25 June 2010

Video Post: The Bell Jar

This video captures a scene from Chapter 11 of The Bell Jar. In the scene, Esther Greenwood sits on a bench in Boston Public Garden.

See all my videos on YouTube

22 June 2010

Ted Hughes Archive at British Library

Helen Broderick has just posted that the Ted Hughes archive is now open for research and consultation at the British Library. This means that drafts of Birthday Letters and so much more can be scrutinized; which should allow for further assessment of Hughes' poetic relationship with Plath.

Following the progress of the processing of this collection has been very rewarding, no? I do hope more archives do this (and not just the Plath or Hughes ones...I'm an equal-opportunity archivist/archives enthusiast).

Thank you Helen!

21 June 2010

Two Cork Dolls

In October 1961, Sylvia Plath wrote the poem "The Babysitters." In it, she recalls her summer experience from 1951, being a live-in nanny for a well-to-do family in Swampscott, Massachusetts. Swampscott is a short drive from Winthrop. She did this with her great friend Marcia Brown, who nannied for a family a few houses away.

Plath's journals from the summer of 1951 are wonderful reading, you can see Plath's identity developing, the creation of her self, the creation of an author. I have a few pictures of relevant Swampscott locales on my website (though not numbered, please see the 13th-17th photographs). The poem and some of the journal entries work together. For example, in the poem Plath writes, "I remember you playing 'Ja-Da' in a pink piqué dress / On the game-room piano, when the 'big people' were out, / And the maid smoked and shot pool under a green shaded lamp" (Collected Poems 175). In the Journals, entry 96 reads:

"Under the greenshaded lights, Elaine, still in her white maids uniform, was playing pool. Her face was read and shiny as she leaned over the table, trying for a long shot.

"Marcia slouched over the piano, her tan a golden brown against her blue sweater, banging out a jazzy version of 'Ja-Da'." (Unabridged Journals 78-79)

In my previous post, I made reference to Plath's proclivity for eerie harbingers. Her powers or prowess for clairvoyance has been noted. Even in her Journals, Plath discusses a desire to hone her skills. On February 9, 1958, Plath wrote "Maybe I should stay alone, unparalysed, & work myself into mystic & clairvoyant trances..." (Unabridged Journals 327). It does seem to be something she believed possible.

Anyway, in "The Babysitters" was Plath at it again? The poem is about a memory with her friend Marcia Brown; who at that time in 1961 was Marcia Plumer (Plath was a bridesmaid in Marcia's June 15, 1954 wedding in Hanover, NH). In the poem Plath situates Marcia on their rented boat: "You read / Aloud cross-legged on the stern seat, from the Generation of Vipers" (Collected Poems 175). The clairvoyance is in that line, for Marcia went on to marry a man whose last name was Stern.

The drafts for "The Babysitters" are held in Plath mss at the Lilly Library. It appears to be the last dated poem she wrote before selling her "scraps" to them via London book dealer Ifan Kyrle Fletcher. See Jacqueline Rose's The Haunting of Sylvia Plath for more on "The Babysitters" and Generation of Vipers. And much more, of course.

16 June 2010

Speaking This Promise: Bloomsday

Sylvia Plath wrote "Wreath of a Bridal" over two days, 17-18 May 1956, about a month before her marriage to Hughes. Undated in her Collected Poems, it is placed near some of her honeymoon poems such as "Alicante Lullaby" and "Fiesta Melons." Aside from it being referenced in "The Couriers," "Daddy," and a few other poems, "Wreath for a Bridal" is, I think, one of the only poems Plath wrote on her wedding. A companion piece would be Ted Hughes' "A Pink Wool Knitted Dress" from his 1998 Birthday Letters, which begins, "In your pink wool knitted dress / Before anything had smudged anything / You stood at the altar. Bloomsday."

Today is Bloomsday, it was on this day 54 years ago that Plath and Hughes spoke the promise and were wed. The altar is pictured here.

Which poem is "better"? I don't know. Do I/we have to pick one? I think Hughes' is more approachable and certainly less restrictive. But it's supposed to be biographical, if you will, and its retrospective lens does answer to Plath's contemporarily written poem. Plath's rhyme scheme and technical approach is simply something at which to sit back and marvel. In a eerie harbinger that is something we have grown accustomed to in Plath, after "speaking this promise" Plath and Hughes left the altar, left the church, left the city and left the country, and from step to step they pressed forward, in order that "each step hence go famous."

The poem "Wreath for a Bridal" first appeared in Poetry magazine, in January 1957, along with "Dream with Clam-Digger," "Strumpet Song," "Metamorphosis," "Two Sisters of Persephone," and "Epitaph for Fire and Flower" (see cover image of this issue here). These were her first poems in this venerable serial. But, more on Poetry in a subsequent post.

In 1970, the Sceptre Press in Surrey, England, published the single poem Wreath for a Bridal in a limited edition of 100 numbered copies (see image of cover here). If you have a couple of hundred dollars lying about (cause who doesn't, right?) you can own one of these. There are presently four copies for sale via ABEbooks. If this is outside of your means, by all means visit one of the 50 or so libraries that hold copies, according to WorldCat.

14 June 2010

Plath Profiles on Facebook and more...


  • Plath Profiles, which I'm sure you are all aware of and familiar with, is now represented on Facebook.

    For those also a fan of Sylvia Plath, someone set up an individual Plath page, too. Her husband's is here.

    The Plath Profiles website is still the place to go for information regarding submissions, deadlines, the issues, etc. In addition to information posted on the website, it'll be cross-posted here by me as well as on Facebook.

  • Plath Profiles was recently issued an International Standard Serial Numbers (ISSN) by the Library of Congress. The ISSN number is 2155-8175. Read the advantages of having and ISSN here.

12 June 2010

Two More Things...

  • For those in the Asheville, North Carolina area look for Wish I Had a Sylvia Plath at the Asheville Community Theatre's 35below, located at 35 E. Walnut St. Show time is 7:30 p.m., Thursday-Saturday, July 1-17, Tickets are $15.

    Wish I Had a Sylvia Plath
    stars Elisabeth Gray and is "a multimedia tragicomedy about suicide, with talking ovens, cooking shows and poetry." (source) It was performed at the Sylvia Plath 75th Year Symposium at Oxford back in October 2007 (review).

    I've heard that Wish I Had a Sylvia Plath is going to be Off Broadway in New York City later this year. More details as they become available.

  • In May, I posted that the book collector's magazine Firsts featured articles on Plath and Olive Higgins Prouty. I received a copy pretty quickly. It contains a long biography of Plath under the title "What's the Deal About Sylvia Plath." It's heavily indebted to the likes of Paul Alexander and a few others. I understand it can't be printed in color due to cost (I imagine), but the illustrations and article in general would have been so much more attractive and I could have then completely overlooked the fact that the biography was so heavily indebted to Alexander. And of course there are silly inconsistencies such as the writer's claim that Ariel was first published by Heinemann on page 29. The silly factor comes just after you turn to page 30 to the price guide where it lists Faber, correctly, as the publisher. There are other things I'm sure but I'm trying to be less snarky. Unless y'all like that kind of thing, in which case I'll bring on the snark...

    coverage of Plath caps off with a mini-price guide to first and limited editions by Plath, as well as a few biographies, memories and related books. The price guide is a little disappointing, so if others out there are interested in collecting, or determining what's worth what, consider the Sylvia Plath Author Price Guide put out by Quill & Brush. While essentially a bibliography with prices, it's far more complete. Of course the other way to obtain the prices of rare or limited edition Plath books is to go to ABEbooks.com, type in your information and sort by highest price.

08 June 2010

Two Things

Thing the First: Recently I found on eBay a book titled The Ghosts of Anne & Sylvia by Amber LaParne and Jasmine Paul published way back in 2008. It appears to be in that shady genre of poetry inspired by... I do like the cover and the association it has with their drinking time at the Ritz in Boston. Copies are also on sale via Amazon.

Thing the Second: A student from North Carolina is blogging his way through Boston & Smith College. Please* read Zack Rearick's adventures from the archives. Day 1. Day 2. Port City Poets Blog Home page.

*Disclaimer: He says nice things about this blog.

05 June 2010

Links, reviews, etc. - Week ending 5 June 2010

This blog post kind of got away from me. If it's as nasty outside where you live as it is where I live, then maybe that's ok...

  • Val Hennessey at the Daily Mail reviews Lesley McDowell's Between the Sheets in "Clever Girls with Terrible Taste in Men." I read the book over the winter and found it lacking. Plath didn't belong in with the rest of the women for one reason: she didn't put up with Ted Hughes's infidelity. All the other relationships in the book were sadly portrayed and I kept screaming at the book "Leave the bastard!" These men, whether they or I knew it or not, taught me everything I need to know about relationships. The stories were repetitive and far too similar, and did not do much to make me interested in the lives or the writings of those featured. It was too the point that I dreaded reading the Plath chapter, which is the last chapter. But it read far better than I expected. This disappointment with the book in general warranted no big, critical because-you-might-have-messed-up-the-facts review.

  • Some of you may be looking forward to Plath Profiles 3. Well, we are in production. Just waiting for final revisions from accepted papers and a few other administrative things. It's shaping up nicely. The table of contents are set. The cover will knock your sandles off (it is summer, who wears socks in summer?)... Having seen everything, I can safely say the essays, poetry, artwork, and review are spectacular, transformative. At the risk of not fulfilling a promise, I cannot not say now when it is going online. But I hope it will be in July, rather than August.

    I don't feel comfortable writing about other peoples publications in Plath Profiles in advance (though I would be happy, if any of this blogs readers want to post an abstract, to do just that), but I would like to mention one of my two here. And here's why. I check the statistics on this blog and the website religiously. It helps to fix stale content or develop new content if I keep noticing people hitting the site with keywords and search words that may not be fully respresented. Over the last few weeks I've noticed a lot of traffic hitting the website with people looking for information on Plath's first suicide attempt in August 1953. I cannot confess that my paper "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath" will answer all your questions, but it is on that very subject: Plath's first suicide attempt, the newspaper articles, and Plath's re-use of some of the experience in The Bell Jar.

  • Things seem to be on schedule for a July publication of Luke Ferretter's eagerly anticipated Sylvia Plath's Fiction: A Critical Study. This is, like Heather Clark's forthcoming OUP title, a very expensive book but one that is long overdue. Ferretter is perfectly equiped to examine this aspect of Plath's work and I lose sleep waiting for it to be released.

  • In today's Boston Globe, Mark Feeney writes on "'Union Dead' reckoning." The article only mentions Plath as a writer in residence in Boston along with many others. However, that it is the golden anniversary of Lowell's reading this famous poem got me thinking that over the next three years it will be many golden anniversaries for Plath. Some of the bigger ones: This year was the birth of a daughter. Next year will be the writing of The Bell Jar. 2012 of the Ariel poems. And 2013, well...

  • This blog, just over three years old, is rapidly approaching its 500th post. Later on this month I expect to reach that milestone and I've got something up my sleeve for you to celebrate.

02 June 2010

Sylvia Plath Collections: Papers of Mary Ellen S. Capek

Among other wonders, the Schlesinger Library holds the Papers of Mary Ellen S. Capek, 1963-1972 (call number: Schlesinger A/C2379; T-356).

The collection consists of one folder and contains Capek's correspondence with Ted Hughes, James Merrill and others about her research on Plath. Also included is an audiotape of an interview with Plath and her reading of a selection of her poems, mostly from Ariel, probably recorded on October 30, 1962; the original is held by the British Council.

The letters date from 1968, when Capek (then Mary Ellen Stagg) was working on her thesis. Most of the correspondence surrounds her attempts to find out if there were access to unpublished poems and manscripts. With the release in 1971 of The Bell Jar, Crossing the Water and Winter Trees (in 1972), the correspondence increased as Capek (as Capek) attempted to find out how the 1965/1966 Ariel differed from Plath's original intentions (based on Hughes' "Note" in Winter Trees that "[t]he poems in this volume are all out of the batch from which the Ariel poems were more or less arbitrarily chosen...".* Capek's enquiries were not answered, likely, to her dissatisfaction.

In addition to Ted Hughes and James Merrill, Capek corresponded with Olwyn Hughes and A. Alvarez. There are no Plath original documents in this collection.

The Schlesigner Library is located at:
Radcliffe Institute
10 Garden Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
Telephone: 617-495-8647
Fax: 617-496-8340
E-mail: slref@radcliffe.edu

*Hughes' comment is different in the Faber and Harper editions of Winter Trees. In the Faber edition, he says the poems were all written in the last nine months of Plath's life. In the Harper edition, the poems were written in the last year of Plath's life.
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