27 October 2014

Gail Crowther & Elizabeth Sigmund on Sylvia Plath in Devon: A New Book

What better way to remember Sylvia Plath's birthday today than by announcing the forthcoming publication of an exciting new book?

Sylvia Plath's friend, and dedicatee of The Bell Jar, Elizabeth Sigmund and Plath scholar Gail Crowther have joined forces in the forthcoming book Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning to be published in early 2015 by Fonthill. As of right now, the scheduled publication date is 14 February 2015. The book will be available from Fonthill, as well as via Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.

From the Amazon blurb:
Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning is part memoir, part biography focusing on the fifteen months that Sylvia Plath lived in North Tawton, Devon from September 1961 to December 1962. This was an extraordinary time for Plath as she finished the proofs on her first novel The Bell Jar and in the autumn of 1962 produced most of her dazzling "Ariel" poems. Elizabeth Sigmund recalls the year of her friendship with Plath from their first meeting drinking tea to attending music concerts together. Gail Crowther considers the impact Plath's domestic life had on her creative work during this period drawing for the first time on unpublished letters, documents and previously unseen resources from a wide range of archives in the UK, US and Canada. What emerges is a unique and industrious picture of Plath as she settled into town life forging new friendships, giving birth to her second child, decorating her new home and producing some of the most memorable and powerful poetry of the 20th century.
The subtitle of the book is taken from Dylan Thomas' "Poem in October": "O may my heart’s truth / Still be sung / On this high hill in a year's turning", which Plath marked in her copy of Thomas' Collected Poems. (As a side note, in addition to it being Plath's birthday today, it is also Dylan Thomas', who was born 100 years ago.) Crowther & Sigmund's book features a fascinating amount of concise, soundly researched information about Plath's life and works during this period and many contextual photographs. Excellently written, Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning is certainly a must read for any scholar, fan, reader, or otherwise of Sylvia Plath. I would offer a "Satisfaction Guaranteed" guarantee but I am aware of certain people out there who are simply too hard to please.

Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning offers unique insight into the year that Sylvia Plath lived and worked in Devon. The book includes:

  • Previously unpublished memories by one of Sylvia Plath’s close friends.
  • Information from newly discovered letters and documents from the archives offering a unique portrayal of Sylvia Plath during her most productive year.
  • Previously unpublished images.
  • Offers a fuller and more in depth depiction of Plath during this final year of her life.

Congratulations to Gail and Elizabeth! Pre-order today!

All links accessed 16 October 2014.

17 October 2014

Articles about Sylvia Plath

It has been quite a while since this blog has had news of "academic" (used alternatingly seriously and sarcastically) articles on Sylvia Plath. So, let us play catch up with some recent(ish) writing that you might find interesting. Below each entry is an annotation or summary, that may or may not be helpful?

Currey, Mason. "Sylvia Plath." In Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013: 109.
          A brief page long entry on Plath's "near-constant struggle to find and stick to a productive writing schedule" (109). Currey cites a few instances in Plath's journals where she tries to dictate her self into routine. The entry mentions Plath's October 1962 routine of rising early and writing before her children woke up.

Garfield, Simon. "The Modern Master." In To the Letter: A Journey Through a Vanishing World. New York: Gotham Books, 2013: 360-384.
          Wonderful article primarily on the letter writing of Ted Hughes. On Hughes' art and dedication to this vanishing form of communication. Includes examples of letters to his his daughter Frieda Hughes, sister Olwyn, a teacher, friend Luke Myers, and Sylvia Plath. Includes a photograph of Sylvia Plath I believe was previously unpublished which is from the "Gerald Hughes collection" at Emory. The caption is weak: "Daffodils and smiles: Sylvia Plath with Frieda and Nick in the early 1960s" (378). Logically this can be only 1962. It is probably the same sitting as the "Perfect Light" photograph referred to by Hughes in Birthday Letters. The photograph in the book is from further away than the above linked image. Plath holds her baby Nicholas in her left arm with her right hand supporting his bum. She is smiling at the camera while Frieda stands off to Plath's right holding a small bouquet of daffodils.

Mack, Michael. "Vacating the Homogeneity of the Socio-Political: Sylvia Plath and the Disruption of 'Confessional Poetry'." In Ethics, Art, and the Representation of the Holocaust: Essays in Honor of Berel Lang. eds. Simone Gigliotti, Jacob Golomb, and Caroline Steinberg Gould. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2014: 199-213.
          Mack's essay contends that "Plath strenuously and unceasingly strengthens her selfhood [and her] poetry creates and also preserves the life of subjectivity that refuses to meet conventional moral standards" (199).

Merkin, Daphne. "A Matched Pair (Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath)." In The Fame Lunches: On Wounded Icons, Money, Sex, the Bront√ęs, and the Importance of Handbags. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013: 359-363.
          Any chapter that begins "Them again. Just when you thought there was no more to be said, the ransacked remains of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath float to the surface once more" needs to be ignored (359). One has to question the motivation and sincerity of Merkin to write about Plath (and Hughes). Largely inspired by Diane Middlebrooks' Her Husband, Merkin must have simply needed a chapter. Nothing to see here, carry on.

Poch, John. "The Family Voice: The Confessional Pronouns' Greatest Hits." American Poetry Review. September/October 2014: 33-35.
          Poch's piece looks at "I" in Theodore Roethke's "In a Dark Time"; the "You" in Plath's "Daddy"; and the "Our" in Robert Lowell's "Skunk Hour"; the "She" in Elizabeth Bishop's "The Moose"; and the "He" in John Berryman's "Dream Song 77". For Plath, Poch writes, "While the confessional poet's poems are all about the 'I,' the second person sometimes take the cake due to all the finger-pointing. Perhaps nobody has a better index of this than Sylvia Plath" (33). Thanks to Dr. Amanda Golden for alerting me about this one.

Redmond, John. "The Influence of Sylvia Plath on Seamus Heaney." In Poetry and Privacy: Questioning Public Interpretations of Contemporary British and Irish Poetry. Bridgend (Wales): Seren, 2013, 111-129.
          Redmond pays "special attention to the influence of The Colossus and Ariel on Wintering Out and North" (111). Some of the influences the author notes are merely word choices (they both used the word "neighbourly", for example, and in Redmond's argument this constitutes evidence of influence), but he is more convincing when discussing themes and tonality that Heaney may have picked up from Plath. He compares Plath's "Nick and the Candlestick" and "Berck-Plage" to Heaney's "Exposure" and "Funeral Rites".

Treglown, Jeremy. "Howard's Way." TLS. August 30, 2013: 13.
          Treglown discusses the passing reference to painter Howard Rogovin in Ted Hughes' Birthday Letters poem "Portraits", the only poem in the collection on his time at Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, New York. A fascinating article that ends with Rogovin saying "'I'm not sure how good a poem ["Portraits"] is...but it's probably better than the painting.' And then, as if momentarily speaking in Plath's voice, 'I wonder, why would anyone be interested?'" This is modesty to the nth degree, but it would be a contemporary representation of Plath during her first pregnancy at a time she was writing the the majority of the poems that would start and fill and complete her first published volume of verse. Tons of people -- and not all just "peanut-crunchers" would be interested. The potrait remains missing so far as anyone knows. A wonderful article.

There are two reviews of books about Sylvia Plath to list here, as well:

Gill, Jo. Review of Representing Sylvia Plath edited by Sally Bayley and Tracy Brain. In Modern Philology 112:1, August 2014: 133-136.

Smith, Caroline J. Review of Sylvia Plath's Fiction: A Critical Study by Luke Ferretter. In Studies in the Novel 45:2. Summer 2013: 306-307.

All links accessed 8 October 2014.

08 October 2014

Sylvia Plath Collections: ICA Archives

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.

01 October 2014

I know your estate so well: Sylvia Plath at Yaddo

The Grand Manor, Yaddo
On Sunday 21 September 2014, Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, New York, opened its doors to visitors for a day of tours. At $50 a ticket, it seemed a reasonable price to pay for infrequent public access into this retreat for artists. Naturally you will surmise I was interested in seeing the site as Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes were a guests for eleven weeks from 9 September to 19 November 1959. The tour consisted of 15 stops which included the first two floors of "The Grand Manor" as well as the ground floor of West House, and a swing by Pine Garde and the new Greenhouse Studios, built on the site of a couple of other previous greenhouses.

Sadly, there was not one mention of Plath on my tour! My particular tour, consisting of 25 people, started at the Greenhouse Studios, then proceeded to Pine Garde. Then on to West House before ending in the mansion itself. I could not have been happier at this as it got out of the way the things with which I was not as concerned. While it started off slightly late, we made up time temporarily and then by the point we were doing the mansion, there was such a backup that we ran over by more than 45 minutes. I felt terrible for the tour groups going after ours. I spent some parts of the downtime in-between stops re-reading Plath's journal entries and poems about the property on my phone.

The house and property were simply amazing. Artworks and fascinating objects were everywhere, and the materials that went into the houses construction, design, and decor appeared to be the of the finest quality.

              West House, Yaddo
On the way to West House, we passed the Garage, which Plath talked about she and Hughes moving into in her journals, but I am unclear at the moment if they did move or not. In West House I got a great vibe from the decor and layout, which must all be the same as it was back in 1959. As we entered the door, the tour guide pointed out the statue, which was formerly in the Rose Garden but moved to its present location after it was vandalized. You can see in the photograph below the hand has sustained damage. This recalled Plath's journal entry: "The white statues are all encased in little wooden huts, like outhouses, against the ravages of winter and vandals" (525). In the house, I looked for books by Roethke. Jung, Katherine Anne Porter, and Iris Murdoch, among others that she read while there, but could not suss out how they were organized on the many shelves and in various nooks. My wife did spy a copy of Dylan Thomas' Selected Poems.

Vandalized statue, West House
The upstairs, as with the third floor where Plath's study was, was not part of the tour. In West House we entered from a porch into the music room, then were shuttled into a sitting/living room, down the hallway (where Plath's bedroom was, but it was not pointed out), and into a darkish room on the eastern part of the house filled with a card catalog of stereopticon photographs, which recalled to me Plath's wonderful 1960 poem "Candles". In the hallway, there are a set of stairs that lead up to the second floor. On a landing, there is a stunning Tiffany window which was formerly in a chapel window in the main house.
Tiffany window, West House
Living room, West House
Sofa, Music Room, West House
The back of West House
The main house was were the tour got really mind-blowing. As the tours were quite log-jammed with people there was ample time to stand around and observe. The entry way into the house leads you to the big indoor fountain. This is in the west part of the house and faces east. A massive hall opens up from this. To the right is a small receiving room. The next room we were shown on the right is the main dining room. Opposite the dining room is the music room, which is set up with pews. Above the fireplace in the music room there is a frieze, with little columns and other miniature ruins of Romanesque columns and the like, which reminded me the line "You are pithy and historical as the Roman Forum" of Plath's Yaddo poem "The Colossus".

Fountain, Yaddo
Dining room, Yaddo
Dining room table, Yaddo
At the east end of the main hall on the first floor, directly opposite the fountain, is a sitting area, with the two massive portraits of Katrina and Spencer Trask. When walking back towards the fountain and the entry way, on the right is the stunning mosaic phoenix fireplace Plath wrote about in her poem "Yaddo: The Grand Manor": "Indoors, Tiffany's phoenix rises / Above the fireplace; / Two carved sleighs / Rest on orange plush near the newel post" (Collected Poems 123-124, link to image of sleighs). Then the grand staircase leading up to the second floor. On the landing of the stairs, Plath writes in her journals about the"large stained glass window of woman in blue gown, float in white draperies & fillet of pearls binding auburn hair holding hands to a sky of stone-shaped clouds - green lawn, blue & white sky" (503).
Phoenix fireplace, Yaddo
Grand stair case, Yaddo
Stained glass, Yaddo
As you go up the grand staircase, to the left is Spencer Trask's bedroom and a former chapel. On the landing, you turn right, go up another flight up stairs to the second floor. To the right is the bronze "Bust of Homere" to quote Plath (502). Beyond the bust is a "Glassed-in reading porch with three great-arched windows looking into thick green pinetrees" (503). Like the first floor, the entire space is an open hallway with rooms off to the side here and there.
Bust of "Homere", Yaddo
Reading Porch, Yaddo
At the far end of this floor, facing east, is the "Yaddo: Library: Second Floor" as Plath describes it in her journal (pages 502). This was the most important room for me to see as it matched up so well with what Plath captured in her journals both in text and in illustrations. In this room is the
The glass atlas
"Glass atlas of stars & constellations painted with birds, men horses in yellow & blue & green - equinoxes marked in red on wrought iron pedestal -

Centaurus, Lupus Scorpio, Cancer, Taurus Capricornus, Sagittarius Pegasus, Andromeda, Lynx, Leo" (503).





Also in this room are the engravings above the fireplace of which Plath transcribed the titles; and lots of books and things. I noticed a book on lichens and mosses, liking to think Plath looked at it (Full Text). The word lichen features in "Old Ladies' Home", written around this time, as well as in her her Yaddo poem "The Stones" and the later "Three Women". And moss features in "Dark Wood, Dark Water". The "view east" was different in Plath's time as all the present tall trees were not there, affording stunning views of the mountains in the far distance, but also to a view of "A superhighway" which "seals me off", as she wrote of the Northway (Route 87) in "Private Ground" (Collected Poems 130). Also in this room there are two small chairs on either side of the fireplace, one of which Plath partially drew in her journal, see page 506).

Engravings, Yaddo
Inlaid chair, Yaddo
Plath notes the "Wainscotted Stair coming down from above. On the newel, another elaborate lamp in form of a grecian vase with bas relief of naked nymphs" (503). In her journals, Plath also drew a sideboard, describing it as "Ornate sideboard - enclosing Bayreuth beersteins - gilded bow-legs, gilded wood set with innumerable round, oval & leaf-shaped mirrors" (503). Plath also drew the "Ornate gilt wall lamp fixture with petals of streaked pink & white glass for the bowl of it - exotic magnolia petals. All scrolls & filigree leaves" (502).
Wainscoted Stair, newel, and vase, Yaddo
Ornate Sideboard
Gilt wall lamp fixture, Yaddo
I was not successful in noticing all of the objects and furniture Plath drew as I reached the saturation, freak-out, and fatigue point. I tried to keep my composure and feel lucky I did not fall to the floor shaking, drooling, and soiling myself. Out in the gardens, in the fresh air, where a colossal "blue sky out of the Oresteia / Arches above us", in the "Private Ground", "the grasses / Unload their griefs on my shoes" and it was here, too, I noticed the gate mentioned in Plath's "Medallion": "By the gate with star and moon. / Worked into the peeled orange wood" (Collected Poems 129, 130, 124).
The grasses unload their griefs on my shoes...
"By the gate with star and moon" - "Medallion"

All links accessed 22-25 September 2014
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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.

Interviews