12 November 2017

Sylvia Plath: Letters Words and Fragments Conference, Ulster, Day 2

What is better than the first day of a Sylvia Plath Conference? Maybe the second day. However this time the second day was also the last day and as such this is both joyful and tearful.

In theory with a later start to the day many could have slept in. I know for me this was not the case; and I know for some they stayed up late making revisions to their still-to-be-given papers. I was going to again rehearse my own, but decided against it. Day One was so spectacular in large part because all the panels ran in succession, or, because there was nothing concurrent from which to make choices. Day two featured those choices that had to be made and so I have only my own perspectives from the panels I sat in on to discuss here. If anyone out there wants to write a summary of the panels that heard -- even if it is one I mention here -- please sent me some text.

The first panel of the day I heard as Panel A "Sylvia Plath and..." which is a great title. Chaired by Emily Van Duyne, the presenters were Sarah Fletcher (Influence of Anne Sexton on Plath, formally), Di Beddow (Plath and Cambridge), and Mélody Sánchez Camacho (Plath and Atwood). Each of these presenters enraptured us with their work on Plath and [a variety of topics].  I particularly enjoyed learning new connections between Plath and Sexton and Plath and Atwood (neither of whom I've read much). Sarah Fletcher illustrated the really unfair way that Plath has been lauded but Sexton ignored or shunned in large part to their educational backgrounds but yet that Sexton was in some ways ahead of Plath and was able to teach her. Di's project on Plath and Cambridge is up my alley and she seeks to charts the relationship between Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath at the beginning; a sort of reparation. The subject of Mélody's talk, a comparative study of "corpse" poems, might be a bit morbid, perhaps, but I was enthralled to see her findings and connections between Plath and Atwood in their poems. Thank you all for sharing your time and work with us.

There is much great work being done on Sylvia Plath at the moment and these bright young scholars will keep Plath studies interesting, relevant and progressing.

The second and panels may have been the toughest as there were three from which to choose. I opted for Panel B here because Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus seemed to blitzkrieg Belfast with three of the four panelists from that school. The fourth presenter was from Ball State, in it was essentially an Indianapalooza. Dr Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick, Bailey Burnett, Brandi Rund, and Courtney Watkins spoke on "Teaching and Learning in Sylvia Plath Studies and Women's Studies: Community Engagement, Digital Humanities, and Service Learning". This was chaired by Amanda Golden who has long been interested in and held, I think, a leadership role in Plath and pedagogy. Seeing the work that students and doing with research and how this is being expressed through exhibits and other events in community engagement and service learning is inspiring. Educators must nurture this; this is vital work.

Lunch was a mob-scene of food and talk and book sales and signing so I came in late, wiping my lips, to the third section this day I decided to sit in on Panel A "Plath as Cultural Currency: Advertising, Clothing and Film" chaired by Danielle K. Nelson and featuring talks by Dr Jonathan Ellis (Plath as punchline), Nicola Presley (Plath, television, and TV advertising), and Rebecca C. Tuite (Plath, self-identity and sleepwear). I was torn as I love The Bell Jar and wanted to see that too; but these papers in Panel A were I think less familiar to me. I loved loved loved each of these talks. Ellis took on those who, I think, were critics of Plath and dismissive of aspects of her production. I missed the first part of it so that's what I'm fuzzy here. It's certainly my loss. Nic Presley's energy and enthusiasm on Plath and television was delightful and her talk looked at "The Wishing Box" and "Child", but showed bits from Plath's journals and The Bell Jar, too. Rebecca C. Tuite show Plath's and her sleepwear as a student, mother, and writer. Illustrated with tons of examples from magazines about the things which Plath was reading and seeing and quite likely also wearing. Thoroughly impressed with each of these talks; the ranges of subjects on the whole was inspiring.

I am sorry to say that I missed the fourth panel as I did in the end decide to get some quiet time to prepare for the keynote talk that I was giving with Karen V. Kukil. So, if anyone would like to send something in about their experiences, impressions, and reactions to these please please please do so. I am certain the readers of this blog would enjoy it.

The Conference closed with talks by Karen and me on Plath's Letters. It was particularly thrilling for me to sit in on the papers and hear how so many people had already made use of the letters for their presentations. It also makes me feel that many of them were written really in the last few weeks since the book has not been out for that long!

Karen spoke most eloquently on "Beyond Letters Home: Sylvia Plath's Unabridged Correspondence".  Karen gave a history of how Letters Home came into being and her own history with regards to editing Plath's Journals and the set up and structure for editing the letters. Karen expertly illustrated Plath's different voices to her correspondents and show that these letters are an art form, pieces carefully and conscientiously constructed with all her thought and energy. My own talk was called "Sylvia Plath's Letters and Traces". I spoke for about twenty minutes on my role in the editorial process and then spent the last ten minutes showing the work I did on that piece of carbon typing paper I found at the Lilly Library with hidden, lost Plath poems impressed into it. I hope it went over well.

Following the talks we had a Q & A with conference organizer and Plath scholar Maeve O'B'rien. And, following that a closing wine reception in the Foyer (though I never made it out there: I'm grateful to Maeve for bringing the wine to me).

In the reception and in fact over the course of the conference, I met so many kind people and felt I really got a good handle on names, faces, and projects. It is an exciting time in Sylvia Plath studies and an event like this shows that Plath's works and words do and have and will, as she writes in "Context", traveled "farther than a lifetime."

Showing all day in the Foyer was a PowerPoint slideshow that I made showing Plath's life in photographs. When I initially conceived of the idea to do this I thought "Oh, I'll assemble everything and it'll be about 100 images." I was wrong. There are more than 300 of them (and some slides and two to four images!). Jonathan Stephenson suggested five second per photo which meant the loop took about thirty minutes to cycle through. Hope it was enjoyable.

After the conference officially concluded many went for pizza and/or drinks nearby. I was able to have a nice quiet dinner with Gail Crowther and catch-up with her. Afterwards we joined many in the loud Duke of York pub for many drinks. I planned to stay until 10, so when I got home at 1 am I was mightily confused at how the time fly by. Chatting all night with Gail, Emily, Georg, Stephanie, Anna, Sarah, Bella, Mélody, Maeve, Gary, Jonathan, Katherine, and anyone I missed out on was outstanding. Lots of laughs, lots of Plath, lots of Guinness and wine and other drinks whose names I know not. Here's a few of us at the end of the night: Bella, me, and Mélody. Hope you don't mind my sharing it! Sorry I look like a dork.


Sadly, now, many of us are headed back to our homes after a vibrant few days in the city of Belfast. Maeve O'Brien was a star, the hosting facilities were comfortable, and the city was under chilly and occasional rain but was welcoming. For many of us it was our first time in Belfast and I could not be more impressed with its buildings, culture, pubs, and people. Hope everyone has smooth, safe, and on time travels home. Thank you so much Maeve. Thank you Jonathan! Thank you Eilish. Thank you everyone else whose names I do not know. Thank you Ulster University. Thank you Belfast. And thank you to all the people that registered, presented, and made these last few days memorable. Thank you again, Maeve.

2 comments :

Amy Rea said...

Sounds truly wonderful! I have to admit, I've read quite a bit of Atwood's fiction, but none of her poetry. I had no idea there was a connection between her work and Plath's. I'll have to seek it out.

The Plath Diaries said...

Peter, thank you so much for the diligent blogging!! It's great to re-read all this. Hard to believe it's over!!

Maeve

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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 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, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
  • 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: 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.
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (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. "'A Fetish: Somehow': A Sylvia Plath Bookmark." Court Green 13. 2017.
  • 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. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • 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. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "The Persistence of Plath." Fine Books & Collections. Autumn 2017: 24-29
  • 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. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.

Interviews