20 May 2018

Sylvia Plath Anthologized

I recently learned (or rather was reminded) that two of Sylvia Plath's poems and a photograph of her were printed in an anthology in 1963, just a few months after her death. Two poems and a photo of Ted Hughes were included, too. This book and the poems are not listed in Stephen Tabor's Analytical Bibliography.

The book is The Modern Poets: An American-British Anthology (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1963). It was edited by John Malcolm Brinnin and Bill Read and includes photographs by Rollie McKenna. Brinnin would have known McKenna for years as she famously photographed his Welsh buddy, the poet Dylan Thomas. And McKenna photographed Plath and Hughes in Boston sometime during the Boston year in 1958-1959. A review of the book, "Handsomest of Poetry Anthologies", appeared in the Boston Globe on 19 May 1963, next to the article "Anne Sexton Plans Tour of Europe: Commitment Necessary To Be Poet".

The two Hughes poems are "Hawk Roosting" and "View of a Pig".

The two Plath poems are "Black Rook in Rainy Weather" and "The Colossus".

I think it is great Plath was included. (And it possibly might have given her the smile of accomplishment that Adrienne Rich was not!) But I cannot help but wonder when the poems were selected for inclusion? Perhaps it was when Brinnin and Read visited Plath & Hughes at Court Green on 25 August 1962 (reported in Stevenson, see also Trinidad; during this visit offered Hughes a teaching position at the University of Connecticut. Plath refers to this visit and these men in some of the worksheets for "Death & Co.)". The thing that really floors me was that Plath's mini-biography includes the detail that she died by suicide.

It is always, always strange for me to recall that as poems like "Black Rook in Rainy Weather" and "The Colossus" were appearing in anthologies such as this, Plath has already moved so far beyond them. Remember, "Black Rook" was written in November 1956 and "The Colossus" in October 1959. By May 1963, Plath had died, obviously, but she was a full year removed from some of her most powerful verses such as "Three Women", "Elm" and "The Rabbit Catcher". This is not the only example. "Leaving Early" was published by London Magazine in August 1961 and then in Harper's in December 1962, just a few months before "The Arrival of the Bee Box" and "Wintering" in The Atlantic Monthly.

Because it is contemporary, here is the photo of the American poet W.S. Merwin that is in the book.

I like looking at the photographs of the poets (and reading their poems). Especially their photographs as many look just as Plath would have known them. Such as, for example, Merwin, Robert Bagg, Philip Booth, John Lehmann, Marianne Moore, Howard Moss (pretty sure they never met in person, but he was an important figure), Anne Sexton, and George Starbuck, among many others. E.E. Cummings and Ezra Pound were not photographed; Cummings because he passed away in September 1962 when the book was still being compiled and Pound was in Italy doing what Ezra Pound did.

Ted Hughes' copy, which he received in May 1963, is held by Emory University. A copy is available to view via Archive.org. There was a second edition of the book published in 1970.

All links accessed 17-18 May 2018.


suki said...

I have collected as many anthologies with Plath in them, as I can
It's interesting to see which ones don't use Daddy & Lady Lazarus

Peter Fydler said...

Peter, what do you think the record is for the most bizarre out-of-place poem?

What about Second Winter' written in March 1955 then published in December 1958 in the Ladies Home Journal!

And not even deemed worthy of inclusion in Collected Poems.

Peter K Steinberg said...

Suki! Well, neither "Daddy" nor "Lady Lazarus" were published at the time of Plath's death so their exclusion from anything really before Ariel was published is not that surprising, I don't think.

Peter! Not counting anything published posthumously... "Second Winter" is a strong candidate. However, there is always "Prologue to Spring" (written 6 February 1955). Plath first published it in two places in 1956 (Sophian on 10 April (with "Second Winter, which was also published in the winter 1956 issue of Lyric) and Chequer in their Summer 1956 issue). But, "Prologue to Spring" was later revived and published in the Christian Science Monitor on 23 March 1959. It was republished in April two other newspapers, too. So this one is slight older than "Second Winter" and was (re-)published slightly later, too.

Amy Rea said...

IIRC, many of Plath's masterpieces were not published before her death, and many editors of the day didn't "get" what was happening with her. So maybe not such a surprise that the editors of this anthology went for the more staid, traditional work?

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