20 December 2013

Sylvia Plath 2013: Year in Review

How do you summarize 2013 for Sylvia Plath? I think the word I would choose would be inundated. Do I mean that negatively? Heck no. But it was a big, busy year. Longer feeling than its 365 days.

Three major biographies were published: American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath by Carl Rollyson; Mad Girl's Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life before Ted by Andrew Wilson; and Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 by Elizabeth Winder. And, several re-issues and new editions of her own books, as well as dozens upon dozens, if not hundreds, of newspapers and online articles were written about her. A new publication, too, saw the light of day in Sylvia Plath: Drawings (Faber, September; and Harper, November). And then there is by far the larger media that is basically rubbish name-drops that get picked up and distributed… but those are easily enough ignored and forgotten. Early in the year I started tracking the bigger articles and made a page on this blog that I thought would be temporary -- and indeed it is. I will be taking it down in a week but do not fret, I plan "post" them as their own blog post so that for the record they will still be all together. Throughout the year there have been little pockets of Sylvia Plath celebrations and events. No officially organized symposium took place (in some ways you could count October 2012's Plath Symposium as a related event), but in February, Maeve O'Brien (aka theplathdiaries) hosted an event in Northern Ireland called "Sylvia Plath: A 50-Year Retrospective; and Plath's own version of Ariel was read in May at the South Bank Centre in London. Maeve's Retrospective was broadcast live which was wonderful; to be able to look and listen in on the papers given that day was quite special.

In January, The Guardian book group selected The Bell Jar as its discussion book of the month and early on pitted Elizabeth Sigmund against Olwyn Hughes and got massive ratings, I am sure. January 14th was the 50th anniversary of the novel's publication and it started the year on fire and quickly deteriorated into the same old arguments. Faber also released their odiously-covered 50th Anniversary edition of The Bell Jar which further brought attention in the bad way to Sylvia Plath. But is any of this surprising? Hardly! Negative attention is attention nonetheless and likely does more for book sales than positive attention. This is part of the reason why Plath still sells, it is as much if not more the controversy and sensationalism as it is the work itself. So, alas, in January I quickly got tired and bored and fed up with seeing news stories of Plath… Had, I think, among the best guest blog posts ever by Cath Morgan, too, which has had, to date, in excess of 1020 hits.

February brought the 50th anniversary of Plath's death. There were some decent stories that came out of this that look retrospectively at Plath's life and work. These trickled into March. In February, Christine S. Fagan of Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island mounted a wonderful exhibit "The Bell Jar at 50" which was curated by Amanda Ferrara with the assistance of Karen V. Kukil. My favorite post this month, which I think was a neat little find, was on "Plath's Teen-Age Triumph."

March was a big month for me "professionally" as I travelled to England and met up with the glamorous Gail Crowther and then drove to Plymouth University to give a preview of our paper "These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past." Introduced by Robin Peel, we had a great crowd and it was a fascinating experience to give the paper with Gail live and in-person rather than just sending emails and attachments back and forth across the Atlantic. We also visited North Tawton and Heptonstall, saw some brand new Plath-related sites, met for a dinner and an afternoon tea with Elizabeth Sigmund (Um, HIGHLIGHT OF MY LIFE) and her husband, conducted research for the first time in the British Library (meeting Helen Melody, who processed the the Ted Hughes papers); gained admittance into 3 Chalcot Square; and did a Plath tour and pub crawl (including The French House, formerly known as York Minster Pub, on Dean Street, Soho, where Plath signed the contract for The Colossus in February 1960) in London with Cath Morgan and her main man Stephen. Gail took me to the actual, physical spot in Devon where "Ariel" and "Sheep in Fog" were set and being there opened up the two poems to me in ways that words could never express.

April and May were largely spent preparing to publish and then depart from Plath Profiles; but there was a major auction of Plath materials from the collection of Roy Davids. The worksheet for Plath's beautiful, late poem "Sheep in Fog" were sold for £37,250 (US$ 59,830). In May, also, I posted on Plath's hair part and photographs of her, which is something that had been bothering me with images of Plath for some time.

Print-outs of transcriptions
of letters by Sylvia Plath,
arranged by year, 1951-1963
As we hit the summer, things Plath began to slow down some. I spent the large majority of the summer -- from May until well, now -- transcribing all of Sylvia Plath's letters (to her mother as well as to many others) for a forthcoming volume of Plath's letters that I am working on with Karen V. Kukil (more details on this project later, I'm sure). I had largely always ignored Plath's unedited letters to her mother, and certainly had done so on visits to the Lilly Library where the largest number of these are held because of all the other wonderful documents the Lilly Library holds occupied by time and interest. However, working with them as closely as I did was truly eye-opening. Not only about what a great letter writer Plath was and how much detail exists about her in these epistles, but also how terribly edited Letters Home is. I hardly recognized the version of Plath (the person portrayed and her voice) between the edited and the original letters. I also noticed that an alarming number of letters in Letters Home are misdated, and that in many Plath's own words were changed … so if you have ever quoted from Letters Home, chances are you may have been quoting the editors and NOT Plath. #Shameful. All of this work would not have been possible without the time and gracious assistance of, in no particular order, David Trinidad, Gail Crowther, Karen V. Kukil, and Frieda Hughes.

In part, working on this project led me to go hunting for more Plath letters and archival materials and it was around this time that I decided to spend hour upon hour working on blog posts that will highlight not only places that hold Plath materials, but to discuss to the extent that I could what the letters themselves contain. Each new letter I read broadened my appreciation for Plath: not just as a poet but as a motivated and enterprising young woman. I say young woman because although she considered turning 30 to put her in the echelon of the aged, 30 is as we know still quite young. Anyway, I corresponded with a lot of wonderful archivists and librarians in the US and UK and further abroad and was able to find many new archives that hold Plath materials. Sadly, though, not every query was successful. If you are reading this and you have an original letter written by Sylvia Plath, please do get in touch with me.

The summer of 2013 saw three separate exhibits of Sylvia Plath at Smith College. One featured some of Plath's poems about flowers, another on The Bell Jar and a third on Plath and Chaucer. In Spain, Elena Rebollo Cortés mounted her own exhibit on 50 years of covers of The Bell Jar.

In August, I posted on having found even more articles on Plath's disappearance and suicide attempt in 1953 and highlighted the digital archives of The Townsman of Wellesley. This is a wonderful resource for learning about the happenings in Wellesley; sifting through those newspapers from the 1940s and 1950s gives one a portrait of the town that may help contextual aspects of Plath's upbringing.

In September, Faber published Sylvia Plath: Drawings (my review) which is a wonderful little book. Plath's drawings are delightful to look at, and reading the previously unpublished letter from Plath to Ted Hughes from early in their marriage was a real treat. This October was far quieter than October 2012, which saw many of the world's Plath scholars converge at Indiana University. It was a Plathnado. In October, I began posting on the various Plath archives that I have worked with either in person or through email queries and was surprised to see that there was enough material for two posts a week for more than three months! One archival collection seemingly spawned another or provided an at-first unlikely lead to another and it is this magic that makes an archive so crucial and never dull. I hope that you have all found these posts useful, interesting, informative, and inspiring. If you know of a collection not mentioned and not a part of the Archival materials page on my website A celebration, this is, please do let me know. The archival collections posts carried on through October and November into December and will even stretch into January 2014. The revelation of Plath's poem "Evolution" from Experiment Magazine (December 1950) was for me a highlight of this fall.

As I have done in the past, the above is a Sylvia Plath year in review through my eyes. There are others out there writing about Plath in ways far better than I could ever dream. Please do remember to stop in at The Plath Diaries as often as you can, Maeve's posts on Plath and the thesis-writing process are vital reading. We certainly wish her the best of luck as she completes her thesis. A Piece of Plathery slowed down, but is still a valuable resource that includes stunning photographs of Plath books. A new blog ignited my life earlier in the year too: Nick Smart's Will There Be Fire? Visit that too, please. Thank you all, too, for remembering about my main website for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is. I hope that even though the content is more static than the blog, that you find the site useful, relevant, and info-tastic.

My analytics tell me that between this blog and my website, there were 118,321 visits combined to both sites in the last year. This number astounds me. The seven most popular pages on my website were: the biography page, followed by Poetry Works, The Bell Jar, Prose Works, the thumbnail page for 1960-1963, the links page, and the Archival Materials page. The seven least visited pages are hardly worth mentioning...the low-life's!

In 2014, Amazon.co.uk lists that Faber will publish new editions of Plath's Journals, The Bell Jar, and Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams in early January; and we can look forward in the early months of the year to paperback releases of the 2013 biographies of Plath. And hopefully there will be additional publications to read, including journal articles, as well.

I could never make the contributions I may be making and maintain my level of enthusiasm and desire to succeed to be the gosh-darned best Plath scholar-blogger I can be without you and your readership and your visits and comments. Thank you -- well, thank most of you -- sincerely, for visiting the blog and being a virtual part of my life. I try always to present the best information I can, in a way that is timely, interesting and accurate.

Happy holidays and Happy New Year to you all. See you next year.

All links accessed 7 November & 14 December 2013.

17 December 2013

Sylvia Plath Collections: Letter to Dorothea Krook, Central Zionist Archives

As with the previous post on the letter co-written by Plath to Irwin Edman, this post focuses primarily on one original Plath document.

Sylvia Plath admired greatly her Cambridge don Dorothea Krook (later Krook-Gilead). In journals and letters, Plath sung her praises. She was one of the "brilliant young" women Plath knew (Unabridged Journals, 225), and to her mother on 29 April 1956, she wrote: "My philosophy supervisor, Dorothea Krook, is more than a miracle!" (Letters Home, 243). Plath often put Krook on the same level that she did her "psychiatrist" Dr. Ruth Beuscher. By February 1957, Plath had become so familiar with Krook that she started to refer to her by the nickname "Doris". (Among other faults, one of the more disingenuous comments in Plath's abridged Journals appears on the footnote to the quote above about Krook being one of the brilliant young women. The editorial comment reads in part, "Plath frequently--and inexplicably--refers to her as Doris Krook in the journal" [Journals 1982, 125]). While Plath mentions in her journals and other letters that she had sent a  couple of letters written to Krook, only one original letter is known right now. This letter, dated 25 September 1958, was printed in the London Magazine in August-September 2003 within an article titled "Sylvia Plath and Dorothea Krook: The Pupil/Tutor Relationship", pages 24-31. But, in reviewing the issue, I could not find a reference to the location and/or owner of the letter, which perplexed me.

A little research found that the Central Zionist Archives (English version) in Jerusalem, Israel holds the Dorothea Krook-Gilead Archives. And in fact there was a book published in 1993 entitled List of Files of the Archives of Dorothea Krook-Gilead (WorldCat).

The Archive holds many documents relating to Sylvia Plath, among them fortunately is the original 1958 letter from Plath to Krook under the title of "Plath-Hughes, Sylvia" with a call number of A410\321. Plath sent other correspondence to Krook, such as Christmas-time ("holiday", to be politically correct) cards but nothing else appears to be available now. Additional Plath related materials in the Central Zionist Archives include:

Correspondence about Sylvia Plath, 1972- 1976: A410\306;
Correspondence with Toni Saldivar regarding Sylvia Plath, 1987-1991: A410\307;
Correspondence with Linda Wagner about her book on Sylvia Plath, 1984-1985: A410\308;
Dorothea Krook's "Recollections of Sylvia Plath", in the Critical Quarterly, Vol.18, No.4, Winter 1976, reprints in English and Hebrew, and correspondence: A410\304;
Hughes, Ted (Sylvia Plath's husband) and Hughes, Olwyn (his sister), correspondence, 1966- 1976: A410\256; and
Reviews, newspaper clippings and essays on the work of Sylvia Plath and some of her poems: A410\305 (contains pamphlets, booklets and articles).

I asked only about the Plath letter and the "Reviews, newspaper clippings" materials; the rest of the documents should be quite valuable to researchers but at the present time were outside the scope of my inquiry. If anyone else investigates this material, please do write something up about it for the blog!

The 25 September 1958 letter from Plath to Krook is newsy, long, open, and really nothing short of brilliant and gives magnificent insight into the nature of their relationship: both as student and teacher as well as friends. The letter opens with Plath commenting on Krook's publication in the London Magazine of a review on Henry James*. She recaps the last year of teaching at Smith and how she modeled her teaching style to the extent she could off of her experience with Krook's tutelage. Plath admitted that she felt her teaching style was more dictatorial than would be appropriate for American professors. She lists many of the texts that she taught, feeling herself to be limited with what she could engage with her students. She also discusses Ted Hughes' experiences teaching at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and she was actually quite disparaging about the school and its students. Kind of snobby, thumbing her nose at its being a state school in a state chock-full of excellent private universities that take the better students. She was critical of life in Northampton of it. She then goes on to talk about life in Boston, singing its praises and their flat at 9 Willow Street. She gives a great description of the flat and, having been in the actual unit in which she lived, really vivifies the area for me. She mentions that she was re-reading her Cambridge notes that she took while a student and that in doing so she had a total recall of the experiences; and that she had just started reading The Notebooks of Henry James (Plath's copy of this book is held by Emory University). She ends the letter talking about Hughes' current work and how the poetry is stronger and more mature and consistent than what he published in The Hawk in the Rain as well as discussing acquaintances among other things. Naturally this is a gross paraphrase of the letter and much of the content was, as a result, not mentioned.

Krook wrote "Recollections of Sylvia Plath" which, as noted above, appeared in the Critical Quarterly 18:4 (Winter 1976, pp. 5-14). The piece also was printed in Edward Butscher's book Sylvia Plath: The Woman and the Work (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., pp. 49-60).

My sincere thanks to Rochelle Rubinstein for her help with this request.

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 10 & 13 December 2013.

*I found Krook published "Principles and Methods in the Late Works of Henry James" in the July 1954 issue of London Magazine, pp. 54-70. Krook also had a review, "The Tragedy of Manners: Moral Drama in the Later Novels of Henry James", in The Modern Language Review in April 1959 (pp. 270-271) but this appeared after Plath's letter was written. Krook authored a book on Henry James (The Ordeal of Consciousness in Henry James, Cambridge [England]: University Press, 1962) and a book on Moral Thought (Three Traditions of Moral Thought, Cambridge [England]: University Press, 1959). I do wonder if any of the information or opinions in these books came out of her supervisions with Plath in 1956-1957.

UPDATED 20 January 2015:
The review to which Plath refers in the letter, mentioned above, is Dorothea Krook's review of The House of Fiction by Henry James, edited and introduced by Leon Edel (London, Rupert Hart-Davis, 1957), and was published in The London Magazine 5, July 1958, pp.68-70.

13 December 2013

Sylvia Plath Collections: Irwin Edman papers at Columbia

The Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University holds the Irwin Edman papers, [ca 1930]-1954 (Finding Aid).

There are two Sylvia Plath items in this collection. I know what you are thinking: Who was Irwin Edman? The short answer is that Edman (1896-1954) was Professor of philosophy at Columbia University. The items in the collection are a letter co-authored by Plath and Gamaliel Bradford Senior High School classmate Jeanne Woods dated 15 March 1949 and his reply, dated 28 March 1949.

In their 15 March letter, Plath and Woods respond to Edman's March 1949 article "A Reasonable Life in a Mad World" from the Atlantic Monthly (pages 60-62). The letter is a mixture of sanctimoniousness with aspects Christian ideology. Plath at the time of this letter was a junior in High School and was writing on behalf of her English 31 class which was under the tutelage of Wilbury Crockett. The authors of the letter credit Edman with writing logically on the subject but find fault and inadequacy with his resolutions. They write to challenge his conclusions and hope for an honest evaluation of them. Acknowledging the benefits of nature, they argue that there are limitations on man that prohibit him from creating order in civilization. A human's mind is not enough to see everything in the universe. Edman advocates stoicism, pleasure principle, and hope but Plath and Woods ask about the role of spiritualism (seeking guidance from outside of one's self, from above).

Edman's response from 28 March 1949 is a dismissive missive of which the component parts are sexist, ageist, and patronization. Edman compliments his critics saying that the future of the country is promising because high school students are tackling the subject of his philosophic essay. He writes that if he were teaching the class they would undoubtedly discuss the matter, but that in the shape of correspondence, such a detailed and time-consuming venture that would take a year to talk about sufficiently is not reasonable. Edman writes that "a group of girls about sixteen years old" can hardly hope to solve simply philosophical issues that have been troubling higher minds for about two thousand years. He calls their arguments "traditional beliefs" and encourages them to reconsider their positions after they reach college.

Thanks are due to Tara Craig at Columbia for providing copies of these documents.

Sometimes an archival collection can consist of just one or two items. This collection is a perfect example as it is just one letter from Plath, and a carbon copy reply to her. You can see more libraries that hold Plath materials, both large and small, on the Archival Materials page of my website for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is.

All links accessed 18 November 2013.

10 December 2013

Sylvia Plath Collections: Lost and Not Found

Not every one of my archival searches for Sylvia Plath materials in libraries and special collections has been successful. As you will have noticed from some of this series of posts on Sylvia Plath collections, I have gone after journals and periodicals to which Plath submitted her work. Two archives I contacted confirmed that they had no letters or typescripts from Plath. Those are the records of the Antioch Review (housed at the Lilly Library of Indiana University) and the Partisan Review (housed at Boston University's Howard Gottlieb Archival Research Center). The Partisan does have a carbon of one letter to Plath. Antioch Review published "Black Rook in Rainy Weather" by Plath in their June 1957 issue. The Antioch Review records were sold to the Lilly Library a couple of years ago. (More on what is in the Antioch Review records here.)

Partisan Review published Plath's "I Want, I Want" in their Fall 1959 number and "Metaphors for a Pregnant Woman" (later just "Metaphors") in their Summer 1960 issue. There was a letter TO Sylvia Plath, but nothing received from her. The letter to Plath is from Joan Meyers and is dated 1 March 1960. The letter is forwarding Plath a check for "I Want, I Want"; they had held the check as the review lost her address. Meyers mentioned their intention to publish another poem ("Metaphors for a Pregnant Woman" in their Spring issue if there was space. There was not, and and the poem was printed in the Summer issue. I appreciate the help of Laura Russo on this request.

And there were others, too, that have not (yet) been traced.

The New Mexico Quarterly records did not seem to turn up anything. New Mexico Quarterly published "On the Plethora of Dryads" by Plath in their Autumn 1957 issue. Thanks of appreciation to Nancy Brown-Mart​inez for her help.

I also contacted Lyric, Granta, The Nation, The Christian Science Monitor, and Arts in Society. Nada or no response. All I can say to this is "Boo."

For all the documents and things that are held by the archive, it is perhaps the things that have not been found or located or processed that I want most to see. This is particularly what makes research challenging, rewarding, and frustrating. The 'thing' --in this case covering letters and correspondence on acceptances and editorial decisions, as well as typescripts and maybe proofs-- once existed but now seemingly no longer do.

Another aspect to what is missing, lost, and gone are materials that exist but that are not made available. This could be due to being held in private collections, or if in a library or archive, due to institutional policy or the lack of resources or knowledge on how to handle researchers. These limitations are understandable. I had an experience this year that lasted nine months and in the end, I was denied access to see a cache of Plath poems. The repository I will not name, but they lead me along from February to November. They told me I could have copies of the poems they hold, then back-tracked until I obtained permission from the Estate. I obtained permission from the Estate after the obligatory two-months wait, but then they were too busy to handle the request. So I wrote back after two or three months but then it was the summer and they were busy, try back in the fall. Then it was November and I asked again  --stating I'd be just as happy traveling to their archive to read them in their offices -- and was told that due to a review of their policy they would not allow me to see the poems. Shame on you for being who you are. This might sound like I am a spoiled petulant brat, but I played by the rules, was patient, polite, etc. I was told I could have access and then told I could not, back and forth, for three-quarters of a year! To quote Plath, "I'm through."

The optimist in me looks at not locating material or being denied material as not too much of a bad thing. A search for something in 2013 might yield different results in 2015.  It is important to be persistent and follow-up. More and more material is being processed and located year by year; more and more repositories are putting paper-based legacy finding aids online; and search engines are providing better results to keyword searches and access terms. In time it may turn out that the documents simply were not saved and thus cannot be found. On the other hand, there is always the hope and prospect that something new will turn up. This is quite difficult to reconcile, but the rational side of me understands not every document can be saved. The irrational side, however,... well, hey, this is America... there are pills I can take for that...

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 26 September 2013.

06 December 2013

Sylvia Plath Collections: London Magazine

The archives of the London Magazine are held, along with so many other amazing archives, at the Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Sylvia Plath had her poems, stories and other prose published in the London Magazine from June 1958 ("Spinster" and "Black Rook in Rainy Weather") through January 1963 ("The Applicant" and "Stopped Dead") in her lifetime and also made appearances after her death, from April 1963 and beyond. Plath dealt with a few people on the staff of the magazine over the years, including John Lehmann, Charles Osborne, and Alan Ross.

In addition to what was found at the University of Texas, I would be remiss if I did not mention that the Mortimer Rare Book Room of Smith College has photocopies of a number of Plath's letters to Lehmann and Osborne. These are contained in the Edward Butscher papers. Presumably the originals of these letters are with the London Magazine records in Texas, but as I have seen the material at Smith, I will discuss what I saw there. Also, Plath's own copy of the January 1963 London Magazine that printed "The Applicant" and "Stopped Dead" is held by Emory University (the catalog record from Emory reads: "Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library Hughes copy of n.s. vol. 2, no. 10 (Jan. 1963) has autograph: Sylvia Plath- 23 Fitzroy Road- London NW1; is mutilated, with Plath's poems sliced out; from the library of Ted Hughes." Mutilated, for what it is worth, is a gross overstatement. Yes, the issue has been cut, but the cutting, or mutilation, was done by Plath removing her poems from the issue for her publications scrapbook (in fact, the pages on which her poems appeared from this issue are held by Smith College).

Anyway, I want to focus on what was recently uncovered upon my request to the good people at Texas University. That is, two letters from Plath to Alan Ross, typescripts of "In Plaster", "Leaving Early", "Parliament Hill Fields", "Small Hours", "Whitsun", "You're", "Zoo Keeper's Wife", and "Context". The collection also has page proofs of "In Plaster" and a couple clippings of Plath's poems from The New Yorker from 1970 and 1971. The typescripts of poems were all sent by Plath to the magazine on 3 May 1961 according to Plath's submissions lists (again, held by Smith College); and "Context" was submitted later on that year, if not in early 1962 (and published in the February 1962 issue along with "In Plaster"). For a little more on what "Context" was all about, please see this blog post from 15 July 2012

The two letters from Plath to Alan Ross are dated 2 April 1961 and 9 November 1961. They are both quite brief. In the April letter, sent on a little postcard, Plath simply states that neither she nor Hughes will be able to make a publication day event. She wishes Ross and the magazine well. In November, Plath states that she and Hughes hope to have a submission for the forthcoming poetry number -- this could be when she was preparing "Context". These letters were sent to Ross at the London Magazine's address at the Doric House, 22 Charing Cross Road (map).

As regards the other London Magazine materials, copies of which can be read at Smith College's Mortimer Rare Book Room, there are six letters to John Lehmann: 6 October 1955; 26 February 1957; 24 December 1958; and 16 June, 1 September, and 12 November 1959; and three letters to Charles Osborne from 16 May and 4 September 1961, and 9 January 1963.

The letters to Lehmann are largely business related cover letters accompany poems. Here is a rundown of those letters:

On 6 October 1955, Plath introduces herself as an American Fulbright student at Cambridge and submits, among other poems, "Ice Age" and "Danse Macabre."

On 26 February 1957, Plath submits "Spinster" and "Black Rook in Rainy Weather" and other poems. The two named poems there appeared in the June 1958 issue of London Magazine.

On 24 December 1958, Plath expressed delight at the acceptance of three poems: "Lorelei," "The Disquieting Muses," and "Snakecharmer", which appeared in the March 1959 number. She asks Lehmann to accept and make a change to "Lorelei" - removing a line of French and replacing it with its English translation - which will not affect the syllabic verse she employed. The line in English is "Drunkenness of the great depths." In this letter she describes Beacon Hill and their life in Boston. She mentions Hughes working on stories, and herself working on stories and poems.

On her third anniversary, 16 June 1959, Plath submitted more poems, including "The Thin People" and "In Midas' Country" which were accepted and published in the October 1959 issue. Plath mentions they are still hard at work on stories.

On 1 September 1959, Plath submits three stories: "The Wishing Box", "The Shadow", and "This Earth Our Hospital". London Magazine published "This Earth Our Hospital" under the title "The Daughters of Blossom Street" in May 1960.

On 12 November 1959, Plath accepts a title change on her story, thinking that the initial title was pompous and not quite right. The change to "The Daughters of Blossom Street", she feels, puts the focus on the secretaries in the hospital and the role they play in light of the fact that death is ever-present in their lives. She mentions that Hughes recently sent two stories, "The Rain Horse" and "Sunday" for their consideration.

The letters to Osborne are short and sweet. On 16 May 1961 Plath is returning something (unstated) that her baby Frieda Hughes had found in their flat after a visit from Osborne; the 4 September 1961 letter is a late RSVP to a missed event in the recent past: the lateness due to the move she and Ted Hughes just completed to Court Green. She mentions hoping to be there forever and to live on apples and potatoes. The letter from 9 January 1963 submits poems and asks Osborne to stop by her cold, Dickensian flat if he is not afraid of children. In a postscript, Plath mentions that "Berck-Plage" was read on the BBC but that it had not been published. Osborne replied several days later stating that he was not afraid of children (letter held by Smith College). Using her submissions list, we can see that according to her she submitted twelve of her new poems on 17 January 1963. There is a discrepancy here (letter written 9 January, submissions list dated 17 January), but nevertheless the poems she submitted in January 1963 were "An Appearance," "The Bee Meeting," "Years," "The Fearful," "Mary's Song," "Stings," "Letter in November," "The Couriers," "The Night Dances," "Gulliver," "Cut," and "Berck-Plage." Plath annotated the submissions list on 25 January in red pencil, indicating that several of the poems had been accepted (a red underline). The poems she underlined have been underlined by me just above. 17 January might have been the date she received a decision, or when she was catching up with her submissions. Speculation, only.

Thanks are due to Emily Roehl and Marian Oman for their patience in dealing with me and my insane requests.

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 21 September 2013.

01 December 2013

Sylvia Plath Collections: Peter Davison papers at Yale

There are 20 letters from Sylvia Plath to Peter Davison and other staff members of The Atlantic Monthly in the Peter Davison papers, held by the Beinecke Library at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut (PDF Finding Aid). The letters are in Box 7, in a folder labeled "Plath, Sylvia." Additionally, there are letters from Ted Hughes, and one from Aurelia Plath to Davison, dated 31 July 1982. Sincere, deep thanks need to be expressed to David Trinidad for pointing out this collection to us.

The letters are largely related to submissions of Plath's, but a few of them to Davison are more personal, newsy letters. Below is an inventory of the letters by date along with a synopsis of the letter. Unless otherwise stated, the letters are from Sylvia Plath.

12 February 1955, to Atlantic Monthly: Plath questions the five month wait for her submission of seven poems from 29 September 1954 ("Never Try To Know More Than You Should," "Verbal Calisthentics [sic]," "The Dispossessed," "Insolent Storm Strikes At The Skull," "Ennui," "Suspend This Day," and "Circus in Three Rings"); and submits six new poems ("Temper of Time," "Epitaph in Three Parts," "Dirge," "Rondeau Redoublé," "Danse Macabre", and "Prologue to Spring").

20 April 1955, to Edward Weeks: Plath sends in her revision of "Circus in Three Rings" under the title "Lion Tamer" but suggests that Editor Edward Weeks reconsider the original poem. She also submits five newer poems ("Lament," "The Lover and a Beachcomber by the Real Sea," "Epitaph in Three Parts," "Winter Words," and "The Princess and the Goblin") in hopes that they prove more consistent than what she had submitted previously. Plath mentioned that several of these new poems were judged winners in the recent Glascock Poetry Content and named-dropped the judges: Marianne Moore, John Ciardi and Wallace Fowlie. She calls particular attention to "Lament" and "Two Lovers and a Beachcomber by the Real Sea". Plath's use of the Jedi Mind Trick here (the first documented instance of an American poet using The Force in history) worked, and Weeks took the original "Circus in Three Rings".

6 July 1955, to Edward Weeks: Plath expresses pleasure at having the original "Circus in Three RIngs" accepted, submits a re-worked "The Princess and the Goblins" along with a selection of new and shorter poems (though some with longer titles!): "Black Pine Tree in Orange Light," "A Study in Sculptural Dimensions," "Ice Age," and "Moonsong at Morning."

17 April 1956, to Edward Weeks: Plath inundates The Atlantic with 11 new poems. The only named poems on the internal staff review sheet were "Pursuit" and "Pigeon Post". "Pursuit" was accepted by them and appeared in the January 1957 issue.

30 September 1956, to Peter Davison: Plath writes a 4 page typed, single-spaced letter to Peter Davison and introduces the concept of Ted Hughes to him. A very long letter, then, Plath among other topics asks for writing and publishing advice; gives a run-down of her activities; discusses Hughes' adult fables like "O'Kelly's Angels" and "The Callum Makers"; and she mentions seeking his professional advice, remembering her hellish month as guest managing editor at Mademoiselle and dealing with editors, writers, contact, and manuscripts, etc. In the last paragraph Plath drops the bomb that she will be marrying Hughes, though of course she was already married...

3 October 1956, to Edward Weeks: Comments on the acceptance of "Pursuit" and submits a sheaf of new poems: "The Dying Witch Addresses Her Young Apprentice", "November Graveyard", "Aerialist", "Tinker Jack and the Tidy Wives", "Panegyric", "Firesong", "On the Difficulty of Conjuring Up A Dryad", "Complaint of the Crazed Queen", and "Ella Mason and Her Eleven Cats". Weeks also asked about her poem "Two Lovers" but that had appeared in the August 1955 Mademoiselle (she submitted it in April 1955…The Atlantic was notoriously slow then in responding. She updates him on her activities and mentions the chestnuts bursting from their pods, which is a subject she sketched and wrote about in other letters at this time.

23 October 1956, to Peter Davison: Encloses Ted Hughes' manuscript of children's fables and expresses concern that their dealing with God and religion will not be a turn off to a cautious publisher. Plath mentions Hughes' work for the BBC and that she is writing poems and stories each day. She mentions Poetry's recent acceptance of six of her poems, and states that she is a non man-imitating female lyric poet the likes of which the world has never seen: criticizing Edna St. Vincent Millay, Sara Teasdale, Dorothy Park and especially Kathleen Raine in the process. Mentions, too, the recent article and sketches accepted by the Christian Science Monitor of Benidorm, Spain with four of what she considered her best sketches of sardine boats, market place, castle hill, Spanish staircase

13 November 1956, to Edward Weeks: an uncharacteristically short letter submitting three stories: "That Widow Mangada", "The Black Bull", and "Afternoon in Hardcastle Crags." The letter is graffitied with editorial comments.

19 November 1956, from Ted Hughes to Emilie McLeod at Atlantic Monthly Press: Responds to McLeod's comments on his fables and discusses revisions and asks for guidance in do so.

Christmas card, 1956, to Peter Davison: Handwritten note in a card announcing that she and Ted Hughes were married and living and writing and applying for teaching jobs in the States.

21 January 1958, from Ted Hughes to Edward Weeks: Sending two stories for consideration: "Grand Songs, Great Songs" and "Rats".

25 March 1958, to Peter Davison (on Smith Memorandum): Confirms plans to see Davison in Cambridge, Mass., on the following Sunday and discusses the prospects for living in Boston. Expresses displeasure at teaching other people's work and that she wants time to concentrate on her writing.

22 April 1958, to Peter Davison: SP sends her recent poems for consideration including "The Disquieting Muses" and "Snakecharmer". Plath mentions that Ted Hughes will be sending some shortly. Plath makes reference to the murder of Lana Turner's lover which was making news at the time. Davison had sent them some books, she thanks them. A note on the letter indicates the titles of them: The Undiscovered Self by Carl Jung and Corruption by Nicholas Mosley (1957). Plath said she really admired the Mosley novel and the setting of the novel, saying that she's interested in the visceral, the real over the abstract.

27 April 1958, from Ted Hughes to Peter Davison: Sending poems to Davison and hoping that even if The Atlantic does not like them that he does. The poems were "Crow Hill", "Nocturnal", Dick Straightup", "Reflections", "Dream of Horses", and "The Acrobats". He mentions that Plath is delighted that they like two of her poems and that they were speedy about returning the ones they did not. Hughes thanks Davison for coming to his recent reading, especially in inclement weather; and asks about the Poet's Theatre grant program.

7 September 1958, to Peter Davison: From 9 Willow Street, Plath comments about the rainstorm she is witnessing; invites him over to tea; mentions her first New Yorker acceptances; their current writing projects; and follows up on their outstanding submissions.

2 May 1959, to Emilie McLeod: sending The Bed Book with its two star characters Wide-Awake Will and Stay-Uppity Sue and mentions that Ted Hughes is working on Meet My Folks.

7 May 1959, to Edward Weeks: Plath submits eight poems set in Massachusetts, Spain, and England, mentioning only one by name "Alicante Lullaby". Some of the others that warranted comment include "The Other Two", "Green Rock, Winthrop Bay", and "The Eye-Mote".

30 May 1959, to Seymour Lawrence at Atlantic Monthly: Submitting two stories: "This Earth Our Hospital" ("The Daughters of Blossom Street") and "Above the Oxbow". She asks for a faster verdict, saying that the last rejection took them six months. You go girl!

11 June 1959, to Emilie McLeod: Plath writes that she finds her two characters in The Bed Book now to be rather annoying and thanks McLeod for her suggestions and that she's currently revising it. Tries to set up a meeting before McLeod travels to Palo Alto (California).

3 November 1959, from Ted Hughes to Emilie McLeod: Submitting "Meet My Folks" and letting them know that the version that he is sending will be published as is by Faber in England.

22 December 1959, from Ted Hughes to Emile McLeod: Discussing "Meet My Folks" and says he isn't willing to re-write it just for an American publisher/audience but seeks to publish it as it is, as it will appear by Faber.

13 April 1960, to Peter Davison: Arranges to meet for dinner in London circa 2 May 1960 when Peter and his wife Jane will be passing through. Talks about the birth of Frieda Rebecca Hughes; praises the British Medical System; and asks about any word on her submission of three stories ("A Prospect of Cornucopia", "The Fifty-Ninth Bear", and "Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams") from the previous fall.

7 November 1960: Submitting six poems: : "Leaving Early", "Candles", "Magi", "Love Letter", "Home Thoughts from London", and "Words for a Nursery"

30 September 1961, to Peter Davison: Talks about Court Green; submits a group of poems by Ted Hughes including "Wodwo"; and congratulates him on the birth of his son Angus, saying it was a great name. (Plath used the name "Angus" in a short story she wrote around this time called "Shadow Girl". See page 162 of Luke Ferretter's excellent Sylvia Plath's Fiction: A Critical Study)

16 November 1962, to Peter Davison: Plath submits a massive batch of poems: "Fever 103," "Nick and the Candlestick," "Purdah," "A Birthday Present," The Jailor," "The Detective," "The Courage of Quietness [Shutting-Up]," "Lesbos," "Eavesdropper," and "Bees (5 parts)." The Atlantic Monthly accepted "The Arrival of the Bee Box" and "Wintering." Again, she asks for a speedy decision, mentioning that she's in need of money.

31 July 1982, from Aurelia Plath to Peter Davison: A long letter written after the announcement of Plath's Pulitzer for The Collected Poems, it discussions some of the aspects of Plath's posthumous life and publications and some of her memories of her daughter. A moving letter.

And of course, these summaries are relatively brief and do little justice to the originals.

Davison was in a relatively unique position from 1955, when he met Plath, onward. He was a temporary boyfriend of Plath, a man who was stone-cold used & ditched by Plath, her peer and editor, and after her death, a reviewer of her work, a poet who wrote poems about her, as well as an arbiter and judge of those writing about Plath. He held a position of authority in things Plath, but like Olwyn Hughes, he was in something of a position in which he likely did not belong. Being said scorned lover, it is something of a conflict of interest that he worked so closely with Edward Butcher, Anne Stevenson, and Olwyn Hughes: but these are things to discuss and debate possibly at another time.

In addition to these letters detailed above, the Plath materials in the Davison papers contains a typescript and proof of Plath's poem "A Winter Ship" (the proof bears Plath's signature indicating her approval of the typesetting), a lot of internal Atlantic commentary on the submissions by Plath and Hughes, and Atlantic staff letters to the poets. This represents a remarkable cache of materials and offers both sides of the submission/publication world. There are also articles on Plath, letters regarding Plath (fan letters and otherwise), writings by Davison, notes, phone messages, bookseller listings, materials relating to Edward Butscher's Sylvia Plath: Method and Madness and more.

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 2 October 2013.
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