26 August 2011

Sylvia Plath on hurricanes...

As Hurricane Irene aims for Massachusetts and much of the east coast of the US, the New Yorker's Book Bench posted some good hurricane reads, including as you might hope, Sylvia Plath's "Ocean 1212-W." Unfortunately for the blogger, Macy Halford, she seems to have relied on the dating of "Ocean 1212-W" to what is printed in Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams...she should have read through some of the articles I co-wrote with Gail Crowther (in particular, "These Ghostly Archives" | These Ghostly Archives, Redux") to get it correct that the prose piece was not written until late January 1963 (sent to the BBC on 28 January 1963).

I wish she would have mentioned "The Disquieting Muses," too...

"In the hurricane, when father's twelve
Study windows bellied in
Like bubbles about to break, you fed
My brother and me cookies and Ovaltine
And helped the two of us to choir:
"Thor is angry: boom boom boom!
Thor is angry: we don't care!"
But those ladies broke the panes."

And also, "Point Shirley"...

22 August 2011

Did you know...Tulips on display

Fifty years ago today, on August 22, 1961, Sylvia Plath sent her friend Jack Sweeney, then curator of the Woodberry Poetry Room, a letter and enclosed the worksheets/drafts of her poem "Tulips."

Did you know that shortly thereafter - about two months - Sweeney put the poem on display at the Woodberry Poetry Room?

The first notice of the exhibit appears in the "Metropolitan Boston Calendar: A Guide to This Week's Events" in the Boston Globe on October 29, 1961, on page 74. The notice reads, "A manuscript poem ("Tulips") on display at Lamont Library."

Additional notices about the exhibit ran on November 5 (page 67); November 12 (page 65); and December 10 (page 83), of the editions I browsed via microfilm at the Boston Public Library.

The worksheets and letter are now held by the Houghton Library (which oversees the Woodberry Poetry Room) and can be requested for research. It is one of only a few of the Ariel poems not held by Smith College. For more information please see this earlier blog post or visit the Archival Materials page of my website to see a list of locations holding Plath materials.

21 August 2011

Representing Sylvia Plath Published

Cambridge University Press has published Representing Sylvia Plath, edited by Tracy Brain and Sally Bayley. The book is now available in the UK and will be available in the USA in September, though you may be able to order from CUP now...

To order the book through Cambridge University Press, click here. The retail price is £50.00, which is substantial but I suspect work every penny or pence. Other metadata include:
  • ISBN: 9781107006751
  • Publication date: August 2011
  • 264 pages
  • 22 b/w illus.
  • Dimensions: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.56 kg
The books contents include:
Introduction: 'Purdah' and the enigma of representation by Sally Bayley and Tracy Brain

Part I. Contexts:
1. 'Mailed into space': on Sylvia Plath's letters by Jonathan Ellis
2. 'The photographic chamber of the eye': Plath photography, and the post-confessional muse by Anita Helle
3. 'O the tangles of that old bed': fantasies of incest and the 'Daddy' narrative in Ariel by Lynda K. Bundtzen
4. Plath and torture: cultural contexts for Plath's imagery of the Holocaust by Steven Gould Axelrod

Part II. Poetics and Composition:
5. 'The trees of the mind are black, the light is blue': sublime encounters in Sylvia Plath's tree poems by Sally Bayley
6. Coming to terms with colour: Plath's visual aesthetic by Laure de Nervaux-Gavoty
7. Madonna (of the refrigerator): mapping Sylvia Plath's double in 'The Babysitters' drafts by Kathleen Connors
8. 'Procrustean identity': Sylvia Plath's women's magazine fiction by Luke Ferretter

Part III. Representation:
9. Confession, contrition, and concealment: evoking Plath in Ted Hughes's 'Howls and Whispers' by Lynda K. Bundtzen
10. Fictionalising Sylvia Plath by Tracy Brain
11. Primary representations: three artists respond to Sylvia Plath
Adolescent Plath – 'the girl who would be God' Suzie Hanna
Bodily imprints: a choreographic response to Sylvia Plath's Poppy Poems Kate Flatt (with Sally Bayley)
Stella Vine's peanut crunching Plath Sally Bayley

Looks good! 

19 August 2011

Event Reminder: Julia Gordon-Bramer on Sylvia Plath's "Daddy"

In June I posted this, but thought it might be nice to remind you of an event next week in Illinois...


For release: Immediately
For more information, call:
Jenna Todoroff (618-239-6043) or email: jtodoroff@lindenwood.edu

"Re-Interpreting Sylvia Plath's poem, "Daddy" as a tale of Freud, King Brutus, and Conrad's Heart of Darkness"

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Lindenwood University, Belleville, Illinois

5:00 – 6:00 pm. Free and open to the public.

Sylvia Plath's most famous poem, "Daddy", has been interpreted as an Electra complex gone mad for almost fifty years. Plath scholar Julia Gordon-Bramer will present on how she found the real—and quite obvious-- meanings behind "Daddy", as well as the mystical structure upon which this, and every poem in Ariel, is based—opening up exciting new interpretations for all of Plath’s work.

While not essential, attendees are encouraged to bring a copy of Ariel: The Restored Edition (HarperPerennial, 2004), should they want to read along.

Julia Gordon-Bramer is a published and award-winning writer, poet, and professional tarot card reader. She is nearing completion of her book, Fixed Stars Govern A Life: reinterpreting the work of Sylvia Plath through the lens of tarot and mysticism. Gordon-Bramer’s work on Plath appears or is forthcoming in Indiana University NW’s Plath Profiles 3 & 4, the Left Bank Review, and Fat Gold Watch. She teaches World Literature and Humanities at Lindenwood University.

This and all colloquia at Lindenwood are free and open to the public.

Room M205 is located in the main building of the Lindenwood-Belleville campus, directly behind the Lindenwood sign.

For more information, contact Jenna Todoroff, Graduate Assistant, at (618-239-6043) or jtodoroff@lindenwood.edu.

14 August 2011

100 % Esther Greenwood

On Saturday, Gail Crowther, who is visiting from England, and I did a little tour of Winthrop, Nahant, and Swampscott to see Plath's North Shore. While on the beach at Nahant, we decided to conduct a bit of an archaeological dig to try to make and discover a bit of history...

For those interested, please re-read the first bit of Chapter Thirteen of The Bell Jar, and then view the following...

For more Sylvia Plath Info Videos, see the YouTube page.

08 August 2011

Plath's Bell Jar at 40 in the US

Emily Gould over at the Poetry Foundation has recently published "The Bell Jar at 40." Of course this being 2011, it is the 40th anniversary of The Bell Jar's publication in America, an anniversary which previously escaped my cognizance.

Although you didn't ask, I do not care much for the article's subtitle: "Plath's YA novel reaches middle age." Perhaps for obvious reasons? YA (Young Adult) has a different meaning to me than perhaps Gould intended? Novel about a young adult, yes, but I feel the content and themes of The Bell Jar are adult. Maybe I don't give enough credit to its youngest readers...who I do recognize can be quite young. The article itself is good; though be wary of the handful, or more, of instances of careless biographic and/or bibliographic reporting. A couple of points below should maybe clarify some of these, just in case her readers want the truth or a fuller version/a different perspective represented by some of her reporting- and some of this as you might expect will be particular as assumes you've read the whole article...

The Bell Jar was published in the United States largely to avoid the novel's being pirated due to its copyright in England expiring. The novel was copyrighted to Plath (well, Victoria Lucas) & after Plath's death, to her estate, for eight years and the decision to publish was largely to ensure that her Estate (i.e. her children) should not lose any money. There is ample correspondence at Smith College to corroborate this. The purchasing a house aspect Gould relates is only part of the story and serves I think to chastise Hughes' behavior or intentions when in fact his motivations may have actually been concerned with his family. So, it isn't simply a case of Hughes "ignoring" Aurelia Plath's wishes that the novel not be published in America; rather its publication appears to me to actually be the lesser of all the evils. From all accounts, it appears that Plathian publication decisions by Hughes generally were made to favor their children.

Plath, in 1953, spent most of the month of June in NYC, not three months.

Part of Plath's disappointment with her guest editorship was because she was given or assigned the position of Guest Managing editor, rather than say the Fiction Editor. This is a high honor, I suspect, but Plath more likely wanted to be with the literary types, rather than "management." A comment to this respect by Esther Greenwood in the nove reflect this: "Fashion blurbs, silver and full of nothing, sent up their fishy bubbles in my brain. They surfaced with a hollow pop" (110).

It's McLean, not Maclean.

The entire novel has "fictional frills and timeline-rearrangements," not just the chapters dealing with "her breakdown, suicide attempt, and hospitalization and recovery." Coming from me this may be surprising but one must be careful when writing about Sylvia Plath and Esther Greenwood; one must be careful not to overly relate the writer and her creation. There are many instances where similar, real-life experiences took place but it is not one-to-one. For example, by all reports Plath could cook quite well, whereas Esther Greenwood lists the ability to cook as something she could not do...

Esther loses her virginity not to a "Harvard professor" but to a professor of mathematics from an unnamed educational institution using Harvard’s library.

Gould has a good discussion of "Tulips" and "In Plaster," both of which were written at approximately the same time that Plath started writing The Bell Jar. And I like especially the comparisons between the novel and "In Plaster" at the end of the essay very much. But suggesting that Plath's poetic development took it's dramatic leap in 1961 shortens the achievements and improvements she began seeing poetically beginning in 1959, particularly with the poems composed at Yaddo, as arguably those poems (individually and as a whole) had a greater effect on Plath's development and confidence than just the two poems. And I think that even though I agree with Gould for pointing out Hughes' comment on the creation of "Tulips" and "In Plaster," I believe he would have agreed with me on this. In his "The Chronological Order Sylvia Plath's Poems," Hughes writes,

"The weeks spent at Yaddo – with only three or four other residents – completed the poems in The Colossus. It was, in several ways, the culmination of the first part of her life. For three months, while seeing the States, she had not touched verse. Her first child would be born six months later ... In those weeks, she changed at great speed and with steady effort" (Newman 191)

My somewhat belabored point being that without Yaddo and the experience of the creative breakthrough of poems such as "Mushrooms," "The Colossus," "Poem for a Birthday," etc. we should feel comfortable suggesting Plath's potential as a poet grew by leaps and bounds (like the comet of "The Night Dances" she had "such space to cross" - and crossed it) and set her on the trajectory towards "the red / Eye, the cauldron of morning" (Ariel 27, 37) Perhaps in reducing the length of time in which Plath's genius took shape, Gould seeks to make the achievement that is Ariel seem much more remarkable? That of course is her prerogative but I do feel that the poems written from late 1959 to early 1961 exhibit sparks of Ariel.

One thing I find frustrating about articles such as this are the lack of references and citations. This isn't a criticism of Gould, just a general observation.

The trip to Ireland indeed didn't heal the couple, but they did not return together as Gould suggests. Anyone really familiar with Plath's story would know that Hughes left Plath in Ireland and traveled to Spain with Assia Wevill. Please see Koren and Negev estimable biography of Wevill, Lover of Unreason, for coverage on this.

Of course there is more but I don't want to seem petty. I apologize to you, Emily Gould. It was a very good article and so the apology comes from the fact that due to my level of involvement with things Plathian and my absolute love of The Bell Jar, I was unable to read the piece with anything less than an obnoxiously focused, yet distractible, sensitive and critical eye.

01 August 2011

The secret (has been) out

Back in January I mentioned that Carmela Ciuraru's Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms (ISBN: 9780061735264) was to be published in June. It was and now suddenly it is August.

Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms "includes a series of brief biographical explorations of the secretive writers behind some of history's most famous and enduring pseudonyms."

The chapter on Plath covers pages 180-193. Each chapter features a quirky kind of teaser in a decorative font, Plath's being "She found sexual satisfaction in picking her nose" (180). What this has to do with her pseudonym is beyond me and kind of made me nervous to read the chapter! So too did the use of the familial "Sylvia" in the text and generalizing statements like "Plath's biography is familiar to just about every English literature student, reader of contemporary poetry, and suicidal teenager" (182). Adding to my apprehension was a sentence that kind of make no sense: "She was toxic because she was so seductive, and seductive because she was so toxic" (182). WTFDTEM? (What the f--- does that even mean)

The material dealing with the pseudonym and The Bell Jar is almost minimal. And as for it being "a (secret) history" of Plath's pseudonym: non-existent. On the whole I suppose it is a passable review of Plath's life and some of the real events portrayed fictionally in the novel. However, there was not any new information for me (and yes, I did expect something). Was Plath secretive about her novel? Maybe kind of, but not really. She refers to the novel in several letters home and in correspondence to friends. The award of a Saxton grant to write the novel appeared in newspapers such as the New York Times (21 Nov 1961) and Boston Globe (17 December 1961). She is elusive about the subject of the novel, yes. She published under a pseudonym, yes. She was dismissive of it, calling it a pot-boiler; but Plath was generally dismissive about any of her writing more then a few months old. But she is not technically secretive. Maybe it is a questions of semantics...

But what I did expect from Ciuraru's chapter on Plath was something critical, illuminating, and sharp. Something interesting! Something that would be a revelation: a secret uncovered. Instead, chronology was often disregarded: "...as her children lay sleeping, she sealed off the door to their bedroom with wet towels and opened their window wide" (190). And, there was just enough:

cliche: "She was living in a dreary London flat" (189);

hyperbole: "There was no telephone and electricity was intermittent" (189) & "As usual, Aurelia made everything about her..." (192), and;

bad metaphor: "'The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt,' Plath was once wrote, but when it did creep in, she pounded it like a Whac-a-Mole..." (184)

to make the chapter forgettable.

I am adding this book to a growing number of titles that will appear in the soon-to-be-released arcade game "Whac-a-Plath-Book-That-Sucks."

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