26 November 2013

Sylvia Plath Collections: Texas Quarterly

Just a small post today. Sylvia Plath had two poems published in Texas Quarterly: "Flute Notes from a Reedy Pond" and "Witch Burning". Both poems appeared in specially themed issues on Britain and largely featured British writers. Which is bizarre as Plath was American (her way of talk was an "American way of talk"…), both poems were written in Yaddo, Saratoga Springs, as parts of her sequence "Poem for a Birthday" in the Fall of 1959. However, Ted Hughes figures prominently in the issue, so she must have been lumped in with him.

Winter 1960 issue
In the "Texas Quarterly records", held at the University of Texas at Austin's Harry Ransom Center, there is just one typescript that a kind archivist searched for me (us!) and found: "Flute Notes from a Reedy Pond" which appeared in the Winter 1960 issue. Ted Hughes' poem "Lines to a Newborn Baby" and his story "The Caning" also appeared in the Winter 1960 issue. One particular feature of that issue is that it prints a facsimile autograph and illustrated copy of Hughes' poem on page iv. I cannot even begin to describe what the illustration if of, but it is almost Baskin-esque. In case you were wondering, Plath's "Witch Burning" was printed in the Autumn 1961 issue, along with Hughes' story "Miss Mambrett and the Wet Cellar" and "Two Poems for a Verse Play" ("The Captain's Speech" and "The Gibbons"). Plath is neither photographed along with other British poets in the 1960 number nor does she have a contributor note; however she does appear with a contributor note in the 1961 special issue. The photograph of Hughes was taken by Hans Beacham and he is wearing the same outfit as the one that graced the cover of the paperback issue of Diane Middlebrook's Her Husband (2004, you can see that cover here). The one with Plath in profile looking left and both of them appearing rather stony: maybe she was taken suddenly upset because she found out that her photograph would not be in the issue?

Autumn 1961 issue
I bothered a couple of different archivists looking for letters. Sadly, none were found in several likely boxes, but perhaps we should not expect one? According to Plath's submissions lists held by Smith College, she sent "Poem for a Birthday" to the "Texas Q" on 9 July 1960. She annotated the list in red pencil indicating that "Flute Notes" and "Witch Burning" were accepted and that for these poems she received $35. In a letter to her mother written on Tuesday, 16 August 1960, Plath writes: "We had lunch with one of the editors of the Texas Quarterly last Saturday [13 August 1960] at his rented rooms, with several other people. He is a professor & a charming, odd man. In addition to taking $100 worth of poems from the two of us, he is buying one of Ted's stories" (Letters Home 390).

I dislike the speculation-game, but perhaps Plath and Hughes sent the poems to the editor in London and he did not save the letters? Or, perhaps they met with the editor on or around 9 July, the day her submissions list indicates her poems were sent off, and handed him the poems directly? The most likely person with whom they met is T.M. Cranfill (Thomas Mabry Cranfill: info) who appears in Plath's address book (held at Smith College). Plath lists the address for him as 89 Albion Gate, Hyde Park Place, London W2 (Map).

There is no finding aid online for these records, only a preliminary inventory which provides a higher-level breakdown of the contents of boxes and folders and as yet remains outside of the intellectual control and ultimate physical order which archivists give to their collections. However you can find out about some of the collections they have on this page. Well, the intention was that this would be a small post, but it turned out to be - for me - far more interesting than I thought. In order to make sense of everything I needed not only the consultation with the people at the Harry Ransom Center, but also archival materials from the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College and the Lilly Library at Indiana University, as well as Letters Home and along with cross referencing address with Google Maps and Google Street View. My deepest appreciation to Marian Oman and Emily Roehl for their assistance in browsing through several boxes on my behalf.

Archival research often requires the use of multiple repositories. Certainly this is the case with Sylvia Plath. Because personal visits are prohibitively expensive, the use of email or the telephone for queries greatly relieves the stress of trying to locate material(s). Especially for a collection like this where no finding aid is online. It was really a shot in the dark and it feels fortunate that a typescript turned up, at the least. It is possible one day letters from Plath to the good people at the Texas Quarterly will turn up.

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 20 September 2013.

1 comment :

BridgetAnna said...

O to have a job in which you are paid no less to "browse" Plath archives. Sigh.

thanks for the good post, pedro.

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