29 January 2008

Sylvia Plath Symposium at Smith College

In celebration of Sylvia Plath's 75th birthday, Smith College will host a one-day Symposium on Saturday 26 April 2008 in honor of the poet through both academic study of her work and celebration of her life.

The day will feature morning and afternoon panels with each speaker limited to a twenty minute talk followed by questions. In the evening, family and friends of Sylvia Plath will each read a letter from Plath and reflect on it before taking questions.

This event will be free and open to the public. Stay tuned for more information...

28 January 2008

Sylvia Plath, Eye Rhymes events in the United Kingdom

Sally Bayley will discuss and promote Eye Rhymes at the following festivals and venues.

6 March 2008 - at Keswick Theatre by the Lake at 1545; tickets are £6.

Eye Rhymes & Sally Bayley will also appear at the Oxford Literary Festival first week of April, the Charleston Literary Festival in May, to Yorks in July, and the Edinburgh Festival in August.

I will post more information when it is available.

27 January 2008

Links, reviews, etc. - Week ending 26 January 2008

It seems to have been a slow week for things relating to Sylvia Plath, though that is not always a bad thing.

  • Sue Hutchison has an obituary for the late Diane Middlebrook in the San Jose Mercury News.

That's about it!! On Thursday I visited the art gallery of Pierre Menard at 10 Arrow Street in Cambridge to view the exhibit on The Writer's Brush. Most of the artworks are for sale, including the "self-portrait" of Sylvia Plath. For just $35,000, you can own the image which appears to the left... The portrait used to be for sale via Ken Lopez, a high-end book dealer with quality stock, however I no longer see it listed on his website.

If I remember correctly, there was some controversy over this "Self-portrait". It is debatable, for example, that this is actually Plath pictured. I see very little resemblence. The provenance supports that this is Sylvia Plath's artwork, however.

23 January 2008

Review of Eye Rhymes: Sylvia Plath's Art of the Visual

Sylvia Plath is in the midst of a renaissance. Since the publication of her Unabridged Journals in 2000, hardly a week goes by without her name appearing in the news, and the publication of a succession of books continues to re-evaluate the poets status in the literary world. Although Plath proved to be one of the most contentious, interesting, and passionate writers of the 20th century, the 21st has been much kinder. The books about Plath published in the last seven years each attempt and succeed to change the way we read her works, examine archival material to enrich our readings, and call our attention to lesser-known poems, stories, and other creative products. This is most evident in Eye Rhymes: Sylvia Plath's Visual of the Art edited by Kathleen Connors and Sally Bayley.

In addition to six wonderful essays by leading scholars, Eye Rhymes publishes for the first time more than 70 art works by Plath. The earliest dates from when she was just seven years old, and the latest is her Cold War collage, perhaps the most familiar and talked about piece she created. The book marries the artwork and Plath's creative writing, illustrating a one-to-one translation between the two types of creativity; what Susan Gubar in her Afterword calls the "sister arts" of Sylvia Plath.

The essays draw heavily off the Sylvia Plath Materials held at the Lilly Library, Indiana University at Bloomington. It is evident, however, that The Sylvia Plath Collection at the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College was used extensively as well. Plath's artwork informs and inspires each essayist; and it is Plath's writing, either contemporary to the artwork or her later, more mature writing, that allows for a clear, steady progression of Plath's talent. Often times, the essays show a kind of conversation taking place between ideas and themes present in Plath's art that resurface either immediately or much later in her poetry and prose. In a way then , Plath is talking back to herself, in addition to talking back to Ted Hughes by writing on the verso his compositions. Eye Rhymes, then, "follows the entire trajectory of Plath's creative genius, from her first signs of artistry on the seashores of New England, to the final culmination of her craft as a poet, essayist, and novelist..." (1). What the essays make perfectly clear that from early childhood straight through to her death, Plath continually worked creatively and that her adolescent and young adult interest in art translates and manifests itself in her best writing. The aim of the book is to "shed new light on Sylvia Plath as artist, critic, and intellectual, and the creative processes she employed throughout her life" (3).

Kathleen Connors essay "Living Color: The Interactive Arts of Sylvia Plath" walks the reader through Plath's childhood and adolescence and into her young adult and adult life as a writer and an artist. The foundation was laid very early in Plath to think and to feel, and most importantly, to express herself in any necessary way. As we grow with Plath, we too struggle to decide whether to study Art or English in college. For it was a struggle, and one story, one prize, made all the difference. Plath's 1952 short story "Sunday at the Mintons", winner of the 1952 Mademoiselle College Fiction Contest, singularly made up her mind which subject to major in at Smith. Connors is painstakingly and passionately detailed in her review of Plath's interactive arts. The value of this essay is in reading and re-reading it, and not through reading my review.

Connors essay could stand on its own in the book. However, the other essays build upon Connors' very solid foundation. Langdon Hammer's writes on "Plath at War", a look some of her war imagery, both in visual and written formats. Plath's political writing has been an exciting subject over the last five or so years, but Hammer's essay, by focusing both on Plath's eighth-grade social studies assignments and later poems such as "Cut" and "Daddy", is wholly original. He is able to tie together writing done by Plath as a 14 year old, and Plath as a 29/30 year old, and he does so very eloquently.

"Plath, Hughes, and Three Caryatids" by Diane Middlebrook is a wonderful and playful piece on Plath's long-titled poem "'Three Caryatids without a Portico,’ by Hugo Robus. A Study in Sculptural Dimensions", and Hughes' two caryatid poems in Birthday Letters. A photograph of Robus's sculpture that inspired the poem is included in the book. It was Plath's "Three Caryatids" poem in Chequer that the Saint Botolph's crew took exception to in a review published in Broadsheet in early 1956. Plath read those poems in the Saint Botolph's Review with a vengeance on 25 February 1956, determined to suss out the writer of that review and make herself known. Middlebrook's playfulness reaches its peak in the following sentence in Eye Rhymes, "This is the origin in the legend of Hughes and Plath: the famous party that set up the kiss that caused the bite that prompted the tryst that led to the sex that became the passion that fueled the marriage that led to the poems of Plath and Hughes" (162). A completely genuine, successful and smart essay by a professional who took such joy her work. Anyone lucky enough to have ever seen Middlebrook discuss the meeting of Plath and Hughes cannot forget the sparkles in her eyes and the smile on her face.

Christina Britzolakis' essay, "Conversation amongst the Ruins: Plath and de Chirico", continues her theoretical and psychoanalytical reading of Plath's oeuvre. This essay looks not necessarily at Plath's own visual art, but at artwork by de Chirico, an important influence on Plath's writing nonetheless. She covers the important poetic outburst by Plath during the spring of 1958, and includes poems attributed as being written a year earlier. Those poems inspired by de Chirico are "The Disquieting Muses" and "On the Decline of Oracles". (Plath's other art poems are "Snakecharmer", "Battle-Scene from the Comic Operatic Fantasy The Seafarer", "The Ghost's Leavetaking", "Conversation Among the Ruins", "Virgin in a Tree", "Perseus: The Triumph of Wit Over Suffering", and "Yadwigha, on a Red Couch, Among Lilies". ) There is some overlap between this essay and and Britzolakis's 1999 book Sylvia Plath and the Theatre of Mourning.

Sally Bayley's "Sylvia Plath and the Costume of Femininity" examines "Plath's involvement with constructed forms of femininity reflective of the prescribed social and cultural codes of post-World War II America: the processes of female socialization" (183). Bayley looks specifically Plath from the early 1940s to the 1950s, at "the body of commercial and cultural imagery arising from Plath's artwork: the drawings, home-made cards, collages, and paintings" (183). Bayley argues that Plath's adolescent interest in the "acculturated female" directly informs her mature poems. In addition to journal entries, correspondence, and The Bell Jar, Bayley analyzes "Two Sisters of Persephone", "Initiation", "Cinderella", "Kitchen Interlude", "Lesbos", and notes taken while a student at Smith College.

Fan Jinghua's "Sylvia Plath's Visual Poetics" seeks to "delineate and demonstrate the influence of visual art and its sensibility in [Plath's] poetics from the perspective of visual art techniques and her own visual art practices" (205). He argues, successfully, that Plath's poetics "is developed out of the interaction between the visual and the verbal..." (205). The term for "a verbal representation of a visual representation" is ekphrasis. This is a relatively new way of looking at Plath so far as I can tell, though Jinghua did deliver a paper on it at the first Sylvia Plath Symposium in 2002. Through examining Plath's poems based specifically on works of art, Jinghua traces one of Plath's deepest and longest sources of creative inspiration.

Susan Gubar's contributes an a Afterword on "The Sister Arts of Sylvia Plath". From the start, I noticed the lack of reference to quoted sources, lack of internal citation to artworks featured as plates in the text, and an alarming split of attention between Plath and poet Catherine Bowman. This is the least successful aspect of the book, which is disappointing given Gubar's status and reputation in the academic and literary world.

As I state in my own biography of Plath, her pre-Smith years (1932-1950) are overlooked most often by scholars and researchers. Her published journals and letters both select her Freshman year at college as their starting point. Her Collected Poems start even later, in 1956. However, it is the formative, pre-college years that gave birth to this poet and, in the end, are responsible for The Bell Jar and the Ariel poems for which she is most famous. All the tools and values Plath needed to succeed as a writer came from this period, and it is a shame that it is so frequently neglected. No longer, as any reader of Eye Rhymes will develop a new appreciation for Plath the precocious child, Plath the driven adolescent, and Plath the talented artist. Eye Rhymes is a monumental contribution to Plath scholarship.

This review is dedicated to the late Diane Middlebrook. Eye Rhymes: Sylvia Plath's Art of the Visual is published by Oxford University Press (2007).

20 January 2008

The Writer's Brush exhibit in Cambridge, Mass.

The Writer's Brush, a book compiled by Donald Friedman, is on a traveling exhibit; it is currently at the Pierre Menard Gallery, 10 Arrow Street, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Sylvia Plath is featured in the book, and her painting "Two Women Reading" is on the cover. I will try to see it this week, as I work across the street from it.

The exhibit is on until 27 January, when it will travel to Denenberg Fine Arts in Los Angeles, California.

19 January 2008

Links, reviews, etc. - Week ending 19 January 2008

This is the first of what I hope will be many weekly summaries of news events including links, reviews, and other miscellany in the world of Sylvia Plath.

  • A recent arcticle about a little known Smith College clothing collection, featuring some of Plath's childhood & adolescent clothing.
  • A review of Edge by Paul Alexander I can support.
  • Another review of Edge, from the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.
  • The Sydney Morning Herald reviews The Letters of Ted Hughes.
  • Jeanette Winterson thinks about Birthday Letters ten years on in this article from the Times of London.
  • Writer Gwynne Garfinkle wrote me about an excerpt from an (as yet unpublished) novel called The Posthumous Life of Eleanor Bell which appears in the most recent issue of A Fly in Amber. Garfinkle's novel features a Plath-like poet who, instead of committing suicide, still lives in London as a vampire (unbeknownst to her cult of fans). We wish her luck.
  • Stephanie Hemphill's Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath won honorable mention in the Michael L. Printz Award.
  • The London Magazine is ceasing publication after a long life. Plath published many poems and short stories in this literary journal in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Have a good week.

18 January 2008

A Lover of Unreason now available!

A Lover of Unreason: Assia Wevill, Sylvia Plath's Rival and Ted Hughes' Doomed Love by Eilat Negev and Yehuda Koren is now available in paperback by Da Capo. Amazon and Barnes and Noble say that the book ships within 24 hours.

16 January 2008

Sylvia Plath: The price is up!

In a recent ABEbooks.com search, I looked at all books by Sylvia Plath and sorted the results by highest price. The copy for sale of the Heinemann edition of The Colossus and other poems, for sale by James Jaffe, recently rose from $50,000 to $65,000. A full description of this fine, rare collectible is here.

Not only is the first Heinemann edition of The Colossus highly collectible, but this one is signed by Plath and was given to another highly regarded, famous poet, Theodore Roethke. What makes this book even more valuable is the fact that it is an "association copy". According to the Independent Online Booksellers Association (IOBA), a association copy is "A book once belonging to the author, or signed or annotated by the author to someone closely associated with the author of the book or the book itself in some way. Also, a book inscribed by its author to a famous person, or owned by someone of interest."

The price of a book can go up for any number of reasons. Plath, if you will, had a great 2007, which saw a number of books published as well as the Symposium that took place in Oxford in late October. Plath titles remaing collectible, but I am unsure whether or not it is a necessarily competitive market. Prices, however, rarely go down, as is evidenced by the $15,000 jump in the Jaffe Colossus.

One of the only other association copies of The Colossus was Ted Hughes's copy, also signed by Plath. The bookseller Rick Gekoski handled this book and wrote about it in his book Nabokov's Butterfly. (In the UK, this book was published as Tolkien's Gown.) Plath's signature on anything is exceedingly scarce, which is not too surprising given her early departure.

Please note: The image attached to this posting is not the Jaffe book.

14 January 2008

Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath & Birthday Letters

A decade has passed since Ted Hughes published Birthday Letters. Jeanette Winterson published a piece in today's Times of London on that earth-shattering poetry collection and the recent selection of letters, The Letters of Ted Hughes.

13 January 2008

Sylvia Plath book covers...

Calling all Sylvia Plath book covers!

On my website, A celebration, this is, the book cover galleries and photographs receive thousands of hits per month.

Do you have any Sylvia Plath book covers that I do not feature on my website? If so, please send me a scanned image of it at at least 200 dpi, and every few weeks I will add them to the web site.

I am looking for books by Plath and about Plath, in any language.

The pages, specifically, I am referring to are:

thumbsbooks.html, thumbsother.html, thumbspoetry.html, thumbsbcm.html, and thumbsnonenglish.html

10 January 2008

Sylvia Plath on stage...in Canada

The Calgary Herald reviews a new play Sylvia Plath Must Not Die, concocted by something or someone called One Yellow Rabbit. Aside from needing serious fact-checking, the review seems positive.

For the record, Plath died at age 30, not 31. Just because she was born in 1932 and died in 1963, does not make her 31. Simple math does not apply to birthday's. Also, Anne Sexton did not take her life in her Connecticut home. Weston, Massachusetts is not a part of Connecticut.

The play is on at the Vertigo Playhouse through January 12, leaving us only two days. In any event, the link to the playhouse is here and the link to the review is online here.

09 January 2008

New edition of Judith Kroll's Chapters in a Mythology

The Sutton edition of Judith Kroll's Chapters in a Mythology: The poetry of Sylvia Plath is now available in bookstores in the US, and through internet sites such as Amazon.com. The book retails for $14.95, but is available through Amazon.com for only $8.97 (price checked 9 January 2008).

The new edition features a expanded and updated Foreword by Kroll.

07 January 2008

Paperback of of A Lover of Unreason to be published soon

DaCapo Press will publish shortly a paperback edition of A Lover of Unreason: Assia Wevill, Sylvia Plath's Rival and Ted Hughes's Doomed Love by Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev.

While Amazon.com lists the books publication date as 7 January, Barnes & Noble suggests it is the 28th.

03 January 2008

Edge in Los Angeles

Paul Alexander's one woman play Edge, starring Angelica Torn, will be at the Odyssey Theatre in Los Angeles from Saturday 5 January through 2 March. Shows will be Thursday-Saturday at 8 PM. Also, there will be Sunday matinees at 2 PM on January 13, 20, 27 and February 10, 17; March 2. For more information, please visit the Odyssey website.

02 January 2008

Sylvia Plath Forum discussion board to close...

Chris Ratcliffe announced today that the Sylvia Plath Forum will close to further discussion following the death in October of Elaine Connell, the moderator. The Sylvia Plath Forum celebrates this month, its 10th anniversary.

To the benefit of all Plath scholars, the contributions to the Forum will remain online.
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