition of The Colossus. The poems were "Metamorphosis" (since renamed "Faun"), "Sow", and "Strumpet Song".

Additionally, poets.org has an article "From the Archive: Sylvia Plath". At the bottom is a lovely slideshow of images of Plath related documents. No one I have written to at the Foundation seems to know where the original documents for slides 6-9 are. They were not among the photocopies I received of the Plath documents held in the papers at University of Chicago.

The digitized documents are Contributor Information sheets dated:

September 1956 (in conjunction with the magazines first acceptance of Plath's poems, which appeared in January 1957 ("Wreath for a Bridal", "Dream with Clam-Digger", "Strumpet Song", "Metamorphosis", "Two Sisters of Persephone", and "Epitaph for Fire and Flower");

20 September 1958 (likely for three poems --"On the Decline of Oracles", "The Death of Myth-Making", and "A Lesson in Vengeance" -- printed in September 1959);

9 November 1961 (for five poems --"Stars Over the Dordogne", "Widow", "Face Life", "Heavy Woman", and "Love Letter" -- printed in March 1962); and

29 January 1963 (for three poems --"Fever 103", "Purdah", and "Eavesdropper" -- printed in August 1963). This contributor information sheet (image 9 of the "From the Archive" slideshow linked just above) is one of the most absolutely tantalizing Plath documents I have ever seen. Why? She mentions that she was awarded a Saxton Grant for a novel which was published in England in 1963. But there is some blacked-out, redacted text. What was that text? In size, it is approximately the same 'shape' or length as THE COLOSSUS which is (with spaces) 12 characters long. Did she list the actual title of her novel: THE BELL JAR, which is (with spaces) also 12 characters long? But it does not look like the text is in all caps. Did it say something like "which has been" or "which was just", which is 15 and 14 characters respectively? And who redacted it? I want to know! The text that eventually appeared with her three poems, which Plath submitted to Poetry on 23 November 1962 (along with five other poems: "Nick and the Candlestick", "A Birthday Present", "The Detective", "The Courage of Quietness" (later "The Courage of Shutting-Up"), and Lesbos") reads as follows and makes no reference to the novel:
The death of SYLVIA PLATH on February 11 of this year was a shock and great sorrow to the world of poets here and in England. Her first book of poems, The Colossus, was published in America last year by Knopf and in England by Heinemann. She was born in Boston on October 27, 1932, and educated at Smith and at Newnham College, Cambridge, where she took an Honors B.A. We cherished her contributions to Poetry from her beginnings as a poet, and awarded her our Bess Hokin prize in 1957. She was married to the English poet Ted Hughes and had two children. She sent us the poems in the present issue shortly before her death. (p. 347)
The Lilly Library holds Poetry's records from 1954-2002. There is some overlap, in terms of years, with what is held at Chicago, but based on a search of the papers conducted by the ace staff at the Lilly, there is no Plath "stuff" in the collection.

You can see more libraries that hold Plath materials on the Archival Materials page of my website for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is.

All links accessed 25 September 2013.

1 comment :

Sarah-Jane said...

How interesting Peter... a mystery - why would they have wanted the text blacked out? Such intrigue! Be sure to post more if you find anything out! Great post by the way, it is always lovely to hear about archives.

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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.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017. Forthcoming.
  • 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.
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (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. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. (Acknowledged in)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath. London: Faber, 2017. Forthcoming.
  • 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.