28 October 2009

Frieda Hughes' Book of Mirrors out now

Bloodaxe Books published The Book of Mirrors by Frieda Hughes earlier this month, on 10 October, in the UK.

The Book of Mirrors, packaged with Hughes' Stonepicker, was published earlier this year in the US.

There are many poems of interest in this collection to readers of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes.

27 October 2009

Picture Post

At Starbucks this morning, I couldn't help but notice what the person in front of me was reading. I just had to take a picture of "Words Read, by accident, Over the iPhone"...

H.B. S.P.

26 October 2009

Mademoiselle August 1953 on eBay

Sylvia Plath was guest managing editor the August 1953 issue of Mademoiselle. Currently on eBay, someone is auctioning this issue. The auction ends tomorrow, October 27 (Plath's birthday no less)!

P.S. - it should be noted that I am not the seller and that I do not personally know the seller.

21 October 2009

Sylvia Plath: Double did you know...

Since October is, for us, unequivocally associated with Sylvia Plath, I thought I'd offer a special double did you know. I spoil you, I know.

In 1994-1995, Tim Kendall founded the magazine Thumbscrew. His hope was that it would be an "antidote to a London poetry scene which appeared to outsiders as cosy, self-savouring, mediocre." Did you know that
Thumbscrew 9, Winter 1997-1998, was a special issue on Sylvia Plath? The following is a list of citations for those articles which appeared in issue 9:

  • Adcock, Fleur. "Why Plath is (Not) Very Important to Me." Thumbscrew 9. Winter 1997-1998: 2-3.

  • Korelitz, Jean Hanff. "An Inexcusable Thing." Thumbscrew 9. Winter 1997-1998: 5-9.

  • Quinn, Justin. "Plath as Exemplar." Thumbscrew 9. Winter 1997-1998: 11-12.

  • Tyrrell, Patricia. "The Semtex Poet." Thumbscrew 9. Winter 1997-1998: 27-29.

  • Kinsella, John and Tracy Ryan. "'Farther Off Than Australia': Some Australian Receptions of Plath." Thumbscrew 9. Winter 1997-1998: 43-49.

  • Gammage, Nick. "Reading Sylvia Plath: An Unrecorded Publication of 'The Rabbit Catcher'." Thumbscrew 9. Winter 1997-1998: 55-56.

  • Phillips, Ivan. "A Mixed Marriage: The Strange Affair of Sylvia Plath and Paul Muldoon." Thumbscrew 9. Winter 1997-1998: 58-65.
The next issue, 10, featured two letters in response to issue 9, and a new essay by Rosemarie Rowley. Here are the citations for Thumbscrew 10.

  • Scammell, William. "Letters." Thumscrew 10. Spring 1998: 31.

  • Adcock, Fleur. "Letters ." Thumscrew 10. Spring 1998: 32.

  • Rowley, Rosemarie. "Electro-convulsive Treatment in Sylvia Plath's Life and Work." Thumbscrew 10. Spring 1998: 87-99.

The tone of these essays in
Thumbscrew 9, taken as a whole, is completely mixed, leaning towards the negative.

Little did you know that I hinted at the second "Did you know..." in the first group of citations from
Thumbscrew 9. Did you know that "The Rabbit Catcher" was published in The Observer on February 7, 1965? It was! On page 26. Gammage's revelation, not in Stephen Tabor's authoritative bibliography, could change the way some look at this poems supposed omission from the Plath's works prior to its appearance in Winter Trees in 1971/1972. Of course, it isn't likely Hughes sent/gave it to The Observer - more likely it was held over by a submission of Plath's from 1962. The history on that is as follows...

According to Plath's submission list (held by the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College), she did send to Alvarez "Event", "The Rabbit Catcher", "Elm", "Crossing the Water", "An Appearance", and "Little Fugue" on June 30, 1962. Plath's practice was to underline those works which were accepted (sometimes she starred them as well). For this submission, "Crossing the Water", "Event" and "The Rabbit Catcher" were underlined. "Elm" was as well, but the underline was struck out. "Crossing the Water" appeared on September 23, 1962 on page 25. "Event" appeared on December 16, 1962, on page 21. It's a good bet that "The Rabbit Catcher" appearing in
The Observer prior to Ariel's publication in on March 11, 1965, was a surprise to Ted Hughes. Did The Observer print "The Rabbit Catcher" in anticipation of its (presumed) appearance it was going to be in the forthcoming Ariel?

The "Elm" strike through is interesting. Plath sent "Elm" to the
New Yorker on June 8, 1962 (along with "Three Women", "The Rabbit Catcher", and "Event"). By July 10, they were returned as rejected. Plath re-sent "Elm" on August 31, 1962 (along with five additional poems). This time it was accepted, on September 26. It would be interesting to look at the poems in the two batches to try to determine what made "Elm" stick out the second time around. Anyway, the New Yorker wanted to change the title. On October 10, 1962, Plath sent a letter to Howard Moss at the New Yorker accepting the title change from "Elm" to "The Elm Speaks". With this in mind, Plath probably crossed out the "Elm" acceptance from the Observer shortly after September 26; she did have a first reading contract them, after all. "The Elm Speaks", along with 6 other poems, were published in the New Yorker on August 3, 1963. One of these six poems had been held since being accepted in July 1960 (before Plath had her first reading contract with them)!

17 October 2009

Event of Plathian Interest at Columbia College Chicago

If you are in Chicago, or near Chicago, you may be interested in the following event sponsored by Columbia College, Chicago. If you have frequent flyer miles, I'd suggest redeeming them for this event.

Karen Kukil will give a talk, “Sylvia Plath's Women and Poetry”, on Wednesday, October 21, 5:30 p.m. at the Music Center Concert Hall,1014 South Michigan Avenue. Click hither for more information.

If anyone sees Eddie Cohen, can you please give him my number?

13 October 2009

Yaddo at Smith

The exhibit "Unconquered by Flames: The Literary Light at Yaddo at Smith College" is one of 15 around the country celebrating the artist colony in Saratoga Springs, New York.

The exhibit is all over the library, which I think is a wonderful use of their limited space. The Plath/Hughes experience is the largest of the exhibits, with the most "stuff" and the most cases. In addition to "Sylvia Plath '55 & Ted Hughes at Yaddo, 1959", which is in the Book Arts Gallery, Neilson level 3, there is the Exhibit Overview, Neilson Library, 1st floor entrance, Lola Ridge at Yaddo, 1929-1930, Sophia Smith Collection, Alumnae Gym, Newton Arvin at Yaddo, 1928-1960, Mortimer Rare Book Room, Neilson level 3, and Constance Carrier '29 at Yaddo, 1975 & 1978, Mortimer Rare Book Room, Neilson level 3. Each exhibit illustrates the subjects relationship with Yaddo as well as the results, or products, of the stay. Often a manuscript is side by side with the published, final work.

Plath and Hughes were guests at Yaddo from September to November 1959; it proved to be a pivotal residency for Plath, as she wrote the poems that would complete her first book, The Colossus, and also wrote short stories that got her closer to her true voice, which manifested itself in The Bell Jar and Ariel.

The 14 display cases dedicated to Plath and Hughes are wonderfully clear, with a careful narrative constructed by the exhibit's mastermind, Karen V. Kukil. Each case displays a couple of pages of Plath's journals, and a mixture of photographs, poetry and short story manuscripts and typescripts, typed drafts, galley proofs, printed works, and correspondence with editors and mentors. First editions of The Colossus, The Bell Jar, Ariel and Birthday Letters can be seen, as well as other texts from Plath's library, such as her red cloth German in Review, complete with gouge marks. What Karen has done is taken material we are familiar with and assembled an intimate portrait of the poets as writers, as creators. This portrait itself allows for a new investigation and consideration of the way Plath worked and her output. Also it is clear just how professional and resourceful she was in marketing her work.

Along the wall are images of Plath and Hughes taken from Kukil's other exhibit, "No Other Appetite", which was hosted at the Grolier Club in New York City in 2005. (The catalog of "No Other Appetite" is for sale and is worth every single penny.)

The exhibit will start coming down in pieces later this month. If you're near Northampton, I recommend you stop by and see it. You'll see Plath in a new light, unconquered, even amidst fierce flames.

10 October 2009

American and British Poetry: A Guide to Criticism, 1925-1978

There is a book called American and British Poetry: A Guide to the Criticism, 1925-1978, which was compiled by Harriet Semmes Alexander and published in 1984. It is a 2 volume book. Sylvia Plath is covered on pages 298-303. What this bibliography does is list works by Plath, and then gives citations of essays that discuss or mention the work. Of course, it only goes to 1978, so it is "older", but nevertheless I think it is an interesting reference tool. I don't think it's nearly complete either - based on what I've seen published before 1978, it seems skinny. But, it's a cool resources nonetheless. As the title indicates, it is only looking at Plath's poetry. Funnily enough, "Three Women" is not listed under "Three Women", but under "Poem for Three Voices."

If your local town or college library doesn't have it - no worries. Google does!

05 October 2009


If the article on "Sylvia Plath" in Alix Strauss' Death Becomes Them: Unearthing the Suicides of the Brilliant, the Famous, & the Notorious (Harper Collins, 2009) is typical of the others in the book, the general population that reads this work will, in the company of those who know something of the subject discussed, make fools of themselves.

There are some truly heinous mistakes in the Plath piece. I forced myself not to jump right to Plath and read with interest about Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, and Hunter S. Thompson. I looked forward to Anne Sexton after Plath. I admit I don't know much about the suicides of the other people in the book, but after the Plath chapter I was so completely turned off to the point that the book in my hand was replaced by chocolate.

There are far too many errors for me to try to correct here, but I'll just list a few because I cannot help myself. Before I continue, however, I do have to say that the book I received, kindly from Strauss' publicist, is an advanced, uncorrected proof. Some of these errors may have been corrected before the book was published. The copy of the book I browsed briefly in a Borders book store seemed to be very similar, textually speaking, to my proof copy. In writing this, I am reminded of something my mother always said to me: "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." I've always been a bit stubborn (comments to the blog on this point will be removed).

The format will follow my previous reviews that have warrented such scrutiny. I'll list the page number, the quote from the book, followed by the "correction" or some other snarky or potentially offensive comment.

Pg 57
"Born: October 27, 1932, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts." - Nope. Born in Boston, Massachusetts.

"Died: February 11, 1963, Court Green House, Devon England." - Nope. Plath died at 23 Fitzroy Road, London, England. Inconsistently, the location was correct later in the text.

"Discovered by: The nanny" - Nope. Myra Norris was a nurse not a nanny; and the construction person was a construction person. Inconsistently, Norris' occupation was correct later in the text.

"Funeral: Among the long list of eminent writers present at her funeral, close friend Anne Sexton gave a touching eulogy and talked openly about the two women's attraction to suicide." - Seriously? Is this fiction? This is grotesquely inaccurate and unintentionally laughable. The only eminent writer at her funeral was her husband.

At the risk of this review starting to look like Letters Home or The Journals of Sylvia Plath (1982), ... ... (omission) ... ...

Pg 61
"It took only a few months [following their wedding] for Ted to have an affair, with Assia Wevill..." - Nope. Way wrong.

"By 1960 Sylvia and Ted each had dueling books of poetry published..." - Not really. Scales were heavily in Hughes' favor.

Pg 62
"[At the time of her death Plath left] Ariel and Other Poems... on the table near the front door, like a present waiting to be opened." - No. The manuscript was in her study.

Pg 63
"...a folded towel acted as a substitute for a blanket, which she used to support her head on the stove's open door." - No. A report at the time of her death indicates that her head was deep in the oven.

Pg 64
"On February 15, friends and family piled into St. Pancras County Court..." - Not quite accurate.

"Shortly after Sylvia's funeral, her friend Elizabeth was sent a letter by Assia, now Ted's wife." - Nope. Ted Hughes never married Assia Wevill. He did refer to her in a letter as his "true wife" at one point, but as far as I know astrological or cosmic marriage is not a recognized form of marriage.

There is more, the following comments on inaccuracies and errors in the book are from Gail Crowther. I'd quote at length from Strauss' text but likely won't obtain permission to reprint the WHOLE THING.

p. 61 The order of the writing of the poems is just all wrong, wrong, wrong.

p. 62 SP moved to London with the "naivete of a child" - What??? Has Strauss never read her letters?

p. 62 I believe from other sources that Horder sent SP the name of a female psychiatrist who he thought would be suitable but that the letter arrived after her death.

p. 62 SP 'wrote several notes' the night of her suicide - Sources/Evidence for this claim?

p. 63 'tea soaked clothes' - This detail is not mentioned in the inquest notes or the recording of the inquest. They were simply described as clothes and tape.

p. 63 'as if finishing the botched job she began twenty years before' - 20 years after her first attempt? ... So she was 10 then the first time she tried??? You're reading "Lady Lazarus" too literally.

p. 63 Plath was on the National Health Service, thus pills were free. Thus, gas was more expensive than pills.

p. 63 SP died at 6am? I thought Horder claimed she was still warm at 10.30 and therefore he thought she had died around 8am?

p. 63 Trevor Thomas was neither unconscious nor taken to hospital. According to his account he woke groggy in the afternoon, went to work to apologise and Horder looked him over and told him he had been affected by the gas.

p. 63 The quote on SP's grave is not from the Bhagavad Gita but from the Buddhist text 'Monkey' by Wu Ch'Eng-En.

p. 65 Assia Wevill was not "expecting TH home" they had just got back from a trip to Manchester and they didn't live together anyway.

p. 66 Assia Wevill didn't use water to wash down her pills - it was orange juice for Shura and whisky for herself.

And, there is still more! I'd include them but don't want to appear to be too nit-picky.

Each article in Death Becomes Them includes an "Unearthed" section as well as other bits of information such as career highlights. The Unearthed section, I thought, would reveal something new about the Plath's death, but for Plath is was just a summary of or brief history of British suicides by coal gas. Like Plath when she visited her father's grave in Winthrop, I felt cheated. Following the main text on Plath, there is a section called "Two Wives, Same Method" - which of course is wrong from the start as, we know, Ted Hughes's second wife - at this time of writing - is still living. Thus also, Hughes could not have been Assia's fourth husband, as is claimed on page 66.

The section on Nicholas Hughes' suicide earlier this year is painful to read. I suppose Strauss couldn't help herself? Lastly, the Career Highlights is equally flawed. According this this, The Journals of Sylvia Plath won the Pulitzer Prize in 1982. No. That would be Plath's Collected Poems. The final sentence is off the mark, as well, "Today, two of her journals are on exhibition at Smith College, where they will remain until 2013, the year marking the fiftieth anniversary of her death." What I think she meant was that two journals were sealed until 2013; however, 11 years ago these were unsealed and were included in Karen V. Kukil's The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath published in 2000. The reliance on earlier Plath biographies is apparent.

Even a little carefully conducted research could have avoided 95% of these errors. It's really a shame that some bad facts just keep getting recycled by careless, clumsy, or otherwise lazy, presumably hasty writing. There is very little either new or interesting or unearthed about Plath or her suicide in this chapter - which is really, as a coworker of mine said, the only thing I care about. It is writing like this that pulls the focus clearly away from Plath's writing and wrongfully places it after her life. Perhaps I'm just over-deathed at the moment, having just finished a book about Jack the Ripper, but I found the work excessively and obsessively morbid. Alix Strauss' coverage of Sylvia Plath in Death Becomes Them is potentially one of the worst pieces of writing on Plath I've ever read. Big statement.

Stepping off the soapbox now.

I promise a positive review of something later this month.
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