27 November 2014

Jeffrey Meyers on Sylvia Plath's Heritage

Jeffrey Meyers' "The German Plath" published in the November 2014 issue (volume 33, number 3, pages 77-80) of the New Criterion is his second publication on Sylvia Plath this year. The first "Plath's Rapist" was published by London Magazine in their June-July number. It was discussed at length on this blog here. It is clear that Meyers has a high regard and interest in Sylvia Plath, he is exploring topics that in some cases are under emphasized (some of his articles are listed in this 2010 blog post), but as with "Plath's Rapist", in "The German Plath" Meyers tips the scales, or, falls overboard, and has written largely a piece of drivel. The premise of the article is: "Sylvia Plath was born into German culture … Plath had all the quintessential German qualities: she was clean, orderly, punctual, meticulous, disciplined, industrious, conformist, and obedient ... Her father’s virtual suicide, which she referred to obsessively throughout her life and art, profoundly influenced her own suicide." Meyers contends that Plath's Germanic background informs why "[i]n Cambridge, England, she obsessively cut her breakfast eggs into neat squares and triangles."

Off the bat, Meyers gets Otto Plath's year of emigration wrong. Otto Plath came to America in 1900, not 1901. He claims that Otto Plath "refused to recognize his own diabetes" but I think this is a bit of an oversimplification of the circumstances. Otto Plath believe he had lung cancer, and after seeing this in a friend, refused to seek medical advice and treatment. So it was not so much a refusal to "recognize" to much as stubbornness to get help. If these are one in the same thing do let me know. It highlights the dangers of self-diagnosis; not to mention also the crassness of claiming Otto Plath committed "virtual suicide". And, how many f's are in daffodils? I get this is a typographical error by an editor, but FYI, New Criterion, there aren't three.

After the egg-cutting revelation, Meyers writes "(By contrast, when the critic Al Alvarez visited Plath at the very end of her life, her unwashed hair, an unmistakable sign of her depression, 'gave off a strong smell, sharp as an animal's.')" Now this is something remarkable! Unwashed hair is "an unmistakable sign of her depression". Really. Good thing I'm balding as I should be now exempt from that disease. Meyers show no familiarity with Plath's hygiene. Unwashed hair might be a sign of depression but it is far from 'unmistakable'. Especially considering that Plath washed her hair infrequently. Even from her college days, Plath washed her hair once a week, maybe twice. This is a practice she followed through 1962, as can be seen in her calendars held by the Lilly Library for college and graduate school years, as well as in her 1962 Letts Diary Tablet held by Smith College. In 1962, Plath's Letts has 33 instances of the chore to "wash hair". In December, in particular, there are four instances: the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 24th. Alvarez visited Plath on Christmas Eve 1962 (aka the 24th); but we obviously do not know if Plath washed her hair before or after the visit. Maybe the shampoo scent was "Tigress"? Anyway, at this time, Plath was heavily involved with making 23 Fitzroy Road livable. Painting, purchasing things, preparing a script for the BBC, arranging for day care for Frieda Hughes, minding two small dependent children on her own, writing some letters, baking, cooking, taking the children out, setting up services like nappies, subscribing to the Radio Times and The Observer, making professional plans, seeing friends, hosting guests, trying to get a phone installed, seeing Ted Hughes, etc. Pardon the language and the tone: but when the [expletive] was she supposed to have time to wash her hair?

Let's see, what else. Meyers seems comfortable making blanket stereotype judgments "Plath’s orderly and repressive German traits, which helped control her mania...". It is this kind of insensitivity that calls into question his motivation in writing on Plath. How did Plath employ her Germanic background to control her mania (if she was even manic at all… Meyers gives no support to this assertion).

This is a gem: "She became a Unitarian and not, like Otto, a Lutheran; she learned French, not German, in high school and college (though she took German courses in England)." Ok, the decision to be Unitarian was not Plath's decision. It was her mother's (when the Plath's moved to Wellesley in 1942, Sylvia Plath was all of about 10 years old: hardly old enough to be making decisions of this kind). During Otto Plath's lifetime, also, the Plath's were Methodist. Remember, Meyers, Otto Plath turned his back on the family and the Lutheran ministry and was struck from the family bible. And Plath ultimately rejected formal, organized religion when she developed a mind of her own. And (I'm getting out of breath), lastly, Plath did take German courses in college, both at Smith College and in Harvard Summer School.

Meyers claims "In 'Little Fugue,' an allusion to a composition by J. S. Bach". Try again, it is a reference to Beethoven's Gro├če Fugue (the title of Beethoven's composition is even in the poem). Plath was familiar with Bach, but preferred Beethoven.

This one is good, too, "'Electra on Azalea Path' suggests Electra on Aurelia Plath…" Well, kind of. The closeness of Azalea Path to Aurelia Plath is not arguable, but Otto Plath is buried on Azalea Path in Winthrop's town cemetery. Also, the myth of Electra doesn't really work if you connect Electra to the mother figure, so pun notwithstanding, Meyers' attempt at cleverness is abjectly a failure.

Then, Meyers writes, "In August 1962, when she wrote 'Lady Lazarus,' Plath had just survived a near-fatal car crash in England." -- nope. October 1962 is when "Lady Lazarus" was written and "near-fatal car crash" is hyperbolic. There is some doubt about the veracity of Plath's claims of this car incident, but if the story is true, Plath veered off the road in her Morris Traveller at a flat part of Winkleigh in Devon at the site of a on old airfield (map) where there was very little risk of severe injury.

Overall, like with "Plath's Rapist", I am unimpressed with Meyers' recent forays in Plath "scholarship". Hire a research assistant; or, I'm happy to send him a bill for the work I've done correcting his publications. He freely conflates and confuses Plath with her creative constructions: Plath is Esther Greenwood; Plath is "Lady Lazarus", etc. It is a tightrope, a tricky tightrope. It is safe to say and believe that Plath uses her experiences in her writing. Her life sometimes forms the origination of her creative writing but it was a launching off point. Plath's transformation of her experiences into art and into a universality of theme is far more complicated than Meyers gives Plath credit for. There is enough blatantly and factually wrong to question both his knowledge of Plath and his motivations. It is simply careless writing. And it is a little disturbing that venerable publications like London Magazine and New Criterion are publishing this stuff.

All links accessed 7 November 2014.

19 November 2014

Did you know... Sylvia Plath at Yaddo

Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes were guests at Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, New York, from 9 September-19 November 1959. They were recommended for invitation by Newton Arvin and Richard Eberhart. In the admission process, they were graded by their peers. Plath received grades of B (Richard Eberhart), A (J[ohn] C[heever]?), and a Strong B or B plus (Morton D Zabel). Hughes received grades of A (J[ohn] C[heever]?), B (Richard Eberhart), and Good B (Morton D Zabel).

Did you know who the other guests and residents were at Yaddo at the same time as Plath and Hughes were there?

There was a director's meeting from 25-27 September, which meant that the following people were there for a few short days under different conditions and expectations. In the list, following their names are their occupation, whether they were a director or a member, and which room(s) they were assigned:

Newton Arvin (writer; Director, Dew);
Robert Coates (writer; Member, Mt. View);
Malcolm Cowley (writer; Director, also there from 20-26 October, West House #4/West House #9);
Paul Creston (composer; Member, West House #6);
Richard Donovan (composer, Director; South Room);
Ulysses Kay (composer; Member, North West);
Louis Kronenberger (writer; Director, South West);
Quincy Porter (composer; Director; East Room); and
Charles Schucker (painter; Member, West House #3).

Richard Eberhart was scheduled to be there and stay in Lower West but his name was crossed out. Other directors present at the board meeting according to the minutes were Granville Hicks, Simon Moselsio, John A. Slade, Kathryn Starbuck, and Everett V. Stonequite. Other members listed as present in the minutes were Elizabeth Ames, Arthur K.D. Healy, Frederica Mitchell, Marion D. Pease, Frank Sullivan, and Eleanor Clark Warren. Not all the directors and members required Yaddo-based accommodations. Many lived nearby and may have just made several trips back and forth. There were 64 guests in total in 1959 (although another document seen lists 69); and there was a loss of 18 or 19 trees due to a small cyclone and repairs were discussed at this meeting.

Plath spent 24 September roaming around the mansion, writing and sketching. She wrote in her journal: "Spent an hour or so yesterday writing down notes about Yaddo library, for they will close the magnificent mansion this weekend after all the guests come. The famous Board. John Cheever, Robert Penn Warren. I have nothing to say to them" (507). According to the document I consulted, neither Cheever nor Warren were listed as a participant in the meeting. Cheever was listed as a Member that year, but not as a Director in the 1959 administrative files.

Plath wrote home the day after their arrival: "Usually in the summer there are about 30 people here, but now there are only about 10 or 12, mostly artists and composers (who seem very nice) and a couple of poets we have never heard of" (Letters Home 353). Including Plath and Hughes, the guests at Yaddo that coincided in some fashion with their stay (in alphabetical order, with their occupation, dates of stay, and assigned room(s) in parentheses) were:

Charles G. Bell (writer, 4-18 September, West House #7/West House #9);
Gordon Binkerd (composer, 30 September-6 December, West House #6);
Wen-chung Chou (composer, 29 July-23 September, North West/Woodland);
Robert Conover (painter, 28 August-1 October, Pine Tree);
Worden Day (painter, 29 July-19 September, Lower West/Stone Studio);
Arthur Deshaies (painter, 6 October-5 December, Pigeon #2/West House #4);
Lu Duble (sculptor, 4 August-21 September, West House #4/Dairy);
Martin Janto (painter, 2-13 September, West House #3/Pigeon #1);
Dwight Kirsch (painter and writer, 3 August-23 September, South West/Meadow);
Perrin Lowrey (writer, 5 August-29 September, High);
Sonia Raiziss (writer, 11 August-23 September; East Room);
Howard Rogovin (painter, 2 July-4 December, West House #5/Courtyard/Pigeon #1);
Hyde Solomon (painter, 1 April-12 September, Magazine Room/Pigeon #2);
May Swenson (writer, 2 November-3 December, West House #7/West House #9); and
Lester Trimble (composer, 2-28 September, Oratory/Stone Tower).

The "couple of poets we have never heard of" included Sonia Raiziss (her obit) and Charles G. Bell (his obit).

You might be wondering, then, which rooms Plath and Hughes had? Plath's studio was in West House, room number 8. Previously that year the only other occupant was John Cheever, in April. Hughes' studio, located in in the woods at the end of Pine Grove,  was "Outlook". "Outlook" house, circled red is just a short walk from West House (not circled above, but is the building in the top right of the Bing Map screen capture. Previously that year other occupants of "Outlook" included Charles Ogden and Gerald Sykes. Hughes seems to have been considered for "East House" for his studio, but this was crossed through. Plath and Hughes' bedroom, also in West House, is West House #1. Previously that year the room was occupied on separate occasions by Lore Groszmann and Isle Lind. Plath writes at one point that she and Hughes were moving to the Garage, but this does not appear to have happened (Journals 501).

On 23 September, Plath wrote home "I read some of my poems here the other night with a professor from the University of Chicago who read from a novel-in-progress. Several guests are leaving today, among them a very fine young Chinese composer of whom we are very fond, on his second Guggenheim this year (Letters Home 354). The Chinese composer, we know, was Wen-chung Chou. The professor from the University of Chicago was Perrin Lowrey (biographical sketch). It seems Lowrey, a William Faulkner scholar, never published a novel, but in 1964, the year before his death, he did publish The Great Speckled Bird and Other Stories. Charles Bell was also a professor at the University of Chicago, but he left his position there in 1956. The other guests that left that day in addition to Wen-chung Chou were Dwight Kirsch and Sonia Raiziss.

Only Newton Arvin, Wen-chung Chou and Sonia Raiziss (via her editorial position on the Chelsea Review appear in Plath's address book, held by Smith College.

According to "Portraits" in Ted Hughes' 1998 collection Birthday Letters, Plath had her portrait painted in the old greenhouse by "Howard". Howard is the artist Howard Rogovin, who was a guest at Yaddo from 2 July-4 December 1959. For background and memories of Howard Rogovin at Yaddo, please see Jeremy Treglown's excellent "Howard's Way - Painting Sylvia Plath" in the TLS (30 August 2013, page 13).

For additional reading on Yaddo, please consider reading Yaddo: Making American Culture, which serves as the exhibition book for a 2008-2009 show at the New York Public Library. To complement this exhibit, Karen V. Kukil curated an exhibit at Smith College called "Unconquered by Flames: The Literary Lights of Yaddo" (additional information).

The Yaddo records at the New York Public Library, where much of this information was obtained, is a great resource. Obviously Plath and Hughes are but two of their very famous guests. The housing information was obtained from "Housing Charts: 1959" in Box 332. What they have are photocopies of the originals. The 1959 chart is a huge format paper with grids listing down the left hand side all the housing rooms and work spaces: East House, Pine Tree, West House (#1 - #7), Mansion North Studio, Mt. [Mountain] View, East Room, South Room, Lower West, North West, South West, Oratory, Dew, High, Third South, Third West #1, Third West #2, Magazine Room, Stone Studio #1, #2, #3, Courtyard, Dairy, Pigeon #1, Pigeon #2, Stone Tower, Woodland, Hillside, Outlook, Meadow, Mansion Tower, Garden Studio, West House #8, and West House #9. Most guests had their names listed twice: one place for sleeping and one for work. However, I could not locate on the sheet two places for a couple of the guests. An absolutely indispensable resource.

My thanks to Lesley Leduc of Yaddo for her assistance with some of the information in this post. Additionally, to Tal Nadan and the staff at the New York Public Library, who were helpful when I worked with the records in their ambient reading room on 10 October.

All links accessed 28-29 September 2014.

14 November 2014

Major Sylvia Plath Archive Auction at Sotheby's on 2 December 2014

Sotheby's is auctioning a major archive of Sylvia Plath materials including stories, poems, a letter, photographs, lecture notes and other items in New York City on 2 December 2014. It's all I can do not to pass out.


The archive comprises:

Short stories.
Autograph manuscripts and typescripts, 1946–1953 where dated, as follows:
1) "On the Penthouse Roof," autograph manuscript in pencil, 3 1/2 pp., 18 May 1946.
2) "The Mummy's Tomb," autograph manuscript in pencil, 4 pp., 17 May 1946.
3) "Gramercy Park," typescript with a few corrections, 6 pp. [1948].
4) "The Green Rock," two typescripts, one corrected, 11 and 12 pp.
5) "The International Flavor," two typescripts, one corrected, 3 and 3 1/4 pp., Wellesley, summer 1950.
6) "Two Gods of Alice Denway," typescript with a few corrections, 6 pp., written for class "English 347a," with annotations by her teacher.
7) "Among the Bumblebees," typescript, 7 pp., Smith College [numers 6 and 7 are different versions of the same story].
8) "Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom," carbon typescript, 22 pp., Smith College [1953], with a letter of rejection from the editor of Mademoiselle.
9) "The Dark River," typescript, 6 1/2 pp.
10) "New England Summer," typescript with a few corrections, 3 1/2 pp., Wellesley
11) "First Date," typescript with a few corrections, 3 1/2 pp., Wellesley.
12) "The Day Mr. Prescott Died," corrected typescript, 1 p. synopsis and 12 pp., 4 p. with typed fragments of other prose works on verso.
13) Untitled story written in the first person by a character named Stanley Edwards, typescript 7 1/2 pp.
14) Incomplete autograph manuscript of a story concerning a 19-year-old college student named Angie, 6 pp. with 2 pp. of notes.
15) Autograph notes and passages from 3 other stories. 16 pp.

A collection of typescripts of 94 poems (plus 9 duplicates) written ca. 1947–55, 33 bearing substantive autograph corrections ranging from the alteration or deletion of a word to major changes.

Lecture notes.
1) Autograph lecture notes from class "Eng. 211, 221 Romanticism" at Smith College, 1951–52, 96 pp. written in ink with some passages underlined in red crayon, in a spiral notebook.
2) Autograph lecture notes from class "40b" at Smith College, 129 pp., written in ink, some passages underlines in ink or red pencil, in a stenographer's notebook.

Smith College.
1) Smith Review, Exam Blues Issue, January 1955, signed in pencil on front wrapper [contains Plath's poem "Dialogue en Route"].
2) Smith Alumnae Quarterly, February 1951 [contains extract from letter from Plath to Mrs. Olive Higgins Prouty].
3) Typescript reading lists for two English classes (1951–2, 1954), both annotated and signed.
4) Typed passage from Lessing, in German, 1 1/2 pp., annotated and signed.
5) Autograph fragment in prose (5 lines) with 3 lines of notes, 1 p.
6) A contact sheet of photographs showing Plath interviewing Elizabeth Bowen, and 4 other photographs (including one of the teenage Plath in a bathing suit and another of her holding her infant daughter).
7) A folder of newspaper clippings and a carbon copy of Plath's thesis, "The Magic Mirror. A Study of the Double in Two of Dostoevsky's Novels," Smith College, 1955.

Typed letter.
Typed letter, [Smith College], 24 April [1953], to Aurelia Plath, typed on the inner fold (12 1/2 x 9 1/4 in.) of a birthday card with autograph inscription "much love to my favorite mummy! your sivvy."

1) Self-portrait, half-length, in a semi-abstract style, ink and gouache on paper, 12 x 11 in., stamp of Plath estate on verso.
2) Self-portrait, ink and colored pencil on paper, cut out and mounted on black paper, 8 1/2 x 7 1/2 in., stamp of Plath estate on verso.

All links accessed 14 November 2014.

08 November 2014

"We Shall Never Enter There": Sylvia Plath and The Burnt-out Spa

On Sunday 8 November 1959, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes were in the last days of their 11 week stay at Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, New York. Plath's journal entry from a few days later says, "I wrote a good poem this week on our walk Sunday to the burnt-out spa. A second book poem. How it consoles me, the idea of a second book with these new poems: The Manor Garden, The Colossus, The Burnt-out Spa, the seven Birthday poems, and perhaps Medallion …" (526).

The burnt-out spa has for a while be something of an enigma to me. I visited Yaddo for a day in 2001, but did not think to seek out the "burnt-out spa" at the time. It has been on my mind for a while to revisit the town, and over the weekend of 20-21 September did just that, as part of a trip that included a rare tour of the buildings and grounds of so venerable a place. In preparation for the visit, I contacted the city's library to inquire if anyone knew anything about the place that inspired this Plath poem. I received fabulous assistance.

Poet Johnnie Roberts and city historian Mary Ann Fitzgerald each provided valuable information in this quest. The most likely location of the burnt-out spa was the former "Saratoga Sulphur and Mud Baths" at Eureka Park, which opened in 1928 and burnt to the ground on 28 October 1958.

Plath's visit to Yaddo coincided with the first anniversary of the conflagration, so it is possible that the fire might have been mentioned both on the property of Yaddo by its guests and employees, but also by the residents of Saratoga Springs. I also emailed with, and met in person, Teri Blasko, the Local History Librarian of the Saratoga Springs Public Library and her assistant Victoria Garlanda. Together they, along with Johnnie and Mary Ann, provided enough information via emails and attachments to allow for some in the field traipsing through history in this quest.

Arriving in Saratoga Springs, I met with Victoria first in the parking lot of Yaddo and drove the short mile and a half to the end of Eureka Avenue. Here they are building new houses. Makes me wish that in 2001 I had known about the site as it might have looked less spoiled. Victoria pointed out the general vicinity of where the Saratoga Sulphur and Mud Baths was located. We then drove around to the back-side of the area and parked near a hotel. We walked down a clearing path towards the spring with woods on both sides. Victoria warned me about ticks and Lyme disease and other creatures (snakes, etc.) and left me on my own to decide if I would navigate through the dense late summer growth in search of something.

A crude outline from satellite image of the spa location.
Entering the woods, I immediately came across some concrete foundation as well as very rusty metal objects and felt an immense relief. The property after the fire was never redeveloped. If details in the poem are based on observed objects, as is often the case in Sylvia Plath's poetry, then what I saw was the remains of the "wood and rusty teeth", the "rafters and struts", and "Iron entrails, enamel bowls, / The coils and pipes" (Collected Poems 137-138). I wandered around, making my way down to the spring itself. There was not much else to see, but like Plath wrote in her Journals about visiting her father's grave, "It is good to have the place in mind" (473).

Part of the concrete foundation of the old
Saratoga Sulphur and Mud Baths
Eureka Spring and mud
"Iron entrails ... / The coils and pipes that made him run."

Here is an article from The Saratogian from 28 October 1958 on the fire obtained from that wonderful Old Fulton NY Post cards website, which shows two images of the fire burning.

In the top-most image, you can what was the front, main entrance to the Baths. Clearly visible in front is a balustraded fence-like structure. Some of this remained a year after the fire, and was immortalized by Plath in her poem. Plath's speaker, wandering around the site as she herself undoubtedly did, notices the spring as it "Proceeds clear as it ever did / From the broken throat, the marshy lip" (138). She continues, "It flows off below the green and white / Balustrade of a sag-backed bridge" (138).

Two additional views of the Bath are in this black and white photograph, and a color picture postcard. Whilst undated, you can see clearly in the black and white photo the small bridge Plath would have seen; and though partially blocked by a car in the postcard, the bridge crossing the spring is visible in that as well.
1945 view of Saratoga Sulphur and Mud Baths
Postcard of the same
Here is an article about the man that owned the property: 'Mr. Saratoga' believed: Immigrant touted city's healing powers, owned Saratoga Sulphur & Mud Baths from 1928 to 1958. In researching for this post, I read and re-read "The Burnt-out Spa" several times, and as well I also did the same for the other Yaddo poems, especially in preparation for the tour. There were several similarities that I noticed between "The Colossus" and "The Burnt-out Spa" that previously escaped my purview. In the earlier written poem ("The Colossus"), the speaker is miniscule among the grand ruins, and crawls like "an ant in mourning / Over the weedy acres of your brow / To mend the immense skull-plates and clear / The bald, white tumuli of your eyes" (129). In "The Burnt-out Spa", a full-sized speaker is among the beast-like, personified ruins of the spa which is an "esplanade for crickets" (another insect). Diminished in stature against these more modern ruins, the speaker "pick[s] and [pries] like a doctor or / Archaeologist among / Iron entrails, enamel bowls, / The coils and pipes that made him run" (138).

Fifty-five years after Plath, I found myself feeling quite small in the dense overgrowth. The unchallenged weeds and trees have grown wild all around the site of the former spa. That spark and that chill which so often makes itself felt when tracking Plath's footsteps and actions as captured in her poetry and prose made itself known to me while I was at this location, as well as at Yaddo. Yes, Plath, "it is good to have the place in mind."

All links accessed 17 September and 14 October 2014.

01 November 2014

Collecting Sylvia Plath

In advance of the 38th Annual Boston Antiquarian Book Fair in two weeks, and inspired by David Trinidad's compelling and fascinating June blog post, Collecting Sylvia Plath, on the Poetry Foundation's website, I am left induced to share some of my own assembled ephemera relating to Sylvia Plath. It would be foolish to try to replicate the enthusiasm and sincerity in David's blog post; however, I can unequivocally state that in collecting these bits and pieces of Plathiana, I do feel sometimes to gain a better perspective on her biographically and bibliographically: for both those publications she saw during her lifetime, as well as the ones that appeared after she died.

Two of the most recent acquisitions came together from The Poetry Bookshop in Hay-on-Wye. When collecting anything, it is fun and informative to know the provenance of the item. This is not always possible, but in this instance, the items formerly belonged to long-time BBC producer Fred Hunter (obit; another one). While Hunter is not a name with which I was familiar in considering Plath and the BBC, it opens up Plath's influence on her contemporary employees at that venerable corporation. I have to say that I do wonder if they ever met?

The two items purchased were:

1. The Observer, "Weekend Review", 16 December 1962, which first published Plath's "Event". There is nothing like seeing a periodical publication of Plath's work that she herself would have seen. This particular issue was published the first weekend after she moved from Court Green to 23 Fitzroy Road in London and is a poem on one of those very private experiences. "Event", along with "The Rabbit Catcher", was written on 21 May 1962, just after Assia and David Wevill visited Plath and Hughes in North Tawton and some say the poem reflects some spark of recognition in Plath that the marriage was troubled (though it is arguable, too, that the strain in the marriage was already well established by the time the Wevill's visited). Plath submitted "Event" to Al Alvarez at The Observer on 30 June. Published next to "Event" was "The Habits" by Louis MacNeice.

2. New Statesman for 3 May 1963, which published "Child". "Child" is a stunningly beautiful late poem that Plath herself did not send to the periodical. Ted Hughes annotated Plath's submissions list, indicating he sent this poem along with "The Bald Madonnas" ("The Munich Mannequins"), "Paralytic" and "Totem" on 12 March 1963, or just over a month after Plath's death. Plath enjoyed some success with the New Statesman both as a reviewer and a poet. In addition to "Child" and five reviews, Plath's poems "Magi", "Wuthering Heights" and "Stillborn" all appeared in this periodical. You can see more periodical covers over on A celebration, this is.

Another item recently acquired, as a gift, was a first edition, second impression of Ted Hughes' second book Lupercal, Faber edition. This was not just a plain copy of a book. A previous owners' inscription reads "McMaster 1961", and loosely inserted into the poetry volume were three fascinating items:

1. Four typed poems by Ted Hughes with the heading "University of London Institute of Education - 'Art, Literature and Music'". The four poems are "Hawk Roosting"; "Thrushes"; "Fourth of July" and "Crag Jack's Apostasy".

2. An original clipping from The Observer dated 6 January 1963 of three poems by Ted Hughes: "Water"; "New Moon in January"; and "Dark Women" [later titled "The Green Wolf"]. Seeing the poems in their original, first appearance is like reading them for the first time, and I was struck stupid at how "Plathian" "Dark Women" was. Indeed, I could see a dozen Plath poems in them. Grief of influence, indeed!

3. An original clipping from The Observer dated 17 February 1963 of A. Alvarez's "A Poet's Epitaph" with four of Plath's poems published for the first time, along with a photograph of Plath with her daughter Frieda in front of her poster of Isis, taken in the first months of Frieda's life at 3 Chalcot Square in London. The poems printed are "Edge", "The Fearful", "Kindness", and "Contusion". This was the first obituary for Sylvia Plath. Truly stunning to see in the original. You can see larger images of the periodicals and clippings in the post on A celebration, this is, my website for Sylvia Plath.

Lastly, I also received recently as a gift two items from the July 1961 Poetry at the Mermaid Festival (map), which is where Plath read "Tulips" live as a commissioned poem of the festival. I was surprised to see that Plath's name was not listed in these items, but it was a heavily male event, as John Wain's comments reveal in his brief introduction to Plath's reading. The recording is available on The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath, a CD released by the British Library in 2010 for which I was privileged to write the introduction. These two contemporary programme pieces work in conjunction with the official booklet programme (cover image on this page). The session in which Plath read "Tulips" was held on Monday 17 July at 8 p.m.

If you are interested in collecting Sylvia Plath you should consider going to a book fair, searching ABEbooks, and maybe even trolling eBay. You are going to enjoy it, you are going to overpay for something at least once, and you are bound to get something hyper-described that is not really collectible. But it is fun, rewarding, educational.

All links accessed 2 & 8 July, 1 & 31 October, and 1 November 2014.
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