Sylvia Plath Conference Summary by Bella Biddle

There are two many things that Bella Biddle is to try to define her. Meeting her at the Sylvia Plath conference in Belfast, hearing her paper, and a choral composition of "Nick and the Candlestick" was a definite highlight.

Bella kindly wrote up some summary thoughts of two panels on the second day that she attended and I cannot express how grateful I am for this as it provides a concrete review of talks I would have liked to have heard.  Without further ado:

For the 11:30 panel, I opted for Panel A: 'Now there are these veils' which saw Cathleen Allyn Conway, Georg Nöffke and Dr Gary Leising discussing theoretical interpretations of Plath's poetry. Cathleen discussed the vampiric identity Plath builds for herself in poems such as 'Lady Lazarus', comparing them to vampires from Bram Stoker's Lucy to Drusilla from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She discussed the issues of consent and empowerment vampirism provokes in literature, and described how she uses found phrases from Sylvia Plath's canon to create her own "franken-poems", which were both moving and enlightening. Georg Nöffke's paper - "Dying As an Art: Performing Suffering, Suffering the Performance of Death in Sylvia Plath's 'Lazy Lazarus'" gave us an insightful overview as to how Plath's death might be interpreted as her rejection of a patriarchal society. Dr Gary Leising finished the panel with great flair, exploring Plath's use of synedoche, and the way that Plath breaks down her body in poems such as 'Daddy', and prompting some great discussions in the subsequent panel as to how Plath might have used her own poems as synedoche within her collections.

At 14:45, I attended the panel; "Personal Reflections: A Safe Space to talk about what Sylvia Plath means to us as fans and readers" which was nothing if not intensely moving for all of us. Alexandra Davis spoke beautifully on her experience as both a student and a teacher, and how the ways we teach Plath can impact children both for better and worse. Lisa Wagoner read a personal essay, documenting the emotional and academic impacts Plath's poetry had on her as a person, and showed us her "I am I am I am" tattoo - which Anna Dykta recognised from her blog! Finally, Jennifer L. Reiger read an excerpt from her essay "You Mean Ted Hughes' Wife?" which had the entire room misty eyed. The subsequent discussion was rich and personal, as the audience attempted to tackle the ways we feel about Plath emotionally. From the way that we all feel so personally linked to her, and yet are aware that love for Plath is so common as can fill a conference, to the way that we fetishise and/or elevate her work, her life, her death, it was the most sensitive and raw talk of the conference so far.

Thank you so much, Bella! If anyone else wants to contribute their own commentaries, thoughts, reviews, of any aspect of the Conference please just get in touch!

All links accessed 13 November 2017.

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