29 November 2013

Event: Sylvia Plath in the Domestic Sublime

The following event will take place on 5 December 2013 at 7:30 pm at the Helen Hills Hills Chapel at the esteemed Smith College. Please see the flyer below for all the great details on this Sylvia Plath related event.

BACH Goldberg Variations, BWV 988
SCHOENBERG Drei Klavierstücke, Op.11
and Sechs kleine Klavierstücke, Op.19

PLATH Kindness, Totem, Cut, Nick and the Candlestick, Mary’s Song, Child, Contusion, Words, and Balloons

Sylvia Plath in the Domestic Sublime celebrates the visionary voice and breathing spirit of Plath, 50 years after the poet’s death in 1963.

Like Plath’s late poems, Bach’s Goldberg Variations are at once intimate, personal, domestic; and macrocosmic, baring the deep architecture of the universe and the sufferings of the Platonic world-soul. With musically dynamic magic, the Goldberg Variations (inward as a dream, expansive as sunlight) transform the involutions of their close-hearkening dwelling-space within the human heart into a gothic cathedral reaching toward spiralling stars; while from the polyphonically woven body of the Goldberg, Plath’s words of domestic apocalypse bloom like stigmata; bleeding into the postapocalyptic beautiful world and abyss of Schoenberg’s Klavierstücke.

This performance is a creative outcome of Danaë Killian's postdoctoral research project at the University of Melbourne, Transformations and Initiations: Sylvia Plath in Flames, in Performance. In this research, Danaë Killian seeks like Plath to performatively cross flaming thresholds between biography and art, existence and death, potential and actual selves.

26 November 2013

Sylvia Plath Collections: Texas Quarterly

Just a small post today. Sylvia Plath had two poems published in Texas Quarterly: "Flute Notes from a Reedy Pond" and "Witch Burning". Both poems appeared in specially themed issues on Britain and largely featured British writers. Which is bizarre as Plath was American (her way of talk was an "American way of talk"…), both poems were written in Yaddo, Saratoga Springs, as parts of her sequence "Poem for a Birthday" in the Fall of 1959. However, Ted Hughes figures prominently in the issue, so she must have been lumped in with him.

Winter 1960 issue
In the "Texas Quarterly records", held at the University of Texas at Austin's Harry Ransom Center, there is just one typescript that a kind archivist searched for me (us!) and found: "Flute Notes from a Reedy Pond" which appeared in the Winter 1960 issue. Ted Hughes' poem "Lines to a Newborn Baby" and his story "The Caning" also appeared in the Winter 1960 issue. One particular feature of that issue is that it prints a facsimile autograph and illustrated copy of Hughes' poem on page iv. I cannot even begin to describe what the illustration if of, but it is almost Baskin-esque. In case you were wondering, Plath's "Witch Burning" was printed in the Autumn 1961 issue, along with Hughes' story "Miss Mambrett and the Wet Cellar" and "Two Poems for a Verse Play" ("The Captain's Speech" and "The Gibbons"). Plath is neither photographed along with other British poets in the 1960 number nor does she have a contributor note; however she does appear with a contributor note in the 1961 special issue. The photograph of Hughes was taken by Hans Beacham and he is wearing the same outfit as the one that graced the cover of the paperback issue of Diane Middlebrook's Her Husband (2004, you can see that cover here). The one with Plath in profile looking left and both of them appearing rather stony: maybe she was taken suddenly upset because she found out that her photograph would not be in the issue?

Autumn 1961 issue
I bothered a couple of different archivists looking for letters. Sadly, none were found in several likely boxes, but perhaps we should not expect one? According to Plath's submissions lists held by Smith College, she sent "Poem for a Birthday" to the "Texas Q" on 9 July 1960. She annotated the list in red pencil indicating that "Flute Notes" and "Witch Burning" were accepted and that for these poems she received $35. In a letter to her mother written on Tuesday, 16 August 1960, Plath writes: "We had lunch with one of the editors of the Texas Quarterly last Saturday [13 August 1960] at his rented rooms, with several other people. He is a professor & a charming, odd man. In addition to taking $100 worth of poems from the two of us, he is buying one of Ted's stories" (Letters Home 390).

I dislike the speculation-game, but perhaps Plath and Hughes sent the poems to the editor in London and he did not save the letters? Or, perhaps they met with the editor on or around 9 July, the day her submissions list indicates her poems were sent off, and handed him the poems directly? The most likely person with whom they met is T.M. Cranfill (Thomas Mabry Cranfill: info) who appears in Plath's address book (held at Smith College). Plath lists the address for him as 89 Albion Gate, Hyde Park Place, London W2 (Map).

There is no finding aid online for these records, only a preliminary inventory which provides a higher-level breakdown of the contents of boxes and folders and as yet remains outside of the intellectual control and ultimate physical order which archivists give to their collections. However you can find out about some of the collections they have on this page. Well, the intention was that this would be a small post, but it turned out to be - for me - far more interesting than I thought. In order to make sense of everything I needed not only the consultation with the people at the Harry Ransom Center, but also archival materials from the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College and the Lilly Library at Indiana University, as well as Letters Home and along with cross referencing address with Google Maps and Google Street View. My deepest appreciation to Marian Oman and Emily Roehl for their assistance in browsing through several boxes on my behalf.

Archival research often requires the use of multiple repositories. Certainly this is the case with Sylvia Plath. Because personal visits are prohibitively expensive, the use of email or the telephone for queries greatly relieves the stress of trying to locate material(s). Especially for a collection like this where no finding aid is online. It was really a shot in the dark and it feels fortunate that a typescript turned up, at the least. It is possible one day letters from Plath to the good people at the Texas Quarterly will turn up.

You can see more libraries that hold Plath materials on the Archival Materials page of my website for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is.

All links accessed 20 September 2013.

22 November 2013

Sylvia Plath Collections: Kenyon Review

The archives of the Kenyon Review (journal website), held by Greenslade Special Collections and Archives of the Olin Library at Kenyon College, contains a small amount of Sylvia Plath materials. These include two letters and two typescript poems. The letters are addressed to the Kenyon Review editor Robie Macauley (obituary) and are dated 28 November 1959 and 5 May 1960. The typescript poems are "The Bee-Keeper's Daughter" and "The Colossus." These two poems appeared in the Autumn 1960 issue.

The first letter from 28 November 1959 expresses delight at the acceptance of these two poems, and gives a brief biographical sketch. Plath mentions graduating from Smith College and her Fulbright to Cambridge University; and lists the following periodicals in which her poetry has previously appeared: Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, The Hudson Review, The New Yorker, The Partisan Review, Poetry (Chicago), and The Sewanee Review. Plath, mere weeks from relocating to England, closes the letter with her forwarding address of The Beacon in Heptonstall.

The second letter dated 5 May 1960 is one of courtesy, letting Macauley know that her first book of poems, The Colossus had been accepted in England and would appear in the fall or early winter. She expressed concern for the timing of her poems' appearance in the Kenyon Review and sought to avoid scheduling conflict. Plath informs Macauley that her address was currently 3 Chalcot Square.

Both typescripts bare Plath's 26 Elmwood Road, Wellesley address and are marked up with editorial instructions in red pencil. In her first letter Plath typed the poem title as "The Bee-Keeper's Daughter" (note the hyphen). However, in the typescript, the poem title appears as "The Beekeepers Daughter" (no hyphen).

Thanks must be made to Alexander Koch of the Archives and Special Collections at Kenyon University for his amazing helpfulness and efficiency.

You can see more libraries that hold Plath materials on the Archival Materials page of my website for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is.

All links accessed 4 September 2013.

19 November 2013

Sylvia Plath Collections: J Kerker Quinn Papers

In the J Kerker Quinn papers in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, there is a mini treasure trove of Sylvia Plath archival materials.

Quinn was the editor of the journal Accent, which published two poems ("Recantation" and "Tinker Jack and the Tidy Wives") by Plath in their Autumn 1957 issue.

In the Quinn papers there are two undated letters from Plath to the Poetry Editor; five typescript poems ("The Eye-Mote"; "The Thin People"; "Landowners"; "Maudlin"; and "Green Rock, Winthrop Bay"); and a typescript of her short story "Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams". Additional materials in the papers include reader report comments on Plath's submissions.

The undated letters from Plath can be roughly dated to circa 5 April 1957 and 1 July 1959. This is based on the date received that was marked down on the reader reports for Accent. The 1957 letter had a return address of 55 Eltisley Avenue in Cambridge. This letter Plath says she's enclosing several poems for their consideration. She states that her poems to that point had appeared in the following magazines: The Antioch Review, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, The Nation, Lyric, Mademoiselle, and Poetry (Chicago), among others. Ever courteous in business matter, Plath thanked them for their time in considering her poems. We know two of the poems were "Recantation" and "Tinker Jack and the Tidy Wives" as they were printed in the autumn of that year. The poems were accepted on 23 April 1957. The readers of the poems found them "interesting", a little "thick", and "Yeatsian." The comments indicated that the poems needed some revision, but what these suggestions were is not stated. it was ultimately deemed that the poems were "worth it".

There is no accompanying letter, but Plath submitted her story "Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams" which was received by the magazine on 25 February 1959. The story was not accepted and as you might expect, the readers comments were mixed: slow to get started but a "creepy thing" by the end. One reviewer objected to the tone of the piece, not liking the jokes and sound effects which Plath made and employed. That being said, the story did grab one readers attention.

Plath submitted a batch of poems which were received on 1 July 1959. The poems were: "The Eye-Mote"; "The Thin People"; "Landowners"; "Maudlin"; and "Green Rock, Winthrop Bay." Her cover letter, while polite as ever, is one of the most bizarre I've ever seen her send. It was on a torn snippet of pink Smith College Memorandum paper, very narrow, including a typo: quite rushed and perhaps indicative of the chances she thought of placing with poems with them.. Though the poems all have her 9 Willow Street address in the top right corner, the letter gives an updated address of 26 Elmwood Road. At the time, Plath was just days away from beginning her cross-country trip with Ted Hughes, after which they were going to Yaddo. Two of the poems seemed to have been considered more thoroughly than the others: "The Eye-Mote" and "The Thin People" but these were all rejected in the end. Strangely a note indicating that they were going to "Take 2" appears on this readers report but it is unclear that they ever did publish them. (Plath continued to submit these poems throughout 1959 and 1960 and "The Eye-Mote" was published in the US in May 1960 by The Chelsea Review.)

Another editor of Accent at the time, Daniel Curley, also has his papers at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. However, sadly, a search through the appropriate boxes and folders found no Plath items in them. Daniel Curley, irony of ironies, appears in Plath's address book (housed at Smith College) but J Kerker Quinn does not. Go figure.

My deepest appreciation to Curator Anna Chen and Cara Setsu Bertram, the Visiting Archival Operations and Reference Specialist, at the University Archives of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for their assistance, time, and patience with my requests for information. You can see more libraries that hold Plath materials on the Archival Materials page of my website for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is.

All links accessed 4 September 2013.

15 November 2013

Sylvia Plath Collections: Stuart Rose Literary Collection

The Roy Davids' Collection (catalog description) auction held by Bonhams earlier this year featured wonderful Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, and even Assia Wevill materials. The prices realized for the documents was quite substantial. I was curious at the time where they would end up… And now we partially know. Several of the auctioned items are now held by Emory University in Atlanta in the Manuscripts and Rare Books Library (MARBL) in the Stuart Rose Literary Collection (permalink). This is a fitting place for these materials as Emory holds a massive collection of Ted Hughes papers already. The collection features a substantial sub-series of Sylvia Plath materials (series 3), and in addition there are smaller collections, including Letters to Assia Wevill, among others.

The following are now available for research use with no stated restrictions on access:

Box 1 Folder 10: Hughes, Ted, "The Evolution of Sheep in the Fog," by Sylvia Plath, 7 working drafts, circa February 1988;

Box 1 Folder 15 Plath, Sylvia, "Night Thoughts," typescript draft and "Tonight in the infinitesimal light," autograph manuscript; and Ted Hughes, "Endless," autograph manuscript, no dates;

Box 1 Folder 17 (and oversize) Wevill, Assia, photographs.

The Plath poems in Folder 15 consist of a typescript of "Barren Woman" (though then the draft was titled "Night Thoughts" -- the poem was also called, for a time "Small Hours") and autograph manuscript of the second stanza of "I am vertical". An image of the stanza of "I am vertical" is visible on Bonhams website.

Thank you Stuart Rose for purchasing these materials and making them available for scholarly use via Emory University. Your actions are admirable and I hope they serve as a role model to others.

You can see more libraries that hold Plath materials on the Archival Materials page of my website for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is.

All links accessed 3 & 27 October 2013.

12 November 2013

Sylvia Plath's "Evolution"

Recently I was browsing through ABEbooks.com and saw something that nearly stopped my heart: a poem by Sylvia Plath called "Evolution" that appeared in a periodical called Experiment Magazine. The bookseller description reads:
Chicago, 1950. Soft Cover. Book Condition: Very Good. First Edition. Very good in original wrappers with light wear. Early, perhaps the third, appearance of Plath in print. Uncommon and, to the best of our knowledge, unrecorded. Bookseller Inventory # b31364. $750.
I wrote to Clayton Fine Books of Shepherdstown, WV, who has a great collection of Sylvia Plath books available to begin with, and received a reply very quickly from Cameron Northouse (who co-authored Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton: A Reference Guide with Thomas P. Walsh in 1974, which at the time was the first full-length bibliography published on Plath). Northouse found the periodical in Maine: a very lucky find. And considering that it was a previously unrecorded publication of a poem that has been all but lost to history and that it is undoubtedly a very scarce object now: the $750 price tag does not seem too steep. Though it is about $740 more than I can afford. (FYI: Christmas is coming, I accept gifts.)

Roosevelt University's
archival copy of
Experiment Magazine
Experiment was published out of Roosevelt College in Chicago, Illinois. This particular issue is number 4 and came out in December 1950. You might be doing the math: Sylvia Plath + Chicago + 1950 = ? There are two possible answers, but one is I think clearly more likely than the other: Eddie Cohen.

My initial feeling was that "Eddie Cohen had this published unbeknownst to Plath". However, if I was betting myself then I lost as a little research uncovered some information about this. Plath sent this poem, along with two others ("Bitter Strawberries" and "Kitchen Interlude"), in late August or very early September 1950. "Bitter Strawberries" had been published already in the Christian Science Monitor on 11 August. Cohen remarked in his letter dated 2 September that he liked "Evolution" the best out of these three; and then in a letter written on 15 September, Cohen asks if he can submit it on her behalf to Experiment. Cohen's own piece "So Proudly We Hailed" appears in the issue just after Plath's poem, on page 9. Cohen's letters to Plath are held in Plath mss II at the Lilly Library. Neither "Kitchen Interlude" nor "Evolution" are listed in Plath's Collected Poems, in the section called "Uncollected Juvenilia: A complete list of poems composed before 1956" (pages 339-342 in the U.S. First edition).

Clayton Fine Books' description says that it is perhaps the third time Plath was in print. But it depends upon what you consider in print because according to Stephen Tabor's Sylvia Plath: An Analytical Bibliography (1988), this would have been at least Plath's 23rd publication (and even still, Tabor did not count her several published art works and other appearances, at least one of them anonymously, in his bibliography). Early: yes. Third: depends upon your criteria.

After having learned that Experiment was published through Roosevelt College (now Roosevelt University) I researched a bit on this and found that the Archives department at the college held some of these issues in their Pamphlet Collection. I wrote to Laura Mills, the University Archivist there, to see if this issue was one of the ones they held. The answer was yes, and she provided kindly jpg's of the poem and cover (see above left). It was amazing to see a previously unknown poem and to read it. The experience was precious and deeply emotional. It is, I think, a phenomenal poem.

"Evolution"reminded Eddie Cohen of an Abner Dean cartoon entitled "The people at the next table are all idiots" (see below) and he said the more he read it the more he liked it. However, I do not see anything in Dean's cartoon that remotely connects it to Plath's "Evolution".

Sylvia Plath's "Evolution" is one stanza, comprised of 33 lines. There is no consistent rhyme scheme and the lines are of varied syllable length. The poem begins with the speaker observing "Four blue reindeer on a yellow field" and are in the form of a square; the poem seems to me like the speaker is looking at a window-shop display, a diorama, or possibly a carousel as there is a "blur of feet and arms / Of people in another aisle" (8). She then lets her imagination wonder into the realm of fantasy, which reminds me of her brilliant short story "Sunday at the Mintons". Though clearly an early poem, based not only on its publication in 1950 but also the wording Plath uses, the poem does have certain elements of language and imagery that would later go into poems like "Whiteness I remember" and "Ariel" where the speaker's of those poems merge and blend with an animal (a horse) into one being. For example, she writes "I feel the warmth of him / Crawl through my knees ... / and we together" (8). In "Whiteness I Remember", the speaker sits with the "First horse under me ... / I hung on his neck" and in "Ariel", we have this matured image: "How one we grow... / I unpeel— ... / at one with the drive" (Collected Poems 102, 239). The poem has a erotic or sexual feel to it, which might be the thing that Eddie Cohen was most attracted to it -- which might be the reason Plath sent the poem in the first place -- for as we know he was smitten with Plath from the get-go.

Lastly, I think… In addition to the copy at Clayton Fine Books and the actual magazine at held by Roosevelt University, a third copy of “Evolution” is held in the Sylvia Plath Collection at Smith College. The Mortimer Rare Book Room holds, however, only photocopies of the cover, Table of Contents, and poem. The copies were a 2 December 1998 gift of Martin G. Pomper (whose father, David, was editor-in-chief of the magazine).

(This has nothing to do with anything, but seeing as I mentioned "Whiteness I Remember" and "Ariel" above, I think it might be a timely to mention a very good new article published recently by Georg Noffke: "'That Gallop Was Practice': A Horse Ride as Practice Run for Things to Come in Sylvia Plath's 'Whiteness I Remember' and Ted Hughes's 'Sam'." English Academy Review: Southern African Journal of English Studies Volume 30, Issue 2, 2013: pp. 6-20.)

08 November 2013

Review of Sylvia Plath: Drawings

Drawing calmed you…
You drew doggedly on, arresting details,
Till you had to whole scene imprisoned.
Here it is. You rescued for ever
Our otherwise lost morning."
-- Ted Hughes, "Drawing," Birthday Letters, 1998: 44.
"...and I was aware of people standing all around me watching but I didn't look at them - just hummed & went on sketching. It was not very good, too unsure & messily shaded, but I think I will do line drawings from now on in the easy style of Matisse. Felt I knew that view though, through every fiber of my hand." -- The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 2000: 554.
The Mayor Gallery catalog of Sylvia Plath: Her Drawings was a wonderful publication, especially for those who were unable to attend the same-named exhibition of Sylvia Plath's artwork when it was on view in November and December 2011. I reviewed the catalog at the time and largely stand by it, never dreaming the drawings would see the light of day again. But, Frieda Hughes, Faber, and now HarperCollins have seen fit to market Plath's artwork to the masses in the recently published Sylvia Plath: Drawings (Faber: 5 September; HarperCollins: 5 November). The result is a much better book, far better produced, with consistency in typeface, a better introduction and additional text, such as a previously unpublished letter from Sylvia Plath to Ted Hughes from their newlywed-separation in early October 1956. Excerpts from Plath's letters to her mother and a journal entry are included in each section of the book. Additionally, there more images too, including the stunning ink sketch of Ted Hughes that Frieda Hughes withheld at nearly the last moment of the exhibition sale, and a reproduced sketch and portion of an article by Plath from The Christian Science Monitor ("Sketchbook of a Spanish Summer" printed 5 November 1956).

Having too much time on my hands, I compared the Mayor catalog to the Faber edition (and then to the HarperCollins edition). There are several notable differences between the catalog and the new published editions. Both books are laid out the same: "Drawings from England", "Drawings from France", "Drawings from Spain", and "Drawings from USA". However, several drawing have defected to different sections/countries.

Sylvia Plath drew, sketched and created works of art through her life; however all of these drawings were largely done in 1956 and 1957. But the majority are dated or can be dated to 1956 and some are undated. Archival documentation exists that can help narrow down many of these drawings in a way that is more specific than just knowing what cities or countries she was visiting. In the Lilly Library are Plath's small pocket calendar diaries where she notes down myriad things including meals eaten, letters written, movies and plays seen, poems and stories drafted, completed, and submitted, books and articles read, and, if you have not guessed by now...dates of composition of some of her drawings and sketches. Admittedly, some are harder to accurately date because of either the existence of multiple sketches (horse chestnuts and cows/bulls, for example) or because she noted having drawn something and then re-drawn it at a later date. Can we assume the one she kept was the last one she drew? Or did she re-sketch something and then decide the original was better? Hard to know. Here is a paraphrased list of some of the drawings Plath did:

January 1956 (whilst in England):
15th: gables and chimney pots

March 1956 (whilst in Paris):
26th: drew Pont Neuf under arch;
27th: drew rooftops; sketched kiosk;
28th: sketch kiosque in sun;
29th: sketch Tabac du Justice amidst traffic

June 1956 (whilst in England):
19th: drew shoes

August 1956 (whilst in Spain):
13th: sketch alley of cats (i.e. Carreró dels Gats)
15th: drew a bad sketch of Carreró dels Gats;
16th: drew sardine boats which was spoiled by wine;
17th: drew sardine boats on bayside;
18th: sketched fruit stands at market & peasants and a kitchen range;
19th: drawing of cliff pueblos on bayside
20th: re-drew Carreró dels Gats and cliff houses again

September 1956(whilst in England):
24th: in Haworth, drew in the wind

October 1956 (whilst in England):
6th: drew two cows, thistle, dandelions. On the thistle and dandelion, Plath writes in her letter to Ted Hughes included in the book from 7 October 1956, "I drew them both in great and loving detail" (3). Plath also writes at length in this letter, on page 2 in the book, of trying to capture the cows in her drawing. In the same letter, Plath writes that she "did a rather bad drawing of a teapot and some chestnuts" (3). She also mentions later in the letter: "Yesterday I drew a good umbrella and chianti bottle, better chestnuts, bad shoes and beaujolais bottle" (4).;
11th: sketched at Mill Bridge;
15th: drew anemone;
21st: sat under willow and wrote description (possible she did the sketch of the willow then?)

April 1957 (whilst in England):
15th: sketched daffodil & bluebell on the bank opposite Queens College.

The 7 October 1956 letter from Plath to Hughes included in the book was chosen no doubt for its many references to the drawings she was completing. To sum, these include cows, thistle and dandelion, a teapot, and horse chestnuts. In this particular instance, Plath's detailed letter corroborates what she was detailing in her diary-calendars. No doubt in other letters to Hughes or to her mother that Plath detailed some of her other drawing subjects (such as the rooftops and chimney-pots Plath said she drew daily in her 28 March 1956 letter sent to her mother from Paris).

In the "Drawings from England" section, Sylvia Plath: Drawings ('SP:D') includes "Study of Shoes"; "Chianti Bottle"; and "Beaujolais Bottle". These were formerly in the "Drawings from USA" section ("Shoes") and "Drawings from France" section (both "Bottle" drawings). The bottles were both digitally touched up from their printing in the Mayor catalogue to the Faber publication, and the creases were softened. The caption for "Shoes" is mildly annoying. The press at the time of the Mayor Gallery captioned the drawing as being titled The Bell Jar (one example and another). This has been updated slightly to read "Intended for use in The Bell Jar, 1963". But that is not true either as the Heinemann edition (and the Faber as well) does not reproduce any of Plath's drawings. Rather, it was used in Lois Ames' "Biographical Note" in the US edition of The Bell Jar in 1971. This is a technicality, but just the slightest bit of misinformation can take on a life of its own. Especially in this Internet and digital age. But it is clear from the drawing of the shoes that writing of "The Bell Jar #12" is not by Plath and that all the other writing on it is of an editorial/printing nature. The British Press might be excused for not knowing that the American edition of the book prints the shoes and other drawings, but a little fossicking would have helped. The "Drawings from France" section of SP:D includes the sketch of Ted Hughes. In the "Drawings from Spain" section of SP:D, the drawing of "Carreró dels Gats" looks different: it is longer and I think in better proportion to the original. I imagine, that is, because who knows where the original of this particularly amazing drawing is…. Lastly, in "Drawings from USA", "Study of Corn Vase" was renamed from "Study of Figurine" where it was printed, in the Mayor book, in the "Drawings from Spain" section. "Pleasure of Odds and Ends 2" is yellower than in the former publication, and those unfinished sketches now have a quasi-badly applied and certainly questionable white background versus a black one in the Mayor's catalog.

Throughout Sylvia Plath: Drawings some of the natural age toning to paper has been softened and lightened. The Faber book is a larger format than the Mayor catalog. However, Faber reduced some image sizes inexplicably, where there was likely the space on the page to do the opposite. One example of this is in the drawing of the "Pod". We are missing out on detail as a result. That being said, some of the sketches were actually enlarged, appearing bigger, longer and more proportional, such as the aforementioned "Carreró dels Gats" and many of the USA drawings. The "improving" is never more apparent to me than in the drawing of "Horse Chestnut". The drawing is imperfect, bearing two red pencil marks above and to the left of the lower chestnut. I still wonder who drew on the drawing? Either a young Frieda or Nicholas Hughes? Perhaps Plath herself? Plath's personal papers such as her address book, submissions list, and Letts 1962 diary all feature annotation in red pencil. Or, even Ted Hughes might have done it. Accidentally, I am sure. These imperfections I believe afforded me the opportunity of buying the drawing from the exhibition/sale, it being the last one available with Plath's "SP" on it, which usually indicated she considered the drawing complete. Though the red pencil lines appeared when the drawing was reproduced in the 23 August 2013 Sunday Times Magazine article which printed Frieda Hughes' Introduction and Plath's 7 October 1956 letter to Ted Hughes, they were "removed" from the Faber edition of Sylvia Plath: Drawings and I think that this a shame. In touching up the image, you are not presenting the original in a way that is faithful. As an archivist who does a lot of work on digital projects, representing digital surrogates or printed images that are as close to the original as possible is a particular principle by which I practice and by which I judge the work of others.

All that said, Sylvia Plath: Drawings is definitely a book to own and cherish. It is an excellent companion to 2007's Eye Rhymes: Sylvia Plath's Art of the Visual. Plath's other drawings appear in the US edition of The Bell Jar, as well as in many of the articles that she wrote for The Christian Science Monitor in the 1950s. Though some of Plath's drawing that appeared in the Monitor were reprinted in The Bell Jar and now in Sylvia Plath: Drawings, your best bet for seeing all of them is via ProQuest or microfilm. Plath also had drawings published in her high school newspaper, The Bradford, and at least one in her 1950 yearbook, The Wellesleyan. This image was reproduced in Eye Rhymes under the title "Kids fixing car", see page 24.

In her review of this book published on Cherwell.org, Siobahn Fenton writes: "These drawings will not bring one closer to an understanding of Plath’s poetry. Nor are they of sufficient talent to establish a reputation for her as an artist." But I think I disagree on both points: that the drawings should even be compared to Plath's poetry and that her art is not sufficient to qualify her as an established artist. This is a part of the reason why Plath wanted to publish The Bell Jar under a pseudonym: so that her prose and poetry would not be compared (I remember reading this somewhere, I think, but cannot find the source at the moment. I have mentioned it previously on this blog. If anyone out there can lend a hand, I would be most appreciative). Said a different way, Lois Ames writes that Plath published The Bell Jar under the pseudonym because she did not think it was "serious work" (1971, 279). The intimation being that because she published her poetry under her name that it was "serious work". In a rejection letter Plath received in January 1963 from Harper & Row regarding that publishing houses decision not to take on The Bell Jar, Elizabeth Lawrence commented that "There is every reason to believe that you are a novelist as well as a poet and a short-story writer" (Smith College). And, an artist.

Each creative medium requires different tools, different expectations, and different resources (creatively, emotionally, a different use of time, and spark of inspiration, etc.). Apples and peaches are fruits, they are both fruits that grow on trees, but they are different. By extension, both these drawings and Plath's poems are created by the same person but I think comparison really ends there. If anything, and it is still a little unfair, one might look to Plath's own intentions to "do line drawings from now on in the easy style of Matisse" (Unabridged Journals 554). Does the inspiration prove noticeable? Scholars have looked at some of Plath's Colossus poems as influenced by Roethke's "Greenhouse poems".  At least if her drawings and poems must be compared one should look at the precision and economy of her pen-strokes in her sketches and how she is also economical and precise the imagery and metaphor in her poetry. Where Fenton sees "odd, cold studies"; I see beauty and uniqueness. And while Fenton considers Plath's drawing subjects as recording "scattered details of her short life", I see a product of intense focus, scrutiny, and reality. As Hughes writes in his Birthday Letters poem "Drawing": "You rescued for ever / Our otherwise lost morning" and in doing so captured a scene "Just before / It woke and disappeared".

05 November 2013

Sylvia Plath Collections: Letters to Esther & Leonard Baskin

Reading Carrie Smith's wonderful essay "Illustration and ekphrasis: the working drafts of Ted Hughes's Cave Birds" in The Boundaries of the Literary Archive: Reclamation and Representation (edited by Carrie Smith and Lisa Stead, Ashgate, September 2013) got me thinking about Plath's own ekphrasis-experience with collaborating with a Baskin.

The British Library holds a very important collection of Sylvia Plath letters in the Ted Hughes & Leonard Baskin collection (known as Hughes-Baskin Papers). The letters from Plath range in date from circa 1958-1962 and it was in reading these letters on a visit to the British Library  last March that I learned (or, re-learned if I knew and forgot) about Plath's attempt to write a poem based on the work of Esther and Leonard Baskin.

Of course there is Plath's poem "Sculptor" which was dedicated to Leonard Baskin, but that was not something Plath did in collaboration with him. In late 1958 and early 1959, Plath was at work on a poem at the request of Esther Baskin, who in the process of building a book book that would become Creatures of Darkness (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1962 -- Plath's copy of this monograph is now owned by Smith College and bares her ownership address "23 Fitzroy Road, London NW1" (catalog record)). Plath spent some time reading up on night creatures at the Boston Public Library and the resulting poem was "Goatsucker". Plath wrote three letters to Baskin on this project, all from late 1958 or January 1959.

Leonard Baskin's
"Death Among the Thistles"
In the first letter, which is undated, Plath writes to both Esther and Leonard Baskin about a stop in at the Boris Mirski Gallery to see some of Leonard Baskin's work, a one man show which exhibited sculptures, drawings and prints. On night creatures, Plath says she hopes to find out some of their nastier habits, that she did not observe any in Northampton, and that she will work on a poem on a bullfrog. She closes saying she hopes to stop in at Northampton in the spring, possibly to talk to creative classes. Plath expresses great admiration for Leonard Baskin's wood engraving "Death Among the Thistles" which was then on exhibit at the Boris Mirski Gallery, then located at 166 Newbury Street (map, also Ted Hughes writes about this exhibit. See his letter dated "[January 1959]" in Letters of Ted Hughes). A contemporary review of the exhibit from the Boston Globe said of Baskin's wood engravings that they are "superbly rendered in exquisite, sensitive line; bold, slashing, dramatic black and whites in which he cries out in an angry, violent way; also small misty renderings of bugs, insects and what have you" (Driscoll, 30 November 1958, p. 68). The exhibit seems to have opened sometime around 7 October 1958 and ran "through the 10th"; given lack of any context as to which 10th, it can be presumed that was the 10th of December.

The second letter can be dated to before 21 January 1959. She addresses only Esther Baskin and tells her that she spent a rainy day in the library ensconced in research on goatsuckers and other night birds. She mentions Hughes' own poem on a bullfrog (called "Bullfrog"), and she asks for two weeks to write a poem on the goatsucker, a creature with which she was quite taken. She discusses several of Leonard Baskin's wood engravings on paper such as "The Seven Deadly Sins" and "Gluttony" (Baskin published a book called The Seven Deadly Sins in 1958 (The Gehenna Press; with poems by Anthony Hecht, also on the faculty of Smith College). Plath also discusses a New Year's 1958-1959 costume party they attended and that Hughes is in the process of drawing pikes.

The third letter Plath actually dated (thank you). 21 January 1959! And again it is to Esther Baskin only. In this letter, Plath encloses her poem "Goatsucker" and tells her that all the details in the poem came directly out of books. (Would I ever love to know which books!) Plath talks in good detail about their acquiring a cat, called Sappho, who was on one side the grand-cat-daughter of Thomas Mann's cat. Plath again mentions Hughes drawing many pikes, discusses the dismal Boston winter weather (lamenting no snow), and asks if Esther Baskin knows about the Robert Graves poem "Outlaws", and then she typed the first four stanzas in the letter. She enclosed "Goatsucker" in this epistle. For whatever reason (clearly poor taste), Esther Baskin did not use the poem Plath wrote for her book, though, but she did take Ted Hughes' poem "Esther's Tomcat." Maybe it Plath had called it "Esther's Goatsucker" it might have been accepted?

In addition to the three letters discussed above, the British Library holds three additional letters from Plath to Esther and/or Leonard Baskin. These are dated 28 April 1959; 26 April 1961; and 16 April 1962. Here is a brief synopsis of the letters, which all can be found in Add Ms 83684.

Addressed to both Leonard and Esther Baskin, Plath's letter of 28 April 1959 expresses delight at having seen them the previous week (circa 17 April). Plath follows up on Esther Baskin's book, which had been submitted to the Atlantic Monthly Press, mentions that Hughes is at work on Meet My Folks, and about a red fox that was living under the State House in Boston. Plath asks Leonard Baskin if she can dedicate her poem "Sculptor" to him, the first time she has officially ever dedicated a poem to anyone, commenting that as "Esther's Tomcat" memorialized Esther Baskin, Plath was seeking to do the same thing with her "Sculptor". She ends the letter saying that she will see them before or after Yaddo.

The letter from 26 April 1961, is short saying that she and Hughes await Leonard Baskin's arrival and that he should feel free to lodge with them however long is necessary. (Plath writes at critical-length about this visit in a stressed-out letter on 28 May 1961, the original of which is held at the Lilly Library. Because she was fairly critical of Baskin, among others who were still living at the time, this letter was not included in Letters Home.)

The last letter from 16 April 1962 is longer and addressed solely to Leonard Baskin. Plath sets the scene of Court Green writing about her large Elizabethan oak table, her acre of bobbing daffodils, the church, her newborn Nicholas Farrar Hughes, Frieda Hughes' adjusting to the new abode, and leaves space at the end for Hughes to write a note upon his return to Court Green. Hughes was absent, seeing a Baskin show in London at Erskine's (RWS Galleries / 26 Conduit Street, London W.1 (map). Hughes' London-jaunt was in part to gather material to write an introduction to the exhibition catalogue, which was published under the title Leonard Baskin: Woodcuts & wood-engravings). The visit Baskin made the year before did not go well and Plath expresses regret for the way she behaved, explaining that she was in the middle of writing a novel, that their flat was too small, and that now installed in Court Green things were far better and he would be most welcome and comfortable (Hughes wrote to Baskin about this as well, see letter dated "[August 1961]" in Letters of Ted Hughes). She mentions her Saxton grant to finish the novel and that the money from it greatly reduced all the stress of the house, the babies, etc.

The British Library holds many other documents in the Hughes-Baskin collection. Many of them are originated by Plath's. In Add Ms 83687 one can find typescripts of the following works by Plath: "Sow", "The Earthenware Head", "Black Rook in Rainy Weather", "November Graveyard, Haworth", "Aftermath", "Snakecharmer", "Sculptor", "Hardcastle Crags", and "Green Rock Winthrop Bay", and an off-print of Plath's "Sculptor" in Grecourt Review, dedicated and presented to Leonard Baskin on 7 July 1959. This was given to him at the beginning of Plath and Hughes' cross-country US tour, which David Trinidad wrote about beautifully in "On the Road with Sylvia and Ted: Plath and Hughes's 1959 Trip Across America".

You can see more libraries that actually hold Plath materials on the Archival Materials page of my website for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is.

All links accessed 25-26 October 2013.
Post modified & updated: 12 December 2013.

01 November 2013

Review: The Boundaries of the Literary Archive: Reclamation and Representation

The Boundaries of the Literary Archive: Reclamation and Representation edited by Carrie Smith and Lisa Stead (Ashgate, September 2013) is an important book. I approach it as an archivist, as an archivist who works primarily on digital projects; as someone interested in archives in general, and as someone particularly keen on the literary and personal archive Sylvia Plath: it is feels as though the book was written just for me. While no essay in the book deals directly and fully with the Plath archive which is a frequent focus of this blog, there are general subjects and applications of theory within the book that do have direct baring on it.

Each of the essays in Smith and Stead's book has an immediate relevance to the important issues of our time; as I read each piece I was able to relate to nuggets as they apply to both my work and my interest in Plath's literary archive. These essays tell the stories, both practical and theoretical, of the varied experiences of scholars, archivists, and teachers. Stead writes in her "Introduction":
The Boundaries of the Literary Archive addresses the archive as both source and subject. In doing so, the collection poses a number of key questions for archival study and investigation in a digital age. What does the archive offer current literary scholarship? How can it complicate and enrich our engagement with both canonical and lesser-known texts and writers? How can it help us to push the boundaries of existing methodological approaches to textual study? (2)
Each of these questions are answered and done so in a way that is current, clear, and refreshing. There is something in each of these essays that truly expands one's appreciation of the archive, of what composes the modern, the future, and the historical archive; the creative process; and the way in which we as humans conduct our daily affairs, from the mundane to the sublime. What I would have liked to have seen was more on archival collaboration between scholars: its benefits and even its possible pitfalls. This is something you might expect is important to me as, for example, for last five years I have co-authored a series of papers on the Plath archives (links to read them here). Often research is a solitary action; however, as I have found through collaborating with Gail Crowther (and others) that a certain enrichment takes place when two (or more) people contribute to the mission of expanding and explaining and understanding a writer. Especially authors like Plath or Ted Hughes or Elizabeth Jennings, among others, whose archives are split up, with thousands of miles and several time zones between them.

The archive is a hot topic. It is at a crossroads. Traditional houses of archives are being challenged by at-your-fingertips accessibility to documents and digital surrogates, and the result, according to Stead, is "less access to the human quality of the archive" (7). No amount of pixels or screen colors and resolution can replace the real thing. Karen Kukil's essay particularly addresses the issue of losing this personal, hands-on aspect of the archive in her discussion of the importance of examining paper for the information it has the potential to yield. The belief that if a particular search query is not returned in a Google search that it does not exist is dangerously common and expanding like a virus. However, as yet, the future of the archive and how it will work digitally is still something of a question mark: it poses its own set of questions and difficulties, and can be just as indeterminate the working with paper and other relics of the past.

Sylvia Plath and her archive is mentioned throughout the book in the Introduction, as well as in essays by Wim Van Mierlo, Jennifer Douglas, Jane Dowson, Karen Kukil, and Helen Taylor. Writing on Plath and the archive has been en vogue for a number of years, starting really with Jacqueline Rose in The Haunting of Sylvia Plath and continuing with important contributions by Tracy Brain (The Other Sylvia Plath, 2001) and Anita Helle (The Unraveling Archive, 2007). I was particularly interested in these invocations and found that each author's use of Plath added to my understanding and appreciation of her archive(s). I liked, too, that the editors submitted their own pieces to the book. I was captivated by the focus on how the "everyday" is captured by the archive in Lisa Stead's essay "Letter writing, cinemagoing and archive ephemera" and found Carrie Smith's essay on "Illustration and ekphrasis: the working drafts of Ted Hughes's Cave Birds" particularly illuminating. Smith expertly breaks down the creative process of collaboration between poet and artist, making me feel as though I were a witness to the work. Each essay is vital and the entire book, which has no weak spots, should be required reading in archive, history and library science courses. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

In addition to a wonderfully written, tone-setting introduction by Lisa Stead, the books contents include:

Part I: Theorizing the Archive:
The archaeology of the manuscript: towards modern palaeography, Wim Van Mierlo;
Allusion and exogenesis: the labouring heart of Samuel Beckett's Ill Seen Ill Said, Iain Bailey;
Original order, added value? Archival theory and the Douglas Coupland fonds, Jennifer Douglas

Part II: Reclamation and Representation:
Untrustworthy reproductions and doctored archives: undoing the sins of a Victorian biographer, Isabelle Cosgrave;
The double life of 'the ghost in the garden room': Charles Dickens edits Elizabeth Gaskell, Fran Baker;
Lost property: John Galsworthy and the search for 'that stuffed shirt', Simon Barker;
Poetry and personality: the private papers and public image of Elizabeth Jennings, Jane Dowson

Part III: Boundaries:
Illustration and ekphrasis: the working drafts of Ted Hughes's Cave Birds, Carrie Smith;
Letter writing, cinemagoing and archive ephemera, Lisa Stead

Part IV: Working in the Archive:
To reveal or conceal: privacy and confidentiality in the papers of contemporary authors, Sara S. Hodson;
Teaching the material archive at Smith College, Karen V. Kukil;
'What will survive of us are manuscripts': archives, scholarship and human stories, Helen Taylor

The book includes black and white illustrations in each chapter which greatly enhance the topics discussed. Other important information about the monograph include: 228 pages; Hardback (also ePUB and ebook PDF); ISBN: 978-1-4094-4322-3. List price: £55.00 (roughly $89 or €65) (and worth every pence, penny or cent).

All links accessed 25 October 2013.
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