19 December 2010

2010 Sylvia Plath Info Year In Review

Like just about any other year, 2010 for Sylvia Plath was interesting and occasionally controversial.

The year saw just one major publication by Plath, and that was the British Library’s Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath CD in April. I was fortunate enough to be asked to write the introduction, which was both a great honor and fun to do. If you have not yet purchased the CD or borrowed it from a library I would highly recommend you do (and not for the intro, mind you, but for the audio tracks). By ordering through the link on the sidebar of this blog you can save 10%. The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath CD wins, hands down, for my favorite cover award of the year. The only book by Plath published this year was by Faber who published a new, hardback edition of Ariel in May, but this was of the originally published Ariel edited by Ted Hughes.

Books about Plath were a little skimpy this year too; but those new books that did appear in print are considerably important and extremely valuable contributions to Plath scholarship. The highlight of the year is certainly Luke Ferretter’s Sylvia Plath’s Fiction: A Critical Study (review). This is without a doubt my “Book about Plath of the Year” winner. It was long overdue and on a subject highly under-considered, undervalued, etc.

Another new book that was published quite late in the year and thus had not been read & considered for its merit is Heather Clark’s The Grief of Influence: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes (Oxford, published 9 December 2010). This book is very highly anticipated by Plath scholars and will be the study of Plath & Hughes’ poetry to which others will be compared. I have been excited by Clark’s writing for years and look forward to anything else she will publish.

Other new books “on” Plath include: Daniel Huws’ Memories of Ted Hughes: 1956-1963 (Richard Hollis, published 17 February 2010), and Lucas Myers An Essential Self: Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath (Five Leaves), which appeared in time for the Ted Hughes Conference at Cambridge and is officially published in January 2011 (review forthcoming). Plath received coverage in a number of books such as Last Looks, Last Books: Stevens, Plath, Lowell, Bishop, Merrill by Helen Vendler, Diary Poetics: For and Style in Writers Diaries, 1915-1962 (Routledge) (excellent essay), and in Between the Sheets: Nine 20th Century Women Writers and Their Famous Literary Partnerships by Leslie McDowell (Overlook).

There were many individual articles printed on Plath this year, likely far too many to list. The great concentration of them appeared however in two issues of Plath Profiles. In Plath Profiles 3, there was featured special section wonderfully edited and introduced by Guest Editor Amanda Golden on Sylvia Plath and Material Culture. Also published was Plath Profiles 3 Supplement, which featured essays on the 10th anniversary of the publication of The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath and celebrated the books’ editor Karen V. Kukil.

A new blog was started by Maeve O’Brien that tracks her PhD work on Plath. If you have not looked in yet on The Plath Diaries please do this now and return later to this post. And keep checking back as there is a link to her blog on the sidebar. More articles published this year or referenced may be found on my blog looking at the article or bibliography labels.

Three major news stories saturated the Plath-waves this year. In March, Frieda Hughes published “The Poison That Drove Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes Apart” in The Times. In the article, Hughes places blame for her parents’ collapsed marriage on her maternal grandmother. This was met with the typical sensation and was largely looked as a skewed or delusional opinion. Bigger news was Ted Hughes’ poem “Last Letter.” This is the poem heard around the world; a fine example of viral poetry! The media coverage was both amusing and terrible at the same time, as the famous literary couple was one again dragged into an almost reality-TV-esque inspection. Time will determine the poems validity, veracity and worth. It certainly did spark lots of conversation on this blog; October seemed the longest month of the year. The last major news story was Sylvia Plath’s induction to the Poets’ Corner in the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in New York City in November.

It is hard to choose just a few news stories & posts to highlight as I am undoubtedly missing something that was important. I have gone through the entire year’s posts and find something I feel most passionately about are the Plath archives. “Last Letter” highlighted important archival news, that of the opening of Ted Hughes’ archive at the British Library for research. Stepping back, timed almost to coincide with the British Library’s Spoken Word CD was the news that the British Library acquired Ted Hughes’ wine-stained copy of Saint Botolph’s Review. Although it received no additional or big news coverage of its own, I located Plath’s copy of the Saint Botoloph’s Review. Well, it is not fair to say I located it but I broadcasted on the blog that is it at the University of Virginia. This is THE COPY that lead to her attending THE party where history was made. Well, I thought it was important... Olwyn Hughes sold some letters and poetry drafts from Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes to the British Library, too, which also made news in September.

The one major Plath event I attended this year was Robert Shaw’s New York production of “Three Women.” I highly enjoyed it and have since been on a kind of a “Three Women” kick, particularly interested in its major source, the Ingmar Bergman film Nära livet (Brink of Life in the US, and So Close to Life in the UK). The original UK movie poster can be seen here; and a possibly more modern(?) DVD release can be seen here (don’t you think the top woman resembles Plath?)

Aside from my Plath website being updated regularly and my activities in this blog, I suppose I had a productive Plath year. In January I spent a week with the Plath Collection on a Helm Visiting Fellowship at the Lilly Library. I blogged about my daily activities each evening, which was much fun for me; reliving those recently passed hours. And I hope you enjoyed being there with me! Part of the trip was to learn more about the books Plath read but did not necessarily keep or own: books read for school, in essays, borrowed from the library, etc. These books are being catalogued (much more slowly than I had envisioned) in LibraryThing. I was also able to visit several Boston area libraries that hold either Plath books or Plath-related things. I visited also Smith College a couple of times which is always a treat, and in November I took a day trip to the Hornbake Library at University of Maryland at College Park to examine the Frances M. McCullough Papers (more about this within the next month I hope).

I had a few publications in Plath Profiles as well as the introduction to the Spoken Word CD. In “‘They Had to Call and Call’: The Search for Sylvia Plath” I researched microfilmed newspapers for the stories that appeared on Plath’s first suicide attempt in August 1953. At the same time, it showed the benefits of sources like Google News Archive which is slowly adding to the number of known articles that ran nationwide on the subject. This work included making a collage of headlines and a bibliography, which is still growing (that is the problem with bibliographies: they are out of date before they are finished! The bibliography of articles about Plath - and books by and about, theses on, translations of, archival repositories holding materials of, etc. - that I am compiling is still in progress). Gail Crowther and I followed up on “These Ghostly Archives” from Plath Profiles 2 with “These Ghostly Archives, Redux” in Volume 3. In this piece we continued our archival conversation and made more discoveries in the Plath archives held at both Smith College and the British Library (from documents found contained within the A. Alvarez papers).

In 2011, we are getting near important 50th anniversary milestones! 50 years ago in 1961, Plath wrote The Bell Jar! This continues in importance into 2012 and 2013: 50 years since the Ariel poems were largely written and fifty years since The Bell Jar was published & fifty years since her death... But that’s getting a bit too far ahead...

In April 2011, look for a new edition of The Bell Jar by Faber. I will remind you when it is out I am sure...And it looks like Harold Bloom is up to his old tricks; in October 2011 look for How to Write About Sylvia Plath, from his How to Write about Literature series. If we have learned anything about Bloom and his attitude towards Plath, then the book will be just one page and contain the word “Don’t.” However, this title authored by Kim Crowley so maybe Plath will get better, more considerate and appropriate treatment.

Representing Sylvia PlathWe should also keep an eye or two out for Representing Sylvia Plath, edited by Tracy Brain and Sally Bayley, which is tentatively scheduled (by Amazon.co.uk) for a 31 July 2011 publication date. Say what you will, this book is by and large a compilation of essays (some modified and lengthened, but to be fair some new pieces too) given at the 2007 Oxford Sylvia Plath 75th Year Symposium. With time hopefully we’ll learn about more 2011 publications! If you hear of any articles or forthcoming books, please let me know so we can spread the word.

Look for Plath Profiles 4 in August 2011 which will feature a section of “Plath and Place” as requested by Guest Editor Gail Crowther (a.k.a. Gee Cee, the Amazing Editor). In addition to plans for a third “These Ghostly Archives” which I will co-write with Gail based on already found, really awesome archival finds, I am already at work on an essay on Plath & Place that I hope will be interesting and accepted. Maybe later this winter or in the spring I will tell you a bit about it if there is interest? Plath Profiles 4 will feature poems by the late Morney Wilson, who passed away in November 2010. Some of you will recognize her name as a valuable contributor to the Sylvia Plath Forum. Her poems are as wonderful as her comments. As usual, please read the submission guidelines in advance of sending in your work.

By the numbers this was a busy year for both this blog and my website for Sylvia Plath A celebration, this is. Indeed, the combined hits/visits exceeded 106,000 and for this I am extremely thankful! The blog itself had more than 42,000 visits; and the website, more than 64,000. On the website, the most popular pages were the biography, poetryworks, thumbs60-63, belljar, and thumbs50-55. This excludes “landing” pages such as the home page.

For the blog, a milestone was reached as I posted my 500th post during the summer! And without a doubt this year was more active for commenting, thanks in large part to some of those big news stories (wish it was due to the provocativeness of some of the posts, but...) Thanks to the Guest Poster’s, too, because it saved me a bit of writing & thinking! The top pages receiving hits on the blog this year were: Dissertations about Sylvia Plath, Frieda Hughes on the breakup of her parents marriage, Two Thumbs Up!, Sylvia Plath’s Voice, and Coming Soon: The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath.

Unless I catch wind of something neat or something major needs to be announced, this will be the last post of the year for me so that I can make some progress on my essay for Plath Profiles 4 (and maybe enjoy spending time with inbound family & the holidays). Thank you all for your comments, visits, and words of support; and for those following the blog and for those who have Guest Posted. Keep Plathing! Happy holidays & New Year.

Below is a hodge-podge list of articles I found online and/or found references to one rainy day... I have not read them all yet; waiting for a snowy day...

Diane S. Bonds. "The Separative Self in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar." Women's Studies 18. 1990: 49-64.

Carly Cate. "Restoring Sylvia—Reconstructing Sylvia Plath's Ariel." Academic Forum 26. 2008-2009: 56-59.

Julia Chin-chu Chang. "The Severance in Two Worlds: Sylvia Plath's Three Ekphrastic Poems on Giorgio de Chirico's Art Works (‘Conversation Among the Ruins,' ‘The Disquieting Muses,' and ‘On the Decline of Oracles')."

Luis Alfredo Fernandes De Assis. "Sylvia Plath's Fragmentation in the Voices of ‘Three Women'." Revista Artemis 7. December 2007: 47-55.

Zsófia Demjén. "Metaphors of a Conflicted Self in the Smith Journal of Sylvia Plath."

Roger Elkin. "Hidden Influences in the Poetry of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath." Ted Hughes Info. 2009.

Gregor Fajdiga. "The Process and Purpose of Demonizing the Father in Sylvia Plath's Poetry." May 2005.

Harold Fromm. "Sylvia Plath: Hunger Artist." Hudson Review (43:2). Summer 1990: 245-56.

Parvin Ghasemi. "Reflections of Self and Other in Sylvia Plath's "Mirror" Imagery." Dream, Imagination and Reality in Literature: South Bohemian Anglo-American Studies 1. 2007: 58-62.

Jason D. Hill. "Sylvia Plath: "Daddy" and the Creation of Moral Culture." In Beyond Blood Identities: Posthumanity in the Twenty-first Century. Lanham, Md. : Lexington Books, 2009.

Emily Hourican. "The Irish Sojourn of Sylvia Plath." The Irish Independent. September 24, 2006.

Yukiko Kashiwara. "Exploring Psychic Reality through Poetry Analysis: Sylvia Plath's ‘Fever 103'." Ritsumeikan Journal of Human Sciences 19. 2009: 15-27.

Dal-Yong Kim. “Sylvia Plath's Vitalist Occultism: ‘A Piranha Religion'." Mystical Themes and Occult Symbolism in Modern Poetry: Wordsworth, Whitman, Hopkins, Yeats, Pound, Eliot, and Plath. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2009.

Ida Kodrlová and Ivo Čermák. "Precursors to Suicide in Life and Works of Sylvia Plath and Sarah Kane." Institute of Psychology, Academy of Sciences, Czech Republic.

Siri Langholm. "Sylvia Plath: Prophet, Madwoman, or Saint?" In The Sweeter Side of Pain. Oslo: Solum Forlag, 2003.

Laurence Lerner. "Sylvia Plath." In Reading Women's Poetry. Brighton; Portland: Sussex Academic Press, 2009.

Nicholas Lezard. "Beware the Plath Copycats." The Guardian Books Blog. March 13, 2008.

Ellen Miller. "Sylvia Plath and White Ignorance:Race and Gender in 'The Arrival of the Bee Box'." Janus Head 10:1. 2007: 137-156.

Susan K. Mitchell. "'The Hanging [Wo]Man': The Reader in Sylvia Plath's Ariel." Thesis (M.A.)--Texas Tech University, 1989.

Neumann, Stepanka. Sylvia Plath's Ambivalent Depictions of the Female Identity Poetry. Hamburg: Kovač, 2009. [book]

Sylvia Plath. The Bell Jar. New York: Bantam, 1972. [book]

Susan E. Schwarz. "Little Girl Lost: Sylvia Plath and the Puella Aeternus." In Perpetual Adolescence, SUNY Press, 2009.

Susan E. Schwartz. "Sylvia Plath: A Split in the Mirror."

R. Sharma. "Terrible Fish in Sylvia Plath's Mirrors: Perception and Relevance of Mirror Imagery." The Indian Review of World Literature in English 5:2. July 2009.

Hirmawan Wijanarka. "The Aspects of Modernism in Sylvia Plath's ‘Lady Lazarus'." The Aspects of Modernism 10:2. October 2006. 130-139.

Bertram Wyatt-Brown. "Sylvia Plath, Depression and Suicide: A New Interpretation." Proceedings of the 14th International Conference on Literature and Psychoanalysis, 177-190. (If this link doesn't work, sorry: it worked for me a while ago. Here is the abstract of the paper to at least give a taste about the paper: Current biographies of Sylvia Plath--those written by Ann Stevenson, Paul Alexander, Linda Wagner-Martin, Janet Malcolm, A. Alvarez and others--have not treated the problems of Sylvia Plath's mental health in an adequate way. Following along lines that Thomas Caramagno established in his work on Virginia Woolf, I adopt a more neurological approach to Plath's manic-depression. At the same time, one cannot overlook early childhood trauma that clearly made matters worse with regard to her mental stability. Some blame Ted Hughes for infidelity and indifference. Others denounce Sylvia herself and treat depression as a result of moral weakness and selfish narcissism. Neither of these interpretations comprehend the irremediable nature of her illness before anti-depressants were available. The paper will discuss her late poetry in relation to her final state of mania which produce the incredibly powerful imagery in her posthumously published collection Ariel.)

All links accessed from 1 November - 15 December 2010.

15 December 2010

A Comparison

In England currently the cold weather is big news and is drawing comparisons to the cold, brutal winter of 1962-1963, which is relevant to this blog in so many ways. In fact, in the Daily Mail article "Will it be even colder than the winter of 1962-3? Big freeze returns tomorrow... and it's going to last for a MONTH" by Paul Bentley, Becky Barrow and Sophie Freeman (how many Britons does it take to write about the weather?), the boxed off text "The Great Freeze of 1962/63" seems a paraphrase of Sylvia Plath's prose piece "Snow Blitz." One of my favorite things to do is review the Times and Guardian microfilm from Boxing Day through early February to try to get a sense of what he media coverage was saying about the weather conditions. That the winter is still memorable speaks to its severity.

Unfortunately we do not know the date "Snow Blitz" was written, but in all likelihood it was written before she completed what would be called "Ocean 1212-W." Another prose piece Plath wrote at this time was "America! America!," which was if memory serves a commissioned piece by Punch. The recently released audio track of Plath's review of Donald Hall's Contemporary American Poetry anthology for "New Comment" on the BBC is another excellent example of her prose writing; and in a different genre to the previously mentioned works.

One thing is for sure, Plath's late prose - like her last poems - was amongst her finest writing... And I do not think Alvarez was wrong when on 17 February he wrote, "[t]he loss to literature is inestimable."

Thanks to Kim for the link!

12 December 2010

On Sylvia Plath's "Last Letter" by Ted Hughes

Even after all this time, I'm still digesting "Last Letter" but finding it easier to read now that the hoopla has died down a bit. The news stories on its publications were just atrocious and sometimes it is hard to shake initial feeds, impressions, reports, and rushed judgments. As a result, though, what was reported has to be discredited largely, and ignored & forgotten. Looking back to those long gone halcyon days of early-to-mid October 2010 and those news stories ... I can't read them anymore. They, in fact, they quite privately bore me...(in those days I regarded forgetfulness as an essential part of survival). I'd like to see the manuscripts of the poems, all of them. Hughes's handwriting is difficult at best, but a little time with them and I think much more could be known about the poem. That being said, this post isn't looking at the whole poem, but just a little bit of it.

First, though, with this archive of material now available, this term Birthday Letters now means much more than the collection that was eventually published. In typical Steinbergian fashion I cannot and do not look at the poems in Birthday Letters as poems, but I will try to untangle some of the real events that may have inspired and informed the poem.

I learned when Birthday Letters was published not to spout out as I still waver a bit on how I receive and interpret those poems and that book. Some have said the poem “Last Letter” doesn't fit: true, it feels unfinished and raw in some ways, but I don't know if that is because I was told it was unfinished or if its exclusion from Birthday Letters (and/or Howls & Whispers) makes it so. I do not have either collection memorized, but I do not recall Hughes coming as close to finding himself guilty, his behavior reprehensible - or pronouncing himself indeed as guilty - of something as he does in "Last Letter."

If "Last Letter" is "true," and Plath threatened to kill herself via letter on 8 February 1963, Hughes may be seen to be even more culpable of negligence than before. Cath rightly points out in a comment in this post, Hughes wrote to some friends in February 1963: "I was the one who could have helped her and the only one that couldn't see that she really needed it this time." I'm troubled by the qualifying "this time" but I think it is deeply meaningful; that Hughes had seen this before, had experienced Plath to a degree at this nadir, and that he had trouble differentiating this cry for help from others

This got me thinking about the possibility of an actual "Last Letter." Obviously, if there was one - and if the poem is to be believed as relating something that did happen - Plath burned it. What might it have said? Something strong enough to force Hughes to dash (not from Yorkshire as Walsh would have you believe) but from his flat at 110 Cleveland Street to 23 Fitzroy Road (driving about 2.1 miles; walking 1.5 miles).

In the poem, Hughes writes, "—-off the ashtray / Against which you would lean for me to read / The Doctor’s phone-number." All reports indicate that Plath pinned or taped her - for lack of a better word - suicide note to "PLEASE CALL / DR. HORDER..." on the perambulator which she usually left in the hallway (much to her downstairs neighbor, Trevor Thomas’, dismay). Did she leave two notes? This seems unlikely unless what she left propped on the ashtray for Hughes to read was an actual letter and not a secondary note to call the doctor at the time of her death (let the speculation begin!). So this is an instance where Hughes is likely misremembering or taking some poetic liberties or both: it's neat this way, the note is placed in the exact spot where she burned her “last letter.” It's as neat and tidy as suggesting "Edge" is her last poem when it very well could have been “Balloons”. Speaking of “Edge”, I wonder if, as Plath burned the last letter, the “strange smile” she was wearing is taken from the perfected woman’s “smile of accomplishment”, if the smiles are one and the same?

The eight lines commencing "My escape / Had become such a hunted thing" I read two ways: First, Hughes' escape from the marriage; that Plath was literally hunting for him; to find where her husband was living. Second, and actually perhaps related, is that once Hughes left her presence he felt like the prey to Plath's predator. For example, did Plath stealthily follow him to Cleveland Street and return there the following day?

A surprise visit by Plath to Cleveland Street on the 8th or 9th of February (or perhaps before this date), I think, lends support to Hughes wanting to not sleep there during the weekend of 8-10 February, or at least explains his motivation to not be at his flat. In a comment by Kim also in the above mentioned post as Cath's, she pointed out something I said in Kara Kilfoil's annotation of "The Inscription" (published in Plath Profiles 3). I proposed "that Plath may have obtained Hughes's address when staying with the Beckers which would support an argument for Plath's visit to Cleveland Street on February 9 (see annotation 74.1) as opposed to February 7."

Now, without a doubt, I believe Plath obtained Ted Hughes' address and telephone number at different times. Here's why... In her address book, now held in the Plath Collection at Smith College, Hughes’ name and address are in a different color ink (blue) than the phone number (black). Black ink was usually the color Plath used to enter information in her address book. I suggested what I suggested to Kara based on the different color inks. Blue isn't too unusual in the address book; however, it is not the norm. The black ink appears to be the same ink that she wrote her poems in and which she used to sign letters, etc. So, this suggests she obtained Hughes' telephone number whilst she was at her own flat in Fitzroy Road, maybe even from Hughes himself on a January visit. The blue ink is more typical ballpoint pen (or biro, as they are called in England) and I think must be the kind of pen she kept in her purse. It is a small detail but a very important one. The fact is we do not know when she obtained either Hughes’ number or his address; what we do know is that in a letter to Olive Higgins Prouty written on 22 January 1963, Plath wrote that she knew he was living in Soho. But we cannot know if Plath knew where in Soho the flat was.

Hughes later writes in the poem, "that [Friday] night ... I moved / With the circumspection / Of a flame in a fuse." This supports that he felt followed, hunted; he continues, "I raced / From and from, face backwards, a film reversed." So after he "saved" Plath that Friday night he went to Susan's flat at Rugby Street, where he would return for Sunday night repeat performance! Hughes writes that he goes back to Rugby Street because at Cleveland Street "You might appear—-a surprise visitation." He was either paranoid or this had happened before and later he admits “So I stayed with Susan, hiding from you.”

The reference to Susan as "dellarobbia" has sparked some confusion over the choice of word, myself included. I like Kim's point from the comments to the aforementioned post. However if we look at the words individually, della means "of”; and robbia, “madder". Of madder. Madder is defined as "a Eurasian herb (Rubia tinctorum of the family Rubiaceae, the madder family) with whorled leaves and small yellowish panicled flowers succeeded by dark berries; broadly: any of several related herbs (genus Rubia); 2a: the root of the Eurasian madder used formerly in dyeing; also : an alizarin dye prepared from it; b: a moderate to strong red."

I see this connecting to the previous lines above where Hughes goes on about the his “love-life” and its "mad needles." Someone suggested that the two mad needles were Assia and Susan; I think this makes sense as Plath cannot really be considered to have been, at this point at any rate, any part of Hughes' “love-life”, right? The image of "red" appears throughout the poem in words like “rose" and "bloody." Even "inside my own skin," "emblazon," and “fury” connote redness, something vibrant, brilliantly colored. Lastly (or firstly in the poem) Plath’s locked door, Hughes says, is red. Red is a very Plathian color and I should not have any need to cite examples from her work. Red also is a mythic color throughout Birthday Letters; the final poem was titled “Red.” In “Red” Hughes acknowledges Plath’s preference for that color, but he thinks “blue was better for your...was your kindly spirit” (BL 198). So in Hughes’ color-coded scheme for his women, Plath was blue, Alliston was red. (What of Assia Wevill? Brenda? Jill? Emma?) Can’t you just picture the official Ted Hughes limited edition Crayola box!

In the penultimate stanza, Hughes writes, " I count / How often you walked to the phone-booth / At the bottom of St George’s terrace [sic]." This has to be a memory from the lost or destroyed journals or if she had a 1963 tablet calendar like her 1962 Royal Lett’s, perhaps she made notes on that? Perhaps she ticked them off as a prisoner might do in a jail cell to mark the passing days. I do think Hughes here is story-telling that Plath made so many trips to the phone box on her last night: 'Before midnight. After midnight. Again. / Again. Again. And, near dawn, again." As Cath again has rightly pointed out, Trevor Thomas says, "I could not sleep and I heard her walking to and fro on the wood floor." It has long been said that Plath was pacing the floors. Had she been traveling up and down the stairs and in and out of the door, Thomas would likely have been altered to this and deeply bothered. He would certainly have approached her. (At least, his portrayal as an intolerant, fussy old man would have us believe he would have.) It is not likely Plath left her flat that night for several reasons, the leading reason is that the letters for which she bought stamps were not actually mailed. Thomas reported that she seemed drugged, so we can be reasonably assured Plath took her sleeping pills and maybe even her "wake-up" pills. Anne Stevenson and others report that Dr. John Horder visited Plath Sunday evening, too. (How Horder knew she was back at her flat is certainly a question worth pondering. My best guess is that the Becker’s called him? Perhaps Horder “administered” her sleeping pills as Becker had done the few previous nights?) By the morning of the 11th, she was at least clear enough in mind to protect her children from the gas (also, I think she would not have left the children alone in the flat at night for repeated visits to the phone box).

All this said, what of this "Last Letter"? It is possible that Hughes might have leaked some of the contents of an actual “Last Letter” to Aurelia Plath (should one have existed in the first place). In Hughes’ first letter to Mrs. Plath after Sylvia Plath's death, dated March 1963, he writes, "The particular conditions of our marriage, the marriage of two people so openly under the control of deep psychic abnormalities as both of us were, meant that we finally reduced each other to a state where our actions and normal states of mind were like madness. My attempt to correct that marriage is madness from start to finish. The way she reacted to my actions also has all the appearance of a kind of madness -- her insistence on a divorce, the one thing in the world she did not want, the proud hostility and hatred, the malevolent acts, that she showed to me, when all she wanted to say simply was that if I didn't go back to her she could not live...” (emphasis mine)"

Plath said it best in some excised lines from “Nick and the Candlestick”, “I leave you the mystery.”

****
N.B. The publication of “Last Letter” and the opening of the archive at the British Library will go a long way to unlocking Ted Hughes’ process of creating Birthday Letters; into the decisions that went into completing and selecting some poems, and the opposite, excluding other poems. Though I do not think that it was not acknowledged in news stories at the time, some Hughes scholars have known about the poem for years. And, hints about “Last Letter” had been available online for at least 11 months prior to the poems publication in the New Statesman. In an essay by Roy Davids called “The Making of Birthday Letters” the draft/variant first line of “Last Letter” “What did happen on that Sunday night?” appears in a list of first lines and titles of poems of Ted Hughes archive that he had worked with well before it sold to the British Library.

Davids wrote the essay between 2007 and 2009 and it can be read on his website here, and with slightly different text on on Claas Kazzar’s wonderful ted-hughes.info here (published circa 12 November 2009). Other first lines are tantalizingly provocative, such as 'The last I had seen of you was you burning / Your last farewell note...' which may be another part/draft/version of “Last Letter” or indeed another poem altogether; and 'You never meant it. In your novel...' Meant what? Which novel!?

If I had any desire to travel to London to see this stuff first hand it has now been magnified thanks to Davids’ wonderful essay which provides a rather deep glimpse into the archive.

09 December 2010

Sylvia Plath: NFL Prognosticator

& the uses of Sylvia Plath's Journals continues to grow and astound...

As we saw in the Plath Profiles 3 Supplement published in October, ten different writers worked with the Unabridged Journals and presented their findings in very different ways... Now, over at readandreact.net, the geniuses have used Plath's Journals to describe the very possible outcomes and scenarios of the fourteenth week of the NFL...

08 December 2010

More on Last Letter

These are some online articles that discuss Ted Hughes' recently published poem "Last Letter", which as you know make a big splash and dominated our lives in October. Some of them are older but in the wake of the hullabaloo they got a bit buried...

Kay Loftus of the Boston University Quad wrote "'The Last Letter' of Ted Hughes" which appeared on November 7.

The New Statesman's Lucian Robinson posted "Ted Hughes's 'Last letter': the response" on November 22, 2010.

From November 28, 2010, there is Peter Steinfels Commonweal piece "Is light the new dark?" which may be one of the first times Harry Potter and Sylvia Plath were mentioned in the same breath?

If anyone is at all interested, I am working as and when I can on my own reaction to "Last Letter" and hope to have it posted here shortly...

03 December 2010

Sylvia Plath, David Trinidad and Black Telephone

Our friend in Plath - David Trinidad - has a poem entitled "Black Telephone" published in this year's Best American Poetry (edited by David Lehman and Amy Gerstler).

David sent the following "Process Note" to me about his "Black Telephone," which originally appeared in Tin House.

"The actual telephone that inspired this poem is in an unwatchable Natalie Wood film from the early sixties, Cash McCall. There's a closeup of it at the beginning of the movie. But I had telephones on the brain; that’s why it captivated me. I was in the middle of writing an essay about the telephone incident that precipitated the end of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes's marriage (Plath pulled the phone cord out of the wall when she intercepted a call from Assia Wevill, with whom Hughes was having an affair), and the way that incident reverberates in such poems as Plath’s "Words heard, by accident, over the phone" and "The Fearful" (and even "Daddy") and Hughes's "Do Not Pick Up the Telephone." Thus I was thinking about the telephone as "trauma object" (Catherine Bowman’s term) and as an instrument of terror in movies like Sorry, Wrong Number and Midnight Lace. So deep was I into research about Plath and Hughes, I knew that their Devon telephone number, before Plath severed the connection in July 1962, was North Tawton 370; after it was reinstalled a few months later, in early November, it changed to North Tawton 447. I was astounded to realize that Plath was without phone service when she wrote the bulk of her Ariel poems that October, a fact that explains, in part, the urgency of the work.

"Certain that Plath would have appreciated my attention to detail, I had to find out the model of her telephone. It would have been from the 700 series (706, to be exact), available in Britain from 1959 to 1967; "subscribers" rented their phones from the General Post Office, and had to wait several months to have them "fitted" by a GPO engineer. The interval, then, during which Plath was cut off from the rest of the world, which ironically helped facilitate her great poetic output. Of course once I knew the model, obsessiveness (or should I say fetishism) led me to Ruby Tuesday, a store in Shropshire that sells vintage telephones on eBay. From them I bought (for £65, plus another £30 for postage) an example of the very phone Sylvia angrily ripped from the wall. It sits here on my desk, magical by association, and beautiful (to my mind) in its shiny black obsolescence."

Congratulations David! Read the poem here.

The black telephone images here are supplied courtesy of David Trinidad. Trinidad, as you may know, had three poems published in Plath Profiles 3 and the essay “Hidden in Plain Sight: On Sylvia Plath’s Missing Journals” in Plath Profiles 3 Supplement this year. If you haven't read these poems and the essay yet, please treat yourself this weekend.

30 November 2010

Limited Edition Sylvia Plath Books on eBay

I'd like to call your attention to three limited editions of books by Sylvia Plath (posthumously published) that are on auction right now on eBay (ending Sunday). They are Two Uncollected Poems, Two Poems, and Million Dollar Month.

Tis the season for giving Plath! One of these, "Million Dollar Month", contains the single poem that remains uncollected and would thus be a poem very few people have ever read.

A disclaimer must be made that I am selling these for a friend.

UPDATE: Million Dollar Month has sold.

UPDATE: Two Poems has sold.

UPDATE: Two Uncollected Poems has sold.

25 November 2010

Read bits of Heather Clark's The Grief of Influence: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes

For Thanksgiving...through Oxford University Press’ web page for Heather Clark’s relatively imminently forthcoming book, The Grief of Influence: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, you can read the “Introduction” in PDF format. Thank you OUP for giving us this preview of Clark’s eagerly anticipated book.

Also, the book is on Amazon.com too with a Look Inside! feature that is generous. Thank you Amazon.com.

(The cover on Amazon.com is not the same as that which appeared in the recent Plath Profiles 3 Supplement. I totally dig the whole library cover, very gorgeous, but I much prefer the book cover on the advertisement.)

Google Books has it, too. Thank you Google Books.

21 November 2010

Covering Ariel

I was browsing at the Brattle Book Shop on West Street in Boston in October and came across a book by Grant Uden entitled Understanding Book-Collecting. To my surprise on the back of the dust jacket was a line of books, all but one just showing the spines. The most recognizable being... that of Sylvia Plath’s Ariel in that distinctive Faber dust jacket. In the text, Plath is given mention just once, as being a writer who is collected but also of potentially questionable durability. We’ll prove him wrong yet! In the last dozen or so years since I’ve been paying attention, Plath books certainly have risen in value and desirability, particularly those books published during her lifetime. But this is another subject for another time perhaps.

This got me thinking where else I’d seen Ariel.

At some point in some other book store browsing experience, I had seen the Faber Ariel on the front cover of a book which, I recalled, was on book covers. It didn’t take long to find this title again: Front Cover: Great Book Jacket and Cover Design by Alan Powers (2001, 2006). Ariel does get a prominent spot towards the top right. The image and the dust jacket itself kind of yells at you. The text on inside flap begins, “From the arresting type on Sylvia Plath’s Ariel...readers remember the jackets and covers of the books they read.”

So true. I read Front Cover cover to cover and when it actually got to Ariel found the coverage it received a little disappointing; it weakly says, “Published two years after her suicide, this collection included five poems written in the last week of Plath’s life” (99). Front Cover runs the gamut giving details on how the cover can be either subtle or in-your-face as an interpretive device about the books contents or something completely abstract as well. The blurb on Ariel concluded, “The poetry list at Faber and Faber first achieved eminence when T.S. Eliot was the editor, and has continued to include many of the best British poets ever since.” I shut the book in frustration. My expectations were dashed. I wanted the blurb to say something about how jacket design looks like the letters had been displaced by an earthquake; that they read louder than the neon signs at Piccadilly Circus. In fact, the flap text about the “arresting type” is far more poignant. But that page on Poetry books wasn’t a total let down, what was interesting to learn was that the the designer of Ariel, Berthold Wolpe, was also the designer of a 1960 book of poems called Lupercal.

In Front Cover, the author Alan Powers says the following in his discussion of “Classic Novels”: “One of the pleasures of book-collecting is to come across a famous book in its original jacket, and to understand the relationship between the contents and the image. An original jacket still says something about the world into which the book was launched, and the publisher’s expectations of the kind of reader he was hoping to attract” (24). This is the way historicist's approach texts and the value inherent in this form of criticism cannot be understated. While it is often valuable to know a circumstance or the circumstances by which a Plath poem or story or novel came to be it is of crucial importance also to understand when a book - especially a book like Ariel - was published. We are where we are now because of it!

Powers’ thoughts on the book collecting of classic novels above is applicable not just to classic novels, but to books in any genre. For Sylvia Plath - for Ariel in this instance - what does the 1965 Faber jacket say about the author her reader and the “world into which the book was launched”? I’ve written my thoughts on the Faber Ariel above. But what about its cousin across the Atlantic, the 1966 Harper & Row edition?

By contrast, the first American edition of Ariel published by Harper & Row (1966) could not be more different. The vibrant primary colors have been replaced by a starkly designed book that graphically resembles a headstone. If you stare at the cover long enough; the letters appear three dimensional, they appear almost to be in motion; rising up, towards the left out of the off-white background.

There was one other place, recently, I had seen the Faber Ariel. And that was on the bookshelf of Anne Sexton. I re-read the excellent Her Husband by Diane Middlebrook earlier this year. One cannot speak highly enough of this book but this is not the post for that. No. But, page 128 is illustrated with a photograph of Sexton ca. 1966 and just behind her typewriter is the 1965 Faber Ariel.



Of course you can see more Plath book covers over at A celebration, this is.

16 November 2010

Plath at the Boston Book Fair

The Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair was held this weekend at the Hynes Convention Center. As usual, I attended to drool over Sylvia Plath books and other very fine collectibles. Hot authors this year that were very well represented were Graham Greene, John Steinbeck, and Mark Twain. Under represented was Sylvia Plath, IMHO.

Jett Whitehead was there again from Michigan. He has perhaps the greatest collection of Broadsides, Chapbooks, First Editions, Letters From Poets, Modern Poetry, and Poetry Manuscripts to be had in a single booth and under one roof on the planet. Jett in the past has exhibited a autograph manuscript copy of Plath’s poem “The Snowflake Star” (circa 1946). He used to have a first edition of Ariel with thatch drippings from Court Green signed by Ted Hughes to the poet Janos Csokits. Jett is particularly Plathian: “The blood jet is poetry...”

Between the Covers Rare Books out of Gloucester City, New Jersey was there. They have impressive holdings and stock if you’re interested in modern firsts and rare books. And to boot, they have a great website chock-full of color images, some which rotate. If you’re interested in beginning a collection on Plath (or another author), ask for their specialized author catalog.

James S. Jaffe Rare Books is another dealer with amazing quality stock, including the copy of The Colossus that Plath sent to Theodore Roethke (dated 13 April 1961, or five years to the day that she flew back from Rome to London and to Ted Hughes). He has also a copy of Howls & Whispers, Ariel (first Faber), “Sculptor”, and a rare copy of the appearance of “Dialogue en Route” from the Smith Review.

Of course, there is much, much more. Thomas Goldwasser has a proof copy of the ultra rare Trois Poemes Inedits, which were poems by Plath, uncollected and neither published or listed in her Collected Poems. (Of the books mentioned so far this was the only one that was at the fair that I saw.) Not to turn this post into a dissertation on Trois Poemes Inedits... but there were just 100 copies printed of Trois Poemes Inedits. While WorldCat lists only one copy in a library (UNC Chapel Hill); the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College has a very lovely copy of this with the manuscript handwritten poem tipped in. The manuscript poem is on a sheet of paper torn from a top-spiral notebook; the paper is something like five by eight inches or so. As mentioned, there were 100 copies printed, 97 are “normal”; while the three others are especial (so special indeed we add the e for emphasis). These three especial copies include the manuscript page of the poem (like the copy at Smith). I’m on the fence about this Trois Poems Inedits. The copy at Smith, with its ripped out manuscript sheet of notebook paper, had the air of something stolen. The Goldwasser copy is the editor's proofs and as one would thus expect they are marked up with layout and designed notes throughout. Quite unique. You can see a cover image of Trois Poemes Inedits on the Limited Editions page of my website.

Now to what I did see!

Boston’s Peter L Stern & Co had on display his $12,500 copy of a Victoria Lucas Bell Jar (pictured here). This is “The Most Expensive Bell Jar in the World”. This is one of the most glorious and gorgeous copies imaginable. Jeffrey H. Marks Rare Books of Rochester New York also has a copy for this price. While Marks was at the fair I did not see his copy of Bell Jar displayed (though I certainly may have missed it if it was). Also on had was Raptis’ $3,750 copy of the same title. This is “The Second Most Expensive Bell Jar in the World”. Both Jonkers Rare Books and Athena Rare Books had beautifully bright copies of the first Faber Ariel. The Jonkers copy is £750 ($1,200); the Athena $1,200. (More on Ariel later this week; maybe at the weekend...) I saw some Faber first editions of The Bell Jar, Crossing the Water, and Winter Trees. I saw one first Harper & Row Ariel, too. As for the limited editions, there was a reasonably priced copy of Three Women (1968, $700); as well as copies of Two Poems, The Green Rock, and Lyonnesse.

One of the many joys of this event is just walking around, looking at the pretty, fine books, judging them by their covers (in fact, many of the book covers in the Book Cover Galleries of my website have come from some of these dealers past or current stock.). And of course I don't solely look at Plath stuff... The older editions from centuries past looking more like museum artifact's than reading material, the prints and broadsides, autographs, ephemera, occasional artworks and the genuine goodness of the dealers. As 99.999% of the stuff there is outside of my means, it sure is fun to look and touch. To read more about the Boston Book Fair (and oh so much more), please head over to my friend Philobiblos’ blog.

Can’t wait for next year!

13 November 2010

Plath Profiles 3 Supplement update

It was necessary to make minor corrections to the following essays in Plath Profiles 3 Supplement:

"Reviving the Journals of Sylvia Plath" by Karen V. Kukil;
"This is a Celebration: A Festschrift for The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath" by Peter K. Steinberg; and
"Hidden in Plain Sight: On Sylvia Plath's Missing Journals" by David Trinidad

If you downloaded the individual essays please re-download them to have the most up-to-date versions. If you downloaded the entire issue, please re-download this as well for the same reason.

Plath Profiles apologizes for any inconvenience. Also, the Editor's Note in Volume 3 (Summer 2010) was updated, too, so please re-download that essay and/or the full issue after the 20th of November.

11 November 2010

Seventeen November 1949

Please review October 2010’s Double Did you know... as this post was alluded to at the end of it...

Sylvia Plath amassed nearly 50 rejection slips from Seventeen magazine before her first published story, “And Summer Will Not Come Again”, was published in the August 1950 issue.

But, did you know...
this was not her first publication/appearance in Seventeen?

In the November 1949 issue (pictured here), Plath had a contribution to the lead article “When I’m a Parent” for which she was paid, I believe, $10. The article begins,


“Sooner or later, every teen-ager says fervently: ‘When I’m a parent, I’ll do thus and so.’ If your mother or father show particular understanding, you make a mental note that you’ll treat your children as intelligently ... So we asked a number of you what your do’s and don’ts are...Here are the most illuminating and provocative. You said, ‘When I’m a parent...’”


Plath’s response to this question is anonymous: her name does not appear next to her quote. However, if you have access to the issue, see page 77. Plath’s response begins, “I will not pry...”

Plath received a letter from Seventeen letting her know of the acceptance of her “answer”, which is retyped in the letter she received on October 4, 1949. The letter is contained within her "Publications" scrapbook in Box 15 of Plath mss. II at the Lilly Library at Indiana University, Bloomington.

While other libraries likely hold Seventeen, I physically examined a copy held at the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advance Study of Harvard University. They own a run of bound Seventeen’s which includes all those issues in which Plath’s work appeared. In the past, I have also worked with bound volumes of Seventeen at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. as well. (The Call Number for this periodical is PN1993.S4.) You can see a list of Plath’s periodical publications over here.

I’ve been sitting on this since January when I read the letter at the Lilly Library and confirmed with the magazine held at the Schlesinger Library. This post and the information presented was assisted by the Everett Helm Visiting Fellowship.

09 November 2010

More Photographs of Sylvia Plath's Poets Corner Induction

Bo Kukil kindly sent over four photographs from Sylvia Plath's Induction ceremony on Sunday at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City...


Plath's plaque


The Poets' Corner


Susan Plath Winston, Tristine Skyler, Karen V. Kukil


Emily Cook and Robert Shaw

08 November 2010

Photographs from Plath's Induction Ceremony

The following photographs were sent from Tristine Skyler of Sylvia Plath's induction in to the Poets Corner at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine. The first is of Karen Kukil with Susan Plath Winston (Warren Plath's daughter). They are standing by the plaque. The second picture is of the plaque with the quote "This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary", which is beautiful first line of "The Moon and the Yew Tree."






Update 12:39 pm, 8 November:

Jessica Ferri covered the event and has a post on the New Yorker's blog about it. Read "The American Poets’ Corner Inducts Sylvia Plath" here.

07 November 2010

Photographs of Plath's Celebration on Thursday 11/4

The following eight photographs were sent by Bo Kukil from Thursday's (4th November) Sylvia Plath Celebration at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine. Today at 4 PM Plath will officially be inducted into their Poets Corner!


Karen V. Kukil, Tristine Skyler, Paul Muldoon (above)


Paul Muldoon


Tristine Skyler


LouderArts Project poets reading "Lady Lazarus"


Annie Finch


Karen V. Kukil


Marilyn Nelson

04 November 2010

New article on Sylvia Plath, and more!

Look for “‘The Feeding of Young Women’: Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, Mademoiselle Magazine, and the Domestic Ideal” by Caroline Smith, Assistant Professor of Writing at George Washington University in College Literature - October, or Fall 2010.

If you’re interested in the history of Plath in College Literature, look no further than their 30 year index (link removed due to being broken - pks 9 Nov.):

To sum, they have published articles in the following issues. (6.2 means Volume 6, Number 2)

6.2: 121-28; ("On Reading Sylvia Plath" by Margaret Dickie Uroff)

19.2: 60-82; (“‘The Woman is Perfected. Her Dead Body Wears the Smile of Accomplishment’: Sylvia Plath and Mademoiselle Magazine” by Garry M. Leonard)

29.3: 17-34; "Plath, Domesticity, and the Art of Advertising" by Marsha Bryant)

29.3: 35-56 ("Sylvia Plath's Transformations of Modernist Paintings" by Sherry Lutz Zivley)

Plath was most recently featured in the article “Mad Girls' Love Songs: Two Women Poets--a Professor and Graduate Student--Discuss Sylvia Plath, Angst, and the Poetics of Female Adolescence” by Arielle Greenberg and Becca Klaver (Fall 2009, Volume 36, Number 4).

***

The following title was recently made aware to me by Ann Skea.

A Postcard to Sylvia Plath: Poems from the dark edge by Patricia Jones.

Patricia writes with passion, incisiveness and lucidity to reveal a life filled and felt to the hilt. Her work brings to mind my favourite piece by the artist Louise Bourgoise, who once embroidered on a handkerchief in perfect stitch, "I have been to hell and back and let me tell you it was wonderful". So too are the depths and heights that Patricia descends and scales, taking the reader with her all the way.' - Carole Douglas, artist, writer, traveller.

'Patricia Jones has a unique voice that comes from the intensity of her life's experience. Although that voice is her own, it resonates much more widely. Her eye for the darker side of life is unflinching, but it is softened with humanity, compassion and a gentle humour that lifts the spirit. Read her poems and allow your own heart to be touched.' - Louise Gilmore, meditation teacher, writer.

Patricia Jones, playwright, artist and poet, does not let the reader off lightly. Her poetry is strong, sensual, sometimes confronting raw truths. She fills the reader with creative images and clever juxtaposition. Her work demands the reader's attention. There is no prissy emotion here. Patricia's work takes no prisoners yet at the same time is food for the soul' - Margaret L. Grace, poet, artist and writer.

ISBN: 978 1 74027 649 8, 50pp, $20.00 (Australian). For more information, visit the Gininderra Press website here.

***

A reminder that today kicks off the first of two events as Plath is inducted to Poet’s Corner at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine. At 7:30pm tonight, poets and Plath scholars will take part in the celebration. Participants include Poet in Residence Marilyn Nelson; poet Paul Muldoon; Karen Kukil, Associate Curator, Special Collections & Archivist, Plath Papers, Smith College, speaking on her extensive work with Plath manuscripts, both as archivist and editor of the unabridged journals; poet/scholar Annie Finch speaking on the meter and music of Plath’s poetry; playwright/screenwriter/actress Tristine Skyler; and louderArts Project poets Corrina Bain, Elana Bell, Sean Patrick Conlon, Marie-Elizabeth Mali, and Lynne Procope reading Plath poems.

01 November 2010

Sylvia Plath's Desk

When Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes moved to Court Green in September 1961, they had abundant living space for the first time in their married lives. Each even got a room to serve as a study. In a 15 September 1961 letter to her mother, Plath writes about settling in Court Green and that her brother Warren “has been really a wonderful part of the family “ (429). While he was there, Warren Plath assisted in “sanding an immense elm plank which will make me my first real capacious writing table” (429).

Over the next 14 months, Plath would probably write all her new poems and stories on this elm plank. And probably also typed letters home and made entries in her journals.

That elm wood desk was part of Plath’s estate sale that, in 1981, would go to the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College. How wonderful and coincidental that Plath lived on Elmwood Road! To celebrate this piece of elm wood and the works composed on it, here is a badly shot video. It hangs in the offices of the Mortimer Rare Book Room. Its position hanging on a wall is highly reminiscent of Han Solo hanging frozen in carbonite in Jabba the Hut’s palace on Tattooine.

I had meant to post this in October but other news and posts kind of took over!





If you’re interested in just seeing a still image of questionably better quality, please see “These Ghostly Archives” from Plath Profiles 2. The desk is on page 189 but, having co-written the piece with Dr. Gail Crowther, I’d encourage you to read the whole thing (if you haven’t done so already)! Like Star Wars, there was a sequel, “These Ghostly Archives, Redux.” And we’re in the early stages of a third installment...

See all Sylvia Plath Info YouTube videos.

28 October 2010

Mark Ford & New York Review of Books on "Last Letter"

Mark Ford at the New York Review of Books Blog examines "Ted Hughes' 'Last Letter'" to Sylvia Plath in a post today.

I like that Ford places "Last Letter" in context to where it might have appeared in Birthday Letters, by discussing it in connection with the poem that likely would have preceded it, "The Inscription."

It's an honor for Gail Crowther's guest post on the Daniel Huws event in Mytholmroyd to be cited and for the blog to be referenced.

27 October 2010

Plath Profiles Volume 3 Supplement Published

Today, on the 78th birthday of Sylvia Plath, Plath Profiles publishes a special supplement to Volume 3. For those of you that read Emily Banas’ press release on 11 October, this comes as no surprise.

The special issue celebrates the 10th anniversary of the publication of Plath’s Unabridged Journals, edited by Karen V. Kukil of Smith College. The issue is also serves to acknowledge, celebrate, and honor not only the work Karen did on the Journals, but also all that she had done for Sylvia Plath scholarship and researchers in her capacity as both Associate Curator of Rare Books and the scholarly supervisor of the Sylvia Plath Collection at the Moritmer Rare Book Room.

I have known Karen since May 1998, when I made my first visit to the Mortimer Rare Book Room. Karen made me feel far more welcome than I believe I deserved to be! In the 12 years since that first research trip, I’ve made numerous return visits to Smith; I simply cannot get enough! Karen is a mentor and an inspiration. Her maiden name Valuckas is even strangely similar to Plath’s pseudonym: Victoria Lucas. We all like Plathian connections and none seems as coincidental and appropriate as this.

Each of the contributors to this supplement were asked to do one simple thing: to write an essay on any aspect of the Journals. In doing so, we have an amazing assortment of approaches to this tome, and it shows how Plath scholars read, teach, and work with the the book. The two essays by Karen Kukil and Kate Moses are fuller, unedited versions of previously published material.

The contents of the issue are:

"This is a Celebration: A Festschrift for The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath" by Peter K. Steinberg

"Reviving the Journals of Sylvia Plath" by Karen V. Kukil

"The Real Sylvia Plath" by Kate Moses

"The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath: Ten Years On" by Luke Ferretter

"Virtually There In Boston" by Gail Crowther

"Reading the Paratexts of Plath’s Unabridged Journals" by Anita Helle

"Learning from Students" by Dianne M. Hunter

"Sylvia Plath on Charing Cross Road" by Amanda Golden

"'Books & Babies & Beef Stews': The Culinary Passion of Sylvia Plath" by Jessica Ferri

"Hidden in Plain Sight: On Sylvia Plath's Missing Journals" by David Trinidad

We also feature two advertisements: one for Heather Clark’s forthcoming (November 2010) The Grief of Influence: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes and the other for the British Library’s The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath.

Read the issue!

25 October 2010

Press Release on Sylvia Plath's Induction to Poet's Corner (NYC)

I received the following press release from the good people at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine...


Sylvia Plath to be inducted into Cathedral of St. John the Divine American’s Poets’ Corner: The Most Influential American Poet of the Last 50 Years


New York, NY: The Cathedral of St. John the Divine is pleased to present an evening of poetry and insight in honor of the induction of Sylvia Plath into the Cathedral’s Poets’ Corner. On Thursday, November 4th at 7:30pm, poets and Plath scholars will take part in the celebration. Participants include Poet in Residence Marilyn Nelson; poet Paul Muldoon; Karen Kukil, Associate Curator, Special Collections & Archivist, Plath Papers, Smith College, speaking on her extensive work with Plath manuscripts, both as archivist and editor of the unabridged journals; poet/scholar Annie Finch speaking on the meter and music of Plath’s poetry; playwright/screenwriter/actress Tristine Skyler; and louderArts Project poets Corrina Bain, Elana Bell, Sean Patrick Conlon, Marie-Elizabeth Mali, and Lynne Procope reading Plath poems.

The formal induction ceremony will take place at the Sunday Evensong Service on November 7th, at 4:00pm. The Very Reverend James Kowalski will preside over the unveiling of the stone, inscribed with the line: “This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary,” from "The Moon and the Yew Tree." Poets Carol Muske-Dukes, Rosanna Warren, Kelly Cherry, and Major Jackson will read Plath poems. As well as music by the Cathedral Choir, there will be performances – on both evenings - of Ariel: 5 Poems of Sylvia Plath for Soprano, Clarinet and Piano, composed by Ned Rorem in 1974.

****

The Cathedral American Poets’ Corner, founded in 1984, inducts one new writer each year. The first inductees were Walt Whitman, Washington Irving and Emily Dickinson. More recent inductees include Louise Bogan, Theodore Roethke, Langston Hughes, Gertrude Stein, Robert Hayden and Tennessee Williams.

The Poets’ Corner is modeled on the Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey, and in fact we have two poets in common: T. S. Eliot, an American who became a British citizen and W. H. Auden, an Englishman who took American citizenship. No writers are entombed within the Cathedral, as is sometimes the case at Westminster Abbey; rather, stone tablets are carved with names, dates, and a line from each writer’s work.

The Cathedral is proud to be rooted in our local genius. In historic terms—if not in current influence—American literature is still very young. To celebrate American poets and writers fulfills the Cathedral’s mission, and reminds us of the early and continuing verbal ingenuity, insight and dazzle of our countrymen. What constitutes good or great poetry will always be contentious, and rightly so. But we believe there is great poetry being written today, and that great poetry will be written tomorrow. Whenever the energy seems to falter, when our own era seems wan and diminished, new poets come along with something new to say. Walt Whitman wrote, “Stranger, if you passing meet me and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me? And why should I not speak to you?” This is at the heart of the American experience, and at the heart of the Cathedral’s philosophy.

24 October 2010

173 and counting

Google News Archive has made available an additional article on Sylvia Plath’s first suicide attempt in August 1953.

The article “Step Up Hunt for Missing Smith Student” was printed in the Schenectady Gazette on August 26, 1953: 5. This is now the second article made available by this newspaper, and the 173 that I’ve found. The first 172 are listed in the bibliography appended to my Plath Profiles 3 article "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath."

If any of this blogs readers have time, please visit your local libraries and review microfilm available for August 25-29, 1953. If you find articles, please make copies and send them to me. Collaborative Plathing is good Plathing.

Keep scanning Google! And keep on searching...we'll find her yet...

You can see a bibliography of articles on Plath's first suicide attempt, and read PDF's of them, over at A celebration, this is.

Sylvia Plath Birthday Bash

Actress Elisabeth Gray and professor Sally Bayley of Oxford University announce "The Sylvia Plath Birthday Bash" to be held this Wednesday, October 27th, 2010 from 12-4pm at the New York University Bookstore, 726 Broadway, New York, New York 10003.

The schedule of events is:

12:00-12:30pm : Opening Remarks
‘i who was dead am alive again today’: Celebrating Plath in the 21st Century
Dr. Barbara Mossberg, President Emeritus Goddard College

12:30-1:30pm: Panel Discussion
Re-visioning Plath for the 21st Century
Dr. Helen Decker, CUNY; Dr. Dianne Hunter, Trinity College; and Jessica Ferri, journalist

1:30-3:00pm Plath Open Mic
Come along and read your favourite Plath poem, or an extract from The Bell Jar or The Journals. Led by Dr. Saskia Hamilton, Barnard College

3:00-4:00pm: Closing Remarks
“Paint me a Plath”: Evolving Representations of Plath in the Past, Present, Future
Dr. Sally Bayley

23 October 2010

Sylvia Plath on BBC's Country Tracks

Although not available to most of the world, the BBC's recent series Country Tracks featured the Bronte's and Yorkshire. They do mention Plath, about 44 minutes into the program. For Plath, they present a brief biography and interview the late Elaine Connell's partner Chris Radcliffe. Christ talks about Plath and quoted Elaine and then questioned the state of the grave and why she was buried in this location.

Watch it here! And thanks be to Gail Crowther for the summary and link!

21 October 2010

Daniel Huws at Mytholmroyd, 17th October 2010

The following is a guest post by Gail Crowther, who attended the recent Daniel Huws event in Mytholmroyd. - pks


Last Sunday I attended a talk given by Daniel Huws in the Yorkshire town of Mytholmroyd. It was a talk filled with stories and poems and wonderful folk songs and a talk that brought alive the house at 18 Rugby Street in such vivid light. Daniel recalled his time at Cambridge where he first got to know Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes and his subsequent friendship with both. Given that ‘Last Letter’ had just been published the previous week, it seemed as though the ghosts of 18 Rugby Street featured prominently both in Daniel’s talk and in the echoes of Hughes’ poem about Plath’s final weekend. It was enlightening to discover various elements of the poem that were slightly misremembered (and who of us can say we have never had a false memory?). Daniel felt the poem was written towards the end of Hughes’ life and thus any inaccuracies perhaps due to the passing of time, or maybe even poetic liberties.

But it was the house that lay behind everything, the house in Rugby Street in which Daniel’s father owned a flat, the same flat in which Plath and Hughes spent their first nights together and subsequently a longer period of time in 1959-1960 after their return from America. They were not the only extraordinary residents though. The ground floor had the car salesman who kept his mistress, Helen, and her Alsatian dog, both of whom feature in ‘Last Letter’. However, since Helen had gassed herself three years before Plath, it is not possible that she opened the door to Susan Alliston on that weekend in February 1963. Other residents chart a somewhat tragic history -- the house, full as Daniel described it, of ‘spooks’. There was the widow on the first floor whose husband had fallen from a ladder and died; the Lebanese Drs, mother and son (the son would become the final lover of Susan Alliston before her death in 1969), the loner architect in the top floor flat who drowned at sea in his yacht and the artist Jim Downer who had studied art at Leeds and was friends with the actor Peter O’Toole. Surely a history of this house alone would make a fascinating memoir! The flat in which Susan Alliston lived was a floor above the flat in which Plath and Hughes stayed, so the claims in ‘Last Letter’ that Hughes spent the night in February 1963 in his and Plath’s marriage bed, again may be a false memory. The full facts of this weekend, Daniel feels, are probably yet to be revealed.

The talk ended with a poetry reading – the first Daniel has given for over 30 years – from his collection The Quarry. Highlights for me were ‘A Dawn’, ‘Goodbye’ and an unpublished poem called ‘Debris’. This was followed by folk songs, the same songs that Daniel used to sing sitting in The Anchor in Cambridge with his friends. They were warm and humorous, much like the man himself.

Gail Crowther 19/10/10

20 October 2010

Heather Clark's Academic Minute on Sylvia Plath

In the "Academic Minute" broadcast on Northeast Public Radio's WAMC, Heather Clark - author of the imminently forthcoming and eagerly anticipated The Grief of Influence: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes (Oxford University Press) - discusses Sylvia Plath, attempting to dispell some of the "crude misperceptions about Plath in the popular imagination" that have existed since Ariel was published in the mid 1960s.

This minute was just too brief and it makes me look even more forward to her book, which should be a considerable addition to Plath scholarship.

19 October 2010

Michael Rosen on "Last Letter"

Published today, Michael Rosen has a long piece on Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes on the New Statesman's website (and maybe in the periodical itself, but who can find a bloody copy in Boston?).

Read "A Minotaur in the Maze", on Ted Hughes' poem "Last Letter".

18 October 2010

Sylvia Plath: Double did you know...

Sylvia Plath published frequently in Seventeen and Mademoiselle throughout her undergraduate college years. Did you know that both periodicals purchased poems but that these poems appear never to have been printed? Seventeen purchased "Sonnet to a Dissembling Spring" in March 1953. Mademoiselle purchased for "inventory" Plath's poem "Parallax" on 17 November 1954.

My suspicion is that Seventeen erroneously purchased "Sonnet to a Dissembling Spring" in March 1953. Plath had a number of poems and stories printed, mostly in the "It's All Yours" section of the periodical. By March 1953, Plath was 20 years old and Seventeen typically only printed poems and stories in "It's All Yours" by those still in their teens.

As for "Parallax"... Sylvia Plath won Honorable Mention in Mademoiselle's first Dylan Thomas Poetry Award in January 1955. It may be that this was her submission... The collegiate winner was Linda Pastan, who has had a remarkable poetry career. In Spring 1971, Pastan published "For Sylvia Plath" in the Michigan Quarterly Review (Vol. 10, No. 2), page 93. This is one of the better treatments of Plath, poetically.

In February 1955, Mademoiselle turned 20. They summarized highlights of each year with memorable topics and contributors. Did you know, that for 1952, Plath was listed among the contributors? Remarkable that only three years into her publishing association with the magazine that they selected her as a notable writer. 1952, of course, was the year in which Plath's story "Sunday at the Mintons" won first prize in their college fiction contest and was published in their August 1952 issue. (pictured here)

I'll have another, biggish "Did you know..." on Plath and Seventeen in November ...

16 October 2010

15 October 2010

Al Alvarez gets harsh...

Al Alvarez has posted a short follow-up on the Guardian Books Blog "Ted Hughes's 'Last Letter' to Sylvia Plath: Second thoughts." The subtitle being, "On reflection, I realise I wasn't harsh enough on the poet when I considered the poem." I can see Alvarez wiping his hands clean and I suspect that the haze of the first impressions craze has died down and we're moving into possibly the more contemplative phase.

14 October 2010

"I have never seen a thing so clear": Sylvia Plath's "Three Women"

Among Robert Shaw’s directions to to his “Three Women” include the short, simple “Trust Sylvia.”

After successful runs in London and Edinburgh, “Three Women” came to New York. The theater at 59 E. 59th Street sits squarely in between the Barbizon Hotel and 575 Madison Avenue, where Plath lived and worked in June 1953 as a Guest Editor for Mademoiselle. It is an area she got to know well in those weeks and so seems a great fit. “Three Women,” along with Edward Anthony’s “Wish I Had a Sylvia Plath,” is part of 59E59’s “A Plethora of Plath.” They have three theaters, and I wish they could have also staged something like “Dialogue Over a Ouija Board” or a reading of Ariel or something. But then I might have exploded in all the Plathcitement."

“Three Women” is something I only ever imagined hearing: not seeing. Plath wrote it for the radio and the purist in me wanted it to stay that way. (I was tempted to just shut my eyes and listen, but being in the second row I thought that might be misinterpreted as being asleep.)

The “Three Women,” Francis Benhamou, Kina Bermudez, and Angela Church*, were perfectly cast. Each giving their own voice to the Wife, the Student and the Secretary, respectively. I found in watching and listening that the emotions, intonations, facial expressions, and gestures & postures of the actresses really made the poem** blossom for me now in ways that it has never before. You hear things differently, say, from the way you read them. And reading “Three Women” is not something that can be done quickly. I can’t or shouldn’t really comment on the acting or the directing, not being equipped with the right set skills to do so; however, I could neither see nor hear any flaws.

The set is minimal. Not as minimal as Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, but in its simplicity the actresses draw our imagination into the maternity ward or round about (to refer to Plath’s setting instructions). The Wife is radiant and glowing in her lines “What is it that flings these innocent souls at us?” At “Here is my son” she invites the student over and they peer through a “window” at a room of babies. It is a tender moment and gives interaction between Women where previously I had interpreted it as me, the reader/listener, receiving the proud invitation. The Secretary’s pain at the loss of her child is felt and enshrouded me like fog. It seemed to me the most difficult of the three to watch. Her “I am myself again. There are no loose ends” is given so matter-of-factly, that it only serves to betray the deepness of her hurt as she attempts to carry-on with her job & life. The Student’s decision to give up her baby in the lines “Goodbye, goodbye” is torturous. She moves seamlessly from the hospital to a consideration of what awaits her outside its walls “The day is blazing,” “Today the colleges are drunk with spring,” and “Hot noon in the meadows.” She tries to move on, but when she hears sorrow in a crying bird, the birds song is a reflection of herself “I am young as ever...What is it I miss?” It reminds me of something Plath wrote in “Parliament Hill Fields,” “Your absence is inconspicuous; / Nobody can tell what I lack.” But the poem ends positively, with the Secretary at home noticing that “The little grasses / Crack through stone, and they are green with life.”

I appreciate Shaw’s directorial liberty and the production is fantastic. After seeing “Three Women,” I will never read the poem the same way. If you’re near New York: Please see “Three Women.” If you’re not near New York: you still have time to book your tickets.

*Here’s an interesting thing: the acronym of the actresses last names is BBC!
**Some see “Three Women” as a poem. Some, a play. I can see the argument for both, but I am of the former and so refer to it as a poem.


Leftovers & Outtakes, possibly questionably included:

A false start:
I was talking to a coworker who asked me what I was doing this weekend. I said, “I’m going to New York to see three women.”

She said, “You’re turning into Ted Hughes! How does your wife feel about that?!”

***
There are certain associations between Plath and “Three Women” that I feel are important to highlight though may be nothing new to many of you, especially because in anything related to Sylvia Plath, it is the little connections that are quite fascinating. In addition to biographical experiences which may have influenced the poem, one of the biggest sources for “Three Women” was Ingmar Bergmann’s “Brink of Life.” I don’t speak or read Swedish but just watching the film transforms ones understanding of the poem and how Plath came to write it.

Shaw’s direction to “Trust Sylvia” is brilliant; yet he also admitted (perhaps off the record) that he has willingly avoided reading up on Plath’s biography. As director this is good and bad. It is good as it allows an unadulterated interpretation: it’s his. And it works, I’m honestly not being critical. It could be bad, however, because readers of Plath - undoubtedly a good proportion of attendees - have certain expectations. As it is set largely in a maternity ward, I expected a degree of likeness in the dress of the characters. Instead, each woman is in darkish clothing (black, gray, beige, brown: only the Secretary wears white, her shirt) that defines their role as wife, secretary, and student. But it is the whiteness that I expected, especially so when one considers “Three Women” to some of Plath’s other hospital poems such as “Tulips” and “The Surgeon at 2 a.m.” These poems suffocate in whiteness, and sameness. In “Tulips” Plath says,

“The nurses pass and pass, they are no trouble,
They pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps,
Doing things with their hands, one just the same as another,
So it is impossible to tell how many there are.”

Utterly confined. When Plath wrote “The Surgeon at 2 a.m.,” she opens with this line, “The white light is artificial, and hygienic as heaven.” Throughout this poem words like “transparent,” “snowfield,” “frozen,” “statue,” “icebox,” and “gauze,” all conform to a sense of being trapped, enclosed.

In “Three Women”, Plath updates “Tulips” and tosses her eyes skyward at the moon, which “passes and repasses, luminous as a nurse.” Now the whiteness is less centered around the speaker; it has moved upward, but not for long. Later, the Wife now in hospital ominously comments “The sheets, the faces, are white and stopped, like clocks.” Whiteness descends, like a bell jar.

“Three Women” brings out a range of female experiences surrounding pregnancy and child birth; it is a poem only Sylvia Plath could have written.

***
The genre of the verse poem was something new to her when Plath wrote “Three Women.” She did try a verse dialogue (“Dialogue Over a Ouija Board”) in 1957 or 1958. Her idol, Dylan Thomas, complete the verse poem (or play) “Under Milk Wood” around 1953, which, while performed several times in 1953, was published after Thomas’ death in the February 1954 issue of Mademoiselle. Plath and Thomas were both in New York in June 1953, and she kind of stalked him a bit but didn’t end up meeting him (though she did see him read in Amherst, Mass.) Interestingly, Dylan Thomas temporarily lost his manuscript of “Under Milk Wood” at the York Minster Pub on Dean Street in Soho, London. It was also at this pub where Plath signed the contract for her first book of poems, The Colossus, in February 1960. Both “Under Milk Wood” and “Three Women” were produced by Douglas Cleverdon.

***
In addition to this review, please read Julie Feltman’s which appeared on Theatre is Easy. Further reviews will be appended below...

At nytheatre.com, Jo Ann Rosen reviews...

At backstage.com, David Sheward misses the mark in his review... but catches the wife giving birth in the photograph...

18 October: offoffbroadwayworld.com gives us "Sylvia Plath's Three Women: Poetry Passing Quickly."

19 October: The Epoch Times reviews both "Three Women" and "Wish I Had a Sylvia Plath."

28 October: Eric Grode's review "Seeking Sylvia Plath, in Her Own Words and Someone Else’s" at the New York Times reviews both "Three Women" and "Wish I Had a Sylvia Plath."
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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.
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (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. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.
  • 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. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • 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. "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. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.

Interviews