01 August 2013

Review of Critical Insights: Sylvia Plath

Salem Press has recently published their second book of essays on Sylvia Plath in their Critical Insights series in the last three years. The first, edited by Janet McCann, contained essays solely on Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar (my review). This volume Critical Insights: Sylvia Plath, edited by William K. Buckley, contains all-original essays on Sylvia Plath's life and works. There are contributions by very well-established Plath scholars (Lynda K. Bundtzen and Tracy Brain, for example) as well as contributions by newer writers. Not all of the contributions are by Plath scholars, which leaves the book a little uneven. That being said, readers will surely enjoy the different approaches and perspectives each contributor brings to their piece.

Highlights of this book include the essays by Gail Crowther, Tracy Brain, Lynda K. Bundtzen, and Cheryl A. Hemmerle. I also really enjoyed Kathleen Connors essay on the Plath archives and Jessica McCort as its focus is on Plath's prose, an area that is still under-studied, and her approach is as unique.

Crowther's essay explores, among other topics, "how the landscape of Plath's childhood, and her fusing of this seascape with her notion of family and loss, haunts her poems from 1958 onward" and employs the theories of Avery Gordon, Gaston Bachelard, and Kevin Hetherington to "look at the role of sociological haunting in the poems of Sylvia Plath" (225, 226). The poems in particular Crowther looks at are "Point Shirley", "Electra on Azalea Path", and "Green Rock, Winthrop Bay". Furthermore, Crowther illustrates the importance of reading Plath's poems and prose (Journals, for example) for their hybridity. Plath's texts routinely haunt themselves just as she haunts us and we haunt her.

Brain's essay "focuses on three historically related sequences of poems from three intensive writing periods"  concerning "female reproduction" ("Morning Song", "Barren Woman", "Heavy Women"), "geographic dislocation" ("Wuthering Heights", "Blackberrying", "Finisterre"), and "the disintegration of a sexual/domestic relationship"("A Birthday Present", "The Detective", "The Courage of Shutting-Up") (70). Brain is phenomenal in her essay and it is the third sequence there that particularly resonated with me, introducing a reading the composition and meaning of the early October 1962 poems (and one from late September) in a completely new light.

Hemmerle's essay I have read several times now and it really does get better and better with each reading. She considers Plath's last poems "hermeneutically with the aid of deconstructionism and reader-response criticism" (273). She identifies rightly so that the poems written in the last two weeks of Plath's life "mark a significant shift from the rest of Plath's oeuvre's, and she considered them a fresh start" and that the "last twelve poems dissolve the boundary between life and death" (273).

I have two pieces myself in the book, the "Biography of Sylvia Plath" and "The Current Critical Reception of Sylvia Plath". I was quite honored to be able to contribute to the volume, it is a true honor to be in published with all the others. I hope in particular the "Biography of Sylvia Plath" --albeit brief (around 6000 words)-- is good reading and presents new information on the writer whether the reader is fresh to Plath or seasoned.

Each purchase of the monograph comes with online access to the book, as well. You won't (I don't think) get PDF's to the text, but you will be able to view each essay or part of the book from your computer, which has its advantages. PDF's would be nice, but you could always copy and paste into Word and then save it as a .doc or .pdf, but that's rather a lot of work. The book is solid and I like (and prefer) the way it feels and reads far more than I do reading the essays online, though obviously reading it online give you full-text search capability. With the online access you have access to the citation, to print the article, to email it or to save it. There is no option to delete it from existence.

Here is a rundown of the contents:

Career, Life, and Influence
On Sylvia Plath, William K. Buckley, pp. 3-12
Biography of Sylvia Plath, Peter K. Steinberg, pp. 13-29

Critical Contexts
Historical and Cultural Background for Sylvia Plath's Poems, Lynda K. Bundtzen, pp. 33-53
The Current Critical Reception of Sylvia Plath, Peter K. Steinberg, pp. 54-69
Story, Body, and Voice: Dating and Grouping Sylvia Plath's Poems, Tracy Brain, pp. 70-91

Critical Readings
Thinking Back through Our Mothers: Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, and Contemporary Women's Poetry, Diann Blakely, pp. 95-116
"A Red-Blooded American Girl": Gender, American Culture, and Sylvia Plath, Jessica McCort, pp. 117-140
Teaching Plath Today, Helen Decker, pp. 141-156
Sylvia Plath: An American Poet, Teresa Marie Laye, pp. 157-175
The Murkiness of The Bell Jar: Questions of Genre and Depression, Melissa Adamo, pp. 176-203
"Herr Lucifer" to Satan's Words to Father as God: The Poetry of Sharon Olds and Sylvia Plath, Renee' Burch, pp. 204-223
"Fifteen years between me and the bay": Haunting Places and the Poems of Sylvia Plath, Gail Crowther, pp. 224-242
Odd Notes of a Plath Archivist, Kathleen Connors, pp. 243-257
Terms of Art: Plath, the Medical Lexicon, and the Human Body in Health and Disease, Ralph Didlake, pp. 258-272
That Still, Blue, Almost Eternal Hour: Touching the Sacred and the Profane in Sylvia Plath's Last Poems, Cheryl A. Hemmerle, pp. 273-295

Resources
Chronology of Sylvia Plath's Life 299-303
Works by Sylvia Plath 305-306
Bibliography 307-309
About the Editor 311
Contributors 313-316
Index 317-325

More about the book, from Salem's website:
"Talented from the very beginning of her life, Sylvia Plath published her first poem at the age of eight in the 'children's section' of the Boston Herald. She said of her childhood: 'I want to work at putting together the complex mosaic of my childhood; to practice capturing feelings and experiences from the nebulous seething of memory and yank them out into black-and-white on the typewriter.'" Plath's quote is from circa January 1953 (Unabridged Journals, page 168).

May 2013; Print ISBN: 978-1-4298-3833-7 (Includes Online Access) | eBook E-ISBN: 978-1-4298-3849-8; List Price: $85.

All links accessed 27 July 2013.

4 comments :

Jessica McCort said...

Thanks for the honorable mention:)!! Jess

Carl Rollyson said...

Congratulations Peter on your contributions to the Critical Insights volume. I look forward to reading the whole book.

Peter K Steinberg said...

Thank you Carl.

Jess, I think an "honorable mention" is an understatement of how much I enjoyed your essay, and how much I think readers of the book will too.

pks

Amy in Texas said...

This looks very interesting. And I love the picture on the cover, maybe my favorite of SP.

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