19 November 2013

Sylvia Plath Collections: J Kerker Quinn Papers

In the J Kerker Quinn papers in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, there is a mini treasure trove of Sylvia Plath archival materials.

Quinn was the editor of the journal Accent, which published two poems ("Recantation" and "Tinker Jack and the Tidy Wives") by Plath in their Autumn 1957 issue.

In the Quinn papers there are two undated letters from Plath to the Poetry Editor; five typescript poems ("The Eye-Mote"; "The Thin People"; "Landowners"; "Maudlin"; and "Green Rock, Winthrop Bay"); and a typescript of her short story "Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams". Additional materials in the papers include reader report comments on Plath's submissions.

The undated letters from Plath can be roughly dated to circa 5 April 1957 and 1 July 1959. This is based on the date received that was marked down on the reader reports for Accent. The 1957 letter had a return address of 55 Eltisley Avenue in Cambridge. This letter Plath says she's enclosing several poems for their consideration. She states that her poems to that point had appeared in the following magazines: The Antioch Review, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, The Nation, Lyric, Mademoiselle, and Poetry (Chicago), among others. Ever courteous in business matter, Plath thanked them for their time in considering her poems. We know two of the poems were "Recantation" and "Tinker Jack and the Tidy Wives" as they were printed in the autumn of that year. The poems were accepted on 23 April 1957. The readers of the poems found them "interesting", a little "thick", and "Yeatsian." The comments indicated that the poems needed some revision, but what these suggestions were is not stated. it was ultimately deemed that the poems were "worth it".

There is no accompanying letter, but Plath submitted her story "Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams" which was received by the magazine on 25 February 1959. The story was not accepted and as you might expect, the readers comments were mixed: slow to get started but a "creepy thing" by the end. One reviewer objected to the tone of the piece, not liking the jokes and sound effects which Plath made and employed. That being said, the story did grab one readers attention.

Plath submitted a batch of poems which were received on 1 July 1959. The poems were: "The Eye-Mote"; "The Thin People"; "Landowners"; "Maudlin"; and "Green Rock, Winthrop Bay." Her cover letter, while polite as ever, is one of the most bizarre I've ever seen her send. It was on a torn snippet of pink Smith College Memorandum paper, very narrow, including a typo: quite rushed and perhaps indicative of the chances she thought of placing with poems with them.. Though the poems all have her 9 Willow Street address in the top right corner, the letter gives an updated address of 26 Elmwood Road. At the time, Plath was just days away from beginning her cross-country trip with Ted Hughes, after which they were going to Yaddo. Two of the poems seemed to have been considered more thoroughly than the others: "The Eye-Mote" and "The Thin People" but these were all rejected in the end. Strangely a note indicating that they were going to "Take 2" appears on this readers report but it is unclear that they ever did publish them. (Plath continued to submit these poems throughout 1959 and 1960 and "The Eye-Mote" was published in the US in May 1960 by The Chelsea Review.)

Another editor of Accent at the time, Daniel Curley, also has his papers at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. However, sadly, a search through the appropriate boxes and folders found no Plath items in them. Daniel Curley, irony of ironies, appears in Plath's address book (housed at Smith College) but J Kerker Quinn does not. Go figure.

My deepest appreciation to Curator Anna Chen and Cara Setsu Bertram, the Visiting Archival Operations and Reference Specialist, at the University Archives of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for their assistance, time, and patience with my requests for information. 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 4 September 2013.

1 comment :

suki said...

Fascinating to see her production/ sending out of poems we now know well

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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.

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