27 June 2009

Links, reviews, etc. - Week ending 27 June 2009

Here are some links to interesting stories that have run in the last week or so.
  • Philip Stone and Katie Allen at The Bookseller reports "BBC Season Lifts Poetry Sales" on 26 June. Plath book sales are up by 5,000 copies (or 92%) after the BBC's "Wuthering Heights" which aired on 12 May.
  • Ben Myers at The Guardian blogs, "The Spirit of Hughes and Plath is Alive in West Yorkshire" on 23 June.
  • Rosita Bolad of the Irish Times reports "A Poet Clears His Shelves" on 20 June. Maggs of London is offering for sale the books from Richard Murphy's library. Among the many books are several Plath items...
  • Liat Elkayam's review "They Came to Praise Assia" appeared in Haaretz on 18 June 2009. A review of Eilat Negev and Yehuda Koren's biography of Assia Wevill, recently translated into Hebrew. The book's title is Hayeha U'mota shel Assia G.: Hatzela Hayisraelit ben Ted Hughes LeSylvia Plath, or The Life and Death of Assia G.: The Israeli Shadow Between Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. The title, "The Life and Death of Assia G." comes from a poem by Yehuda Amichai. You can view the beautiful cover under the Hebrew books on my website for Sylvia Plath. And while you're there, please notice an abundance of new book covers of books by and about Sylvia Plath in many different languages.
  • Plath Profiles 2 is in production. We are aiming for an early August 2009 publication date. Thanks to those who submitted and to those awaiting its arrival patiently!

23 June 2009

Sylvia Plath: Did you know...

In The Bell Jar, most of the Ladies' Day guest interns develop ptomaine poisoning after a luncheon - the culprit being the crabmeat. It is quite a memorable scene and so is the recovery. Whilst convalescing, the girls receive a copy of The Thirty Best Short Stories Stories of the Year to read and one story in particular holds Esther Greenwood's attention.

This scene is closely related to actual events that happened in June 1953 while Plath was at Mademoiselle. The guest editors - in real life - came down with ptomaine poisoning on Tuesday June 16, 1953. The story Plath read, contained in the The Best American Short Stories 1953: And the Yearbook of the American Short Story (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1953), was "The Fugue of the Fig Tree" by Stanley Sultan.

Did you know that Plath was later on faculty at Smith College with Stanley Sultan (academic year 1958-1959)? To my surprise (somewhat) and disappointment (somewhat), her journal entries about him neither mention the story nor her admiration of it. But, and not to open a can of worms (because those were picked off of Plath like sticky pearls), who knows what Plath may have written in her journal when she was writing The Bell Jar in the spring of 1961.

19 June 2009

June 19, 1953

On June 19, 1953, Sylvia Plath was in New York City working as Guest Managing Editor for Mademoiselle magazine. This was a crucial experience for her, one in which she relived - to a certain degree - in The Bell Jar. The Bell Jar, in the absence of substantial journal entries, provides us with some insight into Plath's experiences and conversations during this month (see also a couple of letters in Letters Home).

The novel memorably begins, "It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs..." Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were killed, by electric chair, on June 19, 1953, 56 years ago today. It was major news making event, as Esther Greenwood relates in the novels second sentence, "The idea of being electrocuted makes me sick, and that's all there was to read about in the papers -- goggle-eyed headlines staring up at me on every street corner..."

The day of the execution, Plath typed a journal fragment (likely while working). Strangely, her Mademoiselle schedule was completely open that day: no meetings, tours, events, etc. The journal begins, "All right, so the headlines blare the two of them are going to killed at eleven o'clock tonight." (541) She discusses reading journalist reports about the electrocutions and what happens, so much so that she is "sick at the stomach." (541)

The day after the execution, June 20, Plath would have seen these images below staring at her from the front page of the New York Times.

The headline read:


Also on June 20, Plath saw the Detroit Tigers play the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium, where she was photographed with Mel Allen, and attended a dance at a tennis club, probably the West Side Tennis Club, in Forest Hills, Queens.

By the way, on Thursday, June 11, Sylvia Plath met disc jockey Art Ford (aka Lenny "This is your twelve o'clock disc jock...with a roundup of the tops in pops" Shepherd).

Image courtesy of Life.

The Sylvia Plath materials held at the Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, contain Plath's letters, schedules, and other important documents from this experience. They also hold letters written to her that month from people like Richard Norton, as well as calendars that detail what she did.

16 June 2009

Now Available: The Lost Papers of Sylvia Plath by Grace Medlar

Grace Medlar's book The Lost Papers of Sylvia Plath is now available through CreateSpace.

The details:

Publication Date: June 15 2009
ISBN/EAN13: 1441464808 / 9781441464804
Page Count: 214
Price: $14.95

If you read it and want to review it on this blog please let me know.
By the way, today is the 53rd anniversary of Plath and Hughes's marriage. Plath wrote "Wreath for a Bridal" on the occasion, and Hughes followed suit with "A Pink Wool Knitted Dress". The couple were married at the Church of St. George the Martyr, Queen Square, London. Two photos of this church, the exterior and the altar, are on my website for Sylvia Plath.

14 June 2009

Review: A Poet's View of Britain: "Wuthering Heights" by Sylvia Plath

This 30 minute program on "Wuthering Heights" (and other poems) by Sylvia Plath is well done. The commentary by Owen Sheers - with one notable exception - was thoughtful, informative, accurate, etc. The footage of Sheers in Yorkshire, as well as the high resolution images of Plath, her book covers, etc. added to the beauty of Karen McCallion's production. I have always found that being in the place Plath wrote about adds authenticity and understanding to the work at hand.

Sylvia Plath is the only American writer to be included in this BBC Four series, A Poet's View of Britain. This is an accomplishment. Sheers discusses Plath's Yorkshire poems "The Great Carbuncle" and "Hardcastle Crags" before setting on the title poem, "Wuthering Heights". He discusses how both Plath experiences in Yorkshire and her earlier poems paved the way towards the composition of "Wuthering Heights". These poems well place Plath within the tradition of landscape poetry; but Plath does add her touch in "Wuthering Heights", adventuring into the landscape of the mind as well. Each of the poems were read - either by Plath or someone else. As each poem was read, the words were added artistically to the screen in various scripts. The interview snippets of Plath and Aurelia Plath were quite welcome. I am pleased the producers obtained permission to use these.

Fellow Plath reader, the poet and author P.Viktor, in a review on his blog, comment, "it is also refreshing to see a male poet talking about Plath's work without the usual cliches and accusations of hysteria". This is a very wonderful observation. However, with this in mind, I noticed - aside from the storyteller in the pub on the edge of Widdop Moor (where crumpets are -by the grace of God - still just 20p), that Sheers is the only male with a speaking part throughout the program. And the storyteller wasn't even discussing Plath.

The side trip to take wine with some Cambridge girls and the interview with Jo Shapcott (especially Shapcott's reading of her own poems, which I found irrelevant) were slightly off the mark and added little. That being said, Shapcott's comments on Plath were actually quite well spoken. Clare Pollard, who contributed to a program on "Superman and Paula Brown's New Snowsuit", was also interviewed.

All this in mind, I am fan of the program and find it contributes positively to the growing list of televised documentary works on Sylvia Plath. Some have remarked that there was little focus on the biography of Sylvia Plath, but having watched it several times, I found that the program is heavily dependent on Plath's biography: this is not a fault, but illustrative of a crucial way in which to approach Plath's poetry.

The reading of "Wuthering Heights" is dramatic, made more so by the words flashing across the screen and the recorded scenes running parallel to Plath's images throughout the poem. Quite well done, bravo! Very moving; it adds some autheticity to the poem that one can only experience by being in the same place about which Plath wrote.

The one notable exception, mentioned above, regards the following comment by Sheers: "'Wuthering Heights' must have been a poem that Plath rated highly as she made it the opening to Crossing the Water, the second collection she had planned for publication". Absolutely not. Neither was "Wuthering Heights" selected by Plath to be the first poem in Crossing the Water nor was it intended as her 'second collection'. This poem -and many other poems written between 1960 and 1962- was ultimately rejected by Sylvia Plath as a "book" poem, as she liked to call them. "Wuthering Heights" was selected by Ted Hughes for inclusion in Crossing the Water, Plath having died eight years prior to its publication. Likewise, assigning Ariel as Plath's third publication is incorrect.

For those inspired by these poems and want to read more works by Plath set in Yorkshire, try her story "All the Dead Dears" (published in Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams) and her non-fiction piece "A Walk to Withens", which was published on 6 June, 1959, in Boston's The Christian Science Monitor. Yorkshire and Haworth also feature in The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath (ed. Karen V. Kukil, 2000).

11 June 2009

Sylvia Plath in Chinese

Earlier this month I received an email from Fan Jinghua that I thought could be a wonderful guest post for this blog. You should know Fan's name and work for he contributed the wonderful essay "Sylvia Plath's Visual Poetics" to Kathleen Connors and Sally Bayley's Eye Rhymes: Sylvia Plath's Art of the Visual. Fan also maintains the blog Poetry Chinese. Fan's blog regularly publishes his own translations of Plath's poems into Chinese. From Fan:

I was planning to read a paper on Plath's reception (and mis-reading) in China, and this is a book cover I would like to illustrate. The poetry book is entitled Haizi (and) Luo Yihe Work, which was published in 1991 in Nanjing. Haizi was a graduate from Peking University, a poet, born on March 26, 1964, and committed suicide on the same day at his 25 birthday in 1989 by lying on a railroad. His suicide is the most celebrated suicide and he is now a poet martyr.

He had nothing to do Plath, but when this book was published, with his friend Luo Yihe who died from heart attack three months after Haizi's death, the book cover related them to Plath in a strange way. On the back cover, there are two lines of words, with the author's country and name, which literally reads:

death is an art, poet's death
actually equals to poet's rebirth.
-----[US] Sylvia Plath

As there is no distinction between "dying" and "death" in Chinese translation (and there is no distinction between singular and plural forms of "poet" here), the first half line should be a "faithful" translation from Plath, but no one knows how come there are the following one and a half lines. Still, these two lines were once quite popular and much quoted.

In terms of "dying," misquotes include "suicide is an art," and the story goes that Plath was fascinated by "suicide" that she did it ten times. Ten, of course, is another misreading of "I have done it again. One year in every ten."

Her (and Hughes) publication in Chinese includes The Bell Jar (three versions already in the Mainland and one in Taiwan) and Anne Stevenson's Bitter Fame, Hughes's Birthday Letters (with quite a few notes from his sister, probably on the condition of copyright arrangement).

There is not a Plath poetry book in Chinese, and about forty poems have appeared in official publications (books and magazines with ISBN).


Fan indicated that later this summer Plath's poems - translated into Chinese - will be published in two or three issues of a privately published and circulated magazine. This includes all the poems in 1961, 1962 and 1963 section in her Collected Poems (except for Three Women).

He also told me about a book which talks much about Sylvia Plath's influence on contemporary Chinese women poetry:

Zhang, Jeanne Hong. The Invention of a Discourse: Women's Poetry from Contemporary China. Leiden: CNWS Publication. 2004. pp.304 (ISBN 978-90-5789-096-3). This book is perhaps the first and only one that focuses on Sylvia Plath's influence on Chinese women's poetry. Copies can be found at libraries throughout the US and internationally. From my perspective it is so refreshing - and important - to know that Plath has made an impact outside of English speakers.

06 June 2009

Sylvia Plath: Did you know...

The British Council's Peter Orr and Woodberry Poetry Room's Jack Sweeney collaborated on the Poet Speaks series throughout the 1960s. The intent was to capture the poet as a person, relaxed and unrehearsed. In addition, by recording and having copies archived in London and Cambridge, Mass., it would ensure that the legacy of the spoken word was accessible in intellectual environments internationally.

The majority of the readings and interviews took place at the BBC's offices at Albion House, 55 New Oxford Street, London, pictured here.

Did you know that Sylvia Plath was the only American woman (that I could find) who read poems and was interviewed in the Poet Speaks series? Plath's reading and interview was held on 30 October 1962.

In 1966, a selection of interviews was published under the title The Poet Speaks. Simultaneously, selected recordings were released by Argo on a series long playing records. Plath appears with Thom Gunn, Ted Hughes, and Peter Redgrove. Plath's poems included on this LP are: "Daddy", "Lady Lazarus", "Fever 103", and "Ariel".

03 June 2009

A Review of After Ted & Sylvia by Crystal Hurdle

People like to write about Sylvia Plath. I've built a blog and a website on the very subject. Lately, people like to speak for Sylvia Plath just as much as they like to speak about her. Crystal Hurdle's 2003 poetry collected After Ted & Sylvia was one of the first poetry collections focussed solely on the poet. When I reviewed Catherine Bowman's The Plath Cabinet in March, I neglected to include Hurdle's earlier book. This was accident, afterall I heard her read some of the at the 2002 Sylvia Plath 70th Year Symposium at the University of Indiana, Bloomington. In the area of writing about Plath creatively, I recall being impressed with Kate Moses, whose novel Wintering was well under way, but not so much with either Bowman's or Hurdle's poems. Reading the collection now, after thinking Bowman's work was at least a little unique, I now find that Hurdle was quiet a bit ahead of her. And this unfortunately makes Bowman's The Plath Cabinet slightly less impressive.

Hurdle's poems show evidence of archival research both at the Lilly Library and at Smith College. She also states that she did some research in the United Kingdom, though it is not clear whether or not she worked archives or if she "wandered through each chartered street / Near where there chartered Thames does flow", to quote Blake. There are a few nice poems in this book, but on whole the story of Sylvia Plath works best when based on fact - the imagination of the write held in check - and written in the genre called non-fiction, which is how the once living and the currently living are normally written. As with Bowman's work, there are a number of factual errors which are really inexcusable and taint the work for me. As with Bowman's, it is a biographical book: but unlike Bowman's (or her publicists), the book is not purported to be biographical. Instead, Hurdle states in the Acknowledgements, "This book, while based on the lives of poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, is a work of the imagination."

And, it is clearly a work of imagination when once considers the following:

"Laureate I: Blooms"
Page 13
Line 2: 'of two dead wives'
While this is a common enough mistake, Ted Hughes was not married to Assia Wevill - the presumed second dead wife in this poem. Ted Hughes's second wife is Carol Hughes. Let's move on.

"Laureat III: To You, Dear Ted"
Page 18
Stanza 3, Line 5: 'What about wifey #3?'
Broken record here. Unless polygamy is legal in England, or was legal...

"Laureate V: Poem for Sylvia"
Page 27
Stanza 4, Line2 1-2: 'No yew tree in sight / Chalcott Square'
Can't find that on my London A-Z. Chalcot has one 't'. This occurs throughout the book. Consistency in this case is simply annoying. And the yew tree was in North Tawton, not in London, so of course it wouldn't be in site: not even from top the Post Office Tower.

Page 28
Stanza 1, Lines 4-9: 'but didn't you ... /know that gas rises?'
Some gas does rise, as Plath thought her gas would in the flat. However, coal gas is heavier, and sinks, which Plath didn't know or didn't remember. This whole stanza is rotten.

Stanza 2, Line 2: '123 Fitzroy Road'
The poet is clearly leading people to the wrong places in London. The correct address is 23 Fitzroy Road.

Stanza 2, Line 5: 'You only wrote most of Ariel here.'
No. Implying that most of the collection was written at 23 Fitzroy Road (or 123 Fitzroy Road). No no no. Ariel was written in North Tawton, with a few of the earliest poems composed in London at 3 Chalcot Square. Of course some of the poems Plath did write at 23 Fitzroy Road were included in Ariel as assembled by Ted Hughes, but by the time these poems by Hurdle were written, the table of contents of Plath's Ariel was well-known.

Stanza 4, Lines 1-2: 'I had been at the wrong address / Number 3 not 7 Chalcott square'
Again with the Chalcott. And, Square should be capitalized. When I read this I get the feeling she's saying Plath and Hughes lived at 7 Chalcot Square, not 3, which is just wrong. If you were at 7 Chalcot Square then you were at the wrong address. Regardless, it's awkward. Punctuate.

"Laureate VI: Wife"
Page 33
Stanza 4, Last Line: 'longer of the years of the two dead wives'
We've already been through this...

Page 36
Stanza 1, Line 2: 'his two dead wives'

"Milk: Apocrypha"
Page 42
Stanza 2, Lines 5-6: 'He is in Devon with that woman / her name a hot hiss'
In the lines immediately above, it's 'almost Valentine's' in 1963. He is Ted. "That woman" is Assia. Ted, in Devon, around Valentine's, with Assia? Not bloody likely. Try in London and Heptonstall seeing the inquiry in the Plath's death and subsequent funeral.

Page 43
Stanza 4, Lines 1-2: 'one floor above / bodies sluggish from the rising gas'
This is tiresome. The bodies 'one floor above' could not have been 'sluggish from the rising gas' because the gas was heavier than air and sunk.

"Sivvy: Bowdlerising"
Page 98
Stanza 1, Line 1: 'but mostly those four dots'
Ellipses - used for marking omissions, pauses in speech, unfinished thoughts, etc. - are denoted by ...

"Sivvy: Climate Control"
Page 101
Stanza 4, Line 1: 'in Whitsun House in Cambridge'
Whitstead. 4 Barton Road. Plath wrote a poem called "Whitsun", though not whilst living in Whitstead.

"Sivvy: Furlough in Las Vegas"
Page 131
Stanza 1, Line 5: 'I tried for Truro, Wellfleet, even Providence'
Truro and Wellfleet are on Cape Cod... Providence is not. Did the writer mean Provincetown?

Page 132
Stanza 5, Line 3: 'at Chalcott Square'
One more time! Encore!

Clearly a work of the imagination. When all is said and done, there really isn't much poetry to read. The hatred expressed for Ted Hughes 'Get lost, Ted. Go fuck yourself' ("Laureate V: Poem for Sylvia", p. 30) does not make for good poetry. It's more appropriate for a private journal. Nor does a question and answer stanza on the color of urine and semen ("The Sylvias: a Fantasy", p. 30). While humorous if I had a few pints in me and I was in a bar, this sort of stuff is distracting.

Poetry works best when it is imaginative: when it's the poets imagination driven by experience or the mind (or something similar). Poetry about other people, such as this work, simply is boring and, perhaps not surprisingly, uninspired. To bring Bowman back in, whose had the most recent last words in the sub-genre/industry of poetry about Plath, hopes that her poems will inspire people to read Plath and Hughes' poetry. I hope this is an actual outcome because then the reader will get to read real poems.
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