31 October 2012

Sylvia Plath 2012 Symposium Photo Dump

In working through the photographs and files from the week in Bloomington, I have found the following that I thought others might like to see (primarily those who were not present, but also those who were because there is never enough).

The first three are from the IU Art Gallery and features some of the works by Kristina Zimbakova and Linda Adele Goodine.

The next are all from the "Transitions" exhibit in the Lilly Library.

As we leave October behind, it can only be described as memorable. Tomorrow we will have a guest post by Julia Gordon-Bramer on her experience in the archive. If you, dear reader, are so inspired to write something about your own experience with the archive: this is an open call for a guest post to get your impressions, which are as unique as snowflakes.

28 October 2012

Sylvia Plath Symposium Panel Reviews by Lauren Benard

The following are reviews of Panels 2 and 9 by Lauren Benard, author of Plath Profiles 4 essay "Taking on a Mourning Her Mother Never Bothered With: Esther's Anguished Memory and Her Resistance to a Domestic Life in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar". Thank you, Lauren, for these reviews, I know I am not the only one who appreciates it.

Panel 2: The Bell Jar

Peter K. Steinberg (the man behind the Sylvia Plath Info curtain) spoke on “Sylvia Plath: Palimpsestic Writer in The Bell Jar.” Steinberg opened by stating how Plath and Hughes often overwrote each other; however, rather than only focusing on the lexical connections between their works, it is important to understand her own influence on her writing. It is important to read her writing for her own intertextuality. The Bell Jar entrapped Plath as much as it worked for her as an enabling device. After the novel was published she better expressed her anguish. He shares that there are more than twenty similarities between “Tongues of Stone” and The Bell Jar. In fact, many of her journal entries and poems resurface in the novel. In a way she was a “self-plagiarist.” Steinberg focused on poems such as (but not limited to): “Two Views of a Cadaver Room,” “The Babysitters,” “The Moon and Yew Tree,” and “Stopped Dead” and their influence within the novel. One example was that of the moment in The Bell Jar when Esther attempts to drown herself, but “each time popped up like a cork,” which also appears in “The Babysitters” with the dolls described as “two cork dolls.” Also, in The Bell Jar, Elaine (one of Plath’s selves) illustrates “drops of sweat dripped down her back one by one like small insects” in her story. Steinberg eagerly researched where else Plath had used this phrase and discovered the moment in “Tongues of Stone” when Plath writes “[t]ears crawling like slow insects down her cheeks.” The paper was delivered with light humor and eloquence. His talk came to a close by unfolding the idea that: Plath’s connections -- through sweat, tears, and blood-- a marvelous interconnected body of work is created.

Jessica McCort (Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA) presented the paper: “‘This Smith Cinderella’: Breaking the Glass Coffin in The Bell Jar.” The presentation began by her quoting from Plath’s scrapbook and illustrating Plath as “a modern Cinderella.” The motif of The Bell Jar parallels to that of the glass coffin: as girls reach adolescence, they are objectified. She comments that Plath often thought of herself as a revisable text and also uses the palimpsest metaphor to describe how Plath was stained by fairy-tales. She likens Esther to Alice as “falling into a childhood past.” However, Plath’s fall ends with her abrupt shift and reconstructed sleep. The fairy-tale---particularly the dominant marriage plot-- is used as a frame when Buddy asks Esther “I wonder who you’ll marry now?” In addition, McCourt alludes to the blood imagery that surfaces in The Bell Jar as a reclamation of sexual awakening. Plath’s recomposed self (unlike that of Humpty Dumpty) lies at the root of such a connection. I was very inspired by McCourt’s presentation. She made distinct connections to the use of fairy-tales in Plath’s text that left me wanting to investigate more into the topic myself. I’ve set a new goal for my next archive visit. Thank you!

Panel 9: Ariel theoretical/ metaphorical interpretations

Catherine Leigh Reeves’ (University of Wyoming, Laramie) presented her paper, “‘Oh love, how did you get here?’: Plath’s Maternal Imagination.” She outlines the violent discourse surrounding the speaker’s desire to consume the child back into the confines of her body. Reeves incorporates poetry by Toi Derricotte, Molly Peacock, and Mina Loy to support her reading of Plath’s “Nick the Candlestick” paired with “Edge.” Reeves explains that maternal poetics permeate these works because the child is often viewed as a loss as well as an extension of self. “Nick the Candlestick” parallels a moment in Plath’s journal when she writes how she wants to “crawl back abjectly into the womb.” Also, “Edge” demonstrates how the dead body wears a smile of accomplishment. Reeves also comments on the complexity of female experience/ the female body in “Three Women,” and that unnatural imagery is used to illustrate natural impulses. Reeves shared this portion of her M.A. thesis with confidence and clarity; the dedication to her project strongly showed.

The panelist Rachel Schaefer-- who studied at the American University in Cairo, Egypt--discussed “Plath’s Ekphrasis and Expressionism” by stating the poems in Plath’s final years are her own form of art. It appears that Plath was influenced by expressionist and surrealist paintings because she writes in a chopped and distorted style. Schaefer points out that Plath takes common images and uses them in uncommon ways to capture her reader. She displayed specific artwork by Paul Klee, likening “Virgin in Tree” to the fig tree in The Bell Jar. In addition, she presented Giorgio Dechirico’s “Disquieting Muses” and “Enigma of the Oracle” as well as Henri Rosseau’s “Snakecharmer” and “The Dream” to capture specific artwork that influenced Plath’s writing. Schaefer presented many visuals of the artwork to advance her argument. Overall, her work was well-informed and offered a fresh perspective on the matter.

Jennifer Hurley Yaros (Valparaiso, IN), the final panelist, examined the topic of morality in her paper “Plath’s Response and Repair in Ariel poems.” In doing so, she put Margaret Urban Walker’s essay “Moral Repair and Its Limits” in conversation with Sylvia Plath’s poems “The Jailer” and “By Candlelight.” Yaros understands that Plath’s mission was to understand and restore her own life. When discussing “The Jailer” she refers to the female slave/ animalistic qualities of the poem. Moreover, she posits that Plath felt morally wrong or responsible for leaving her children; as if she predicted her suicide in “By Candlelight.” Although Plath was heavily impacted by worldly and personal events, her own words were, perhaps, “not enough to save her life.” The final lines of her presentation could be interpreted in several ways, which left me interested as a listener. The paper was strong overall because she opened ideas up for consideration rather than closing them down. Thank you!

These brief reviews cannot replace the wonderful presentations, but please do enjoy!

-Lauren Benard

27 October 2012

Day 4, Part 2 of the Sylvia Plath 2012 Symposium: The Afternoon

This afternoon was also a good - no, a great - way to conclude the Symposium. As with the other post today, I've just decided to post my notes, relatively unedited!

Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick: "Sylvia Plath and Trauma: Reading the October 1962 Poems"

Part of a book on modernist and contemporary poets. Two terms in trauma studies are "acting out": nightmares and reliving experiences and "working through": the process of the subject trying to make sense of the traumatic experience. Attempts to come with a narrative that hangs together about that experience, enables her/him to begin to work through it, to put the episode behind her.

"A Birthday Present"

Calm and resigned voice anticipates "Edge" and "Words". Line "I am alive only by accident" is the trauma event about which the speaker needs to work through. Trauma leads to a fetishization of death.

"Lady Lazarus"
Founding trauma is part and parcel as to how the speaker identifies herself "I am your opus..." Repetition of suicides is an aspect of the trauma.

Speaker is metaphorically hooked: caught in the trauma. "Ariel" over-determined trauma script. Speaker propelled by outside forces, not her own will. Speaks to acting out.


In "Daddy", the use of Holocaust imagery Plath ramps up emotional intensity to emphasize her trauma. Because of her experience seeing images from WWII, Plath may have suffered from a secondary identification with the war victims. While in "Ariel" Plath acts out, "Daddy" is Plath working through the trauma, in an effort to put the experiences behind her. Demise of her marriage (abandonment and betrayal) is the great traumatic event that spurned on "Daddy" and other poems like it. Speaker is so traumatized she can "hardly speak". But in the poem Plath is able to work through the trauma and to find the language to finally break "through".

Lynda K Bundtzen took the stage next for a talk about Plath's Bee Sequence poems. Talking about the manuscripts, but not all of the bee poems because time won't allow for it. Our loss.

Perhaps the bee poems represent her fears of being & becoming a honey-drudge  a housewife, who fears the cultural death of being awy from the city and life she wants. "The Bee Meeting" is a serious of questions with no answers offered: full of fear: questions of author-ity and authorship. Loss of identity, no sense of self or others. "The Arrival of the Bee Box" and "Stings" still ask many questions. "The Swarm" is manipulated easily, "dumb". In "Wintering" the speaker admits "It is they who own me."

Bundtzen highlights Plath's struggle in concluding the final line of "Wintering" based on her studying of the manuscripts was really fascinating. Although I've seen the manuscripts in person, for some reason the way in which she read them enabled me to feel that struggle quite palpably. She also quoted many of the other words and lines and stanzas that Plath toyed with in the creation of this five-part allegory.

Bundtzen's conclusion on "Wintering" was an eloquent few minutes comparing the poem to Hughes's departure, likening his departure from Court Green to the annual expulsion of the drones (the "massacre of the males" according to Lynda) from the beehive.

Langdon Hammer of Yale spoke on "Plath's German." Hammer memorably gave a version of this talk in both the Oxford 2007 Symposium and the one day gig at Smith in April 2008. I am eager to see what modifications have been done to the paper in the last four and a half years. His paper focuses on Plath's relationship as a writer with the German language.

Heather Clark and Anita Helle followed Langdon Hammer, on the theme of Plath, German and Otto Plath, talking about Otto Plath’s FBI files (Clark) and scientific works (Helle).

Clark's talk on Otto Plath looked at the German/American persecution in the lives of the Plath. The fear, anger and insecurity of the interrogations. Plath, a pacifist, dove into work as a result and this lead him to take a distance approach to love, life, and fatherhood. As Germans, both Otto Plath and the Schober family had much to be concerned about during World War I and during World War II. These narratives were explored by Plath herself in her poems, as well as in her journals, and in short stories: most notably "The Shadow". Heather's long discourse into the immigration history of the Plath family was fascinating, filled with so much new information that will greatly benefit how we understand Sylvia Plath's heritage.

Anita Helle then took the stage in an Otto Plath one-two punch. Anita had a handout with a selected bibliography of publications by Otto Plath which is a genius thing to have done! "Alternative Lineages: O.E. Plath, Sylvia, and Zoological Modernism." She pointed out a line in "The Beekeepers Daughters" that mirrors something that Otto Plath wrote in his book Bumblebees and Their Ways! very interesting fact. Anita's talk goes towards some lengths to de-mythologize and demystify Otto Plath by highlighting his contributions to science, by taking advantage of older, now digitized materials (scientific papers from scientific periodicals) that are available online. Another very novel approach to the subject of Otto Plath. This includes wading through technical papers on larvae, for example. Zoological Modernism focuses on insect societies. Anita did some wonderful work with the photograph of Aurelia, Otto, and Sylvia that accompanied the FBI story this summer, taken in the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, circa summer 1933. It is the only known photograph of the three of them together. I like the work Anita is doing on this, but I am utterly intimidated by the genius that she exudes.

The last panel of the day was a round table on archiving Otto Plath with Heather Clark, Anita Helle, Langdon Hammer and me. Me! The one horizontal among all the uprights! I do not feel qualified to review this, being a part of it: so if someone out there wants to do a write up, please email it to me!

The last "event" was a book signing at 7:30. Next? Home sweet home!

Sylvia Plath 2012 Symposium Day 3, Part 2: The Afternoon

Yesterday, in day 3 of the Symposium, David Trinidad's talk on the biographical references and sources to Plath's October poems was an inspired piece. For those that were there, I think we can all agree that we could have listened to David speak for about 17 more hours. Or more. Culled down from a large piece, David focused on the poems written after Hughes left Court Green including "Daddy" and "Eavesdropper" and "Lesbos", among others. An extremely careful and detailed work of art, David's essay was, quite well received, a highlight included a calendar layout of the month with the names of the poems written in on the days in which they were composed, and other significant events, as well as contextual photographs that are important to the poems including the photograph of Otto Plath standing at a blackboard, and photographs take by Gail Crowther of the home the Kane's in St. Ives (where Plath stayed the weekend of Ocober the 13th/14th), which features in "Lesbos". I look more and more forward to anything David sets his mind to do.

Equally, Tracy Brain is another Sylvia Plath scholar who continually fasincates and impresses me. Her presentation on "Medicing in Sylvia Plath's October Poems" was very well done and stayed within the limitations of the conference, much to the disappointment of everything in the audience who wanted more, more, more. Jumping off from a photograph of a nearly eight year old Plath dressed as a nurse in Winthrop during her father's final illness, Tracy traced Plath's experience with the medical world and her interaction with it in texts. Citing excised text from The Bell Jar, Plath's famous Orr interview, and poems and prose, Tracy concentrated on the bee poems, "Lesbos", "A Secret", "The Applicant", "The Jailor", "Fever 103", "Lesbos", and "Lady Lazarus".

The third day of the Symposium was truly a memorable one. It was so packed with panels and conversation, it was like sprinting a marathon. I've had a chance to meet a of people with whom I've only emailed. It it is wonderful to put faces and voices with the names. But there wasn't even enough time to talk to everyone as much as I really wanted.

Gail Crowther visits Heptonstall on Sylvia Plath's Birthday

Fighting through a gaggle of other visitors, the only Sylvia Plath scholar deserving to be at the gravesite today sent these photos in for us. While there, Gail planted a Blue Moon rose bush.

Sylvia Plath 2012 Symposium Day 4, Part 1: The Morning

This morning's panels and presentations by Maeve O'Brien, Christine Walde, and Karen Kukil was better than coffee. Below are rough notes taken during the talks and are relatively raw. But it is more important to get this out than worry about finesse, perhaps.

Maeve O'Brien's presentation: "'Something in me said, now, you must see this': reconciling death and 'the empty beaches of memory' in 'Berck-Page'", brought much attention to "Berck-Plage", what she terms a "notoriously difficult" poem. Reframe poem to focus on new themes in the poem. So many of the things at Berck are still there, which gives a tangible grasp of what Plath saw and experienced. O'Brien cited the work of Gail Crowther ("The Playfulness of Time") as well as Anita Helle and others.

Silence - what Plath mentions, but also what is absent from her poetry. What is not revealed in the beach scene in Plath's "Berck-Plage"? Friction between what she expresses and leaves silent. Plath negotiates language on two different levels. War and holocaust imagery more bold after "Berck-Plage", though she touched on this topic in her earlier poems, such as "The Thin People".

First three parts, Plath does not directly mention the war, which by its absence from the poem makes itself apparent. "Why is it so quiet, what are they hiding?" the scene is grotesque and unnatural. Surroundings described in an abstract way. She can feel the hurt and the memories of the pain around her, but does not know why. Distant from memory, history and compassion. Speaker articulates the futility to reconcile the past.

It is at this point where Plath displaces the focus on the beach to the "vanishing" to whom she is in close proximity. This humanizes the speaker. "Plath does not describe around the death of the vanishing man. Instead she is able to keenly observe every small nuance of the scene in a soft, human and almost loving manner."

Seeing Percy Key die gave her first hand experience with death: her father and grandmother's passing were done so at a distance, or, at least, not in her presence. The speaker can then process death more completely, more compassionately. This gives contextual framework to the death and trauma she felt at Berck-Plage.

Plath's artistic response seems to transcend human response. "Plath uses alternative artistic routes to interrogate the difficult and traumatic issues she wishes to explore. She allowed her experience of individual death to inform how she could begin to process mass mechancial and anonymous slaughter."

Christine Walde's spoke on "'The Black Car' poetry on the Plath/Hughes 1959 trip to Canada." Sylvia Plath's archive - and especially her library - has been a tremendous influence on Walde's interest in Plath and to her own poetry. The many references to Lethe throughout has had a particular resonance. Walde read her own original poetry, as well as her artistic response to Plath's use of Canada and Lethe in "Two Campers in Cloud Country," "Amnesiac," and "Getting There." Chrstine has a series of "Rock Lake" poems, inspired by Plath's "Crossing the Water", which was originally titled "Rock Lake at Night". Walde has a personal connection to Rock Lake, it being a location she has spent time in. This gives authenticity to her poems and a unique position to understand the imagery in Plath's Canada poems and her cross-country trip with Ted Hughes from the summer of 1959. Part of Walde's poetric process includes addressing her creative works to both Plath and Hughes. The poems Walde read where movingly beautiful, a fitting tribute to Plath: and among the most original poems on the subject of Plath (and inspired by Plath) that I have ever heard or read.

At 10 o'clock, Karen V. Kukil spoke on Plath’s archival references to "Fever 103°." Talk began discussing Paul ROche and his teaching position at Smith College, how he had a background in and with Duncan Grant & Virginia Woolf. Smith College recently acquired four letters from Plath to the Roche's written from Court Green. March 12, 1962 is the first letter. Plath discusses the Bell Jar in the letter, which is a general rarity in her correspondence. The second letter is dated July 11, 1962, just after the affair was realized. On October 19, Plath's letter is a big revelation about the break-up of the marriage. A very candid letter about the state of things: mentioning her 103 degree fevers. The next morning Plath wrote the first draft of 103. The Roche's visited the weekend of 17th November. Clarissa visited Plath in the first weekend of January 1963,

The discussion of Fever 103 highlights both the biographical and cultural references present in the poem. In an abandoned poem called "Fever" written after the birth of Nicholas Hughes lacked a theme of universal suffering, world annihilation and such that would be present in the later poem, "Fever 103". Very interesting take on an editing decision made by Hughes to the end of the poem. Not him, nor him / nor him nor him" became "not him, nor him / not him, nor him" which disrupts the 3 repetitions of "Nor him" a familiar trope and device in Plath's poetry. Other images in the poem may harken from her 1953 course "The WOrld of Atoms" and a course in Medieval Literature where she read, among others, Chaucer, The Confessions of St. Augustine and Dante, the latter is a particular influence on the poem and is represented quite explicitly.
Karen Kukil calls Fever 103 by Sylvia Plath's "Blow torch virgin poem." Fever 103 is filled with "e" sounds just as "Daddy" is filled with "oo" sounds.

Brilliant paper and slideshow. If you missed it: you missed it!

Review of Panel 11: Plath and Hughes

The "Plath and Hughes" panel was nearly filled to standing room only, which illustrates how important a topic this is, likely to the chagrin of some. Helen Decker spoke on "Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes Side by Side: What I Can and Can't Tell You", Rai Peterson's paper was supposed to be on "Hughes and the Two Ariel's" but she changed it to "An Efficiency, A Great Beauty": Sylvia Plath's Ariel Titles", and Georg Nöffke spoke on "These Super'People: The Superimpostion of Ted Hughes' 'Brasilia' on Sylvia Plath's 'Brasilia'".

No one in the room was disappointed. The three presenters in the Walnut Room spoke clearly and expertly on their chosen topics. Decker has been at work on a book about Plath and Hughes for a while, and with any luck we'll see it soon for general consumption. She has been working both on Plath's and Hughes' appearances in periodicals together, as well as the way they wrote on the backs of each others manuscripts and typescripts. In general, and I mean this politely, Decker's presentation was a tease because as much as she could say, she didn't want to go too far. Working extensively with Plath's archives and Hughes', Decker's work looks to put her own spin on a fascinating topic.

Rai Peterson's paper sounded interesting in the printed abstract, but when she announced a title change, it suddenly grew more interesting. Rather than discuss the poems Hughes left out of or put into Ariel when it was first published in 1965 (1966 in America), Rai speculated on the ways in which the poetry collection could have been received had they been published under any of the four alternate, deleted titles: The Rival, The Rabbit Catcher, A Birthday Present, and Daddy. She highlighted how the title and title poems might have changed the reception of each work, ultimately agreeing that the poem "Ariel" and the title Ariel was by far the best choice based on the narrative arc of the contents. She interestingly pointed out that of all the changes Hughes and the editors made to the book when first published, that the title was not one of those changes.

Georg Nöffke flew all the way from South African to leave me, at least, speechless. I was terrifically excited to hear about "Brasilia" as it is an undervalued and underdiscussed work, both Plath's as well as Hughes's own response. He had a handout of images of the planned city of Brasilia, which completely adds to our understanding of some of the imagery in the poetry. Georg and Lynda K. Bundtzen also discussed at the end some of the finer points of his paper and some of the text in Hughes' poem, which continued to enlighten me on things of which I was otherwise ignorant. I was interested to hear Georg assert that Birthday Letters and the construction of both Hughes' persona in it as well as that of Plath's should be considered in a similar way (intentionally, perhaps?) that we look at Plath's construction of her own personal mythology (as expressed by Judith Kroll in her seminal work Chapters in a Mythology) in Ariel. Georg concluded that in the case of the two poems "Brasilia", Hughes was speaking over Plath, rather than more or less responding or reacting to her, her poetry and their life together.

More recap later on the individual talks by David Trinidad and Tracy Brain!

Review of Sylvia Plath Symposium Panels 1 and 5

The following is a guest post review by Jaime Jost (the Plath Profiles author of "To See What She Saw: The Influence of Sylvia Plath" in Volume 4 and "'Panic' over Puddle Jumping in Plath's 'Mothers'" published TODAY in the Volume 5 Supplement). Jaime was kind enough to review two panels: Panel 1: Plath and Religion; and Panel 5: Plath's Influences: Lowell and Sexton, the Qabalah.

Please thank Jaime (and Bridget in the post before) for their wonderful write-ups, for their fresh perspectives on the Symposium panels, and for providing us with possibly otherwise lost impressions due to concurrent nature of the conference structure. Your work, effort, and insight are all highly-valued, very much appreciated, and a valuable contribution to your fellow Plath-heads.

Panel 1: Plath and Religion

Emma Komlos-Hrobsky, editor of Pinhouse Magazine in New York, presented her paper “‘The Black Amnesias of Heaven’: The God-Obsessed Atheist and the Subject of Confession.” She used letters from Plath to Father Michael Carey, who had been at Assumption College in Massachusetts and had been transplanted to England such as Plath herself as part of her research. The correspondence was happening in November 1962 and included Plath’s articulate advisement of Carey’s amateur poetry. She would sign her letters with requests for prayers from Father Carey. Plath wished for God, hoped for God, and thought there may be a God she had not found yet but could possibly find her, help her. One thing Emma said that I found particularly interesting was “If she doubts God, she also doubts her ability to play God,” illustrating Plath’s self-doubt. She also spoke of the limits of language and Plath’s questioning if she could be a master of the language or if the language was mastering her.

Emma compares the work of Augustine to Plath’s poetics, stating “Much like the work of Augustine, Plath’s poetry testifies to a conception of the individual’s smallness before a vast and indifferent universe and the ambiguous God that might rule over it” (from her abstract).

Raychel Haugrud Reiff, a professor at University of Wisconsin-Superior, presented a paper she has been working hard on, “Torment and Triumph: Plath’s Use of Christian Imagery in the October Poems.” I must state my complete bias for Dr. Reiff up front—she was my instructor and mentor on Plath when I was an undergraduate, and still a valued academic advisor now that I am in graduate school. Raychel knows more about Christian imagery than anyone I know, so I know that even though most of her references are over my agnostic, religiously illiterate self, that she is on point. Reiff discussed the Christian Imagery in “Ariel,” “Nick of the Candle Stick,” “Daddy,” “Bee Meeting,” “Fever 103,” and others. In “Fever 103,” Plath uses the idea of rebirth. In the first half of the poem, Plath’s agony is shown, followed in the second half by her “purity” stating she is “too pure for you or anyone.” In “Ariel,” “Ariel” is Jeruselum. In “Lady Lazarus,” Reiff brings in the two different versions of Lazarus in the Bible, which she argues are each used consciously in the poem. These are seen in the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Luke. Reiff states in her abstract, “…her October poems shows her liberal use of Biblical allusions, not to promote Christianity but to reveal her vision of life: either to describe the torment of earthly life or to show the triumph of an undefeated human being.”

Review of Panel 5: Plath's Influences: Lowell and Sexton, the Qabalah

Sarah-Jane Burton, a PhD student from University of Wollongong, Australia, presented her paper “Literary Influence and the Boston Trio: Plath, Lowell and Sexton.” Sarah discussed Plath’s time in Lowell’s class in 1959 Boston, where Plath attended with Anne Sexton and George Starbuck. She listened to Sexton’s therapy tapes to know Sexton better, as well as visiting places they literary circle frequented in the short but highly relevant time in these writers’ lives. Burton writes of her work, “I argue that by only considering Plath’s earlier work and experiences retrospectively, from the viewpoint of Ariel, critics can by academically reductive.”

Katie Rose Keenan, from Cabrini College, Glenolden, PA, presented her paper, “Plath and Sexton’s Mutual Influence.” She writes, “In 1959, Plath met fellow poet Anne Sexton while attending Robert Lowell’s poetry class at Boston University.” The two women had a mutually beneficial and fascinating friendship. In class, Keenan says, Sexton was a “hot mess,” gorgeous, with extravagant jewelry, running late, who sat with her legs crossed. She was a “reckless housewife” whereas Plath presented herself as a serious, businesslike perfectionist. Despite their outward differences, they cultivated an intense literary friendship. Katie mentioned that Plath received in the mail a copy of All My Pretty Ones a week before she started what would become the Ariel poems, which is to say that that influence from 1959 may have been reignited (if it was ever extinguished, that is) and led to that burst of creative explosion.

Julia Gordon-Bramer, a teacher at Lindenwood University, St. Louis, MO, and avid Tarot card reader, presented her paper, “Plath’s Ariel: ‘The Feminine Arrow into the Apocalypse.” She was met with gasps of excitement from one member in the audience. Indeed, Gordon-Bramer brought forth a complex reading of “Ariel,” aligning it with the Temperance tarot card. Plath was influenced by the tarot, astrology, astronomy, and the threat of nuclear warfare. Hughes and Plath chose Court Green for fear of fallout and kept maps to fallout shelters. Baby Frieda’s first outing was to a “Ban the Bomb” march. Gordon-Bramer states, “Perhaps most impressively, however, is the juxtaposition of the real-life history of the WWII bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the sideline tales of American fighter pilots and female foreign correspondents [in “Ariel”].”

-Jaime Jost

Review of Sylvia Plath Symposium Panel 5

The following is a review of Panel 5: "Plath's Influences: Sexton and Lowell, the Qabalah" and was kindly attended by and written up by Bridget Anna Lowe, author of the Plath Profiles 5 essay "Burning Free: Sylvia Plath's Summer 1962 Bonfires and the Strange Case of the Surviving Christmas Card".

I had the pleasure this morning of attending the Sylvia Plath Symposium's Panel #5 on the topic of "Plath's influence on/from other poets." The panel, which was comprised of three speakers, presented their papers in the following order: Sarah-Jane Burton on "Literary Influence and the Boston Trio: Plath, Lowell and Sexton;" KatieRose Keenan on "Plath and Sexton's Mutual Influence;" and, finally, last but certainly not least, Julia Gordon-Bramer on "Plath's Ariel: The Feminine Arrow into the Apocalypse."

* * *

Speaking first on the panel was Sarah-Jane Burton; in the approximately twenty minutes she was allotted, Burton discussed in some depth the 1959 Boston-trio of poets which consisted of Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell and Anne Sexton. The three poets came together serendipitously in the spring of that year when Plath and Sexton, then strangers to one another, audited a Boston University poetry course taught by the renowned poet Robert Lowell.

As Burton writes in the synopsis of her paper (as provided in the Symposium's Program guide), "Through a discussion of the details of this period [1959] and an analysis of the limited critical attention it has received, [Burton's paper/presentation] aims to illuminate the influential relationships between Lowell, Sexton and Plath, thus reevaluating Plath's writing from the time and presenting a new theoretical lens through which to view all three poets."

Lowell was clearly the lynchpin of the trio; it was his poetry course that brought the three poets and personalities together, with special attention paid by Burton to the meeting of, and subsequent mutual influences upon, Sexton and Plath in particular. Without Lowell's course, Plath and Sexton might very well have never met and interacted on the friendly, comradely level they did, despite their having grown up so near each other in Wellesley, MA.

Burton's main question she posited was the following: "Would [Plath's and Sexton's] careers have been the same without each other?" To which she answered, definitively, "No." Burton then went on to explain this resolute answer of hers, thereby providing the meat of her following presentation, by detailing and describing the women's influences on one another, especially Sexton's influence on Plath.

Burton set up her analysis of the three poets’ respective personalities, lives, and writing styles by describing letters written by Sexton, Lowell, and Plath. This correspondence includes letters written to, and between, one another; i.e. Lowell and Plath wrote to each other about Sexton, and Lowell and Sexton wrote to each other about Plath (but did Sexton and Plath write to each other about Lowell?).

She also spoke about the various ways in which the three poets, many years after the poetry class had ended, made public their feelings and impressions about the said poetry class: Sexton wrote a memoir about Plath and her time spent with Plath during class and afterwards at the Ritz; Lowell wrote the introduction to Plath's Ariel; and Plath recorded a revealing interview with the BBC's Peter Orr in which she discussed the respect she had for Lowell and Sexton as anti-gentility influences.

Burton elucidated the fact that Plath and Sexton had vastly different life experiences in some respects, while in others their experiences were very similar. For instance, in terms of their differences, Sexton never went to college whereas Plath was a star-pupil who excelled at Smith. Regarding their similarities, Plath and Sexton were both depressives who spent time in mental institutions; the two women even bonded by discussing their own respective suicide attempts over martinis at the Ritz in Boston.

Burton said, and n.b. this isn't verbatim, "It was as if the three poets were meant to meet each other. They were all hungry for experience. Plath, like Sexton, was ready for the fire--of writing, of the [poetry] class [taught by Lowell]."

* * *

KatieRose Keenan was the second speaker at the morning panel; the title of her presentation, as mentioned before, was "Plath and Sexton's Mutual Influence." Keenan's presentation fit ever so neatly and nicely in sequence with Burton's earlier presentation which also included the mutual influence of Plath on Sexton and vice-versa (albeit Burton additionally incorporated Lowell into her triangle-of-poetic-influence).

For me, the last sentence of Keenan's synopsis provided in the Symposiums's program guide best sums up the gist of her presentation: "Weeks before the Ariel poems had begun to be written, Sexton had given Plath an advance copy of her second book, All My Pretty Ones (1962). Sexton had already mastered the art of confessional free verse poetry and could have inspired Plath, who was going through hard times, to take off the emotional mask she often presented to the outside world and dive headfirst into her poetry."

Keenan began her presentation by introducing herself as someone who has been "mildly obsessed with Plath and Sexton." She said that she is "fascinated by their relationship" but also that they were "so different" from one another. Her obsession with Plath began when she was 12 years old and came across a copy of Ariel in her library; she subsequently kept the library book, never returning it and leaving it delinquent. She brought with her up to the podium this same beat-up, much-loved copy of Ariel.

Keenan initially set-up and compared Sexton's poem "My Friend, My Friend" with the similarly arranged poem "Daddy" by Plath. Keening supposed that it was possible that Sexton had brought "My Friend, My Friend" to Lowell's 1959 poetry class (see: above description of Lowell's poetry class included in section on Burton's presentation) to share; "Daddy", as we know, was famously written in October 1962. What was the extent of Plath's debt to Sexton in terms of these two similar poems? This was a question I wish I had asked of Keening during the Q&A period.

As well, Keenan discussed the women's differing personalities and appearances, both of which were in stark contrast from one woman to the other. Sexton was, and I quote Keenan's lighthearted comment here, a "hot mess" who dressed well and stylishly, whereas Plath was business-like and dressed herself with a utilitarian sensibility in mind.

Keenan said that she had asked herself what "spurned [this] transition" in Plath's work, the "transition" being the change from her earlier, restrained Colossus-poems to her angry Ariel-poems; it was from this question that the thesis of her paper was born. Keenan said that this "transition" has never been discussed at length, and her paper was written in response to this perceived need.

In regards to Sexton's influence upon Plath, Keenan put it like this: Plath's early poems (i.e. the poems she wrote before, during, and shortly after the Lowell class) showed "restraint and calculation." It was only after the Lowell class and meeting Sexton, however, when Plath's poetry took a significant change in direction, one building up towards the "unbridled rage" we see in her Ariel poems. It is Keenan's contention that Sexton was at least partly responsible for this drastic transformation in Plath's poetic work, her former "tendency to hide her inner turmoil."

* * *

Julia Gordon-Bramer was the third and last speaker of the morning's panel. Her presentation, "Plath's 'Ariel': The Feminine Arrow into the Apocalypse," "explores the fifteenth and title poem from Ariel, examining the numerical correlative Tarot card, Temperance, as the poem matched with Temperance's meanings and symbols" (Plath Program Guide, synopsis). The presentation was excerpted from a larger essay entitled "Fixed Stars Govern a Life: The Mystic Reinterpretation of the Work of Sylvia Plath."

Admittedly, I am totally naiive to Tarot and Qabalah so my attempting to explain and summarize Gordon-Bramer's presentation would be futile. Therefore, I will let Julia's synopsis do the talking:

The poem 'Ariel' is matched directly to the six facets of Qabalah: Hebrew/Tarot correlations; alchemy; mythology; history and the world; astrology and astronomy; and arts and the humanities. [...] This presentation will take the reader line-by-line [through 'Ariel'] to reveal the Hebrew, gematria, and numerological correspondences, as well as an occult initiation rite. Plath wove in details of classical literature such as King Arthur and The Little Mermaid, and Irish Medieval, Celtic, Norse, and Babylonian myth in celebration of female power and fire. [...] Perhaps what is most impressive however is the juxtaposition of the real-life history of the World War II bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the sideline tales of American fighter pilots and female foreign correspondents. [...] Most have understood the poem 'Ariel' to be about a wild ride on a runaway horse. And that might still be true, as one small and less-significant meaning. We have always known that 'Ariel' is one of Plath's greatest poems. Now, it is time to understand why.

I was most impressed with the way certain parts and lines from 'Ariel' corresponded so closely with certain aspects of World War II and the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For instance, the incomplete-phrase "And now I" from 'Ariel' may signify the red "eye" ("I") (or circle) on the flag of Japan. Also relating to red "eye" ("I")s, besides the red circle on the flag, are the red eyes of those people who survived radiation from the bombs--the radiation turned their eyes red. I asked Gordon-Bramer at the Q&A section of the panel, again naiively, if she meant to say that Plath had written 'Ariel' with an eye (“I”?) towards consciously relating the poem to the Tarot and Qabalah etc, or was it just pure coincidence? Gordon-Bramer's response? "Both. The link is both divine and conscious."

* * *

As I write this review of the morning’s panel, it is late and it has been a long day; I am sure I have not done justice to these three women’s presentations: each was excellent, insightful, and intelligent. Just lovely. Thank you Sarah-Jane, KatieRose, and Julia.

-Bridget Anna Lowe.

26 October 2012

Update from the Sylvia Plath Symposium Day 3

Today was breakneck: nonstop: ceaseless: endless: a great day to be a Sylvia Plath reader. I highly anticipate giving a round-up of the day from my own perspective, and hope that some of the kind scholars who expressed interest in reviewing the panels that I could not sit in on have reports to me before too long about their impressions, too. I think it is important to present more than my voice and opinion in this; so if you're reading this and you were in the same panel I was: please consider writing something up from your own point of view. Please.

This morning the literary panels began at 8:30. Or, circa 8:30. Certainly an early start time but the people that came to hear the darling Jess McCort (and author of "Sleeping Beauty Awake: Sylvia Plath through the Looking-Glass" and "Alice in Cambridge: Sylvia Plath, Little Girls Lost, and “Stone Boy with Dolphin”") and myself discuss The Bell Jar were certainly wide awake and seemed to be eager listeners. I expect a summary review of this panel by a willing participant in the next days and will post it online as soon as I get it! But, I'll say briefly about the panel that Jess' title was "'This Smith Cinderella': Breaking the Glass Coffin in The Bell Jar and my paper was titled "Sylvia Plath: Palimsesptic Writer".

After this panel, for which there were three concurrent panels, listeners were treated to Janet Badia, author of the fascinating and recent Sylvia Plath and the Mythology of Women Readers discuss "The Other Anniversary: Plath's Dent to Ms. Magazine's ." In her paper, Badia points out that in addition to this being the 50th Anniversary of the October poems, it is also the 40th anniversary of Ms. Magazine; and from its first issue, how the magazine made a significant contribution to Plath's fame. In its first issue, Ms. Magazine printed Plath poem for three voices "Three Women" in which Plath traces the purely female experiences of childbirth and miscarriage. She talked about the issues first cover of a many armed figure with domesticated symbols in each hand: it actually reminded me of the fig tree imagery that plagues Esther Greenwood in The Bell Jar. What was particular fascinating was Badia bring up the reconsideration of Plath that the magazine published some months later in a long essay by Harriet Rosenstein.

After this, I was up again for a paper called "Sincerely Yours: Sylvia Plath and The New Yorker". In this paper, I spoke about Plath's business correspondence with the magazine, and was able to do something in the talk that I was not able to do in my paper this summer, "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England" with Gail Crowther, which is quote from the letters. Someone may have intentions to review this talk? So for the meantime I will not go on any further on this. I was really delighted to read it, and felt that the information presented was largely new and interesting. But, I might be delusional.

The morning sessions concluded with more literary panels. Again, I do expect a synopsis of one or two of them. The panel I attended dealt with "Plath and Female Embodiment / Body and Suffering". The three panels were, in order of speaking, Colleen Abel, Lauren Benard, and Clare Emily Clifford. Abel's "'Inhabited by a cry': Interior and Exterior Landscape in the Late Poems of Sylvia Plath" approached Plath's poems as reflecting some of the emotional traumas she underwent, and that as a result her poetry changed dramatically. Citing the more imagistic poetry such as "The Colossus" and "Watercolor of Grantchester Meadows", Abel went on to argue that there developed a "psychic fushion" between the physical and emotional landscaped. A rare early example of this was "The Eye-Mote", but Plath more notably fuses the self and the world in the later poems such as "Poppies in October" and "Tulips". Abel used some of the theories (or at least a theory) of DW Winnicott, particularly his theories of the transitional object. Lauren Benard's paper "A Choreography of Female Wounds: Embodied Aesthetics in Sylvia Plath's 'The Detective', Fever 103', and 'Cut'" discussed the fear and fascination with which Plath regarded the functions of the domesticated female body. I was particularly interested to hear this paper as "The Detective" is one of my favorite poems by Plath: but the approach by which Benard examined the poem was completely new to me. The poem has now been opened up to me in a completely new way and I am thankful for this. I was interested in her comment, citing Nancy Hunter-Steiner, that Plath was somewhat addicted to experience, and that in this addiction, she sought the kind of experience that she could somehow use creatively. The treatment which Benard, who has published with Plath Profiles ("Taking on a Mourning Her Mother Never Bothered With: Esther's Anguished Memory and Her Resistance to a Domestic Life in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, gave to the three poems was expert and well supported, her argument clear and fulfilled. Clifford, another Plath Profiles author (I Have a Self to Recover: Sylvia Plath and the Literary Success of the Failed Suicide), has a penchant for the gruesome, as was evident in her paper "'A Case Without A Body': Body Parts, Dead Bodies, and the Poetic Corpus in Plath's October Poems." Clifford terms the poems she looked at as "postmortem poems" and fuses elegy with an increasing market (and stomach for) the medicalization of death, the funeral industry, war, and genocide through the lens of forensics. She cited the rise in television of programs which feature cadavers and other icky, fairly explicit examples of death. But Plath was working with death and body parts - as have a lot of writers - well before this became appropriate for network television. Clifford largely looks at the death and dismemberment that exists in Plath poems in a way that is non-traditional from the generally accepted rebirth motif. Indeed, she looks at the poetic self and corpus in its inbetween stage: after death but before the rebirth.

That basically wraps up the morning from my perspective. There was a well-attended lunch time talk by Lynda K. Bundtzen in the IU Art Gallery. In Lynda's talk, she looked at four artists: Boris Lurie, Stella Vine, Kristina Zimbakova, and Linda Adele Goodine. Lurie's work was not done as a response to Plath's poetry, but he was active in the period just after Plath's death - around the same time that Plath's Ariel poetry was hitting the market - and through the period after her famous book was published. Reaction to Lurie was similar in many ways to the reaction to Plath's poetry: it was produced before its time in a way that was shocking, enticing, and unforgettable. I haven't generally had a positive reaction to the art of Stella Vine and I also didn't get the impression that Bundtzen did either. For some Plath scholars, I feel the reason for Plath's fame has largely been misunderstood by popular culture: in that she is famous for the wrong reasons, and I don't need to detail to you what those reasons are. And so by being picked up by a contemporary artist who responds to celebrity in her own way, and in some instances in crass ways, this kind of "representation" or reaction isn't necessarily going to be liked by Plath's defenders, for lack of a better term. I must say Vine's work, "Sylvia Plath Court Green 1962" looks better in person than it does either online or in the printed program. There were times when I felt, from the distance between me and it during the talk, that it was calling to me to look at it. But, on the whole, I was drawn more to Linda Adele Goodine's photographs and the two pieces by Kristina Zimbakova. Readers of this blog will know Zimbakova's name, and if by chance you do not. please familiarize yourself with her work because as a response and reaction to Sylvia Plath, it is by far the most original and inspiring of the lot. Many of her works have appeared in Plath Profiles which has definitely been to the journals benefit. I find my entire soul unspeakably moved by passion the seeps from Zimbakova's hands into work, and just as in "Out of the Shoe and into the Cauldron" (which can been seen in Plath Profiles 4, I find myself reaching up to touch her art (but the docents don't take too kindly to this). On that note, the docents were unwelcoming, rude, and quite disruptive to my listening experience during Bundtzen's talk. But, rather than end on a sour note, I will say that Holes in the Papery Day was equally as impressive in person - no, moreso - than it was when it appeared in this summers issue of Plath Profiles. But to see it in person evokes even moreso the connections to the poems of Sylvia Plath which inspired it. The photographs of the art in the journal and her included details are faithful but seeing it in person is like being tattooed on the retina

There were some stellar readings in the afternoon by David Trinidad and Tracy Brain - as well as a final panel section: but these will have to wait a bit as Sylvia Plath Info needs his beauty sleep (shocking, I know: but this isn't nature).

25 October 2012

Update from the Sylvia Plath 2012 Symposium Day 2

Lynda K Bundtzen began the day discussing Sylvia Plath’s psychotherapy, use of unconscious in 1958 poems. Making use of Plath's therapy notes with Dr. Ruth Beuscher, Lynda referred at times to Sigmund Freud's "Mourning and Meloncholia", Lacan, and Letters Home, and looking applicably at several poems by Sylvia Plath, among them "The Beekeeper's Daughter," "Man in Black," "Electra on Azalea Path," "The Colossus," "Daddy," and "Purdah."

Langdon Hammer spoke on James Merrill’s use of Ouija Board for poetry inspiration. Hammer has been at work on a biography of Merrill for a decade which is most definitely a labor of love. It promises to be thorough and excellent, judging from the essays of his that I have read and the presentations through which I have sat. This was not a paper on Sylvia Plath, but Hammer did refer to Plath's practice of Ouijaing with Ted Hughes.

Between this and the 1 o'clock panel with poets talking about Plath influenced their poetic process...I went to the Lilly Library to continue feeding my archival fever. I feel badly for missing Linda Adele Goodine and Suzie Hanna's talk on juvenile/adult fantasy, liminal space between waking and dreaming in visual art and film; but I am hopeful that some kind person has taken notes and will considering typing up a review which can be posted here on this blog, or, on a blog of their own.

The poets discussing Plath's influence on their poetic process was quite interesting. A couple of them found and defined Plath to be a confessional poet, which is really at odds with the way she is classified by scholars, critics and academics. In some ways, technology and Starbucks notwithstanding, we might have been in 1975 rather than 2012! Each of the poets caught something off of Plath's poetry (and life) that spurned them into their vocation. A quite wonderful panel with deeply sincere memories of the importance of Plath in their lives: both that initial spark and how Plath continues to be a presence in their poems.

The discussion on Plath Profiles and Plath on the web was not as good as it could have been because Bill Buckley, the founder of Plath Profiles, was unable to attend at the last moment. This unfortunately left me on the stage alone and I can only offer my condolences to the brave people that sat through it! I did read some prepared remarks by Bill about his desire to create a journal dedicated to Plath and its founding at the 2007 Plath Symposium at Oxford.

After this it was back briefly to the Lilly Library to look at a few more things to close out the day. My call for people to meet at 5:30 (see post yesterday) was met by one or two brave souls. Thank you: you know who you are. With any luck, somehow, all the panels will have summaries written about them but at least there will be a good few writes ups to which we can look forward to reading.

Notes on Creative Process Panel from Sylvia Plath 2012 Symposium

Notes on Catherine Bowman and David Trinidad, Suzie Hannah and Tom Simmons panel on archival-based poetic and research process, animated film and sound design, 24 October 2012, 1:30-2:50 Poetic based research, animated film, and sound design.

By Susan McMichael

What makes us Plathofiles? Is it a line? Is it a book (eg reading The Bell Jar, or a teacher? What happens when you are lucky enough to be in the Lilly Library with Sylvia Plath's works, boxes, things, and to examine the dresses she made as a child in the 1940s, the paper dolls, the ephemera, her paintings?

What is text? Is it the poem? No, not at all. These people cry, it is this, and this, look and listen, see. All four of the presenters in this panel showed is how with colour and sound, what influenced Plath in creating her poetry.

As someone fascinated by Sylvia Plath's work and life for more than 30 years, I found the works, separate from the archive, but clearly related to the poetry, more interesting.

The work, colours and art related to Plath's archive was fascinating.

Was she a poet, a painter, a great cook? There was a debate on these questions and aspect of Plathafter the presenter's conversation that was fascinating.

Just like Sylvia Plath.

24 October 2012

Sylvia Plath 2012 Symposium: Panel Presentation Pre-Meeting

Are you going to the literary panels at the Sylvia Plath 2012 Symposium?  On 11 October I requested that people attending consider taking notes during the panels sessions and writing up mini reviews to appear on this blog. Happily, I got two such takers immediately. But there are far more panels going on simultaneously for the three of us to faithfully report to this blogs readers.


So, the panel presentations pages is located here. What I'm proposing is that anyone interested in participating in this to please look for me Thursday, 25 October 2012, at 5:30 PM in the IMU Whittenberger Auditorium. Then, we can discuss what interests us and assign panels and papers to review. It shouldn't take too long, & so maybe we can go grab a drink & some food afterwards in town? Talk Plath?

I didn't say this before, but the reviews should be to me as soon as possible after the presentation is given: ideally the same day. Full credit to you will naturally be given, unless you tell me otherwise that you would like it to be anonymous.

Update from the Archive Day 3 & from the Sylvia Plath 2012 Symposium Day 1

Today was a continuation of research into Sylvia Plath's pocket book calendars in the Lilly Library. I had to double-back to finish the 1954-1955 calendar and I am still in amazement at the level of recorded detail that is available. The other day I commented about how a visit to the archives to read through everything could mean never having to read a biography of Plath and I think I still stand by that: though obviously the biographer's narrative lends a particular color to her life's story. Which can be interesting; like in a similar fashion to criticism: it's far more interesting to read the original writing than criticism about that writing. Though often it is interesting to see how the critics make connections and bring out hidden elements.

I spent a brief time re-looking at the Plath Mss materials that were acquired in 1961 as I needed to do some follow-up things. But I think the real focus of the day was the start of the Sylvia Plath 2012 Symposium.

Today's events were all about the archives: teaching with them, introducing students to primary source work, and it was really fascinating to see that (primarily undergraduate) students are working with Plath's papers and making significant and really interesting discoveries.

The first talk was Karen Kukil on teaching and learning with Smith College archives; this was followed by IU professor Christoph Irmscher and his teaching with Lilly archives. Two students, Meredith Kipp and Brittany Stigler, spoke very eloquently on what it was like as freshmen to study Plath, Plath’s teaching texts, techniques, and book marginalia. I wish I had had this kind of opportunity when I was an undergrad, even though I'm not even certain my college had a special collections department or anything like that. It's absolutely fascinating.

I was honored to have lunch with Karen Kukil, Tracy Brain, and Lynda K. Bundzten.

This went a little over, and so I did not attend the panel on archival-based poetic and research process, animated film and sound design. Which is a shame as I wanted to hear David Trinidad speak very much; I do not feel comfortable walking into things late, feeling it is disruptive. I have since learned that the panel started late, itself. Drat.

So, in the meantime I came back to the archive and then went over to the IU Art Museum to see the exhibition art of Linda Adele Goodine, Boris Lurie, Stella Vine and Kristina Zimbakova. The two Zimbakova pieces I cannot speak highly enough of; the Vine I can't speak lowly enough of. Goodine's were quite provocative and I completely missed the Lurie.

After this I sat in on the archive show and tell, which included a brief history of both the Lilly Library and Plath's affiliation with it (as in how the materials came from each of the accessions). The materials on display included, but are not limited to: two self-portraits from the 1950s (I think); two locks of her hair (one massive, the other a little smaller) (Plath's hair, considered a "fetish object" are among the most popular items requested in the archive), and then a lot of materials to do with her October 1961 poem "The Babysitters". These include the working drafts of the poem, as well as contextually relevant materials such as her calendar from 1951; photographs from summer 1951, letters. There were other items that would not fit on the table, such as a college art scrapbook with collages, and recently acquired juvenilia (which I saw in January 2010).

23 October 2012

Update from the Archive Day 2

This morning I continued looking at Sylvia Plath's calendars in Plath mss II, Box 7, Folder 6. The calendar was October 1955 - early October 1956: or, her first year as a Fulbright Scholar at Newnham College, Cambridge University. The majority of the morning was spent comparing undated letters to a former boyfriend, J Mallory Wober, to the minute details Plath recorded in her calendar. The structure of her days at Newnham are meticulously recorded down the hour, including lectures, ADC rehearsals, meetings for tea and sherry, dates, letters written, papers due, food consumed, physical ailments: basically an encyclopedia of autobiography. Mostly likely caught up in the passion of the archive I will say that there is no need to read a biography of Sylvia Plath when one could simply come here (simply is most definitely not the right word since I believe this is one of the harder archives to get to - but it could be worse, no offense Wyoming: but it could be in Wyoming) and spent a week reading Plath's life written by Plath. Between the calendars here, the letters to her family and others, if one was truly interested in Plath's formative years through her early 20s one would really only need come here.

And come here you should because the Lilly Library is just awesome.

After I got the the point where I was satisfied with my dating of the letters to Wober, I carried on studying the days of Sylvia Plath's life. Through the tumultuous end of her relationship to Richard Sassoon and the darkness that was late January and early February 1956 - to the miraculous meeting with Hughes and the passion of their new love and life together - the agony of being separated, the decision to marry and their Spanish honeymoon - late August and September in Yorkshire, and the return to Cambridge.

There is another calendar for October 1956 - September 1957, and it largely filled in faithfully through November when she and Hughes took up residence together at 55 Eltisely Avenue. But after that as the rigors of her academic pursuits mounted there was far less information captured. Which is understandable but also a disappointment.

And by the time I got to the last page it was time to depart for the day.

I learned more about Sylvia Plath's life in these two days than I thought possible. I learned so much that I do not know how to even begin disseminating the information to you: the greedy readers. I wish there was a way but I can certainly safely say the much - if not all of what I did learn - will be made know in the work I do. Through papers like the "These Ghostly Archives" series with the estimable Gail Crowther and papers I do on my own. Happily there are some significant improvements to two of my presentations (on Sylvia Plath's correspondence with The New Yorker magazine and "Sylvia Plath: Palimpsestic Writer" on imagery in the poems and The Bell Jar) are possible from the materials I have used the last two days.

Conducting research alongside Christine Walde and David Trinidad (at all at the same table) and Tracy Brain at the table next to us has proven to be simply wondrous. There is such a friendly and collegiate atmosphere.

Tomorrow starts the Sylvia Plath Symposium so it'll sadly mean less archives time, but more being among peers, meeting new wonderful people and listening to fascinating papers. Updates throughout via the blog and Twitter!

Sylvia Plath Symposium Poster: Picture Post

22 October 2012

Update from the Archives Day 1

What a start to the week. The week of all Sylvia Plath all the time, though saying it like that makes it just like any other week. I met the poet and Plath essayist David Trinidad Sunday evening in Bloomington where we immediately got our Plath on: what a fun, great man and we had some stellar discussions.

Today in the Plath archive at the Lilly Library we worked across from one another, like dueling pianists. He was primarily reading Plath's letters, and being less focused, I was all over the place. I began with the Plath mss papers - the ones Plath sold in London to a bookseller who was acquring poets papers for the Lilly Library. These are largely poems written in 1960 and 1961, but mixed in are the odd pages of The Bell Jar and short story ("The Fifteen Dollar Eagle"). Not a lot of beefy drafts the way that her later poems are (the ones held at Smith College). However there are fuller files folders for poems such as "Wuthering Heights", "The Surgeon at 2 A.M." and "Private Ground", to name a few. I was fascinated to work with these poems. Many were written on versos of a draft manuscript of her book The Colossus. Some contain writings by Ted Hughes. So much attention has been focused on the Ariel period poems that I feel these are somewhat ignored. That being said, it also is not hard to really see why because Plath neither saved nor numbered nor dated her earlier poems the way she did those from 1962. It would be safe, I think, to say that the reason why she did become meticulous about it is because she had successfull sold this "scrap paper".

After I worked with this, I switched to the Lameyer mss because in a previous trip I had made some transcriptions from the letters held in this collection and wanted to check my work. I also cannot get enough of the mostly color photographs of Plath from 1954-1956, from Smith College to Venice, Italy.

Following this, I called Plath's Cambridge University period notes in Box 13 of Plath mss II looking for a needle in the haystack: and sadly not finding it. I saw something in 2010 when I was here on the Helm Fellowship, and was trying to find it again only to discover I had no real recollection of where it was I saw this document. Very frustrating. Maybe tomorrow, maybe Wednesday or so I'll have a more positive update on this front.

The afternoon I spent looking through Plath's calendar's for 1952-1955 (Plath mss II, Box 7) as many of her letters to Gordon Lameyer are undated (and without the envelopes for post-mark identification/assistance) so I was looking through her academic and summer doings in the attempt to accurately date these undated letters. I am pleased to say I think I nailed 100% of those questionable epistles down. By the time I finished, because it wasn't all hunting and gathering: there was quite a bit of loitering over the details of her days, it was time to leave for the day. Always a downer.

The good news: Tomorrow should bring The Plath Diaries to the library. And, speaking of which, the library re-opens in just 11 and a half hours.

Plathery Reviews Sylvia Plath's Three Women in Melbourne

A Piece of Plathery has reviewed a recent performance of "Three Women" by Sylvia Plath, directed by Melanie Thomas and produced by Caged Bird Productions.

In addition to Plathery's review, if you missed them, you can see photos from rehearsals in two previous posts: this one and that one.

21 October 2012

Books for Sale at the Sylvia Plath 2012 Symposium

The following books will be for sale at the Sylvia Plath 2012 Symposium and many - if not all - of the authors will be on hand Saturday 27 October at 7:30 PM to sign. There may be additional books available, too.

Sylvia Plath and the Mythology of Women Readers
by Jane Badia

Burning of the Three Fires by Jeanne Maire Beaumont

Curious Conduct by Jeanne Maire Beaumont

Fugue by Emily Bobo

The Plath Cabinet by Catherine Bowman

Notarikon by Catherine Bowman

The Other Ariel by Lynda K. Bundtzen

Divine Margins by Peter Cooley

Among the Goddesses: An Epic Libretto In Seven Dreams by Annie Finch

Calendars by Annie Finch

The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath edited by Anita Helle

The Search Engine by Kathleen Ossip

The Cold War by Kathleen Ossip

Sylvia Plath by Peter K. Steinberg

Dear Prudence: New and Selected Poems by David Trinidad

The Late Show by David Trinidad

20 October 2012

Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes One Day Conference in Poland

I received the following information recently from Mark Ostas regarding a one day event will commemorate the 80th Anniversary of Plath's birthday and the 14th Anniversary of Hughes' death. It sounds like a really interesting conference.

Among their guest speakers is Plath's contemporary and author of Bitter Fame Anne Stevenson.

The conference will take place in the city of Katowice, Southern Poland - the seat of the Silesian University as well as the Silesian Library which is the venue of the conference. The conference is the part of the series of events marking the 90 years of the Library, although its present building is as modern as some of the poems by Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes.

26th October 2012, the Library of Silesia, the Parnassos Room, K-ce, 1 Rada Europy Square

'Bitter fame' – a session on the 80th anniversary of Sylvia Plath's birthday and the 14th anniversary of Ted Hughes’s death.

Host: Dr Paweł Jędrzejko

12.00-12.30 Mark Ostas 'Plath and Hughes from Cambridge to popculture.' (Reading of the letter from Seamus Heaney – the Literary Nobel Prizewinner of 1995.)

12.30-13.00 Prof. Anne Stevenson "Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath in the XXIst century."

13.00-13.30 Dr Tara Bergin "The Sound of Translation: The influence of translated poetry on the Ted Hughes' Crow."

13.30-14.00 Coffee Break

14.00-14.30 Dr Gabriela Marszołek "Nature in the poetry of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes."

14.30-15.00 Prof. Zbigniew Białas "The Prospero's Daughter."

15.00-15.30 Poetry and existence – Dr Maria Korusiewicz in conversation with Dr Paweł Jędrzejko.

15.30-16.00 Discussion

16.00-17.00 The Exhibition "It all began in Cambridge." (The Small Gallery in the Main Hall)

17.00-18.00 Dinner (The Library of Silesia – the Cafeteria)

17 October 2012

Sylvia Plath 2012 Symposium Final Panel Schedule

Indiana University, October 2002
The panels for the Sylvia Plath 2012 have been updated. Please revisit the panel presentations page to see the latest line-up. Although there is a recently discovered erroneous omission, I have been told the panel presentation page is final.

The Sylvia Plath Cookbook: A Satire

Eckhard Gerdes has recently had published his The Sylvia Plath Cookbook: A Satire.

From lulu.com, "The second in Sugar Glider Press' series of smaller works, Eckhard Gerdes' The Sylvia Plath Cookbook: A Satire is the clever story of a writer toying with the idea of putting together a piece on the tragic poet. As his obsession seems on the verge of permanently distracting him, it is Sylvia herself who emerges from her doom to set him free."

You can purchase Gerdes slim satire from the publisher or Amazon.

There are several clever allusions to Sylvia Plath's works, which does suggest a familiarity with the subject. As well, there are some seemingly obligatory references to the manner in which she died, which is always a slippery slope. Calling the book a satire might excuse this kind of thing, but I find it borders on crass exploitation and quasi-insensitivity.

14 October 2012

Sylvia Plath Archive and the Lilly Library

The Lilly Library at IU Bloomington
The Lilly Library is a great place to conduct research. Many Sylvia Plath scholars will descend upon the library's reading room over the next two weeks. For some, it will be their first time working with Plath's manuscripts, for others it will be a long-overdue return to a great place. I have had the pleasure of conducting Plathian research in more than a dozen repositories and although they are all libraries: they each have different policies and procedures for handling the materials. The Lilly Library is a lot like Fort Knox: they are strict. But they have to be.

Here is a list of some of the things I have learned in my five previous trips to the archive at Indiana University (as well as a few generally applicable things to keep in mind when working in libraries):

1. You'll only be allowed to work with one folder in one box at a time.
2. Ensure that the folder and all the papers with the folder remain fully on the desk at all times. Do not let anything hang over the edge. You will be reprimanded.
3. Keep the papers in the folders that you work with in the order in which you find them. If something's not right, consult with someone on staff.
4. Because of the "Transitions" exhibit in the Lilly Library, something like 70 items will not be available for scruntiny in the reading room. You'll have to visit the exhibition space to see them. These include some of her diaries, books from her personal library and poetry drafts, as well as items such as her extravagant childhood paper dolls, suitcase and unpublished letters from husband Ted Hughes.
5. Photography of materials is limited. Some libraries allow for rampant, free photography of their collections; however, each library is, as I have said, different. Consult with a librarian/archivist to determine what can and cannot be photographed.
6. Transcribe until your fingers blister.
7. It might be chilly in there so bring a sweater. Remember: archives are not about human comfort. They are about making the paper and other holdings last.

Of course, I'm certain there are more things to keep in mind, but these are what I can think of right now!

If you are going to be conducting research before or after the Symposium, I hope you enjoy yourself. If you do not have a blog or some other outlet in which to talk about the experience, please consider this blog as a welcome space to write about your time. I'd love to have guest posts and am sure the blogs readers would love to read your impressions. I think the most important thing to remember is that it is a privilege to work with Plath's papers (or really, any collection within an archive). Enjoy the archive. Respect it. I hope that at any given moment I am not working with something that another researcher is keen to have access to. If you think I might be, just let me know and I'll request something else.

As for my own research plans, in the past I have blogged nightly about my experiences in the archive. See the posts from my January 2012 trip to Smith College and from my January 2010 trip to the Lilly Library. I hope I don't repeat myself in my forthcoming updates (next week!), but I do find that by re-examining certainly materials, new information can be learned because of shifting perspectives. I have a couple of things I need to look at from Plath mss (the materials they bought during Plath's lifetime!) for one of my papers; but the most effort will likely be spent in Plath mss II, which is undoubtedly the largest focus for many people.

11 October 2012

Sylvia Plath 2012 Symposium Panel Presentations

In two weeks the Symposium will be under way!

The panel presentations for the Sylvia Plath 2012 Symposium are now online and presumed final. The main Symposium website - for all your informational needs - is here.

Please review the panel schedule and the main program schedule!  Why? Because I'm asking for fellow attendees to help in reporting on panels and other events for the benefit of those that cannot attend. What I would like to do is schedule a time to meet in the IMU Conference Center on the evening of Thursday 25 October to "assign" people to write reports. So, please think about this: is this something you'd like to do? To write notes and impressions on what you are hearing?

Check the blog the week of the Symposium to find out when and where we'll meet to go over panels. Please also email me peterksteinberg at hotmail dot com if you are interested, as well. First come, first served.

08 October 2012

More Exclusive Photographs from Sylvia Plath's Three Women

Director Melanie Thomas has sent over four additional photographs from her production of "Three Women" by Sylvia Plath. Enjoy! And if you make it to a performance please let us know.

Carly Grayson as the Third Woman -
"A hot blue day had budded into something."
Narda Shanley as the Second Woman -
"The sun is down. I die. I make a death"
Gabrielle Savrone as the First Woman -
"Their footsoles are untouched. They are walkers of air."
(L-R) Narda Shanley, Carly Grayson, Gabrielle Savrone -
 "I shall meditate upon normality. I shall meditate upon my little son."

Exclusive Three Women Photographs: Starts tomorrow in Melbourne

Director Melanie Thomas of Caged Bird Productions has been kind to share with us some photographs from the rehearsal of "Three Women" by Sylvia Plath, which opens tomorrow, 9 October, for a limited engagement at The Owl and the Pussycat, 34 Swan St Richmond VIC 3121, in Melbourne, Australia.

(L to R): Narda Shanley as the Second Woman, Carly Grayson as the
Third Woman (lying down) and Gabrielle Savrone as the First Woman.

Carly Grayson as the Third Woman, Gabrielle Savrone
as the First Woman, Narda Shanley as the Second Woman

Carly Grayson as the Third Woman

Gabrielle Savrone as the First Woman

Narda Shanley as the Second Woman 

Title: Three Women
Dates: 9 - 14 October
Times: 8.30pm; Saturday 13 October 12.30pm and 8.30pm (50min)
Venue: The Owl and the Pussycat, 34 Swan St Richmond VIC 3121
Tickets: Full $20 / Concession $18
Bookings: Online or call 03 9660 9666

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Media Enquiries: E-mail CagedBirds.Productions@gmail.com

"Three Women" by Sylvia Plath stars Gabrielle Savrone as First Woman; Narda Shanley as Second Woman, and Carly Grayson as Third Woman. "Three Women" is directed by Melanie Thomas, Produced by Jessica Morris Payne, and presented by Caged Bird Productions.

04 October 2012

Sylvia Plath: Copycat

Recently I had cause to revisit Eye Rhymes: Sylvia Plath's Art of the Visual edited by Kathleen Connors and Sally Bayley (2007, OUP, sadly out of print). It is absolutely an essential book for Plath's readers. The illustrations alone are worth it to own.

In Kathleen's wonderful book-length essay "Living Color: The Interactive Arts of Sylvia Plath" there is a reference to a book, An Ear for Uncle Emil by E. R. Gaggin, Plath read that wasn't - but now is - listed in her library on LibraryThing. Plath presumably read this book circa 1944 and was inspired to copy one of the many illustrations drawn by Kate Seredy in the book, which was first published in 1939.

Plath of course learned some of her drawing skills by copying, and it is analogous to suggest she learned to write poetry in the same way: by copying. Of course there were innate skills that she brought to each art form: I'm not suggesting otherwise.

In considering the drawing reproduced in Eye Rhymes, on page 12, I thought: would it not be interesting to see what the original looked like? Fortunately a local college library holds the book so I went over there yesterday to find the source. Below is the original, and beneath, courtesy of Google Books, Plath's drawing.

Update: 17 November 2015:
Today, reading Plath's diary, I learned that this drawing was completed on Wednesday, 19 July 1944.

01 October 2012

Sylvia Plath's Three Women on Melbourne Stage

Sylvia Plath's "Three Women" will be performed on stage in Melbourne, Australia from 9 to 14 October 2012.

I am a great event.

I am dying as I sit. I lose a dimension.

I undo her fingers like bandages: I go.

"Highly intricate and with an uncompromising, confessional style, Sylvia Plath's "Three Women" is a decidedly multifaceted poem based on three very distinct experiences of pregnancy: becoming a first-time mother, trying to survive yet another loss of a child and the difficult choices of giving a child up for adoption.

"With special permission by the Estate of Sylvia Plath and Faber and Faber Ltd, Caged Birds Productions brings to stage Plath's only script, written one year before her untimely demise, whose delicately layered voices question existence, the ache of belonging and delve into shrouded emotional experiences of childbirth."

Below is information you need to know from the official media release!

Acclaimed poet Sylvia Plath, in her only script, delicately interweaves three uncompromisingly honest experiences of childbirth, miscarriage and adoption, expressing thoughts on pregnancy which, 50 years since written, remain universal yet rarely spoken. Marking the first time her estate and publishers have granted rights for an Australian performance, Caged Birds Productions presents Plath's "Three Women" at The Owl and the Pussycat, Richmond, during this year's Melbourne Fringe.

A 'poem for three voices' written as a radio drama in 1962, "Three Women" entwines three emotionally-driven monologues describing distinct experiences of pregnancy. The First Woman is an excited yet distressed first- time mother. The Second Woman experiences yet another late-term loss of child. The Third Woman is a young college student resolved to give her baby up for adoption. Each encapsulates the 'exquisite, heartbreaking quality' that novelist Joyce Carol Oates says 'has made Sylvia Plath our acknowledged Queen of Sorrows, the spokeswoman for our most private, most helpless nightmares.'

"Three Women" echoes Plath's own experiences of pregnancy: the birth of a daughter then son in 1960 and 1962 and a miscarriage in 1961. Within 6 months of "Three Women" being broadcast on BBC Radio in 1962, Plath committed suicide aged 30, with gas from the oven in her London home, her children left with milk and sealed off in an adjoining room.

Despite being Plath's only script, with each character capturing Plath’s confessional and highly empathetic voice; "Three Women" remains a little-known work. Since first staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company in London in 1973, "Three Women" has been performed only several times in the UK and US. On discovering the script, director Melanie Thomas immediately felt it resonated with her personal experiences of pregnancy and vocalised thoughts that, though many share them, are often left shrouded and left undiscussed. Determined to therefore bring "Three Women" to stage, this is the first known authorised production of the work in Australia.

"Three Women" (c) Estate of Sylvia Plath and reprinted by permission of Faber and Faber Ltd.

Dates: 9 - 14 October
Times: 8.30pm; Saturday 13 October 12.30pm and 8.30pm (50min)
Venue: The Owl and the Pussycat, 34 Swan St Richmond VIC 3121
Tickets: Full $20 / Concession $18
Bookings: Online at melbournefringe.com.au or call 03 9660 9666

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Written by Sylvia Plath
Director Melanie Thomas
Producer Jessica Morris Payne
Presented by Caged Birds Productions

First Woman Gabrielle Savrone
Second Woman Narda Shanley
Third Woman Carly Grayson
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