11 November 2017

Sylvia Plath: Letters Words and Fragments Conference, Ulster, Day 1

Being at a Sylvia Plath Conference often means you end up, quite quickly, in a stupor of over-stimulation from the talks. This conference is, thus, typical. Even the act of collecting my name tag and programme took on a kind of wonder as you meet people that you have emailed with or conversed with over social media. This is what happened when I met Eilish, who was on the desk helping out (and doing a wonderful job of it).


The first panel of the day after some introductory remarks by Dr. Thomas Maguire was "Leaving Traces: Archives and Biographies" and featured four speakers: Danielle K. Nelson, Dr Amanda Golden, Dr Gail Crowther, and Christine Walde. And I cannot fathom a better start to it. I wish I had the expertise and composure Danielle has when I was her age. Her exploration of the "I" in Plath's Journals and problems of biography. Amanda revealed a never-before-seen photograph of Plath in Rome before turning tables to discuss a typographical error in "Blackberrying" that persists to this day. Gail Crowther wowed the crowed with a discussion of the Living Archive. Christine Walde discoursed on the annotations made by readers of Sylvia Plath's poems and had a small exhibit of them on the wall.  It was a thrill to chair this panel even though I had little idea of what to do and how to do it

Chaired by Jonathan Stephenson, panel two was "Visualising Plath's Poetry: Artistic Critiques and Responses". The speakers here, Dr Ikram Hili (Poems as watercolour paintings), Carmen Bonasera (Ariel, chromatic & natural imagery), and Bella Biddle (Plath and art) concentrated convincingly on the use of color in Plath's poems. I really could have listened to each the entire day, only, as I know they each only scratched the surface on these topics. Bella Biddle played a beautiful choral composition of "Nick and the Candlestick" which hauntingly swirls in my head at this very moment.

The third panel was chaired by Gail Crowther and had just two exciting speakers: Julia Gordon-Bramer on Plath and Whiteness and Siana Bangura on "Black Women Don't Get to Confess": Sylvia Plath re-read through a Black Feminist framework. These talks were interesting and lead to lunch.

After lunch, panel four considered Aurelia Schober Plath. The papers by Dr Adrianne Kalfopoulou (making of the Plathian voice), Catherine Rankovic (Aurelia Plath's Gregg shortland annotations), and Dr Janet Badia (mother-daughter intimacy in the archive) was better and more energizing than coffee. I am fairly certain my jaw hit he floor every few minutes during these presentations. It seems there is a lot of interest in Aurelia Schober Plath and got the impression people are just beginning to scratch the surface of her as a woman, as a wife, and as a mother.

Nicola Presley chaired the Ted Hughes panel which you might think was mean. But she was awesome as were the four talks by Dr Carrie Smith (Manuscript drafts of Ted Hughes' Cave Birds), Dr Mark Wormald (Plath, Hughes, Wevill, pikes and shrikes); Terry Gifford (Hughes editing Plath's "Child") and Dr Holly Ranger (Plath in Tales from Ovid). I cannot say anything about these papers other than they blew me away. It was a particular highlight to meet each of the speakers as I knew their names and read their work but never come across them. In the end, initially, the audience was left speechless. I was a bit agitated as during Gifford's talk I recognized that his paper and conclusions were faulty and discussed this with him privately, afterwards, as I could not muster courage or what have you to do so to within earshot of the assembled audience.

The sixth and last panel of the day, chaired by organizer Maeve O'Brien was 'Gaslighting' Sylvia Plath: Critical Responses / New Directions and was spirited. The presenters were Peter Fydler (publishing watershed in 1975-1976), Dr Tim Hancock (Another 'Ariel'), Dr Chiara Luis (ripping apart the excessive reaction to Plath by Terry Castle), and Emily Van Duyne (Plath, Hughes and literary abuse). Each convincingly discussed their topics, often with humor, which was much appreciated at the end of the long day.

Overall, it was fantastic to meet and see so many people, talk Plath (and Hughes) (and other stuff) and spend good quality time with like minded folks. Dinner, hosted in the Native, was lovely with great food, excellent drinks, and of course over-stimulating conversation (which somehow morphed into a brief discuss of Hobbits procreating... but do not ask me how we got there).

So many people were tweeting about the day so make sure to look at #sylviaplath2017 in the Twitter.

Registration for Day 2 of the Conference starts in about three hours...

All links accessed 11 November 2017.

3 comments :

Eva Stenskar said...

I'm green with envy! How exciting it all sounds. Sitting in bed freezing in a room on Cherry Street, Northampton, about to go for a long walk in Childs Memorial Park. Thanks for giving us a detailed glimpse of the conference, Peter.

Amy Rea said...

Sounds amazing! I'm hoping some/all of these will be archived online somewhere eventually. I wasn't available for a live stream yesterday so missed them all.

A Piece of Plathery said...

So many wonderful sounding presentations. I am fascinated with Catherine Rankovic’s translation of Aurelia’s shorthand.

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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 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, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
  • 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: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017.
  • 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.
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (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, Volume 1, 1940-1956. 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. "'A Fetish: Somehow': A Sylvia Plath Bookmark." Court Green 13. 2017.
  • 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. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • 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. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "The Persistence of Plath." Fine Books & Collections. Autumn 2017: 24-29
  • 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. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.

Interviews