27 September 2012

Sylvia Plath Slept Here

In August 1955, a few weeks before she left for Cambridge, England, Sylvia Plath travelled to Washington, D. C. to visit her friend Sue Weller. I was going through some of my older photographs of Plath places, and realized that this image was not on my website (part of the unofficial "Sylvia Plath Slept Here" series of photos) and not mentioned on this blog. Weller lived at 1514 26th St NW, which is about a 10 minute was from either DuPont Circle or Foggy Bottom (one of the greatest names for a public transport station ever, along with Dorking in England). It is a nice, quiet street which very nearly borders Rock Creek Parkway.

24 September 2012

Sylvia Plath Collections: ???

Last week I spent a day in a new archive that I was glad to say holds some Sylvia Plath archival materials. The exact collection and contents will be made known in "These Ghostly Archives 5: Subtitle to be Determined" that Gail Crowther and I plan to write this winter. But, because that is a long way off I thought at the least that I could post a preview image to maybe make you wonder about it. The image below is a cropped postmark from a letter Sylvia Plath sent to ...

18 September 2012

Sylvia Plath Collections: The New York Public Library

The New York Public Library has a couple divisions that hold Sylvia Plath manuscripts and related materials. In the Manuscripts and Archives division is The New Yorker records, which holds correspondence to, from, and about Plath. The Berg Collection holds a varied assortment of Plath materials, from juvenilia to late works. This post will merely summarize the holdings, and but to learn more, either visit the library yourself (recommended) or please see "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England" by Gail Crowther and myself, published in Plath Profiles 5 (Summer 2012) (also recommended).

New Yorker Records

The bulk of material on Plath is in Series III, Editorial Correspondence, subseries 3.3 Fiction Correspondence, 1952-1980, for the following years; 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1970, 1971, 1973, 1977. In the scope and content note, it explains that poetry correspondence is included in the fiction correspondence file. There are also some Plath related items in Legal & Financial Files (Series V, see Plath, Sylvia - Contractual Agreements, 1960-1963) and Manuscripts Run and Killed (Series VI, see 6.12, PLATH, Sylvia - “On Deck”: Run 7/22/1961).

The letters from Plath are really quite incredible and amazing. In "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England" I introduce and discuss this correspondence at some length. It is the first time that I am aware of that this correspondence has been used in a Plath-related article and it is my hope that writers/scholars better than me (which are let's admit most writers/scholars) will be able to make much better use and make more sense from it. In several of the "These Ghostly Archives" papers, Gail and I have discussed at length how powerful Plath's business correspondence is. Plath's business letters shows a different perspective on Plath: how driven, candid, and assured of herself that she was. I will be presenting on this topic at the Sylvia Plath 2012 Symposium in October (26 October: 9:30-9:55 in the Oak Room). The paper is titled "Sincerely Yours: Sylvia Plath and The New Yorker."

Berg Collection

The materials in the Berg collection used to be all "Uncataloged Manuscripts" but some of them have now been cataloged. The Berg holds:

Cartoon of a koala bear (Juvenilia)
Alphabet and birthday quatrain (Juvenilia)
Postcard to her grandmother (Feb 1956)
Trixie and the balloon (Story, Juvenilia)
Camping list (Juvenilia)
Pencil drawing of campsite (Juvenilia)
Winter and magic (Story, Juvenilia)
9 pencil tracings and drawings (Juvenilia)
Notebook of copied poetry (With "Activities and Awards" sheet)

"Brasilia" (With 2 other poems)
"Brasilia" (With 2 Bell Jar poems)

An additional copy of Ariel (Faber, 1965) complete with a thatch drip stain is now a part of the famous Berg Collection at the New York Public Library ("Signed note on flyleaf by Ted Hughes describes edge stains as 'thatch drip' from S. Plath's roof." The call number is: Berg Coll (Plath) 00-24). This copy was also written up in a 2010 New Yorker article by Ian Frazier called "Marginalia".)

Please visit my website A celebration, this is to see more archival repositories holding Sylvia Plath papers.

14 September 2012

Marcia Brown Stern, Sylvia Plath's Friend, Remembered

Bryan Marquard of The Boston Globe has published today "Marcia Stern, 79, Special Needs Teacher in Concord." The lead paragraph online is: "Perhaps because she was an only child of parents who often were distant or difficult, Marty Stern became devoted to children. She adopted three, was stepmother to four more, and taught children with developmental delays and autism. Mrs. Stern, who lived in Concord and had been a college roommate of the poet Sylvia Plath, was an advocate for Chapter 766, the Massachusetts law guaranteeing education programs best suited for those with special needs, and a champion of early intervention."

Access online right now is restricted to Globe subscribers, but the article should be in the print edition (will update with that information when I have it). There will be a public memorial for Marcia Brown Stern tomorrow in Concord.

Update: The obituary for Marcia Stern appears in the Metro section, page B-11.

Rest in Peace.

10 September 2012

Sylvia Plath's The Shadow

Sylvia Plath's story "The Shadow," written in 1959, recounts Sadie Shafer's leg biting incident from "the winter the war began" (Johnny Panic, Harper & Row, 1979: 143). Plath's Unabridged Journals record that on 7 January 1959 she was "finished, almost" with the story (457). On 31 May she considered it - of the six most recent stories she had written - one of the top three (486). However, by 15 June 1959, Plath thought that "The Shadow" "reads might thin, mighty pale" (496). She failed to publish the story, sending it in on 1 September 1959, along with "The Wishing Box" and "The Daughters of Blossom Street" to London Magazine (which accepted only "The Daughters of Blossom Street" on 13 November 1959 and printed it in their May 1960 issue).

There is little chance London Magazine was the only periodical to which Plath submitted this story. The Submissions List Plath maintained is now held by Smith College and begins with September 1959 (coinciding with her stint at Yaddo) and continues through early 1963. The earlier submissions list - if it exists at all - is possibly in her papers held at the Lilly (I know of one such list in her papers at Lilly but dates to earlier submissions).

Familiar with Plath's submissions process, we can be certain she sent the story as well at a minimum to The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly, and quite possibly also New World Writing. In reviewing The New Yorker records held at the New York Public Library, there is correspondence confirming that Plath submitted the story to The New Yorker. In a letter to William Maxwell dated 22 May 1959, Plath submitted both "Sweetie Pie and the Gutter Men" and "The Shadow." Ultimately, The New Yorker passed on both stories, in a letter to her from Maxwell dated 17 June. It makes her rejection of the story in her journal entry on 15 June eerily omniscient. In the rejection letter, Maxwell invites Plath to meet in person to discuss stories with him, and praises her as clearly being able to write...

Anyway, stepping back... on 12 December 1958, Plath began both seeing Dr. Ruth Beuscher and keeping very detailed notes on the topics they discussed. These journals were originally sealed until 11 February 2013 when Plath's papers were sold to Smith College, but were unsealed by Ted Hughes in 1998 shortly before his death. (You can read a little bit about the unsealing process and see images of the envelopes that contained the journals by reading my essay "This is a Celebration: A Festschrift for The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath" which was published in Plath Profiles 3 Supplement).

In brief, "The Shadow" can be summed up as: Sadie Shafer was over at her Maureen Kelly's house and ended up biting Maureen's brother Leroy in the leg because she didn't like to be tickled (he was sitting on her stomach and Maureen thus has easy access to tickle her). The neighborhood then rallies against the Shafer's, deciding that her behavior can be linked to the fact that Sadie's father is German and he does not attend church. The Shafer's in general are shunned in a classically intolerant style such as not being asked to coffee and not being sent the traditional, annual fruit cake (given the lore on fruitcake this is likely a blessing in disguise: Oh, SP, you missed a good chance for humor there!)... Though the adult's behaved rather immaturely, the children - Sadie, Maureen, and Leroy - made up in a short amount of time and continued on in the blissful way that only children can. The story ends with Sadie's father being sent to a German detention camp and Sadie declaring that she does not believe in God.

Plath's journals from this period (December 1958 and 1959) are jam-packed with psychological pressings and and probings. They represent a different kind of journalistic writing than previously captured and if they indicate anything about which we might have expected to read in her later journals, we are certainly left wanting and are devoid of a valuable literature and resource.

On 16 December 1958, Plath comments that she is "happier" than she had been "for six months" (441). This comes directly, it seems, from Beuscher's giving Plath two things: "permission to hate" her mother and "permission to be happy" (441). I have in the past sounded off a bit about Plath's therapy with Beuscher and I basically stand by the opinions presented then. In light of this, and in light of the time of its creation, what is going on in "The Shadow"? It is a largely ignored story - as is much of Plath's fiction/prose - but it is, if you read it, a rather whacked out (official, technico-clinical term) transference and revisioning of her father's death. What happens to her Sadie's father in the story is based partially on Gordon Lameyer's father's experiences. Paul Lameyer was displaced during the war. Plath wrote to Gordon Lameyer in 1959 in a letter that has not survived asking for information on his father's displacement "for an article" she was writing. Lameyer wrote back on May 21, 1959 and details his father's encampment, his professed "pro-German leanings" which lead to his removal from Wellesley. In 1943, his case came up but the F.B.I. had no case against him.

Otto Plath, himself, was investigated by the F.B.I. in October 1918 and was deemed ultimately not to be a threat. The investigating person concluded: "I could not find any further evidence against this man, and as he seems to be a man who makes no friends, and with whom no one is really well acquainted, was not able to locate anyone knowing him intimately." Whether or not Sylvia Plath had knowledge of this investigation is not known, though some of her journal entries indicate that she just might have - see the "heiled Hitler" comment on page: 430. Those interested in Otto Plath, his ancestry, and his FBI files are encouraged to attend Heather Clark's talk at the Sylvia Plath 2012 Symposium.) In Gordon Lameyer's comments regarding Plath and his own father's experiences during World War II, there is nothing to indicate that Plath knew of her other father's dealings with the F.B.I.

Plath's own authorial commentary on "The Shadow" are captured in her Journals. On 31 December 1958, Plath writes, "Have been working on the Leroy-biting story" (453). Plath laments that the story must have just one theme, which she states is "the awareness of a complicated guilt system" in which Germans in a Catholic/Jewish community are scapegoats for the pain that German Jews are made to feel by god-less Germans (453). The child Sadie struggles to comprehend the "larger framework" at play and how her actions might have led to her father's deportation.

Very long story short...Part of Sadie's routine with her friends was to listen to the radio show "The Shadow" which began with a series of ominous laughs "Heh-heh-heh-heh-heh"'s and the words, "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!" and ended with "The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay. The Shadow knows!" Plath recalls this in the story (pages 147-148). Thanks to the wonders of the internet, and to Plath's 1959 story, we can listen to the intro and the farewell message of "The Shadow" as Plath herself did. The following clips are from circa 1937-1938, when Plath was living in Winthrop, when the seeds of this story were planted...

06 September 2012

Paul Mitchell's Sylvia Plath: The Poetry of Negativity

There is no need to make reading poetry more difficult than it may already be. Paul Mitchell does this in his 2011 book Sylvia Plath: The Poetry of Negativity. If ever there was a book that made me relish the writing being critiqued, it is Mitchell's with its excessively intricate obtuseness. It is not completely his fault; for through his application of Kristevan theories of the poetics of language (and my own imbecility), completely accessible writing such as Plath's is made unreadable. In fact unrecognizable.

The "Introduction" and first chapter lulled me into a false sense of complacency. The second chapter, which introduces the theories of Julia Kristeva quickly turned me off. In the Introduction and first chapter Mitchell offers a fairly comprehensive review of Plath scholarship from the 1960s and 1970s through the very present: 2011 in fact. These are very worthwhile reads though the tone of the writing is quite pompous.

In the second chapter, it was this set of sentences that made me shut the book for good:

"All of these concerns may be understood in terms of the thetic - the constitution of the subject through symbolic stratification (maternal repression, the imposition of the signifier-signified dyad and logico-semantic articulation) against its destruction by the irruption of semiotic drives, psychosis and fusion with the phallic mother; and these are enacted at every level of the text's intra-linguistic nexus (semantic, lexical, syntactic and phonological)."

Oh wait: that was one sentence, not a set of sentences. This kind of writing should be illegal. In the margin I bracketed this sentence with three letters and a mark of punctuation: WTF?

I did not finish the book and am disappointed that the writing was not good, clear writing. What's up with that cover? Seriously? Makes S. V. look good!

03 September 2012

Two new Kindle books about Sylvia Plath

There are two books about Sylvia Plath that are now available on Amazon Kindle:

Elaine Connell's wonderful study Sylvia Plath: Killing the Angel in the House. US | UK. Elaine as we all know is the late founder and moderator of the irreplaceable Sylvia Plath Forum,

Raihan Raza's The Poetic Art of Sylvia Plath: A Critical Study of Themes and Techniques. US | UK.
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