10 December 2013

Sylvia Plath Collections: Lost and Not Found

Not every one of my archival searches for Sylvia Plath materials in libraries and special collections has been successful. As you will have noticed from some of this series of posts on Sylvia Plath collections, I have gone after journals and periodicals to which Plath submitted her work. Two archives I contacted confirmed that they had no letters or typescripts from Plath. Those are the records of the Antioch Review (housed at the Lilly Library of Indiana University) and the Partisan Review (housed at Boston University's Howard Gottlieb Archival Research Center). The Partisan does have a carbon of one letter to Plath. Antioch Review published "Black Rook in Rainy Weather" by Plath in their June 1957 issue. The Antioch Review records were sold to the Lilly Library a couple of years ago. (More on what is in the Antioch Review records here.)

Partisan Review published Plath's "I Want, I Want" in their Fall 1959 number and "Metaphors for a Pregnant Woman" (later just "Metaphors") in their Summer 1960 issue. There was a letter TO Sylvia Plath, but nothing received from her. The letter to Plath is from Joan Meyers and is dated 1 March 1960. The letter is forwarding Plath a check for "I Want, I Want"; they had held the check as the review lost her address. Meyers mentioned their intention to publish another poem ("Metaphors for a Pregnant Woman" in their Spring issue if there was space. There was not, and and the poem was printed in the Summer issue. I appreciate the help of Laura Russo on this request.

And there were others, too, that have not (yet) been traced.

The New Mexico Quarterly records did not seem to turn up anything. New Mexico Quarterly published "On the Plethora of Dryads" by Plath in their Autumn 1957 issue. Thanks of appreciation to Nancy Brown-Mart​inez for her help.

I also contacted Lyric, Granta, The Nation, The Christian Science Monitor, and Arts in Society. Nada or no response. All I can say to this is "Boo."

For all the documents and things that are held by the archive, it is perhaps the things that have not been found or located or processed that I want most to see. This is particularly what makes research challenging, rewarding, and frustrating. The 'thing' --in this case covering letters and correspondence on acceptances and editorial decisions, as well as typescripts and maybe proofs-- once existed but now seemingly no longer do.

Another aspect to what is missing, lost, and gone are materials that exist but that are not made available. This could be due to being held in private collections, or if in a library or archive, due to institutional policy or the lack of resources or knowledge on how to handle researchers. These limitations are understandable. I had an experience this year that lasted nine months and in the end, I was denied access to see a cache of Plath poems. The repository I will not name, but they lead me along from February to November. They told me I could have copies of the poems they hold, then back-tracked until I obtained permission from the Estate. I obtained permission from the Estate after the obligatory two-months wait, but then they were too busy to handle the request. So I wrote back after two or three months but then it was the summer and they were busy, try back in the fall. Then it was November and I asked again  --stating I'd be just as happy traveling to their archive to read them in their offices -- and was told that due to a review of their policy they would not allow me to see the poems. Shame on you for being who you are. This might sound like I am a spoiled petulant brat, but I played by the rules, was patient, polite, etc. I was told I could have access and then told I could not, back and forth, for three-quarters of a year! To quote Plath, "I'm through."

The optimist in me looks at not locating material or being denied material as not too much of a bad thing. A search for something in 2013 might yield different results in 2015.  It is important to be persistent and follow-up. More and more material is being processed and located year by year; more and more repositories are putting paper-based legacy finding aids online; and search engines are providing better results to keyword searches and access terms. In time it may turn out that the documents simply were not saved and thus cannot be found. On the other hand, there is always the hope and prospect that something new will turn up. This is quite difficult to reconcile, but the rational side of me understands not every document can be saved. The irrational side, however,... well, hey, this is America... there are pills I can take for that...

You can see more libraries that actually hold Plath materials on the Archival Materials page of my website for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is.

All links accessed 26 September 2013.

3 comments :

suki said...

This reminds me of the poems that were available and the large lot of poems that were teasingly out if reach thirty years ago...

Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

Yes, you might want to give it a year and try again with the frustrating ones. Sounds to me like what they are most afraid of is you beating them to a first publication of something not out there yet. Perhaps you could pledge to play the old paraphrase game we Plath scholars must always submit to.

Peter K Steinberg said...

Julia, That was my thought too. I didn't have any intention to publish or publicize the place; merely wanted to read Plath poems that I might not have previously read. To have been given permission by the Estate to receive copies, I felt, should supersede their own policies. But I guess we all interpret some of the rules differently. And I won't lie, I think I've been spoiled and feel lucky by getting access to things that I have. Still, I think I was lead along; not with nefarious intent or anything, just indecisiveness on their part.

pks

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