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.


Anonymous said...

Thank u for this amazing and interesting post, Peter. U made my returning home from freezing and tiring morning away from home pleasant in finding this new promised post and very enriching from the collecting point of view and people who love collecting and having memorabilia like me. Although not original but i have same picture of Sylvia holding little Frieda in front of Isis poster,hanging on my bedroom wall first i see every night i switch off the light to sleep and first "thing" i see every morning waking up. What better to start a new day with!? Thank u again Peter for new interesing post and for the love and effort and accurate manner u put in your work to share with us every time. Many kisses and hugs from cold but Florence, have a great weekend and see u soon.
Alessandra (Alina)

Anonymous said...

p.s. I do apologize Peter for the awful english in which i write, i know u will excuse me and your readers,i hope i can understandable despite all the mistakes please bear with me but i m learning english alone only with the help of books and movies and believe at 46years of age is not easy..so please excuse me..anytime i want to comment/say something never comes out the real way i want to expressi it,with the same deep and real meaning i would do it in italian and comes out always said badly and childish and not how i wanted it. Thank u,Peter.

Anonymous said...

Many kisses and hugs from cold but *sunny* Florence, (not only errors and awful english..also forgotten words..oh what a failure of a person i am! Ok,for the forgotten words let's give the fault(or lets blame, is more english) to the big amount of work by which im absorbed these days. #needavacationsobaaaad

xx Alessandra

BridgetAnna said...

Lucky you, PKS, with all of these wonderful Plath gifts! I should say in all honesty, you are most deserving. You do incredible work. Many thanks, b

Peter K Steinberg said...

Thank you! Very kind of you to say, Bridget!


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Publications & Acknowledgements

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