In a letter to her mother dated 24 June 1960 and excerpted in Letters Home, Sylvia Plath wrote about attending a cocktail party for W.H. Auden "last night" at Faber and Faber's (then located at 24 Russell Square (map). On this occasion, Plath witnessed Hughes being photographed with T.S. Eliot, Stephen Spender, Louis MacNeice, and W. H. Auden. After the party, she said: "Then we went to the Institute of Contemporary Arts and read our poems to an audience of about 25-30 young people with another poet (or, rather, non-poet; very dull)" (386).
I was curious about this poetry reading, about who the "dull" "non-poet" was, and so searched to see if the Institute of Contemporary Arts had an archive anywhere. I started at the ICA website and then learned that the records for the period covering Plath's lifetime are held in the Tate Museum archives.
The ICA London is among the Tate's list of all archival collections (TGA 955) and it seemed to me that TGA 955/1/5/3, "Correspondence about the organisation of poetry events", 1960-1964 was the likely place to start. So I emailed to see if they had any letters to or from Plath and other information about the reading.
Allison Foster at the Tate archives wrote back and could not have been more helpful and accommodating to the request. I should dispense of this information right off the bat and come clean: there are no letters from Plath. Or, none were found. However, there is a letter to Plath dated 29 March 1960. In this letter, Dorothy Morland (obit), Director of the ICA, asks if she would like to give a reading with two other poets at 8:15 p.m. on 23 June 1960. Anyone with an inkling of Plath's biography knows that the date of Morland's letter is just a few days before her first child, Frieda Rebecca Hughes, was born. The other two invited poets, who also were sent letters on 29 March 1960, were Ted Hughes and Alan Brownjohn. Brownjohn wrote back on 3 April 1960 accepting and asking a number of questions. The correspondence rounds out with a reply from Morland to Brownjohn on 12 April 1960.
So close! But again no letter from Plath or Hughes. Obviously they accepted the invitation since Plath wrote to her mother about the reading. A note on Brownjohn's letter, presumably in Morland's hand, reads "PRI 9132" which was the telephone number for the poetic couple at their 3 Chalcot Square flat. So, we can deduce that their acceptance was likely done over the telephone.
In Morland's 12 April 1960 reply to Brownjohn, she wrote: "The poets usually read in two periods of roughly ten minutes each, there is an interval after which we have questions and possibly one or two poems read again." She closed saying the duration was usually about 90 minutes and mentioned that Karl Miller (who recently passed away) would act as chair.
How I would love to know which poems were read! To that point in 1960 according to Collected Poems, Plath had written just one poem, "You're" in January or February 1960. It is possible that Plath read this poem. Based on her submissions lists held by Smith College, it might be possible to guess at other poems Plath selected to read based on manuscripts she sent out to various magazines between January and May. Those poems include: "The Beggars", "Blue Moles", "The Manor Garden", "Medallion", "Poem for a Birthday" (or any of its component parts), "The Burnt-out Spa", "A Winter Ship", "I Want, I Want", "The Colossus", "Maudlin", and "The Eye-Mote".
All links accessed 24 July and 1 October 2014.
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.
- "Banking on his passion for Plath" by Melissa Davis Haller. UMW Today. Spring 2005.
- "Sylvia Plath's Three Women to be staged in London" by Alison Flood. The Guardian. 3 December 2008.
- "FBI files on Sylvia Plath's father shed new light on poet" by Dalya Alberge. The Guardian. 17 August 2012.
- "There Are Almost No Obituaries for Sylvia Plath" by Ashley Fetters. The Atlantic. 11 February 2013.