Chicago, 1950. Soft Cover. Book Condition: Very Good. First Edition. Very good in original wrappers with light wear. Early, perhaps the third, appearance of Plath in print. Uncommon and, to the best of our knowledge, unrecorded. Bookseller Inventory # b31364. $750.I wrote to Clayton Fine Books of Shepherdstown, WV, who has a great collection of Sylvia Plath books available to begin with, and received a reply very quickly from Cameron Northouse (who co-authored Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton: A Reference Guide with Thomas P. Walsh in 1974, which at the time was the first full-length bibliography published on Plath). Northouse found the periodical in Maine: a very lucky find. And considering that it was a previously unrecorded publication of a poem that has been all but lost to history and that it is undoubtedly a very scarce object now: the $750 price tag does not seem too steep. Though it is about $740 more than I can afford. (FYI: Christmas is coming, I accept gifts.)
archival copy of
My initial feeling was that "Eddie Cohen had this published unbeknownst to Plath". However, if I was betting myself then I lost as a little research uncovered some information about this. Plath sent this poem, along with two others ("Bitter Strawberries" and "Kitchen Interlude"), in late August or very early September 1950. "Bitter Strawberries" had been published already in the Christian Science Monitor on 11 August. Cohen remarked in his letter dated 2 September that he liked "Evolution" the best out of these three; and then in a letter written on 15 September, Cohen asks if he can submit it on her behalf to Experiment. Cohen's own piece "So Proudly We Hailed" appears in the issue just after Plath's poem, on page 9. Cohen's letters to Plath are held in Plath mss II at the Lilly Library. Neither "Kitchen Interlude" nor "Evolution" are listed in Plath's Collected Poems, in the section called "Uncollected Juvenilia: A complete list of poems composed before 1956" (pages 339-342 in the U.S. First edition).
Clayton Fine Books' description says that it is perhaps the third time Plath was in print. But it depends upon what you consider in print because according to Stephen Tabor's Sylvia Plath: An Analytical Bibliography (1988), this would have been at least Plath's 23rd publication (and even still, Tabor did not count her several published art works and other appearances, at least one of them anonymously, in his bibliography). Early: yes. Third: depends upon your criteria.
After having learned that Experiment was published through Roosevelt College (now Roosevelt University) I researched a bit on this and found that the Archives department at the college held some of these issues in their Pamphlet Collection. I wrote to Laura Mills, the University Archivist there, to see if this issue was one of the ones they held. The answer was yes, and she provided kindly jpg's of the poem and cover (see above left). It was amazing to see a previously unknown poem and to read it. The experience was precious and deeply emotional. It is, I think, a phenomenal poem.
"Evolution"reminded Eddie Cohen of an Abner Dean cartoon entitled "The people at the next table are all idiots" (see below) and he said the more he read it the more he liked it. However, I do not see anything in Dean's cartoon that remotely connects it to Plath's "Evolution".
Sylvia Plath's "Evolution" is one stanza, comprised of 33 lines. There is no consistent rhyme scheme and the lines are of varied syllable length. The poem begins with the speaker observing "Four blue reindeer on a yellow field" and are in the form of a square; the poem seems to me like the speaker is looking at a window-shop display, a diorama, or possibly a carousel as there is a "blur of feet and arms / Of people in another aisle" (8). She then lets her imagination wonder into the realm of fantasy, which reminds me of her brilliant short story "Sunday at the Mintons". Though clearly an early poem, based not only on its publication in 1950 but also the wording Plath uses, the poem does have certain elements of language and imagery that would later go into poems like "Whiteness I remember" and "Ariel" where the speaker's of those poems merge and blend with an animal (a horse) into one being. For example, she writes "I feel the warmth of him / Crawl through my knees ... / and we together" (8). In "Whiteness I Remember", the speaker sits with the "First horse under me ... / I hung on his neck" and in "Ariel", we have this matured image: "How one we grow... / I unpeel— ... / at one with the drive" (Collected Poems 102, 239). The poem has a erotic or sexual feel to it, which might be the thing that Eddie Cohen was most attracted to it -- which might be the reason Plath sent the poem in the first place -- for as we know he was smitten with Plath from the get-go.
Lastly, I think… In addition to the copy at Clayton Fine Books and the actual magazine at held by Roosevelt University, a third copy of “Evolution” is held in the Sylvia Plath Collection at Smith College. The Mortimer Rare Book Room holds, however, only photocopies of the cover, Table of Contents, and poem. The copies were a 2 December 1998 gift of Martin G. Pomper (whose father, David, was editor-in-chief of the magazine).
(This has nothing to do with anything, but seeing as I mentioned "Whiteness I Remember" and "Ariel" above, I think it might be a timely to mention a very good new article published recently by Georg Noffke: "'That Gallop Was Practice': A Horse Ride as Practice Run for Things to Come in Sylvia Plath's 'Whiteness I Remember' and Ted Hughes's 'Sam'." English Academy Review: Southern African Journal of English Studies Volume 30, Issue 2, 2013: pp. 6-20.)