27 November 2012

Unveiling the Face of Sylvia Plath

Press Release

Celebration of Ariel and New Plath Portrait at Smith

NORTHAMPTON, Mass.—The Poetry Center and the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College are pleased to announce the unveiling of a stunning new portrait of Sylvia Plath ’55 by Susan Seidner Adler ’57. The celebration of the acquisition of the painting and the 50th anniversary of the creation of Plath’s Ariel poems will take place on November 29 at 7:00 pm in the Poetry Center.

The large oil-on-canvas painting depicting a college-age Sylvia Plath with a draft of her iconic Ariel poem “Stings” in the background was recently commissioned by Esther C. Laventhol ’57, a housemate of Sylvia Plath at Lawrence House during her junior and senior years at Smith. The evening’s festivities will include a Q&A with the artist and donor of the painting, followed by readings of favorite Plath poems by students, faculty, and curators.

Light refreshments will be served following the reading. Sponsored by the Poetry Center and the Mortimer Rare Book Room, the event is free and open to the public. For more information please contact Jennifer Blackburn in the Poetry Center (jblackbu@smith.edu; telephone 413-585-4891) or Karen Kukil, curator of the Sylvia Plath Collection in the Mortimer Rare Book Room (kkukil@smith.edu; telephone 413-585-2908).

For disability access information or to request accommodations, call (413) 585-2407. To request a sign language interpreter specifically, call (413) 585-2071 (voice or TTY) or e-mail ODS@smith.edu. All requests must be made at least 10 days prior to the event.

24 November 2012

Did you know... Sylvia Plath and Bartholomew Fair

In the fall of 1955, in her first term as a graduate student at Newnham College, Cambridge University, Sylvia Plath played the role of Alice in Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair (1614), produced by the Amateur Dramatics Club in Cambridge from November 24-December 3, 1955.



Alice's role is "mistress o' the game." The role has just a five lines (and a fight!). Did you know … what those lines were?

They were:


  • "A mischiefe on you, they are such as you are, that undo us, and take our trade from us, with your tuft-taffata haunches.";
  • "The poore common whores can ha'no traffic, for the privy rich ones; your caps and hoods of velvet call away our customers, and lick the fat from us.";
  • "Od's foot, you Bawd in grease, are you talking?";
  • "Thou Sow of Smithfield, thou!";
  • "Ay, by the same token, you rid that week, and broke out of the bottom o'the Cart, Night-tub."

    (source, with some "corrections" made; I should add this source was not necessarily the script from which Plath read)


Plath originally got no part in the production, saying in a letter to her mother written on November 7, 1955, that "Acting simply takes up too much time. I was really glad I didn't get a part in the coming production of Bartholomew Fair (although, of course, it injured my ego slightly..." (Letters Home 194).

But, by November 21, 1955, Plath had been given a role. She writes to her mother, "I have five lines as a rather screaming bawdy woman who gets into a fight" (196).

Perhaps the fight served as training for February 25, 1956!?

Postscript: Prior to her role as Alice in Bartholomew Fair, Plath performed as the mad poetess Phoebe Clinkett from Three Hours After Marriage written by Alexander Pope. John Gay, and John Arbuthnot (1717) (read it here). This was one of three "nursery" productions the ADC produced on 22 October 1955 (the same day that Plath saw Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh in Cambridge).

19 November 2012

Lost Sylvia Plath Poem Stunned Us in 1998: Or did it?

Unbelievable. Simply the only word I can think of to describe November 19 & 20, 1998. How did we miss it? How did we not know? The (Sylvia Plath) world was still reeling from the publication of Birthday Letters and the then quite recent passing of Ted Hughes.

Just three articles (per Lexis-Nexis Academic) ran on this particular story and appeared in The Guardian, The Evening Standard, and The Irish Times. The headlines were provocative to say the least...The Guardian article, authored by Rory Carroll, used "Discovery of Plath's Forgotten Teenage Poems Dismays Friends." The Evening Standard tried out "Early Plath Platitudes Dismay Poetry World." And, The Irish Times said "Plath Find Sheds Light on Sexuality."

The first paragraph of Carroll's article reads, "The literary world was stunned last night after the discovery of three forgotten Sylvia Plath poems revealed both sexual disgust and technical immaturity, providing an embarrassing footnote to her legacy as one of the century's greatest poets." What a terrifically awful sentence! Everything about it...This is, or rather was, an instance where new "news" was kind of old news. And was the literary world literally stunned? Three articles? Does that count for a stunning? The poems referred to in this article were published originally in 1975 as Trois Poemes Inedits, so they can actually be hardly considered "new." However, what is so amazing is that Rick Gekoski, a bookseller, simply found a copy of the book - with the original manuscript of one of the poems - on a shelf in a New York bookshop!

I am not sure how the literary world was really stunned by the news considering that so few newspapers seemingly picked up on the story! Certainly in the Plath world it was not noticed: at the time the then very active Sylvia Plath Forum did not have any posts on it. Stunning!

One of the poems was printed in the above-mentioned Guardian article, and Gekoski, said, "I don't think anyone would rate it as a great poem, but it has a raw power. It's at a pitch and intensity in its treatment of sexuality that I haven't seen in any of her other poems. Anyone who wrote this was capable of great poetry." On the quality of a poem that must be considered juvenilia, Al Alvarez commented, "It just shows that from tiny acorns mighty oaks grow." Amazingly, the poem printed in the article is different (longer by four lines at the beginning) from that published in Trois Poemes Inedits.

Regarding the poem as printed in the Guardian, the poem begins with four lines that were not a part of the poem as it appears in Trois Poemes Inedits! These four missing lines are: "I lean outward toward the sky / And should fumble in if I / Were not held here cleverly / By the threads of my identity". Then it comes in harmony with the Trois Poemes Inedits version: "The sweet sickish female odor..." The poem in Trois Poemes Inedits and the one in The Guardian also differ by the line breaks, capitalization, etc. Why these four lines were excised from the limited edition is a curious omission.

100 copies of the book Trois Poemes Inedits were printed by J J Dufour in Paris, 1975. Three of the one hundred were "especial." Each of these three included the original manuscript of one of the poems printed. There is at least one copy of Trois Poemes Inedits for sale via James Cummins Bookseller in New York City. If interested, please contact the seller through his website. Aside from some copies which are undoubtedly in private hands, WorldCat lists only one in a library. That copy, held by the Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is one of the 97 that are not "especial." I wrote a bit about Trois Poemes Inedits in November 2010 after seeing a proof copy of it for sale at the Boston Book Fair. In that post I mentioned that Smith College has one of the three "especial" copies. What I failed to say then is the title of the poem in manuscript in their copy, which is numbered 3 in the book, is "A time of clear white understanding." Not sure where numbers one and two are, but I would love to see them.

17 November 2012

Sylvia Plath Books at the Boston Book Fair

This years Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair did not dissapoint when it came to getting to see and touch rare and valuable Sylvia Plath books. There is the perennial first edition of The Colossus signed by Plath to fellow poet Theodore Roethke that I am glad seems impervious to selling from the fine bookseller James S. Jaffe Rare Books. At $50,000 it is the Mercedes Benz of books. Only, people buy cars. If only they realized that a book will not depreciate so swiftly... If anyone out there feels so inclined, I am more than open to receiving this book as a gift. Thank you. Jaffe also brought a stunning first Faber edition of Ariel ($4,000) as well as a signed, limited edition of Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes ($850).

On a side note: please for the love of sanity, alphabetize your displayed books. This persnickety peruser refuses to detail your Plath books if you do not alphabetize. Thank you.

Paul Foster brought their copies of Plath limited editions: The Green Rock and A Day in June. These are always nice to see.

Peter L. Stern had on display the delicious $12,500 copy of the first Heinemann Victoria Lucas The Bell Jar complete with a custom made box to protect it. Like Jaffe's Colossus I would gratefully receive this into my heart if a reader of this blog feels kindly towards me.

Between the Covers, one of my favorites, had the long galley proofs of Crossing the Water on display for $2,000. BTC also had on display the first Harper & Row Ariel, and first Faber editions of Crossing the Water and Winter Trees. All in drool worthy condition.

The last highlight for me was meeting Lisa Baskin of Cumberland Books. Lisa is the widow of Leonard Baskin. Pretty cool. I expect there were more Plath books there that I did not see, but my primary purpose today was work-related, and so did not get as much of a chance as I normall do to walk around and browse.

15 November 2012

2 books by Sylvia Plath Now Available

There are been two recent publications of books authored by Sylvia Plath. The first is Carol Ann Duffy's selection of seventy-five poems by Plath, with a foreword by Duffy. Published on 1 November, the book is available in the UK in hardback and on Kindle; and in the US, you can buy it on Kindle (or order the hardback book from the UK site). Duffy's introduction was reprinted in The Guardian on 2 November 2012.

The other "new" book is The Bell Jar in a Kindle edition, which was published in mid-August. A different Kindle version -published on 8 November- was online for a couple of days, but has now disappeared. The Bell Jar has been available in a Kindle edition to UK customers for quite some time.

While at it, it appears that Ariel: The Restored Edition is now also available to US Kindle customers.

A general reminder: one does not need the actual Kindle device to enjoy Sylvia Plath's books in an eBook format. Kindle offers reading apps for your PC and your smartphone.

14 November 2012

Boston Book Fair this weekend: Sylvia Plath Books!

Collect Plath Books Yoda Does
This weekend is the 36th Annual Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. Are you going? You should consider it. It is like a petting zoo for nerds. In the past, I have reported on the rare and valuable Sylvia Plath books and related materials that I have seen and I see no reason to deviate from this pattern. So, I hope to have something written up for Sunday. I have rummaged through the list of sellers to see what Plath books they might have, and have made a couple of small requests for sellers to bring specific stock items for purchase. Small things because, frankly, that $50,000 The Colossus signed by Plath to Theodore Roethke is still outside of my budget...

13 November 2012

Newly Published Books About Sylvia Plath


Published officially today by the Northeastern University Press is Kathleen Spivack's memoir With Robert Lowell and His Circle: Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Elizabeth Bishop, Stanley Kunitz & Others. 256 pages, ISBN: 978-1555537883. Retail price: $19.95.

Order from the publisher:  Or, buy through Amazon.com.

Also published today is Analyzing Sylvia Plath (an academic mystery) by Alice Walsh. The book is available in paperback and as a Kindle ebook.

10 November 2012

Book trailer: American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath by Carl Rollyson

American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath by Carl Rollyson is a much anticipated biography (St. Martin's Press, 2013). Donald Spoto calls this new Plath biography "compulsively readable." Lois Banner says Rollyson shows how Plath "both shaped and reflected her times, becoming a symbol for our age."

Carl has recently made a book trailer for his American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath. (Mind you, this is not a trailer for a movie...just an advertisement for the book.) American Isis is the first full length biography of Sylvia Plath since 1991, and benefits from: a wide range of recently opened archival collections in the US and England; the 2000 publication of Plath's Unabridged Journals; interviews with friends and students from Smith College; and features new information from A. Alvarez, David Wevill and Elizabeth Sigmund.

In conjunction with the release of this book trailer - a novel idea, by the way, to promote both the the book itself, the subject, and the act of reading - Rollyson will start Tweeting sentences from his book on Twitter (@crollyson). Follow Carl on Twitter to get a sneak preview of American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath.

Buy the book American Isis from Amazon.com; or the US Kindle edition. Or, buy the book American Isis from Amazon.co.uk.

----

Are you intrigued about the cover photo for American Isis? I sure am. The photograph was taken by Plath's fellow Lawrence housemate Judy Denison, whom Rollyson interviewed for his book. Plath was a resident of Lawrence in 1952-1953, Spring 1954, and then 1954-1955; Denison matriculated in the fall of 1953 and graduated in 1957. Denison took the photograph in April 1954: just barely over two months after her return to Smith from her breakdown!

In an undated letter to her then boyfriend Gordon Lameyer, which can be accurately dated based on the evidence in the letter to November 6, 1954, Plath begins her letter with a description of the probably the same apparel worn in the photo. The letter cannot be quoted as it is unpublished, but suffice to say she describes herself as wearing that day an old Navy sweater, Oxford gray Bermuda shorts, and knee socks. Sounds like the photograph on Carl's book, no?

07 November 2012

Review of Ted and I by Gerald Hughes

Memoir is a tricky genre. On the one hand the subject of the memoir is greedily consumed by its readers; on the other hand questions surrounding the veracity of memory come into the forefront. Memoirs of Sylvia Plath have been particularly scrutinized: even the ones written in the first decade or so after her death when memories are presumably fresher.

Ted and I by Gerald Hughes (Robson Press, 2012), brother of the poet, is a book worth reading. In some ways Gerald is "the other" or is "an other" in the life of Ted Hughes: a dream, an ideal, that would never be realized. Ted and I is divided into three sensible parts; "Childhood"; "The War Years"; and "Keeping in Touch". Each part is further divided into subparts.

"Childhood" was the least emotive part of the book: a series of broken memories, shorter staccato vignettes and mostly nondescript that in some ways could describe the childhood of any myriad of boys and girls. Not a criticism by any means, just a failure to engage the reader in a period of time long ago...Ted Hughes himself spoke about these years quite convincingly as being crucial to his development. Particularly so in his "Two of a Kind" interview with Sylvia Plath and Owen Leeming in January 1961. Ted Hughes says, "when I was about eight then all that was sealed off, we moved to Mexborough which was industrial and depressing and dirty and - oh well at the time made us all very unhappy but it was really a very good thing. It became - it became a much richer experience for me than - than my previous seven years had been, but in being as different it really sealed off my first seven years so that now I have memories of my first seven years which - my first seven years seem almost half my life. I've - I've remembered almost everything because it was sealed off in that particular way and became a sort of brain - another subsidiary brain for me." Readers of Sylvia Plath will note with particular interested how the image of childhood sealed off would be reused more succinctly in her own way in her late January 1963 prose piece which examined the landscape of her childhood: "Ocean 1212-W".

"The War Years" was incredibly moving and well written. The stories and experiences of Gerald Hughes during this time make the book memorable, as well as the last part "Keeping in Touch". Readers of this blog will find "Keeping in Touch" of the most interest for this is where Sylvia Plath is inserted into the story. The never published before photographs complement quotations from previously unpublished letters from Plath's to Gerald and his wife Joan, whom she never met. The original letters from Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes to Gerald and Joan are part of Hughes mss II at the Lilly Library. These letters of course were readable in the Reading Room, but before now not really ever quotable. They provide some biographical information, are mostly chipper, show some wit, and in my opinion make Plath quite a likable figure when compared to the impression one gets when reading her letters to her mother in Letter Home. Gerald even says of the tone of the correspondence: "We felt close" (144).

As the memoir progresses we see Plath pass. Gerald describes Plath's death as "dreadful" (163). But in citing some of his brother's letters, we get a differing opinion from the one so often discussed in biography. What is generally reported is that Hughes and Plath were close to repairing their relationship; that they were two weeks away from reconciling things. But in Ted and I, we see Ted Hughes writing to his brother, "All this business has been terrible - especially for Sylvia - but it was inevitable" (163) Gerald describes the breakup, in Ted's words, as a "relief" (163). This is not dredged up to pick a fight with the Hughes family or Hughes readers and fans, but it does show that the dissolution of the marriage was messy and in some ways we will obviously never know what Ted Hughes' intentions were, nor where the relationship actually stood. Maybe we are not meant to.

Gerald Hughes writes sincerely about his brother post-Plath. The paragraphs on Plath's nervousness surrounding the publication of The Bell Jar are difficult to read, but also highlight an under-exposed circumstance in the last weeks of Plath's life: how publication of the novel affected her under all the circumstances she was living in during January 1963. Not to digress too much, but how different might Plath's situation have been had The Bell Jar been published in 1962, as was originally planned by Heinemann? Copies of the proof of the novel have a copyright date of 1962. The novel's publication was of course delayed because Plath one the Saxton grant, and Heinemann were quite gracious in delaying it so she could claim all the reward money. Remember that as the novel was already completed, Plath just bundled it up into four installments and submitted it quarterly per the requirements... Had the novel been published in 1962, it might have been before the breakup of her marriage and she might have been in a different frame of mind to see her story out there. All these "might have"'s are largely speculative, of course, and also rhetorical in nature.

Back to Ted and I and the chapter "Keeping in Touch", Assia Wevill and her daughter Shura pass, too, and eventually Ted Hughes. These episodes are treated naturally, with tact and genuine feeling, so that with each death the reader cannot help but feel affected for the personal way in which she or he engages with Gerald Hughes' writing. The reproduction of Gerald Hughes' artwork are quite impressive, and show a creative talent running through the family.

Ted and I, with a foreword by Frieda Hughes is a good book. Overall the sibling and family love is clear and candid. Thank you Gerald Hughes, and Frieda Hughes, for getting these memories in print. Buy the book from The Robson Press.

04 November 2012

Walkers of Air by Auralaria

I received the following link from Luisa Pastor, director of "Walkers of Air". Pastor runs a performance poetry group and audiovisual, called Auralaria, in Alicante, Spain - a place we all know of this place as a site where Sylvia Plath spent a part of her honeymoon with Ted Hughes, and from Spanish-themed poems like "Alicante Lullaby", "Fiesta Melons", and "The Goring", to name a few. Auralaria's recent work is devoted to the figure of Sylvia Plath and consists of a videopoem inspired by a fragment of her poem "Three Women", which they have titled "Walkers of air", a phrase spoken by the First Voice (also known as The Wife).

You can see the video either on their blog, or via a YouTube link.
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Publications & Acknowledgements

  • BBC Four.A Poet's Guide to Britain: Sylvia Plath. London: BBC Four, 2009. (Acknowledged in)
  • Biography: Sylvia Plath. New York: A & E Television Networks, 2005. (Photographs used)
  • Connell, Elaine. Sylvia Plath: Killing the angel in the house. 2d ed. Hebden Bridge: Pennine Pens, 1998. (Acknowledged in)
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives." Plath Profiles 2. Summer 2009: 183-208.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 3." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 119-138.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012: 11-56.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past." Plath Profiles 6. Summer 2013: 27-62.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017.
  • Death Be Not Proud: The Graves of Poets. New York: Poets.org. (Photographs used)
  • Doel, Irralie, Lena Friesen and Peter K. Steinberg. "An Unacknowledged Publication by Sylvia Plath." Notes & Queries 56:3. September 2009: 428-430.
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Helle, Anita Plath. The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. (Photographs used, acknowledged in)
  • Helle, Anita. "Lessons from the Archive: Sylvia Plath and the Politics of Memory". Feminist Studies 31:3. Fall 2005: 631-652.. (Acknowledged in)
  • Holden, Constance. "Sad Poets' Society." Science Magazine. 27 July 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women, Motion Picture. Directed by Rachel Talbot. Brookline (Mass.): Jewish Women's Archive, 2007. (Photograph used)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Karen V. Kukil. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. (Acknowledged in)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, 1940-1956. London: Faber, 2017.
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2, 1956-1963. London: Faber, 2018.
  • Plath, Sylvia. Glassklokken. Oslo: De norske Bokklubbene, 2004. (Photograph used on cover)
  • Reiff, Raychel Haugrud. Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar and Poems (Writers and Their Works). Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2008.. (Images provided)
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'A Fetish: Somehow': A Sylvia Plath Bookmark." Court Green 13. 2017.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'I Should Be Loving This': Sylvia Plath's 'The Perfect Place' and The Bell Jar." Plath Profiles 1. Summer 2008: 253-262.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "A Perfectly Beautiful Time: Sylvia Plath at Camp Helen Storrow." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 149-166.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Proof of Plath." Fine Books & Collections 9:2. Spring 2011: 11-12.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "The Persistence of Plath." Fine Books & Collections. Autumn 2017: 24-29
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "This is a Celebration: A Festschrift for The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3 Supplement. Fall 2010: 3-14.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.

Interviews