29 September 2009

Teenage Plath writing & artwork acquired by the Lilly Library

On Tuesday 22 September, at a one day book conference entitled "Books in Hard Times" held at the Grolier Club in New York, I had the chance to speak briefly with Breon Mitchell, director of the Lilly Library. He mentioned during his talk - on libraries collecting during 'hard times' that they still add to their collections when possible. Acquiring is just more strict. Of their impressive holdings, he singled out their Plath materials as being a collection that is still growing, mentioning their recent acquisition of some Plath juvenalia. I asked him during a break what they acquired, and I am exceedingly happy to report that they are the holders of the Plath manuscripts that were just up at auction from Sotheby's in July.

So, although that signed copy of The Colossus is now for sale - and will be presumably for a while - these "juvenalia" are available - right now - for researchers to use. One of the manuscripts Mr. Mitchell particularly mentioned was the list of books read that Plath made.I couldn't agree more that knowing what Plath read in her adolescent, formative years, is of infinite importance.

The items purchased at Sotheby's make up Plath mss. V, 1944–1945. From the IU catalog, Plath mss. V "consists of three items of early Sylvia Plath juvenilia: an autographed manuscript with drawings, entitled "Christmas Booklet", signed "Sylvia Plath" (with 9 illustrated leaves beginning with an illustrated wrapper decorated with paper cut outs of a candle and holly branches, an illustrated title page followed by a thank–you letter to "Aunt Frieda" dated December 26, 1944, a short story and two poems); an 11–page, pencil manuscript hand–made stapled booklet entitled "The Treasures of Sylvia Plath," with her notes on several book titles she apparently read while participating in a reading club including treasures or maxims from each work such as "The Silver Pencil," "The White Stag," and "Stand Fast and Reply" among others; and an illustrated, typescript poem in the form of a get–well card."

It is wonderful that these items found their way to an institution and particularly to one that is continuing to grow its collection. As this blog and my website have documented, Sylvia Plath's papers have found their way to dozens of repositories. One can really add to their frequent flyer miles!

In addition to hearing from librarians, the conference heard from book dealers and book collectors. Each aspect of the book world detailed how collecting has had to change its ways and means in these "difficult economic times". It was particularly illuminating hearing from the dealers and the collectors as each needs the other so much. If you are a book dealer, librarian, or collector, you may be interested in reading more on Philobiblos.

26 September 2009

Alix Strauss' Death Becomes Them

I just received an email regarding the new book by Alix Strauss entitled Death Becomes Them: Unearthing the Suicides of the Brilliant, the Famous and the Notorious, published September 2009, by Harper Collins. Death Becomes Them is available in paperback and e-book for $14.99.

The following post is excerpted from the press release for the book.

The weather in Sussex, London is brisk; the sun shining. The large stones are smooth in her hands. Solid and heavy in her pockets. They bulge from her coat. Though she found herself in this exact position, standing by the river, ready to end her life days ago, she failed. She returned home drenched, body shivering from the cold. But today she knows more. Today she has the rocks.

Virginia Woolf spent most of her life in one of two states: writing or fighting a bipolar/manic depressiveness which went undiagnosed until after she’d drowned herself on March 28th, 1941. Three weeks later her body was discovered by a group of children playing near the water.

Each of the 20 legendary luminaries unearthed in Alix Strauss’ Death Becomes Them was brilliant, creative and of course, suicidal. Manic, bipolar, depressed and suffering from addiction, these geniuses were also self-destructive.

Death Becomes Them is an eye-opening and intimate portrait of the lonely, sad and nightmarish lives these famous folks led. Along with being an historic overview of suicide, Strauss’ book delves into the deaths of our most influential cultural icons: Sylvia Plath, Adolf Hitler, Diane Arbus, Sigmund Freud, Vincent van Gogh, Abbie Hoffman, Virginia Woolf, Kurt Cobain, Spalding Gray, and Anne Sexton, among others. The deaths are as diverse as the person that killed themselves. Some are tragic -- Dorothy Dandridge was found naked on her bathroom floor, a handful of anti-depressants swimming in her system. Others are bizarre -- Hunter S. Thompson shot himself while on the phone with his wife in an eerie, copycat tribute to his hero, Ernest Hemingway who killed himself in a similar way forty-four years earlier.

While Strauss explores some of the most talked about and monumental suicides of the past she examines our own morbid fascination, asking why we have become so fixated on these tortured souls. While paying tribute to their lives, focus is placed on their final days and the incidents that led up to the moment when they took their last breath. Strauss decodes their suicide notes, touches on their accomplishments and delves into the methodology of their deaths by documented autopsy and police reports, death certificates, obituaries, and personal photos. Lists regarding controversial, bizarre, famous and poorly executed suicides along with unusual facts and statistics are found in this mammoth tome.

Written in a creative, descriptive and informative tone, Death Becomes Them is a private, provocative and personal tribute to these lost souls—a fond remembrance and a final goodbye.

Alix Strauss: A media savvy social satirist, Alix has been a featured lifestyle and trend writer on national morning and talk shows including: ABC, CBS, CNN and, most recently, The Today Show. Her articles cover a range of topics, from beauty, travel, and food trends to celebrity interviews, which have appeared in the New York Times, New York Post, and Daily News, as well as national magazines: Time magazine, Marie Claire, Entertainment Weekly, Self, Esquire, and Departures, among others. Her collection of shorts, The Joy of Funerals, was published by St. Martin’s Press. Her latest book is an anthology of mother coordinated blind date horror stories called Have I Got a Guy For You. Alix lives in New York City.

For more reviews and information, or to watch Alix’s TV appearances, learn more about her upcoming projects, recent articles and events, please go to her web site: http://www.alixstrauss.com/

23 September 2009

Sylvia Plath at the Morgan Library

On Monday, 21 September, I was able to spend a couple of hours at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City.

Of the vast holdings at the Morgan is a smallish collection of Sylvia Plath books and a rare manuscripts. The books form part of the Carter Burden Collection of American Literature. The manuscripts, on which I have posted a couple of times on this blog (here and here), are of 40 or so "juvenile" poems, written between 1937 and the mid-1940s. Previously, I have seen only a black and white photocopy, from microfilm, but on this research visit I was given permission to see the original. Plath illustrated her early journals, which are housed at the Lilly Library (more on Plath and the Lilly later this week!) at Indiana University, but I don't recall seeing many illustrated poems. What a treat this turned out to be.

The books I looked at were:

The 1972 proof of Winter Trees published by Harper & Row; the 1976 proof of The Bed Book published by Faber & Faber; the long galley proof of Crossing the Water published by Harper & Row; and the British magazine Nova, which published Plath's "Heavy Woman" and "Mirror" on page 37 of the May 1970 issue. Inserted between pages 48 and 49 Nova was an article by Amanda Craig entitled "Children of the Lesser Gods." The subtitle is "Crow Baby? Amanda Craig meets the Laureate's Daughter." It is an article removed from Tatler magazine, I believe, page 172. The date wasn't discernable. In all, there are 55 Sylvia Plath items to look at at the Morgan.

I selected these to look at as, in my travels to different libraries and to book stores and book fairs, I had not seen these. But the real star was those manuscripts. If you are ever in the New York City area, or planning to visit, you should try to see these. One must plan in advance though as the Reading Room is small and tends to fill up. Information on applying is available through the Morgan's website, see link above.

19 September 2009

New Sylvia Plath article

Just a little post today to say that Sally Bayley has a new article published in Women's History Review, Volume 18, Issue 4. The date on this issue is September 2009, and it appears on pages 547-558. Here is the title and abstract:

"'Is it for this you widen your eye rings?' Looking, Overlooking and Cold War Paranoia: the art of the voyeur in the poetry of Sylvia Plath and the films of Alfred Hitchcock"

This exploration of the shared culture of suspicion of Cold War America centres on the poetry of Sylvia Plath and the films of Alfred Hitchcock. A cinema enthusiast, American poet Sylvia Plath was invested in the dominant cultural conceit of domestic surveillance. Her late poems, the posthumous Ariel collection (1964), share much in common with Hitchcock's films, Suspicion, Rear Window and Marnie—films in which the culturally rarefied experience of the home life is open to scrutiny—and found lacking. Both Plath and Hitchcock employ the figure of the voyeur whose penetrating angles unsettle the stability of the Ladies' Home Journal view of domesticity. For Plath and Hitchcock domestic relations often descend into something more often resembling a Cold War tribunal: with suspicion leading the enquiry.

16 September 2009

Crockett's Colossus

On 17 July, 2009, I posted the results of some Sylvia Plath materials at Sotheby's in London. In this auction, Plath's The Colossus went on the block; this copy being quite special as it was the copy she signed and inscribed to her English teacher Wilbury Crockett. A Christmas card was included. The selling price was £17,500.

Well, the buyer of the was Peter Harrington, of London. I've seen his books at the Boston Antiquarian Book Fair for the last few years - he's got great stuff and he's a high end dealer. Those interested now in owning Wilbury Crockett's former copy of The Colossus will have to shell out £37,500. The other items that sold have not yet surfaced in bookseller inventories so it it possible these went to private owners or other places.

Ian MacKay also wrote about this in the September 2007 issue of Fine Books Notes. See "A Colossal Colossus" here.

Crockett lived, at the time, at 9 Summit Road in Wellesley, according to Plath's address book, which is housed as part of the Sylvia Plath Collection at the Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College.

12 September 2009

Links, reviews, etc. - Week ending 12 September 2009

  • There is an article in The Times by Ben Hoyle today on Ted Hughes and his recently discovered children's story, Timmy the Tug, written in 1956. The article, "Ted Hughes’s first children’s story has emerged after 50 years" is online here. This is the first time I remember reading about Jim Downer - and that Plath visited down in the winter of 1963 shortly before she died. Downer, and his wife Wendy, lived, according to Plath's addressbook (housed at Smith), at 214 Old Brompton Road in London. The article includes some of Downer's illustrations. Look for Timmy the Tug on 21 September.

    There is a companion article to the one above, entitled "Jim Downer and Ted Hughes's excellent adventure" by Alan Franks.

  • An article that ran in the Marin Independent Journal mentions one of the most unique uses of Plath's poetry I can remember. In Jane Scurich's "Master Gardener: Garden Show focues on climate change, drought and sustainability", she talks about "A Garden of Mouthings", a garden "complete with garden complete with a honeycomb structure, bee-friendly plantings and a sound installation based on a poem ["The Beekeeper's Daughter"] by Sylvia Plath." The garden designer is Shirley Alexandra Watts. I'd love to see some pictures or video of this.

    Garden designer Shirley Alexandra Watts, will work with bee expert Jaime Pawelek, architect Andrew Kudless and builder Ross Craig to create "A Garden of Mouthings." Visitors will have an opportunity to seek advice from bee experts and enjoy some honey tastings. Watts says she "seeks to inform, delight and inspire its viewers by celebrating not only honey bees, but also our often overlooked native bees." Now, this is creative.

  • Catherine Bowman is scheduled to read from The Plath Cabinet on Friday 13 November, 2009, at 5 p.m, at the Woodberry Poetry Room. The Woodberry Poetry Room is located at Room 330, Lamont Library, Harvard University. In addition to reading from her recent collection of Plath, she will curate a close-listening experience to the recordings of Plath held by the Woodberry Poetry Room. This comes a semester after my own curated stroll through Plath's voice. I'm also planning to curate a little exhibit of some of the Woodberry's non-audio Plath holdings. If you're in the Eastern Massachusetts area please come - the event is free and open to the public.

10 September 2009

Second Serving: Sylvia Plath by Connie Ann Kirk

Connie Ann Kirk's 2004, Sylvia Plath: A Biography, was recently reissued by Prometheus Books. Unlike it's first appearance, this title is available at bookstores, making it one of the few introductory biographies available to a more commercial market (the 2004 Greenwood biography series edition being primarily a 'library' book).

On the back of the book, in big letters is "The blood jet is poetry and there is no stopping it." Those who know "Kindness" quite well will notice the addition of "and", which is not in the poem. This is sloppy. The blurb on the back of the book claims that by the time Plath died, she left behind a "popular novel, The Bell Jar", but we know this wasn't the case.

There is an over reliance on other biographies, and throughout the work, Plath and Hughes and the other players are referred to by their first names, as "Sylvia," "Ted," etc. Addressing Plath and the others in the familiar actually made it more difficult to read. The tone throughout was off, and I kept thinking I was reading something by Marcia Brown Stern, Jillian Becker or Elizabeth Sigmund, i.e. people that knew Plath and can get away with addressing the subject as such. There are also contradictions between the chronology in the front of the book and in the text. Etc. etc.

While the main facts are there, several errors from the first edition were not corrected in this new edition, frustrating this reviewer. Rather than list everything as I did with the errors contained in Bowman and Hurdle, I'll spare you the bitchy details of what's wrong with this book. When an author such as Kirk, a serial biographer, approaches a life like Sylvia Plath's, it is almost excusable to make mistakes. But, it is also quite inexcusable. The biographer must be painstakingly dedicated to getting the facts of their subject correct. Especially in an introductory work where their words may be responsible for intriguing and education a future fan or scholar. While this isn't the greatest introduction to Plath (and there are betters one's out there; and yes, as you might imagine, naturally my bias leans towards my own little biography of Plath), it is better than some of the fuller length treatments of Plath's life. The book itself is a handsome production.

06 September 2009

Plath, Bowen & Sarton

Sylvia Plath began working for Mademoiselle prior to the June 1, 1953 start of her guest editorship. On May 26, Plath went to the Cambridge, Massachusetts home of the writer May Sarton. It was there, at 14 Wright Street (pictured), that she interviewed Elizabeth Bowen for a profile in the August issue. For the profile, Plath was photographed with Bowen. The article ran on page 282.

The Sylvia Plath Collection at the Mortimer Rare Book Room holds a contact sheet with 11 images of the Plath/Bowen interview (SP-11), as well as one larger print of the image published in Mademoiselle (SP-12).

Additionally, the Sylvia Plath Materials at Indiana University contain many of Plath's letters and instructions from Mademoiselle, prior to and during her Guest Editorship. Included with these is a 2 page document of instructions from Jane Mayberry for the interview (Box 12, Folder 7).

In the summer of 1954, Plath lived just five-minutes (walking casually but with determination, in sensible shoes) from Sarton's house, at 1572 Massachusetts Avenue.

For those keeping count, this is the 400th post on this blog. Thank you all for reading, for encouraging, and for Plathing.

01 September 2009

Leonie Cohn obituary (Plath, Ocean 1212-W, and the BBC)

The Telepgraph and Daniel Snowman at The Guardian are both printing obituaries for Leonie Cohn, a former talks department producer at the BBC. Leonie Cohn, for those who have read mine and Gail Crowther's paper "These Ghostly Archives", will now be a familiar name in regards to Sylvia Plath, "Ocean 1212-W", and the BBC. The Telegraph's article even discusses, with startling familiarity, Cohn's relationship to Plath:

"One figure who eluded Leonie Cohn in the early 1960s was the American poet and novelist Sylvia Plath, whose lengthy prose piece about her upbringing was being planned as the centrepiece for a radio documentary, to be produced by Leonie Cohn, called Landscape on Childhood.

"Leonie Cohn had suggested a title for these reminiscences – Ocean 1212-W – but arrangements for the recording were abruptly terminated when Plath, the estranged wife of the poet Ted Hughes, committed suicide in February 1963. Leonie Cohn's final letter to Plath, dated three days before her death, is possibly the last Plath received."

Cohn passed away on 9 August.

Sylvia Plath: Did you know...

Most of Sylvia Plath's letters are available in archives at Smith College, Indiana University and Emory University. And of course, many were printed in Letters Home.

Did you know that in the book Dear Editor: A History of Poetry in Letters: The First Fifty Years, 1912-1962, they reprint a letter from Sylvia Plath to Poetry editor Henry Rago?

The letter was sent on 7 May 1957 from Cambridge, England, and in it, Plath thanks Rago for accepting the following poems, "The Snowman on the Moor", "Sow", Ella Mason and Her Eleven Cats", and "On the Difficulty of Conjuring Up a Dryad". These poems, her second batch of acceptances by this magazine, appeared in the July 1957 issue of Poetry (pictured here).

The editors of Dear Editor (Joseph Parisi and Stephen Young) also published Between the Lines: A History of Poetry in Letters, Part II: 1962-2002. Plath is referenced many times.

In a letter from John Berryman to Henry Rago, dated 22 July 1963, Berryman asks, "Have you seen, can you get rights to Sylvia Plath's final poems (Observer, 17 Febr.) and a biog'l piece on her? They are rare." Poetry did publish "Fever 103°", "Purdah", and "Eavesdropper" in their August 1963 issue.

Hayden Carruth, discussing Adrienne Rich in a letter dated 28 January, 1966, says, "I'll tell you one thing [Rich] could do perfectly: that's a retrospective piece on Sylvia Plath. She has studied Plath's poems with care and enthusiasm, and could write well about them, I'm almost certain..."
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