21 November 2017

Art at Sylvia Plath Conference in Belfast

In each of the four Sylvia Plath conferences, art has been a major component of the events. Art, as in art inspired by Sylvia Plath. Several musical compositions have been featured as well. The Sylvia Plath Conference in Belfast, from 10-11 November, continued this tradition. Bella Biddle wowed us with her a choral composition of "Nick and the Candlestick" which I mentioned in my day one review of the conference.

But unintentionally omitted from the previous recap-posts were a more detailed exploration of Christine Walde's exhibit, and, as well, artwork sent to the conference from Macedonia by Kristina Zimbakova.

One the first day, in the first panel, speaker Christine Walde spoke on "<maniacs.>: Exploring marginalia and materiality in library copies of Sylvia Plath's catalogue" which was a fascinating discussion on how we are readers interact with Plath's texts.

From Christine's abstract:
For many years, I have been fascinated by the vivid and abundant marginalia found in library copies of Sylvia Plath's poetry: page after page marked with lines, dashes, arrows and brackets; scribbled with pen, ink and pencil in all colors; awash with correction fluid, coffee rings, blood and tears; their pages torn and cut out, excised from their spines like sore teeth pulled from a throbbing jaw; ebullient, angry, and impassioned comments pleading from the margins, crying out for understanding, justice, salvation, or hope, crowding the white space on the page.
As part of her talk, Christine hung an exhibit of full color reproductions of selections from her research which offers an interesting look at how these anonymous souls responded to Plath. Christine also produced a book of these called <maniacs.> Limited to 20 numbered copies, <maniacs.> is a gorgeously produced volume and reminds me that I need to mark up my own reading copies of Plath! Or, at the least, scan some of the annotations I have made in case she would find it useful. If you are interested, a small number of copies of <maniacs.> is still available, please contact Christine (derwalde@gmail.com) if you are interested in acquiring one. Also, if you have annotated poems by Plath in your own books, she may well want to see those as well.

Kristina Zimbakova was unable to attend, in person, the conference but her artwork was on full display on the Saturday, the second day of the conference. Her creation, 'Poems, Suitcases' was something else altogether to see in person as I have known about it for several years. And it was so appropriate too since we had all traveled there with our own suitcases, with Plath's poems (and letters) in tow.

From the program:
The art installation 'Poems, Suitcases' is inspired by Plath's poetry, and in particular her essay 'A Comparison'. It consists of a sculptural painting (suitcase) and 19 mixed-media drawings. Each piece includes inscriptions of signature Plath poems' titles or central notions in her poetry, and the order arrangement of the pieces creates a story. In line with the poem 'Mushrooms' written on the suitcase, the wording is made of lichens, which are a symbiotic association between two fungal species and an alga or cyanobacterium. The closing lines of this poem, 'We shall by morning / Inherit the earth./ Our foot's in the door.' encompass the message of the current installation: the enthralling power of poetry via fungi as symbols of poems.

(Please pardon the exceedingly dodgy mobile phone photographs above. I had my real camera with me but never bloody used it! Click to see better images.)

Part of the reason I was so excited to see this is that after the last Plath conference, in 2012 at Indiana University, I sent Kristina some posters from the event as her artwork was featured. On the poster tube, I hand-wrote the poem "Mushrooms" as I knew it to be a favorite of hers, not just as a poem but as a medium with which to work. Little did I know it would be re-purposed into her art. To see it was other-worldly as it was done almost with a sense of the ephemeral.

I still have not come down from the high that this conference was and am sure many of you feel much the same.

All links accessed: 21 November 2017.

PS: I suppose I should make mention the slideshow that ran on Saturday in the foyer of the Ulster University building. The original idea behind this was actually to be in a panel on archives to show some photographs of Plath and discuss with the audience. The panel was not needed which was fine but it actually developed into this idea for a slideshow. I cannot thank enough both Maeve O'Brien and Jonathan Stephenson for their help in bringing this together.  When I started assembling photographs of Plath---from my own files, from books, and as contributions of friends---I thought I might gather 100 as it did not see like there were than many. What became "Sylvia Plath's Life in Photographs" ended up having 305 slides of photographs, with some slides having two or more for comparison purposes. In the end, 325 photographs were found and I am confident there are many "we" do not have access to and thus have not yet seen. Each slide displayed for 5 seconds and the entire thing lasted just over 30 minutes. It was on a loop so it would just start over. I do not know if anyone observed the entire thing or what people thought of it, but it was there!

That slide image there got the slide in transition...

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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.
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2, 1956-1963. London: Faber, 2018.
  • 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.