13 October 2017

About Last Night: Sylvia Plath at the Grolier

On a pre-dawn train from New York to Boston, I thought I would write up a small review of the Sylvia Plath Symposium at the Grolier Club last night, which was held in conjunction with Judith Raymo's member exhibit "This is the light of the mind" in which selections from her personal collection of Sylvia Plath books and typescripts is on display through 4 November.

After checking into my hotel, I walked up Madison Avenue to see 575, where Plath was a guest intern for Mademoiselle. I gave "the glass eggbeater...revolving doors" a quick hello before continuing on to the Grolier Club (1963, p. 43).

Before the talks, Judith gave Karen V. Kukil, Heather Clark, and me a tour of the show and it was wonderful to see all the cases bursting with Plath. Judith had consulted all three of us on various aspects of the show and I had seen and read her catalog but to see everything in real time was wonderful. Some, like her copy of the Saint Botolph's Review are so rare that seeing it in person has a curious effect on me. And I can imagine the launch party for it and picture Plath's powerful journal entry written the next day (and also her story "Stone Boy With Dolphin". One aspect of the show I would like to highlight is that the British Library's Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath CD is playing on a loop with an accompanying slideshow of images. As the CD is out of print now, it is a great way to listen to it for free.

Judith gave a lovely introduction to Plath and the symposium and then turned the microphone and podium over to Karen, me, and Heather.

Karen discussed the Plath collection at Smith College and Plath's poetry showing manuscript examples of "Ariel", "Daddy", "Lady Lazarus", and "Fever 103" among others. She also mentioned books in Plath's library that hey have, such as Edith Sitwell's The Canticle of the Rose. One thing I liked best was when Karen showed slides of the exhibits that feature their Smith's Plath Collection because it helps share the documents and other items that many would never see unless they visited Smith. It was an expertly delivered talk with some good humor mixed in to lighten some of the heavier discussions. It was great that Karen showed "Daddy" as yesterday was the 55th anniversary from when that poem was written.

I rambled on about the process of editing Sylvia Plath's letters. And though feedback seemed generally positive I feel I need to revise and rewrite and generally overhaul some of the points for Belfast.

Heather was a gem. She was careful not to discuss too much about her forthcoming (2019-ish) biography of Plath but rather she provided a wealth of evidence in the previous biographies as to why a new one is needed. It was spot on.

Afterwards we fielded some questions from the audience and I got the impressed they were all really engaged with our talks and the subject of Plath. I brought my copy of the American edition of the Letters with me (had to pay for its own seat on the train!) to show people what they can expect next week when it's published here. And two people in the audience (Amanda Golden (@plathpoem) and Richard Larschan (a close friend of Aurelia Plath)) were sporting the Faber edition. A particular highlight was when Eva Stenskar (@eva_stenskar) showed up, right before the talk started, and handed me a homemade tomato cake using Plath's recipe. I have always been somewhat afraid of this cake but I have to say I am excited to try it tonight when I get home. Eva could not stay but I was incredibly touched that she came just to say Hi and, of course, for the gift cake. After Eva left, I felt compelled to descend the nearby stair.

During the reception afterwards, I got to meet Tim Clair (@plathproject) with whom I have been emailing for a while now. Tim tweeted out some great pictures from the event, many of which feature the back of my head. And he gave me a sheet of his own homemade pink Smith College memorandum paper which looks and feels quite authentic to the originals Plath used from 1958-1962 for her creative writing and letters and other purposes. Tim brought a few things for me to sign, too!

I also met another email correspondent, the literary agent Sarah Butler (@FunkeLit), who paid me a too-kind compliment. Judith, Karen, Heather, and I then reposed to the Regency Hotel on Park Avenue for a lovely dinner.

A pleasant walk back to my hotel on Madison Avenue followed by a refreshing Bells Two Hearted Ale.

How does anyone sleep in that city? Why is Connecticut so long? What the event was particularly great for was providing a warm-up, a settling of the stage for a full-throttle Plath-fest at Belfast.

My deepest, heartfelt thanks go to Judith Raymo for organizing the event and asking me to participate. The staff at the Grolier were awesome, to the co-speakers Karen and Heather for being genuinely superb speakers and friends, and to the good people that attended!

All links accessed 13 October 2017.


Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

Were you brave enough to eat the tomato soup cake? My family says it's "the best carrot cake ever," although it contains no carrots.

Peter K Steinberg said...

Julia - Yes, I did try it and I did like it very much. ~pks

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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.