Thanks and Acknowledgements
This conference would not have been possible without the help and support of Dr Frank Ferguson at the School of Arts and Humanities at Ulster University. I am indebted to Frank for his patience, friendship, imagination and enthusiasm. Thanks also to Dr Thomas Maguire, Head of the School of Arts and Humanities at Ulster and Professor Raffaella Folli, Provost of the Belfast and Jordanstown campuses for their financial assistance and support – ensuring that this conference is free of charge in a bid to be accessible for all. Thanks also to Janetta Chambers, Catherine Russell, Jean Frazer and to Dr Tracy Brain for initially suggesting the idea of a conference at Ulster.
A great deal of thanks is owed to Peter K Steinberg and Karen V Kukil for agreeing to come to Belfast. To Peter, thank you for your boundless generosity and for providing images for the slide show.
In addition, this conference could not have been organised without those who have volunteered to help steward and assist. Jonathan Stephenson has been an integral part of this event and I am hugely grateful for his help, humour, attention to details and imagination throughout this process. Also, many thanks to the stewards, chairs and helpers who have ensured smooth running of this conference.
To Jane Baltzel-Kopp, for allowing the use of her original photograph of Sylvia Plath, taken at Cambridge University to feature as the conference programme cover, I am indebted.
Finally, in January 1956, Plath wrote to her mother ‘I have the pleasant feeling that I am doing the best I can, and learning a great deal’. It is with this quotation in mind that this conference has been devised. Thank you for coming and we hope you have a wonderful time at the conference and in Belfast. For any further enquiries, contact Dr Maeve O’Brien firstname.lastname@example.org
Directions to the Conference
Day 1 of conference proceedings takes place at The MAC. Located in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter at 10 Exchange Street West, Belfast BT1 2LS, The MAC can be entered at this address or through the main entrance at St. Anne’s Square. The conference is located in The Factory room – please ask stewards or a member of staff for directions if required. Registration opens from 8.45AM. There is a cafe on site.
Day 2 of the conference takes place at the Ulster University Belfast campus. Located at 25-51 York St, Belfast BT15 1ED, it is campus is commonly known as ‘the Art College’. This location is a oneminute walk from The MAC, as highlighted by the yellow buildings on map below. Registration on Saturday opens a 9.30AM and there is a cafe on site.
WiFi and Social Media
The conference hashtag is #sylviaplath2017 – please live tweet and take as many photographs as you can! Please note that no photography is allowed of the images displayed in the Keynote Speaker talk or the projection display of Plath images at UUB on Day 2 of the conference.
If you choose to blog about the event in the weeks afterwards, please let us know and we will share writing via the official conference platforms.
Wifi can be accessed at both conference locations using the following credentials:
At The MAC: Username: MACGuest Password: themac1234
At Ulster University Belfast: Log into the “guest” network and self-register. You will be asked to provide the email address of a member of staff as a sponsor. Please type in: email@example.com and await approval (should not take longer than five minutes).
For all conference speakers: please ensure you send a copy of your PowerPoint (if you are using this facility) to firstname.lastname@example.org in order to minimise the risk of technical hitches.
Things to do in Belfast and Northern Ireland Taxis: Belfast does not operate a ‘hailing’ system with taxis, so it is best to use either PhonaCab (+44 28 9033 3333) or Value Cab (+44 28 9080 9080). Taxi rates are extremely reasonable in the city. Uber is also an option in Belfast, download the app via Google Play or the Apple Store to avail of this service.
Things to Do: The recently-opened Titanic Museum is the largest museum in the world that commemorates the fateful voyage of this ship. It is worth a visit for all interested in the history of the ship, the social history of Ireland and of course the film. Check out www.titanicbelfast.com for more information.
Black Taxi Cab Tours are an exciting and interesting way of exploring Belfast and to learn about the history of Northern/Ireland. Led by experienced and informed drivers, the taxi tours are arguably the quickest and most informative way of understanding The Troubles and their continued impact today. Isaac’s Political, Mural, City and Causeway Tours offer group rates for city tours and provide the option of day-tours around the spectacular Causeway coast. Contact: +44 77 2436 3292.
Queen’s Quarter is a beautiful part of Belfast – with Queen’s University and the Ulster Museum worth visiting. No trip to Belfast can be complete without a cuppa in Bookfinders, (47 University Road, Belfast). The cafe has been a stalwart home for English literature students throughout the years, and well known for its poetry nights.
Further Afield: Seamus Heaney: Homeplace. Located in his home town of Bellaghy Co. Derry, Homeplace is a museum and arts centre dedicated to celebrating the life and literature of Seamus Heaney - the poet and Nobel Laureate who was one of Ireland's greatest writers. A 45 minute drive from Belfast, Homeplace is sandwiched between Belfast and Derry City and makes for a wonderful visitor experience for poetry lovers https://www.seamusheaneyhome.com/
For Game of Thrones fans, Northern Ireland is the location for many of the scenes including Winterfell the Iron islands and Dragonstone. See www.gameofthronestours.com for more information.
Keynote Speaker Biographies As the Associate Curator of Special Collections at Smith College, Karen V. Kukil develops, catalogs, and preserves rare book, manuscript, and archival collections;
undergraduates; teaches courses for the Archives concentration; directs special studies; and provides reference services and access to special collections. Karen's
experience in publishing and advertising, in addition to her staff appointments at Yale University's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and the Lewis Walpole Library, where she worked closely with renowned collector and editor Wilmarth S. Lewis. Her publications and presentations include: The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1 and 2, "No Other Appetite": Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, and the Blood Jet of Poetry and The Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. Born on a farm on Colorado's western slope, Karen moved with her family to New England at the age of three and spent most of her childhood in Farmington, Connecticut. During her college years, she played with the Hartford Wild Rose Women's Rugby Football Club. These days, Karen shares a bungalow in western Massachusetts with her husband, where they raise organic vegetables and cats. In her spare time, she writes scholarly articles and poetry and has recently begun to exhibit her watercolor paintings.
Archivist Peter K. Steinberg is the co-editor with Karen V. Kukil of the two-volume Letters of Sylvia Plath (Faber) and a co-author of These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath (Fonthill, 2017), as well as a biography for younger readers, Sylvia Plath (Chelsea House, 2004). He has published more than a dozen articles on Plath in Fine Books & Collections, Notes & Queries, and Plath Profiles. In addition, he wrote introductions to The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath (British Library, 2010) and Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning by Elizabeth Sigmund and Gail Crowther (Fonthill,
continuously updated website for Plath, A celebration, this is (www.sylviaplath.info) as well as the
related Sylvia Plath Info Blog (http://sylviaplathinfo.blogspot.com). He has presented papers at Oxford University, Smith College, Indiana University at Bloomington, University of Victoria (British Columbia), and the Grolier Club in New York City. When told there were other writers than Sylvia Plath he was incredulous.
Susan McKay is a journalist and writer from Derry, currently running the Glens Arts Centre in Leitrim. An award-winning journalist, she writes for publications including the London Review of Books and the Irish Times, and is a former Northern Ireland editor of the Sunday Tribune. Essays in the LRB include one on the life and death of Jean McConville, and another on working in the Belfast Rape Crisis Centre during the Troubles. Her critically acclaimed books include Bear in Mind These Dead (Faber, 2007) and Northern Protestants - An Unsettled People (Blackstaff, 2000). Her essay Thatcher on the Radio, Blue Lights Flashing Up the Road will be published in the New Island collection, The Female Line, this autumn. She is working on a new book.
About the School of Arts and Humanities at Ulster University
The School of Arts and Humanities at Ulster offers diverse study in the fields of Cinematic Arts, Creative Technologies, Drama, Music, Irish, English, and History. Our undergraduate programmes are based on our Coleraine (English and History) and Magee (Cinematic Arts, Creative Technologies, Drama, Irish and Music) campuses.
The School of Arts and Humanities offers a rich variety of teaching at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. At Ulster we use a range of innovative and cutting-edge resources and facilities to support learning. All of our courses which are based on our Magee, Coleraine and Belfast campuses, involve research-led teaching and world-class facilities. These include performance spaces, highly specified digital studios and Apple accredited computer labs which provide an environment for students to explore their creativity. We are committed to innovative learning and teaching, and want to help students make the most out of their time here at Ulster University.
Our lecturers and professors have both national and international reputations as scholars in their chosen fields. They are encouraged to support students in any way they can in order to enhance their experience. There has never been a better, more exciting time to be part of the School of Arts and Humanities. Student satisfaction is high, as evidenced in the National Student Survey (NSS), and our research is of world-leading quality, as evidenced in REF2014. Our links with key practitioners and organisations in a variety of industries ensure our provision is informed by current demands and our graduates are much sought after.
About the Belfast School of Art at Ulster University
Creative and inspiring, the Belfast School of Art is a world leading art school that makes a significant contribution to contemporary art and design both at home and abroad.
Our students produce innovative work in a dynamic studio-led environment, supported by the very latest technology and staff who are research-active and passionate about their subjects. Our lecturers and professors are practicing artists and designers who are actively involved in research as well as teaching. Much of their work is independently recognised as world leading. The school draws on its international networks, bringing important figures in the world of art and design to Belfast to work with our students. Art and design practice has a long and rich history in Belfast and the school was established in 1849, making it the oldest in Ulster University. Since then provision has grown and thrived and today the school is one of the leading providers of art and design education in the UK and the largest on the island of Ireland.
We provide a centre of excellence and an environment for innovation, creativity and energy. We have recently moved to a new state of the art building in Belfast city centre, which is located in the Cathedral Quarter, an area that is known for its vibrancy, where the University plays a central role in the creative and cultural life of the city.
Unique @ Ulster
Ulster University has opened a new student-led art and design shop. Unique, based in its Belfast campus on York Street showcases bespoke pieces of hand-crafted art by a wide range of students and alumni. The space acts as an educational and recreational platform for students, alumni and the general public, and aims to further connect Ulster University with Belfast and Northern Ireland’s creative community. It offers an exclusive outlet for emerging artistic talent from the University, providing them with a platform to gain exposure, make professional connections and sell work. Customers can also commission items from the students and alumni.
Commenting on the opening of the art shop, Professor Raffaella Folli, Provost of Ulster University’s Belfast and Jordanstown campuses, stated: ‘Unique provides a window to the world for our exceptionally talented students, where they can display and sell their unique, hand-crafted items. It is student-led, and as such allows them to gain experience in a professional environment ... It’s a very exciting new venture for the University and the campus, because it harnesses student creativity to staff expertise, creating an avenue for students to sell their work and for the public to enjoy a vision of the full range of talent being fostered at Ulster University’.
Advertising Feature: The Letters of Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) was one of the writers that defined the course of twentieth-century poetry. Her vivid, daring and complex poetry continues to captivate new generations of readers and writers. In the Letters, we discover the art of Plath's correspondence, most of which has never before been published and is here presented unabridged, without revision, so that she speaks directly in her own words. Refreshingly candid and offering intimate details of her personal life, Plath is playful, too, entertaining a wide range of addressees, including family, friends and professional contacts, with inimitable wit and verve. The letters document Plath's extraordinary literary development: the genesis of many poems, short and long fiction, and journalism. Her endeavour to publish in a variety of genres had mixed receptions, but she was never dissuaded. Through acceptance of her work, and rejection, Plath strove to stay true to her creative vision. Well-read and curious, she offers a fascinating commentary on contemporary culture. Leading Plath scholars Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil, editor of The Journals of Sylvia Plath 1950-1962, provide comprehensive footnotes and an extensive index informed by their meticulous research. Alongside a selection of photographs and Plath's own linedrawings, the editors masterfully contextualise what the pages disclose. This selection of early correspondence marks the key moments of Plath's adolescence, including childhood hobbies and high school boyfriends; her successful but turbulent undergraduate years at Smith College; the move to England and Cambridge University; and her meeting and marrying Ted Hughes, including a trove of unseen letters post-honeymoon, revealing their extraordinary creative partnership.
Artist Profile: Kristina Zimbakova
Kristina Zimbakova is a mixed-media sci-art painter, Sylvia Plath scholar and literary translator. She has created large bodies of artwork informed by Plath oeuvre and published articles on Plath’s poetry focusing on translation and visual representation. Zimbakova has edited and translated into Macedonian the books Sylvia Plath: Selected Poems (2005), including 39 poems, and Anne Sexton: Selected Poems (2011), comprising 38 poems, both published by Academic Press, Skopje.
The art installation ‘Poems, Suitcases’ is inspired by Plath’s poetry, and in particular her essay ‘A Comparison’. It consists of a sculptural painting (suitcase) and 19 mixed-media drawings. Each piece includes inscriptions of signature Plath poems’ titles or central notions in her poetry, and the order arrangement of the pieces creates a story. In line with the poem 'Mushrooms' written on the suitcase, the wording is made of lichens, which are a symbiotic association between two fungal species and an alga or cyanobacterium. The closing lines of this poem, 'We shall by morning / Inherit the earth./ Our foot’s in the door.' encompass the message of the current installation: the enthralling power of poetry via fungi as symbols of poems.
Originals of Kristina’s artwork are available to purchase via the Unique Shop, located on the Ground
Sylvia Plath: Letters, Words and Fragments Conference Day 1: Friday 10th November Location: The Factory at The MAC
8.45-9.15: Conference Registration
9.15-9.30: Welcome to conference attendees from Dr Thomas Maguire, Head of School of Arts and Humanities, Ulster University
Panel Title: Leaving Traces: Archives and Biographies Chair: Peter K Steinberg
Danielle K Nelson (University of Wisconsin-Madison) Maker of Myself? Unveiling the Critical Reception of Sylvia Plath and Her Biographers
Dr Amanda Golden (New York Institute of Technology) Different From What it is: Sylvia Plath’s Collected Poems
Dr Gail Crowther (The Open University) The Living Archive: Spectral Traces and Sylvia Plath
Christine Walde (University of Victoria, British Columbia) <maniacs.>: Exploring Marginalia and Materiality in Library Copies of Sylvia Plath’s Catalogue
11.00-11.30: Tea, coffee and breakfast (provided)
Panel Title: Visualising Plath’s Poetry: Artistic Critiques and Responses Chair: Jonathan Stephenson
Dr Ikram Hili (University of Sfax) Sylvia Plath’s Poems as Watercolour Paintings
Carmen Bonasera (University of Pisa) A bowl of red blooms: (Re)reading Ariel through its chromatic and natural imagery
Bella Biddle (Central Saint Martins) ‘I Cannot Do One Without the Other’: Sylvia Plath and Art
Brief comfort break
Panel Title: Fresh Fragments: Sylvia Plath, Whiteness and Black Feminist Approaches to her Work Chair: Dr Gail Crowther
Julia Gordon-Bramer (Lindenwood University) Sylvia Plath and Whiteness
Siana Bangura (Writer, Public Speaker and Freelance Journalist) ‘Black Women Don’t Get to Confess’: Sylvia Plath re-read through a Black Feminist framework
Break for Lunch (not provided – cafés on The MAC Ground Floor, St Anne’s Square and Established Coffee, Hill Street)
Panel Title: ‘Old barnacled umbilicus’ – Considering Aurelia Plath Chair: Cathleen Allyn Conway
Dr Adrianne Kalfopoulou (The American College of Greece) Witches in the Gingerbread: the making of the Plathian Voice
Catherine Rankovic (Independent Scholar) Medusa’s Metadata: Aurelia Plath’s Gregg Shorthand Annotations on the Sylvia Plath mss. II Correspondence at the Lilly Library
Dr Janet Badia (Indiana University–Purdue University) ‘There is nothing between us’: Mother-Daughter Intimacy in the Plath Archive
16.15-16.30: Brief comfort break
Panel Title: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes – Critical Responses Chair: Dr Nicola Presley
Dr Carrie Smith (Cardiff University) Gazing at Ophelia, Veronica and Sylvia: The Manuscript Drafts of Ted Hughes’s Cave Birds
Dr Mark Wormald (Pembroke College Cambridge) ‘The Shrike’ to ‘Dreamers’: Plath, Hughes, Assia Wevill and Poached Pike, 1956-1998.
Prof Terry Gifford (Bath Spa University / Universidad de Alicante) Hughes Editing Plath’s ‘Child’
Dr Holly Ranger (Institute of Classical Studies, University of London) Sylvia Plath’s Tales from Ovid
Brief comfort break
Panel Title: ‘Gaslighting’ Sylvia Plath – Critical Responses / New Directions Chair: Dr Maeve O’Brien
Peter Fydler (L’Institut Francais) "The Hearing of The Heart": Sylvia Plath and the publishing watershed of 1975-1976
Dr Tim Hancock (Ulster University) Another ‘Ariel?’
Dr Chiara Luis (International Institute, Spain) "I am too simple to call it envy": Rhetorical Excess and Terry Castle's Excessive Reaction to Sylvia Plath
Emily Van Duyne (Stockton University) Gaslight: Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes & Ambient Literary Abuse
Conference Dinner – Ground Floor at The MAC, 8pm (Ticket Holders Only)
Sylvia Plath: Letters, Words and Fragments Conference Day 2: Saturday 11th November Location: Ulster University, Belfast Campus
09.30-10.00: Conference Registration
Panel A Title: Sylvia Plath and…
Chair: Emily Van Duyne
Sarah Fletcher (Royal Holloway) Who will forgive me for the things I do? Anne Sexton’s Formal Influence on Sylvia Plath
Di Beddow (Queen Mary University of London) Sylvia Plath and Cambridge
Mélody Sánchez Camacho (University of Central Oklahoma) Corpse Poems: Sylvia Plath and Margaret Atwood in Conversation
Panel B Title: ‘Sheath of impossibles’: Plath, the Occult, Magic and Tarot Room: BA-02-005 Chair: Dr Carrie Smith
Dorottya Tamás (University of Sussex) ‘The Girl Who Wanted to be God’: Understanding Sylvia Plath Through Neopaganism and écriture feminine
Katherine Robinson (Cambridge University) The Man in Black: Sympathetic Magic and Alchemical Individuation in Sylvia Plath’s Ariel and Ted Hughes’s Cave Birds
Catherine Bowman (Indiana University, Bloomington) A Fool's Journey: Further Adventures in the Plath Archive
Panel A Title: ‘Now there are these veils’: Theoretical interpretations of Sylvia Plath’s work Room: BA-02-001 Chair: Jonathan Stephenson
Cathleen Allyn Conway (Goldsmiths, University of London) The Vampire Who Said He Was You: ‘Siring’ poems from the corpus of Sylvia Plath
Georg Nöffke (University of Pretoria) Dying as an Art: Performing Suffering, Suffering the Performance of Death in Sylvia Plath’s ‘Lady Lazarus’
Dr Gary Leising (Utica College) Fragments for the Whole: Synecdoche and Recovery in Ariel
Panel B Title: Teaching and Learning in Sylvia Plath Studies and Women’s Studies: Community Engagement, Digital Humanities, and Service Learning Room: BA-02-003 Chair: Dr Amanda Golden
Dr Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick (Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus)
Bailey Burnett (Ball State University)
Brandi Rund (Indiana University and Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus)
Courtney Watkins (Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus)
This presentation includes members across ranks—faculty, staff, and student—in order to bring together different perspectives, expertise, and experiences of teaching and learning in Sylvia Plath Studies. All of the proposed panelists have taught and/or completed an intensive course with Sylvia Plath as a focus within the 2016-2017 academic year. The objective of the presenters is to showcase successful forays into community engagement, digital humanities, and service learning, specifically related to pedagogy and the projects that resulted from it.
Panel C Title: Metaphorical and Literal Interpretations Room: BA-02-005 Chair: Danni Glover
Dr Anita Helle (Oregon State University) Sylvia Plath's "Body Electric”
Dr Rose Atfield (Brunel) Birthdays, Deathdays – Plath’s metaphorical and psychological landscapes.
Dr Gwendolyn Haevens (Independent Scholar) “Joy—deeper still than grief can be:” Reading Plath Reading
12.45-13.15: Light Lunch in Foyer (provided)
Panel A Title: Plath as Cultural Currency - Advertising, Clothing and Film Room: BA-02-001 Chair: Danielle K. Nelson
Dr Jonathan Ellis (University of Sheffield) Plath as Punch Line
Nicola Presley (Bath Spa University) ‘Your Friends from Breakfast to Bedtime’: Plath, television and TV Advertising
Rebecca C. Tuite (Bard College) ‘Get bathrobe and slippers and nightgown and work on femininity’: Sylvia Plath, Self-Identity and Sleepwear
Panel B Title: ‘The cloud that distils a mirror’: Perspectives on Sylvia Plath, Motherhood and Children Room: BA-02-005 Chair: Katherine Robinson
Shihoko Inoue (Kobe City University of Foreign Studies) Motherhood and Authorial Identity in Sylvia Plath’s Poetry
Jacqueline Kirkpatrick (College of Saint Rose) The Unnatural Mother
Dibakar Sarkar (Ramakrishna Mission Residential College) Sylvia Plath’s
Stories for Children
Panel C Title: Novel Considerations: Perspectives on The Bell Jar Room: BA-02-003 Chair: Danni Glover
Joanna Wilson (University of Edinburgh) Sylvia Plath and Mary Jane Ward’s The Snake Pit: More than a Couple of Potboilers
Stephanie de Villiers (University of Pretoria) Metaphors of Madness: Sylvia Plath’s Rejection of Patriarchal Language in The Bell Jar
Nikola Butkovičová (University of Presov) Representation of Female Identity in The Bell Jar
14.30-14.45: Comfort Break
Panel A Title: Personal Reflections: A safe space to talk about what Sylvia Plath means to us as fans and readers Room: BA-02-001 Chair: Julia Gordon-Bramer
Alexandra Davis Plath as Pathway to Grown Up Poetry
Lisa Wagoner Sylvia Plath’s Guide to Life
Jennifer L. Rieger You Mean Ted Hughes’ Wife?
Panel B Title: Personal Reflections: Creative and Poetic Responses to the life and work of Sylvia Plath Room: BA-02-005 Chair: Christine Walde
Sarah Fletcher Poems
Laura McKenzie Beyond Her Own Skin Novel Extract
Bailey Burnett Snapshots into the Life of Sylvia Plath
Lucie McLaughlin Poems
Sarah O’Connor Poems
16.00-16.30: Comfort Break – Café open on ground floor of campus
Public Lecture with Keynote Speakers: Karen V. Kukil and Peter K. Steinberg Room: Conor Lecture Theatre
Please note - no photography is allowed of the images displayed in the Keynote Speaker talk
30 min Conversation and Audience Questions Chaired by writer and journalist Susan McKay
Closing Wine Reception in Foyer
Informal drinks at The Duke of York from 7.30pm. All welcome.
Presenter Abstracts and Biographies
Friday 10th November
9.30-11.00: Panel Title: Leaving Traces: Archives and Biographies
"Maker of Myself?": Unveiling the Critical Reception of Sylvia Plath & Her Biographers
Taking up with longstanding debates in Plath scholarship regarding the biographical stronghold on the critical reception of her work, I examine the logics of biography for the ways in which it effectively collapses Sylvia Plath, the woman and Sylvia Plath, the writer into a search for biographical truth, mastery, and authenticity. In this paper, I conceptualize Plath’s defiant and enigmatic “I” of the published journals as it resists the very life story that the biographical prescribes – fixed and constrained in its veneer of wholeness and singularity. To this end, I explore the biographical not only as a genre, but also as an active process and a manipulative mode of reading that impacts the reception of an author’s work by chaining the art to the facts of one’s life. Furthermore, the biographical denotes what is or has been done to a body of work, which in the case of Plath brings to bear the history of her posthumously published writings, heavily edited, censored, and manipulated by her husband, Ted Hughes. Situating Plath’s biographically contentious “I” within the critical frame offered in Adam Phillips’ “The Death of Freud” where he writes of Freud’s hostile antagonism toward his future biographers, I proceed to unravel who and what comprises Plath’s “biographers” through revealing the extent to which the biographical impulse and our hunger for truth and knowingness makes biographers of both reader and critic alike. Looking at the abridged publication of Plath’s Journals in 1982, the consequent restored edition in 2000, and the original text housed in the Mortimer Rare Book Reading Room at Smith College, as well as countless critical materials by Hughes, editors, and other scholars surrounding these publications, I trace what is at stake in untangling Plath’s words from her deeply entrenched mythology and argue that Plath’s journals otherwise expose the impossibilities and seeming limits of biographical truth itself.
Danielle Nelson is a third year PhD student in English and Literary Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and graduated with distinction in Women's Studies from Duke University. Her
primary fields of interest are 20th-21st century literature and film, and theories of gender and sexuality.
“Different from what it is”: Sylvia Plath’s Collected Poems
Among his papers in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript and Library, Peter Davison left a manila envelope labeled, “That Rat.” He filled this envelope with correspondence related to Edward Butscher’s early biography, Sylvia Plath: Method and Madness (1976). Davison, who had a brief relationship with Plath in 1955, had contributed to Butscher’s efforts, only to regret having done so, as the biography misrepresented information that Davison had provided. Butscher’s biography was one of the first publications that would make the Plath Estate wary of future scholarship. Subsequently, Jane Anderson sued over her likeness in The Bell Jar film (1979), questioning the liberties of autobiographical fiction. She later placed the trial files at Smith College, parts of which provided Jonathan Bate with a frame for introducing Ted Hughes: An Unauthorised Life (2015). The Hughes Estate had declined Bate permission to quote from Hughes’s archival materials in his book, but Bate was also able to find materials that he could quote from, including Hughes’s trial deposition. Giving life to Hughes’s voice as Bate does early in his biography, compromised as both Hughes and Bate were in their respective situations, allows Bate to speak to the contours of evidence and the circumstances that create it.
For scholars who work in archives, a rat is an exciting find. It suggests that there is a story. David Greetham has argued that contamination is a part of textuality, and while “contamination is generally thought of as something unseemly, dangerous, or improper, and certainly not a quality that one should be endorsing or taking pleasure in, even with the reference to Barthes,” Greetham proposes in The Pleasure of Contamination to “show how contamination may be seen as normative, healthy, and necessary” (3-4). Hughes’s deposition was a response to Anderson’s lawsuit and Bate’s biography was altered due to the Estate’s prevention of his quoting. Focusing on Plath’s poetry manuscripts, this paper will demonstrate that understanding the materiality of Plath’s archive means interpreting the layers of contamination shaping the writing, editing, and publishing of her work.
Dr Amanda Golden is Assistant Professor of English at the New York Institute of Technology. She previously held the Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Poetics at Emory University’s Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry and a Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral fellowship at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She edited This Business of Words: Reassessing Anne Sexton (UP of Florida, 2016) and her book Annotating Modernism: Marginalia and Pedagogy from Virginia Woolf to the Confessional Poets is under contract with Routledge. She is also the Book Review Editor of Woolf Studies Annual
and has published in Modernism/modernity, The Ted Hughes Society Journal, and Woolf Studies Annual.
The Living Archive: Spectral traces and Sylvia Plath
This paper will explore the notion of the living archive; the places and spaces in Plath’s life that impacted on her poetry and prose. In contrast to the traditional archive, which can be seen as a place of stasis where documents are held in traditional repositories and libraries; the living archive is a dynamic space subject to change and time. Houses Plath once lived in, places she visited and wrote about, the domestic space surrounding her, all featured in some of her most powerful poems and prose. Physical traces remain, and these traces, however spectral, lead us to a new understanding of Plath and her creative processes.
This paper asks can the house be regarded as an archive, and if so, in what way? How might this help us understand ways in which Plath merged her domestic and creative spaces? When Plath visited the Bronte parsonage at Haworth she described the writers’ home as ‘a house redolent with ghosts’. We see this spectrality now in Plath’s own work. Her poem ‘The Detective’ depicts a speaker standing listening in an empty room, the barely-disguised living room of Plath’s own home, Court Green, in Devon. The physicality of the room is captured and frozen in time textually: ‘There is no body in the house at all./There is the smell of polish, there are plush carpets./ There is the sunlight, playing its blades,/ Bored hoodlum in a red room/ Where the wireless talks to itself like an elderly relative.’ (CP, 1990: 209). The echoing mausoleum of the house quivers with spectrality and the reader sees how Plath has merged her domestic and living space with her poetical output. When Plath leaves her blueprint in this way, she creates an indelible watermark that we can scrutinise. Archives tell stories and houses and places tell stories too. They successfully juxtapose stasis and change in such a way that it may be argued a living archive is formed full of traces that often refuse to disappear.
Dr Gail Crowther has held lectureships in Religion, Culture and Society, and Sociology. She currently teaches Social Science at the Open University. She has published several papers and chapters on Plath, such as ‘The Playfulness of Time’ and ‘Virtually There in Boston’ in Plath Profiles (Indiana University, 2009-2013), ‘Haunting Places in the Poems of Plath’ in Critical Insights (Salem Press, 2013) and ‘The Unquiet Graves of Ian Curtis and Sylvia Plath in Joy Devotion (Headpress, 2016). She is the author of The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath (Fontill Media, 2017) and has co-authored two other books; Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year’s Turning with Elizabeth Sigmund (Fonthill Media, 2014) and These Ghostly Archives; The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath with Peter K. Steinberg (Fonthill Media, 2017).
<maniacs.>: Exploring marginalia and materiality in library copies of Sylvia Plath’s catalogue
For many years, I have been fascinated by the vivid and abundant marginalia found in library copies of Sylvia Plath’s poetry: page after page marked with lines, dashes, arrows and brackets; scribbled with pen, ink and pencil in all colors; awash with correction fluid, coffee rings, blood and tears; their pages torn and cut out, excised from their spines like sore teeth pulled from a throbbing jaw; ebullient, angry, and impassioned comments pleading from the margins, crying out for understanding, justice, salvation, or hope, crowding the white space on the page. In 2011, at the same time that I started my degree in Library Science, I began to document these annotations during my visits to public and academic libraries across Canada and the United States, creating an album of photographs that captured all the marginalia I had found in Plath’s poetry. I slowly began to understand that these readers of Plath were not just commenting on her writing, but were attempting in some way to communicate with Plath – and with each other-- by authoring themselves in the pages of her work. They were, as an instance of marginalia by an anonymous reader in the poem “The Arrival of the Bee Box” was marked, <maniacs.> In the spirit of fragmentation that marks the theme of the upcoming Plath conference in Belfast, I would like to propose a series of ink and pencil drawings on paper that explores this marginalia, by replicating and re-creating the markings and commentary, with Plath’s unmarked words in absentia, indicated only by the title of the work. Populated by heavy commas in dark, inky blue, or underscored with thick lines of lead, with comments like “Jesus” or “Shit” off to the side, these drawings will not only explore the materiality of library copies of Plath and their readers’ responses, but act as a hyperspectral lens into the book and the page as a site of reclamation and creativity. The drawings will be accompanied by a limitededition chapbook of these works, featuring some of the original photographs of marginalia.
Christine Walde is a writer, artist and librarian whose work combines library and archival research into historical figures such as Marcel Duchamp and Sylvia Plath with interests in experimental prose, poetry, visual poetry, performance, and the visual arts. Her work has been published in a variety of print and online journals in both Canada and the US, including Carousel, The Fiddlehead, Lemonhound, The Malahat Review, The Rusty Toque, Plath Profiles, and Vallum. She has published two chapbooks: The Black Car (Baseline Press, 2011) and Noise and Silence (Poetry is Dead, 2014); and two novels, including Burning From the Inside (DCB 2013) and The Candy Darlings (Penguin Canada and Houghton Mifflin, 2007). Since 2012, Walde has worked as an academic librarian at the University of Victoria Libraries in Victoria, BC, Canada where she manages UVic Libraries’ publication series.
11.30-12.45: Panel Title: Visualising Plath’s Poetry: Artistic Critiques and Responses
“Sylvia Plath’s Poems as Watercolor Paintings”
In a compelling line from her poem “Cut,” Sylvia Plath wrote: ‘What a thrill --- My thumb instead of an onion. The top quite gone Except for a sort of a hinge Of skin, A flap like a hat, Dead white. Then that red plush’. Autobiographical as they might read, these lines equally record the shrewdness of Plath’s words as they intimate the poet’s ultimate success in abrading the white, dead skin engulfing especially her first poems, and in allowing the “red plush” to spring out of the fountain of her artistic creativity. In fact, the colors white and red might refer, respectively, to Plath’s early and late poetry—whiteness, in this regard, denoting the poet’s early vapid, derivative and rigid style; while redness indicating the subversive and therefore original writing style characterizing her more mature poems. Put differently, to Plath herself, the early poems are simply “stillborn,” as she describes them in her poem “Stillborn”—originally entitled “A Beach of Dead Poems.” Effaced and self-effacing, they remain unrecognized within the male-dominated literary tradition of Plath’s age. More direct and often pungent, on the other hand, the later poems communicate, really well, the poet’s outrage not only against the dominant ideologies of the era but also against what was then conceived as “pure” art. In the present paper, I read Plath’s poems as watercolor paintings that are often painfully painted against the backcloth of post-war America’s containment culture. That is why, Plath’s words are sometimes diluted in sweat and tears; at other times still, they gush from her ink-bleeding manuscripts, eventually allowing her reader to greet the dazzling light of her poetics. Accordingly, focusing on colors in Plath’s poetry, the aim of this paper is also to dismiss, time and again, the haunting, bleak, and blank feel very often attached to her poetics.
Dr Ikram Hili is a teaching assistant at the Higher Institute of Applied Languages in Monastir, Tunisia. She holds a Ph.D. degree in Literature; her dissertation is entitled “Ideology in the Poetry of Sylvia Plath: From Manuscript to Published Poem” (2017). Ikram’s main fields of interest are 20th Century American Poetry, Modern Manuscript Studies, Archival Works and Culture Studies. Ikram is a former Fulbright Visiting Scholar to Indiana University Bloomington and Smith College Massachusetts, where she worked closely with Plath’s Collections.
A «bowl of red blooms». (Re)reading Ariel through its chromatic and natural imagery
The evaluation of Sylvia Plath’s use of vivid chromatic and naturalistic imagery has always been an important section of many critical works. Nevertheless, it has often been interpreted either aesthetically, as a literary device, or as the expressionist representation of her violent emotions, conforming to a Romantic and Confessional vision. Furthermore, there has been a generally pessimistic speculation surrounding Ariel’s choice of imagery, which was perceived as a mirror of her self-destructive inclinations. This misled perception was encouraged by the early focus on the 1965 controversial edition of the book by Ted Hughes, who decided to arrange the poems regardless of the affirmative purpose of the manuscript’s original structure. Exceptions to this critical tendency were rare at first, but they are indeed growing apace in most recent contributions, especially those related to ecocritical theories, and following Ariel’s 2004 restored edition, in which positive and lifeaffirming texts were finally acknowledged greater relevance. Therefore, this paper aims to reconsider Plath’s use of chromatic and natural imagery, through two correlated perspectives. Firstly, the broad symbolic colour spectrum can be interpreted as the reflection of a psychological dichotomy between life and death drives: an in-depth analysis of Plath’s use of colours will show a clear ambivalence in the adoption of contrasting hues, mainly red and white, which in the first place represents an antithesis between an erotic life force thriving against faded stillness. Secondly, the manipulation of naturalistic symbolism is to be understood as the positive resolution of such tensions through surprisingly powerful images of rebirth and metamorphosis borrowed from the natural world: nature is not an indifferent spectator to the speaker’s tragic experiences, but participates in her metempsychosis. Distinguishing between the opposed orientations of the two versions of the book, this paper will thus examine a selection of poems, including “Tulips”, “Poppies in October”, “Stings”, “Wintering”, “Ariel”, “Lady Lazarus”, “The Night Dances” and “Edge”, in which colours and natural elements play a crucial part, in order to shed new light on texts whose images were previously interpreted as violent and suicidal as the life experience they were believed to reproduce.
Carmen Bonasera is a PhD candidate at the Department of Philology, Literature and Linguistics at University of Pisa. Her research interests focus on Comparative Literature and she is currently analysing different expressions of the Self in female 20th-century poetry, with particular attention to United States and Latin American writers.
‘I Cannot Do One Without The Other’: Sylvia Plath and Art
When Sylvia Plath first enrolled at Smith College in 1950, she intended to study Studio Art. Whilst she quickly altered her subject choice after professors recognised her talent for writing, throughout her adult life Plath continued to create visual art which influenced and often illustrated her canon of literature. In a letter to her mother dated March 22nd 1958, Plath forthrightly claimed “I’ve discovered my deepest source of inspiration, which is art”, and in an interview that same year she described her main inspiration as “paintings”, declaring “I have a visual imagination.” Frieda Hughes described her mother’s art practice as an intrinsic part of her writing process, stating that she “[could not] do one without the other”. Ted Hughes described Plath’s artistic pursuits as “[her] anaesthetic”; in Your Paris he portrayed her drawings as effortless – “your drawing, as by touch, roofs, a traffic bollard, a bottle, me.” This seemingly haphazard list is indicative of the way in which Plath’s drawings documented her life in moments of calmness – subjective momentary observations of her environment, epitomised in the images she drew while in Grantchester during her study at Cambridge University. These unaffected, voyeuristic drawings are, by her own admission, “child-like” and “peasantish” – and yet every bit as astute as the observations in her writing. In a letter to Hughes from October 7th she described drawing from grass at the meadows there; “I bet if I covered a page of grass-blades it would sell; I keep seeing infinity in a grain of sand.”
Bella Biddle is currently studying Art and Design at Central Saint Martins (University of the Arts London). From September 2018, she intends to take up an offer to study English Literature at Churchill College, Cambridge University. From a young age, Bella has been fascinated by the poetry and artistic practise of Sylvia Plath. Drawing on art history, music and literary criticism, Bella seeks to use context and conventions from a wide range of disciplines to both better understand Plath's canon in both art and literature.
13.00-14.00: Panel Title: Fresh Fragments: Sylvia Plath, Whiteness and Black Feminist Approaches to her Work
Sylvia Plath and Whiteness
Once, on one of my visits researching in the Sylvia Plath archives at University of Indiana’s Lilly Library, a man approached, asking, “What more can possibly be said about Sylvia Plath?” I believe we have only just scratched the surface in the 53+ years since her death. My decade of scholarship on Sylvia Plath led me to decoding her work through occult systems, of which she and her husband Ted Hughes had great interest. The focus of this presentation is not upon the systems I use, but on results found, many of which are Plath’s response to racism in the racially-charged 1950s and early 60s as South African Apartheid took hold, Nelson Mandela went to prison, the Civil Rights movement rocked America, the Ku Klux Klan terrorized, and Plath mused upon her own white privilege. Time permitting, I will present upon Plath and whiteness in the following poems: “Departure” and “Landowners” are about the evacuation of Blacks at both ends of Africa; “Street Song” is about the “mad” freedom given to the terrible murderers of the 14-year-old African-American boy, Emmet Till, due to court protection through a case of double jeopardy; “Recantation” appears to be a poem about Plath’s privilege as a white. “Hardcastle Crags” was written on the heels of the Little Rock riots, with the international news of a brave young girl who tried to walk to school through a mob. This poem fits that Arkansas mining town just as well as the Yorkshires. I will attempt to prove “Memoirs of a Spinach-Picker” is a political statement about profiting from migrant labor; “Moonrise” juxtaposes South African Apartheid with the American South; “Whiteness I Remember” casts Plath’s experience on a runaway horse as analogous with runaway slaves and lynchings. Plath’s “In Plaster” is a statement on the Vietnam War, which had run on for six years with no end in sight, the “superior” white to the inferior yellow. In Plath’s later poems, “Rabbit Catcher” depicts of the African-American slave experience and “The Arrival of the Bee Box” echoes the race riots happening in Oxford, Mississippi at the same time.
Julia Gordon-Bramer is author of Fixed Stars Govern a Life: Decoding Sylvia Plath (2014) and Decoding Sylvia Plath's "Daddy" (2017). She teaches graduate level creative writing at Lindenwood University-St. Louis, Missouri, USA. She has ranked consistently in the Top .5 - 2% on Academia.edu for the last few years and has been researching, writing, and presenting on Plath in the US and UK for over a decade. In addition, she is a professional tarot card reader, considered to be one of St. Louis'
Top Ten Psychics, and in 2013 was named St. Louis' Best Local Poet. This is her second Sylvia Plath Symposium.
‘Black women don’t get to confess’: Sylvia Plath re-read through a Black Feminist Framework
Women of colour and Black women have often argued that Confessional poetry is an art form belonging to white women. Although themes of suffering, pain, anguish and struggle in Black Feminist and Womanist literature may remind audiences of similar renderings of distress by (white) Confessional poets, Black women and women of colour writers rarely have had the ‘luxury’ of, or access to, vulnerability and public cries for help. When we look inwards, it is often to stories and experiences of ‘Otherness’, broad as well as personal. Black female writers cannot be solely preoccupied with the private or personal ‘I’, due to historic homogenisation of Black womanhood and the ongoing exclusion of our voices and (individual) narratives in literary and creative spaces. Instead, we often write from a space of collectivity when interrogating trauma, migration, histories, racism, assimilation, sexism, misogynoir, sexuality, family, and mental distress. Although the Confessional movement has been credited as beginning a literary environment in which other voices of difference (and defiance) could write about the deeply personal and the troubling - and, in the words of one writer, allowed ‘Black female poets like Lucille Clifton [to borrow] from the Confessionals and moved toward a poetry located in identity’ - it can be argued that Black women’s writing has always been firmly located in identity and often, the Black female writer is deeply connected to a larger group by virtue of her multiple intersections. Siana Bangura is a writer, poet, performer, freelance journalist and creative producer from London. She is the founder of Intersectional Black Feminist platform, No Fly on the WALL and is the author of ‘Elephant’, a candid collection of poetry meditating on Black British womanhood, Black British identity, migration, love and loss. She is the producer of ‘1500 And Counting’, a documentary investigating police brutality and deaths in custody in the UK; and is the founder of independent publishing house, Haus of Liberated Reading. Siana’s portfolio of work focuses on bringing underrepresented voices from the margins to the centre. Siana holds a History degree from the University of Cambridge and is an international public speaker, performing and presenting papers most recently in Germany, Finland, and the Netherlands. You can follow her on Twitter (@Sianaarrgh) and find out more about her work at www.sianabangura.com
15.00-16.15: Panel Title: ‘Old barnacled umbilicus’ – Considering Aurelia Plath
Witches in the Gingerbread; the making of the Plathian Voice
In the correspondence Aurelia Plath published between herself and her daughter Sylvia in Letters Home by Sylvia Plath Correspondence 1950-1963, much has been discussed regarding her careful selection of those letters that highlight the positive and devoted aspects of their relationship. As Jacqueline Rose has noted, this volume was Aurelia’s corrective to the images of herself portrayed in Plath’s poem “Medusa” and novel The Bell Jar. Yet while we have a distinct image of Sylvia as the diligent, always productive, and ever-grateful daughter, there are continuous subtexts of anxieties in these letters that fed into Plath’s most performative, declarative language in some of her most famous poems. For example, the voice that announces “The stain on your /Gauze Ku Klux Klan/” from “The Cut”, and Lady Lazarus’ “eye pits” and “sour breath” uses the kind of language Aurelia probably did not have in mind when she wrote in her introduction to the letters, “we shared a love of words and considered them as a tool used to achieve precise expression . . .” A precision of expression was what Plath struggled to achieve throughout her oeuvre, a struggle that her relationship with Aurelia complicated. Plath’s ongoing effort to speak of the disquieting “witches’” Aurelia’s mothering tried to keep “always, always/… baked into gingerbread” (“The Disquieting Muses”) was what her poems attempt to voice. This paper will address instances of a porous, subject state--what Aurelia in her introduction to Letters Home by Sylvia Plath described as a “psychic osmosis”-- and how anxieties of engulfment and silencing gave birth to Plath’s “blood jet of poetry” (“Kindness”).
Dr Adrianne Kalfopoulou is Associate Professor of English at Deree College, where she heads the program. Her work on Sylvia Plath has appeared in Plath Profiles and Women's Studies, an Interdisciplinary Journal. Work specific to Plath's relationship to Aurelia is forthcoming in Writers and Their Mothers (Palgrave 2018). Her book publications include two collections of poetry, and a book of essays, Ruin, Essays in Exilic Living. Reviews, blog posts, poems, & other assorted writing can be read @ www.adriannekalfopoulou.com
Medusa’s Metadata: Aurelia Plath’s Gregg Shorthand Annotations on the Sylvia Plath mss. II Correspondence at the Lilly Library
The nearly 700 original typewritten letters Sylvia Plath mailed to her mother are in fact laden with annotations and remarks in Mrs. Plath’s longhand and textbook-quality Gregg shorthand. Mrs. Plath’s 132 Gregg shorthand annotations, never before transcribed and cataloged, contain new biographical facts and metadata.
Nearly 700 letters from Sylvia Plath to her mother, Mrs. Aurelia Schober Plath, are held in the Sylvia Plath mss. II files at the University of Indiana’s Lilly Library. Mrs. Plath, a professional instructor of Gregg shorthand, wrote on these letters and their envelopes scores of comments and notes to herself and to posterity. One hundred thirty-two annotations in the Plath mss. II correspondence are in in Gregg shorthand. Never before cataloged or transcribed, the shorthand annotations on Plath’s letters, labeled “unreadable” and ignored, provide new metadata about Plath—who rather famously never learned shorthand—and her uneasy relationship with her only surviving parent and provider. The transcriptions include Mrs. Plath’s most urgent and personal responses to her daughter’s needs, marriage, suicide, and posthumous fame; bitter negotiations with Ted Hughes over the U.S. publication of The Bell Jar; and uncover Mrs. Plath’s self-appointed role as curator of her daughter’s correspondence: with friends (“Share with Gordon if the time is right,” 30 August 1954), family (“Do not let Mother [Granny] see this!” 2 February 1956) and ultimately the public (Letters Home, 1975). That role does not end with the 2017 publication of The Complete Letters of Sylvia Plath. In fact, Mrs. Plath is that book’s first cause.
Mrs. Plath’s estate granted me permission to use her annotations for scholarly purposes.
Catherine Rankovic, M.A., M.F.A., taught at Washington University in St. Louis for 21 years, Lindenwood University for six years, and was twice a guest professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. A widely published essayist, critic, and poet, she now pursues her own interests full time. Her books include Meet Me: Writers in St. Louis, Fierce Consent and Other Poems, and a forthcoming new version of Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos. Contact email@example.com
“There is nothing between us”: Mother-Daughter Intimacy in the Plath Archive
Much has been written about Aurelia Plath’s influence on her daughter’s life and work, particularly with regard to her presence within Sylvia Plath’s writings themselves and her role in the editorial publication decisions made by the Plath estate over the years. Aurelia’s role as an archivist of Plath’s life and work has received much less attention, however, despite the presence of Aurelia throughout the archive itself. Building on the groundwork laid more than 10 years ago by Tracy Brain, who discusses Aurelia’s annotations to Plath’s handwritten and typed letters and to the typed manuscript for Letters Home in her contribution to The Cambridge Companion to Sylvia Plath, as well as Gail Crowther and Peter K. Steinberg’s These Ghostly Archives, this presentation will consider Aurelia’s presence across the fuller archive, focusing on her own personal annotations to Plath’s writing. In addition to looking at Plath’s archived correspondence with her mother, which includes the letters Aurelia reviewed for Letters Home, my presentation will consider letters Aurelia received from readers in the decades following the publication of Letters Home that were often heavily annotated by Aurelia before being archived, as well as magazine issues featuring Plath’s posthumous publications that Aurelia also annotated and archived.
Whereas textual scholars have at their disposal a well-tested set of theories with which to examine Aurelia’s role as editor of Plath’s published letters, Aurelia’s marginalia elsewhere presents certain challenges, especially so given that she uses both standard written English and shorthand throughout the archives. This presentation begins with an examination of specific marginalia, focusing on the significance of Aurelia’s annotations to the archives as they simultaneously construct and reject intimacy and interpretation. In them, one can see Aurelia’s desires to preserve Plath’s life and work for future generations of scholars and to guide ways of reading, as well as her efforts to circumvent and obscure communication, thus preserving her self-ascribed status as privileged reader of Plath’s writings. Working outward from these concrete examples, I want to consider the role of the reader in the archive more generally, including how the archive situates the reader in relation to texts and languages of intimacy that are both immediately accessible and hopelessly illegible.
Dr Janet Badia is Professor and Director of Women’s Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where she teaches classes on feminist theory, girl culture, self-portraiture in literature and art, 20th- and 21st- century women’s writing, and Sylvia Plath. She’s the author of Sylvia Plath and the Mythology of Women Readers and co-editor of Reading Women: Literary Figures and Cultural Icons from the Victorian Age to the Present.
16.30-18.00: Panel Title: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes – Critical Responses
Gazing at Ophelia, Veronica and Sylvia: The Manuscript Drafts of Ted Hughes’s Cave Birds
Traditional definitions of ekphrasis codify the relationship between word and image in gendered terms. The image is the feminine: mute, the object of the masculine creative gaze. The word is deemed the masculine: active, giving a voice to the mute or a narrative to a static image. Hughes’s collaborative composition in Cave Birds involved negotiating the power play between his words and Leonard Baskin’s overwhelming images. The drafts of Cave Birds (1975) show Hughes grappling with the relationship between the visual and the verbal calling on key moments of gazing at images of women whilst thinking about the nature of the image itself: Shakespeare’s Ophelia, the veil of Veronica and, finally, Sylvia Plath.
Using the critical framework of spectrality to read the paradox of the ‘present absence’ of the manuscript trace, I explore the deleted references to Ophelia and the veil of Veronica in the drafts of Hughes’s Cave Birds poems. I will think about why the references were removed, their broader cultural resonances as symbols in literature and art and their place in the interplay of Hughes and Plath’s work, particularly in the context of Plath’s ‘Virgin in a Tree’. The second half of the paper will discuss Hughes’s interaction with Plath’s poetic imagery in the Cave Bird’s drafts to consider Plath as a ‘third collaborator’ with himself and Leonard Baskin.
Dr Carrie Smith is a lecturer at Cardiff University. Her research concentrates on literary manuscripts of various 20th century writers. Her published work on Ted Hughes focuses on questions of authenticity and voice in his poetry readings and recordings using original interviews and research undertaken in the BBC Written archive. She has also published on Hughes’s creative partnership with American artist Leonard Baskin. Her most recent publication explores Roald Dahl’s inscription and erasure of his childhood in Wales through his manuscript drafts. She is currently preparing a monograph on Ted Hughes’s poetic process that makes extensive use of the writer’s literary archives. She has also co-edited a collection titled The Boundaries of the Literary Archive: Reclamation and Representation (Ashgate, 2013), which draws together archivists and literary scholars to think through the multifaceted nature of archival study.
‘The Shrike’ to ‘Dreamers’: Plath, Hughes, Assia Wevill and Poached Pike, 1956-1998
‘Dreamers’, in Birthday Letters (1998), seems to blame ‘Fate’ for the startling dream of a pike, a human foetus in its golden eye, which Assia Wevill shared with her hosts after a single night under their roof during an infamous weekend visit to Court Green in May 1962. Recent biographies of Wevill, Plath and Hughes have all speculated on the dream’s motivation and origins, and on its authenticity. Its effect, in prompting envy in Sylvia while ‘the dreamer’ in Assia and ‘the dreamer’ in Hughes ‘fell in love with’ each other, one unknowingly, one in full knowledge of what he saw, seems definite enough.
This paper argues that we need to range more widely and read more closely than has been hitherto suggested to understand the context and effect of this reported dream, and its status in ‘Dreamers’. It was simply the latest instance of the appropriation of dreams in the uniquely intense creative marriage of Plath and Hughes. The tensions and contestations in that partnership are manifest in Plath’s 1956 poem ‘The Shrike’, in which ‘envious bride/ Cannot follow after’ the ‘royal dreams’ that beckon her husband. Plath’s story ‘The Wishing Box’, which she began writing, like ‘The Shrike’, on honeymoon in Benidorm, and in which, as she acknowledged, she plagiarized two of Hughes’ most vivid dreams – ‘dreams I should never have told,’ as he would later tell Keith Sagar—continues this pattern, and, I argue, in so doing shaped Hughes’s own great poem ‘Pike’. But the first publication of ‘The Wishing Box’ in Granta magazine in Cambridge in January 1957, and Hughes’s subsequent decision to include the story in Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams (1977, 1979) had their own impact too, and should also be seen as important chapters in a story which Hughes ‘refused to interpret’ but could not, at last, avoid seeing.
Dr Mark Wormald is Fellow and College Lecturer in English at Pembroke College, Cambridge. He is the editor of the Ted Hughes Society Journal and with Terry Gifford and Neil Roberts co-edited Ted Hughes: from Cambridge to Collected (Palgrave MacMillan, 2013). He is completing The Catch: Fishing for Ted Hughes, to be published by Little Toller Books.
Hughes Editing Plath’s ‘Child’
Hughes wrote to Olive Higgins Prouty in 1975 about Plath’s drafts, ‘The first drafts in hand are astonishing documents of inspiration’ (Enniss 2004: 73). This paper will begin and end with an image of the draft of Plath’s poem ‘Child’, dated January 28 1963, which was unfinished, notably in having an unresolved ending. However, an ending was resolved on this same day for the poem ‘Sheep in Fog’. This paper will critically consider Hughes’s essay on the drafts of the latter poem published in his prose collection Winter Pollen (1994): ‘Sylvia Plath: The Evolution of “Sheep in Fog”’. Among other issues, the paper will focus especially on his description of four kinds of ‘evolution’ which foregrounds ‘inspiration’ and also echoes his statement in his Introduction to Plath’s Collected Poems that ‘The end product for her was not so much a successful poem, as something that had temporarily exhausted her ingenuity’ (1988: 13). To what extent do these notions actually hold true for Plath’s working process?
The resolution of ‘Sheep in Fog’, using the word ‘starless’, invites a comparison with a similar concept in the deleted endings to ‘Child’. From an ecocritical point of view there is a significant difference between the ‘Starless and fatherless, a dark water’ of the ending of ‘Sheep in Fog’ and the struggle for an ending of ‘Child’ that includes the deleted phrase ‘Without stars and planets’ for the ceiling hanging over the child. In order to publish ‘Child’ Hughes was forced to select a last line. But he chose one that was not among the deleted alternatives. Such was his confidence in having been successful that he and his sister Olwyn published the holograph alongside the published version in a Rainbow Press limited edition in 1971. To what extent does Hughes’s last line ‘Ceiling without a star’ successfully convey Plath’s apparent intention? What conclusions might be drawn from this discussion for the editing of Plath by Hughes and for insights into their differences in terms of working practices, real and theoretical, and their representations of nature?
Prof Terry Gifford is a Visiting Scholar at the Centre for Writing and Environment at Bath Spa since Jan 2011. He retired from the University of Leeds in 2004 as Reader in Literature and Environment and Director of Research in the School of Performance and Cultural Industries where he taught Creative Writing. In this role he introduced practice-based PhD programmes at Leeds in Theatre, in Dance and in Creative Writing. For twenty-one years, until 2008, he was Founding Director of the annual International Festival of Mountaineering Literature. He is currently Profesor Honorifico at the Universidad de Alicante, Spain, where he co-supervises PhD students in ecocriticism and conduct research with staff in English. He is a member of the Spanish research group GIECO (literature and
environment) based at the University of Alcala. Author of seven collections of poetry, several books of ecocriticism, a collection of climbing journalism, Gifford also edited the complete works of John Muir in two volumes, and has written or edited five books on Ted Hughes.
Sylvia Plath’s Tales from Ovid
In this paper, I discuss Plath’s engagement with the Roman poet Ovid and his epic poem of bodies changing forms, Metamorphoses. I take as my starting point Ted Hughes’ assertion in his essay ‘Sylvia Plath: The Evolution of ‘Sheep in Fog’’ that the mythic figures of Phaethon and Icarus provide the ‘interpretative key’ for understanding Plath’s Ariel poems. Whilst Hughes is the first reader of Plath’s work to introduce a comparison to Ovidian figures, he does not name her—or his—source (the tales of Phaethon and Icarus appear in Books 1 and 8 ofMetamorphoses, respectively). Instead, he describes a subconscious, ‘submerged’ ‘mythic force’ in her poems, and encourages a biographical rather than a literary interpretation of the myths’ presence and function in Plath’s work.
I will first offer alternative ways of reading Plath’s Phaethon and Icarus that link her directly to Ovid before focusing in detail on another of Plath’s ‘tales from Ovid’: that of the sculptor Pygmalion, whose perfectly carved statue-woman magically comes to life. Using the poems ‘Sculptor’, ‘The Applicant’, ‘The Lady and the Earthenware Head’, ‘In Plaster’, and ‘Edge’, I argue that Plath’s use of the Pygmalion motif is not a simple borrowing of a template, or a wish to tell Ovid’s story from the statue-woman’s point of view, but is a complex and unique reworking of the tale: using myth to speak of contemporary women’s lives; questioning the role of the woman-as-muse; and confronting women’s deadly complicity in the ‘myth’ of the perfect woman.
Finally, I will argue that an understanding of Plath’s classicism in turn transforms Hughes’ Tales from Ovid into an act of reinscription, turning not to Ovid per se, but to recall the words and works of Hughes’ late wife. Plath’s own tales from Ovid provide a model and starting point for Hughes’ translations, and I argue that while Birthday Letters represents an explicit dialogue with Plath and her work, Tales from Ovid reveals an implicit dialogue with Plath and her own prior Ovidianism. Dr Holly Ranger is Research Associate at the Institute of Classical Studies, University of London. Her research interests are in classical reception studies and lie at the intersection between critical theory, classical scholarship, and creative practice, with a focus on the ‘difference made’ by feminist 39
scholarship on the reading, translating, and rewriting of ancient texts. Recent publications have discussed Ovidian allusion in the work of Saviana Stanescu, Sylvia Plath, and Ali Smith, and her work has appeared in the Classical Receptions Journal and The International Journal of the Classical Tradition. Her monograph, The Feminine Ovidian Tradition is forthcoming.
18.15-19.30: Panel Title: ‘Gaslighting’ Sylvia Plath – Critical Responses / New Directions
Before & After: Sylvia Plath and the Publishing Watershed of 1975-1976
Ten years after the publication of Ariel four books were published that, arguably, set the agenda for Plath criticism (both good and bad) over the next forty years. Letters Home (1975) was the first to offer extensive source material outside the poetry but was also the first to use a partisan agenda both in its editorial notes and its selection process, something that echoed through subsequent publication of the “collected” poems and the journals in the 1980s. Chapters in a Mythology (Judith Krolll, 1976) and Poetry and Existence (David Holbrook, 1976) were released in the same year but took diametrically opposing views to the poetry; one an exploration of themes guided by the opinions of Ted Hughes, the other an excoriating attack on the poetry as little more than the ravings of a deeply disturbed mind. Lastly Edward Butscher’s Method & Madness, the first full length biography of Plath, also published in 1976, kick started a whole industry dedicated to Plath biography. It must be taken seriously as it was published so close to her death, but clearly it also contained opinions that have been mocked in the modern era. 40 odd years later, what did they get right, what did they get wrong, and what, perhaps, have we conveniently chosen to forget?
Peter Fydler studied English at Queen Mary and Westfield in the 1980s and then went straight into a career as a Film and Television Marketing Executive. Having recently retired he is keen to take up where he left off at University by reading, and writing about, Modern Poetry. He recently contributed a paper about the influence of Ted Hughes on the work of Nick Cave for the Ted Hughes Conference in Huddersfield. He is also studying French at the Institute Francais.
There’s no shortage of commentary on Plath’s celebrated poem, the allusive title of which has been interpreted within three main contexts: the literary/poetic (Ariel the androgynous airy spirit from The Tempest); the biographical (Ariel the horse she rode at the Dartmoor riding school); the symbolic / mythical (Ariel a female version of the Hebraic ‘Lion of God’, one of the biblical names for Jerusalem). This paper will raise the possibility of another source for this name, one that belongs to a less fully explored context for Plath’s writing which might be labelled the socio-historical. Plath gestured to this framework in her interview with Marvin Kane where she emphasized that her poems were ‘quite emphatically, about the ‘things of the world’'. Besides adding another potential layer of significance to an already multi-layered poem, identifying one of these ‘things of the world’ reminds us that poets – while hopeful that their work will transcend time – always occupy a particular point in space and time, and that we get a more three-dimensional picture of them and their writing if we recognise how their work is informed by things and events from the world around them. Dr Tim Hancock is English Subject Director at Ulster University. He teaches and writes on 20th Century poetry, with recently published articles on John Betjeman and TS Eliot.
“I am too simple to call it envy": Rhetorical Excess and Terry Castle's Excessive Reaction to Sylvia Plath
In 2013, literary critic Terry Castle reviewed two biographies of Sylvia Plath published earlier that year. Serving mainly as an opportunity for Castle to air her opinion of Plath as “tasteless, grisly— unbearable, ” the review contains a number of shocking claims, including the assertion that Plath had only herself to blame for the rhetorical excess she provoked—and still does provoke—in readers. ... Even fifty years on, the gruesome mental suffering that she wrote about continues to pierce and frighten and exasperate. In the interest of recuperating Plath from these and other misogynistic claims made by Castle throughout her review, this paper will explore the process of reading by which such claims are made. Drawing on the work of feminist literary critic Lynne Pearce, who has written on the ways in which “readers as critics ... seek to explain and legitimate their like or dislike of a particular text,” this paper will focus on three aspects of Castle’s review: (i) the rhetorical excess that characterizes Castle’s own language; (ii) the aesthetic criteria that Castle uses to judge Plath’s work; (iii) Castle’s attack on female readers of Plath. Using the idea of “excess” as a guiding motif, this paper will argue that Castle’s language is at its most excessive whenever she is confronted with moments in Plath’s work—and life—that concern the female body. That the female body, with its attendant fleshiness and fluids, can itself become a figure of excess provokes in Castle a sense of readerly anxiety. This anxiety, in turn, underpins the aesthetic criteria Castle uses to express her belief that there is something wrong (“tasteless, grisly”) with Plath’s choice of poetic subject matter, and by extension, something wrong with Plath herself. Castle’s dislike of Plath spills over into an attack on female readers of Plath, in order to dismiss the significance of Plath’s work to traditions of women’s writing and American poetry. In response to Castle, a recuperative reading of Plath’s poetry will be offered, one which argues for its importance to women readers in terms of its ability to console.
Dr Chiara Luis received her PhD in English Literature from the University of Salford (UK) in 2011. She teaches courses in American Literature on the American Cultural Studies Program at the International Institute in Madrid, Spain. In 2015-2016, she was the moderator for the Institute’s English Reading Circle on Poetry. She is also an English teacher at the Universidad Pontificia Comillas in Madrid. Her current research interests include women’s writing, narrative romance, feminist literary theory / feminist reading practices, and processes of text-reader interaction.
Gaslight: Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, & Ambient Literary Abuse
This paper, based in archival research, analysis of criticism of Plath’s work, and Ted Hughes’ editing of said work, takes as its starting point the realities that Hughes’ close ties with giants of the literary world such as George Steiner, Robert Lowell, and A. Alvarez allowed for not only a suppression of negative information about his treatment of Plath during their seven years of marriage, but also a retelling (and retooling) of Plath’s own work and character.
Rather than taking Plath, and her friends and family at her, and their, word(s) about Hughes’ considerable philandering, and physical and emotional abuse, literary critics took pains to paint Plath as a liar and a lunatic, someone who “imagined” her own abuse at Hughes’ hands. In a horrific irony, they repeatedly pointed to her claims of his abuse as proof of her insanity. A good chunk of “Gaslight” deals with historical documents and criticism by Lowell, Alvarez, Steiner, Olwyn Hughes, Janet Malcolm, the Merwins, and many others that makes such claims about Plath’s relationship with Hughes, about her “nastiness” and “mental instability.”
Further, when feminist critics tried to see primary sources about said abuse, they would often mysteriously vanish, i.e., Plath’s last journals. The journals are just one example of Plath manuscripts concerning Hughes’ behavior disappearing without further explanation, and the literary establishment supporting his actions wholeheartedly, i.e., Malcolm’s The Silent Woman, where she famously referred to Hughes’ destruction and shoddy editing of Plath’s work as “[serving] two masters.” In this way, the literary establishment took up Hughes’ own “gaslighting” of his wife (the psychological practice of deliberately trying to make someone doubt their own reality) and perpetuated it on an entire generation of Plath enthusiasts and scholars. The paper will look at the ways this happened through the editing process, and the critical response to Plath’s life, suicide, and work, as well ask the question--in light of the new primary source material we have by Plath, what comes next?
Emily Van Duyne is assistant professor of Writing at Stockton University, in New Jersey, where she is also affiliated faculty in Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. A poet, essayist, and critic, her work has appeared, or is forthcoming in Literary Hub, ROAR, The Chronicle of Higher Education, So To Speak, and many others. She lives in New Jersey with her family, and is at work on a book about Sylvia Plath.
Presenter Abstracts and Biographies
Saturday 11th November
10.00-11.15: Panel A Title: Sylvia Plath and…
“Who will forgive me for the things I do?: Anne Sexton’s Formal Influence on Sylvia Plath”
Who see me here this ragged apparition in their own air see a wicked appetite, if they dare. — Anne Sexton, early draft of “Her Kind”
Herr God, Herr Lucifer Beware Beware. Out of the ash I rise with my red hair And I eat men like air. — Sylvia Plath, “Lady Lazarus”
Much has been written about the friendship between Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton: literary urban legend romanticises the martini-soaked meetings at the Ritz, editing in splashes of red lipstick, imagined conversations, and upper-crest accents to its liking. While the friendship between the two poets has been overemphasised, the literary influence they had on each other has been unexplored. Critical attention has been given to Sylvia Plath’s influence on Sexton: perhaps a consequence of Plath's literary fame outweighing Sexton's, and Sexton's larger body of work written after Plath's death. Meanwhile, Anne Sexton’s pivotal influence on Plath’s transition from The Colossus to Ariel is profound. In an interview with Peter Orr, Plath explicitly cites Sexton’s influence on the Ariel poems, saying “I think particularly the poetess Ann Sexton, who writes about her experiences as a mother,
as a mother who has had a nervous breakdown, is an extremely emotional and feeling young woman and her poems are wonderfully craftsman-like poems”.
Though the emphasis in past essays on this (Maxine Kumin and Kathleen Spivack's work in particular) has been on Sexton’s exploration of taboo as a means of allowing Plath to give herself permission to write about more personal topics, I explore in my paper the “craftsman-like” influence Sexton held over Plath, furthering what Heather Cam explored in her comparison between Sexton's "My Friend, My Friend" and "Daddy". Anne Sexton’s poems, particularly in To Bedlam and Part Way Back, often rigidly use form and rhyme as a means to communicate “confessional” subject matter (taking on "confessional" tones even in dramatic monologues such as ‘Unknown Girl In The Maternity Ward’). As Plath transitioned from The Colossus to Ariel, poems like "Witch Burning", "Daddy", "Lady Lazarus", and "The Bee Meeting" use metre, repetition, and rhymes in ways that have stark echoes to Sexton’s early work, particularly poems that were workshopped in the Lowell class. In this paper, I examine how their much-maligned friendship acted as an influence which broke Plath’s binary of personal/emotionally intense subject matter and well-crafted, metrical work that characterise the volcanic Ariel poems.
Sarah Fletcher is studying for a Masters in Creative Writing: Poetry at Royal Holloway, University of London. She was a Foyle Young Poet and a recipient of the Christopher Tower Prize for Poetry from Christ Church, Oxford (which she won again in 2013). In 2015, she published a poetry pamphlet 'Kissing Angles' on Dead Ink Books which was shortlisted for a Saboteur Award. This year, she was a winner of the Poetry Business New Poets Prize, and will be publishing a pamphlet with their impress Smith|Doorstop in January 2018.
Sylvia Plath and Cambridge
Black-gowned, but unaware How in such mild air The owl shall stoop from his turret, the rat cry out. - Sylvia Plath, "Watercolour of Grantchester Meadows"
Sylvia Plath arrived in Newnham, Cambridge in October 1955, four years after Ted Hughes had come to Pembroke. Only four months later she met Hughes and there began the relationship of modern poetry. The myth tells that little was written in or of Cambridge in Plath’s time here, but through the lenses of complementary studies her work is very much alive in the city. She writes to her mother, “ “It is the most beautiful spot in the world, I think” and goes on to describe the joys of her room in Whitstead, Newnham College. By June 1957, “Both of us delighted to leave the mean, mealymouthed literary world of England.” With the discipline of both psychogeography and memory studies, I intend to embrace and reveal the life and work of Sylvia Plath during this Cambridge period. What impact did Cambridge have upon her and her work and what legacy is left by her in Cambridge? The archives of both Newnham and Pembroke are hardly plumbed and poems such as “All the Dead Dears” tend not to enter the Plath canon for study, but Frieda Hughes has edited a stunning book of her mother’s drawings of Grantchester Meadows and letters and journals reveal more about her time in the city. Through the use of both witness accounts from interviews and the archives of the university, one gains a richer understanding of Plath’s work and the impact that Cambridge had upon her. Birthday Letters adds much to this understanding with “St. Botolph’s” and “55 Eltisley” but how authentic is this reading of Plath’s life here when it is filtered through the experience of her husband?
Di Beddow taught English in state secondary schools for over thirty years; after headship, she took early retirement and returned to her first love - the work of both Plath and Hughes. She is following a research PhD at Queen Mary University, London in “The Cambridge of Hughes and Plath” and she lives in Cambridge.
Corpse Poems: Sylvia Plath and Margaret Atwood in Conversation
In her impassioned essay “Corpse Poem” (2003) and later in her longer work Dying Modern: A Meditation on Elegy (2013), scholar Diana Fuss revisits the poetic genre of elegy from a different point of view—both physical and metaphorical. She investigates the phenomenon of “corpse poem”, in which the poetic voice, a corpse, speaks from within the grave with the purpose of addressing certain issues by focusing the attention on the dead themselves and their experience after life This idea can be appropriately related to Sylvia Plath, whose poetic personae generally maintain an intriguing affair with death, from her restless “Lady Lazarus” to the final female corpse in “Edge”. Furthermore, the poetic subgenre of “corpse poem” is also recurrent in Canadian poet Margaret Atwood. What is interesting about Atwood’s poetry as regards Plath is that their poetic production, when examined closely, exhibit an interesting range of common symbols that deserve thorough analysis. The aim of this paper is therefore to explore, in the light of Fuss’ study, a number of poems by Plath and Atwood in which they seem to engage in a fruitful dialogue about life and death.
Mélody Sanchez-Camacho obtained her BA and MA in English Studies at the University of Almería (Spain). She has recently been awarded a Fulbright grant by the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport for a MA in Teaching English as a Second Language at the University of Central Oklahoma (United States). She also conducts literary research with a particular interest in the occurrence of mental illness and social madness in contemporary literature, as well as a focus on the life and works of poet Sylvia Plath.
10.00-11.15: Panel B Title: ‘Sheath of impossibles’: Plath, the Occult, Magic and Tarot
“The Girl Who Wanted to Be God”: Understanding Sylvia Plath Through Neopaganism and Écriture Féminine
Sylvia Plath called herself in a letter to her mother the "The girl who wanted to be God”. Transcending her identity – both in text and in her life – was a great struggle which she aimed for from the limits of womanhood (and girlhood) in the middle of the 20th century. After she committed suicide, Sylvia Plath has not only become world-famous, but has been named the feminist icon of suicidal girls. Nevertheless, parallel with the growing popularity of Plath, neopaganism and witch culture experienced rebirth with the second wave feminism. Sylvia Plath herself had many influences from witchcraft and paganism which she visualised in her poems. The witch identity from a psychoanalytic term is often referred to as the woman who rejects the male control and transcends the female identity.
Cixous’s theory of l’écriture féminine has been in question with the writings of Plath. Paradoxically the écriture féminine and the transgression of the feminine identity has allowed her to write freely but created more borders and limits with the question of self-definition in patriarchal world. Sylvia Plath’s self-mythology and identity transcendence was a response to the tension between women and writing and the question of self-definition, especially in the text. She transcended herself beyond the body, reclaiming the feminine both in practice and text. The same kind of practices can be depicted among neopagan, wicca worshippers. In my presentation, I would like to introduce connection between Sylvia Plath’s identity, the feminine writing style and the rebirth of witch culture. My aim is to show that with an interconnected perspective which does not only deconstruct Plath as a myth and as a woman (both textual and historical) can she and her legacy be understood.
Dorottya Tamás is a postgraduate student at University of Sussex, she is currently undertaking her Literature and Philosophy MA. She did Media and Communication as her BA, in Corvinus University of Budapest where she wrote her dissertation of discourse of the feminised madness and its communication by using Sylvia Plath’s life and legacy as a key study. She has been participating in several conferences both in Hungary and in the U.K., some of her researches included the vaginal performance aesthetics and postmodern femininity, the communication disorders of teenage girls by analysing the Mean Girls movie, and eating disorders in the poetry of the feminist slam poetry, Blythe
Baird. Dorottya herself is a poet as well, and wishes to do an English PhD from the next year by researching on the interventions Sylvia Plath, feminist psychoanalytic theories and pagan ecofeminism.
The Man in Black: Sympathetic Magic and Alchemical Individuation in Sylvia Plath’s Ariel and Ted Hughes’s Cave Birds
I will explore how sympathetic magic underpins the exorcism performed in Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy” and how it, in turn, informs Ted Hughes’s responses to the poem that memorably described him as a “a model” of the father figure. Through merging her husband, “a man in black,” with her father, whom she calls a “devil,” the speaker seeks, through sympathetic magic, to free herself from the father’s specter. Plath’s annotations in The Golden Bough reveal her fascination with sympathetic magic. While reading about a ritual to banish demons, Plath underlined the phrase “A man, painted black to represent the devil,…” a description that evokes her famous lines in “Daddy.”
If “Daddy” functions through sympathetic magic, and, specifically, through conflating a representation of Ted Hughes with one of Otto Plath, then how would Hughes, a man fascinated by the occult, respond? His most overt response, “A Picture of Otto,” is straightforward: he envisions himself stuck in a tomb with Otto, spiritually merged for as long as the incantations of “Daddy” can “stir a candle.” But in more oblique responses, Hughes seeks an antidote to sympathetic magic, a charm to metaphorically free him from Otto’s tomb. Jungian alchemy provides that antidote: individuation, the process by which a psyche differentiates itself from others. Sympathetic magic conjoins; alchemy cleanses and separates: the one can neutralize the other.
In “Daddy,” images of blackness evoke a pivotal alchemical stage: “nigredo,” period of blackness and dissolution, that precedes rebirth. In “9 Willow Street,” Hughes equates nigredo with Plath’s stake imagery in “Daddy.” He writes that he struck “matches to find the eyes of Jung’s nigredo” and that “Each of us was the stake/ Impaling the other.” Years earlier, Hughes wrote Cave Birds: An Alchemical Drama, and some of its alchemical imagery can be read as a catharsis of “Daddy’s” sympathetic magic. Resonances between drafts of “The Plaintiff” in Cave Birds and “Daddy” are particularly compelling. Finally, Hughes’s alchemical responses to “Daddy” perhaps also sprang from the motifs of Jungian individuation and alchemy that abound in Ariel itself, imagery culled from Plath’s own rich readings of Jung.
Katherine Robinson is a Gates Scholar reading for a PhD at Cambridge University, where she is writing a dissertation about Ted Hughes and early Celtic literature. She has written about Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath for The Ted Hughes Society Journal and her research about Ted Hughes's oblique retelling of Welsh Mabinogion myths-- and about how his repurposing of these myths
responds to Ariel-- is forthcoming as a book chapter in Ted Hughes: Nature and Culture, edited by Mark Wormald, Neil Roberts, and Terry Gifford, and forthcoming from Palgrave Macmillan. Her essays have also been published by Ploughshares and The Poetry Foundation, and poetry and fiction have appeared in Poetry Ireland, Poetry Wales, The Kenyon Review and The Hudson Review.
A Fool's Journey: Further Adventures in the Plath Archive
With the tarot as guide, this 26-section sequence of poems incorporates one section for each letter of the alphabet, samples, madlibs, and collages work from the Plath Archive at Indiana University to see what might be revealed by these chance operations, ready-mades, and conversations across makings--with a focus on Plath's letters, notes and annotations on her copy of A Portable James Joyce and her dreams of a life in Connemara.
Catherine Bowman is the award-winning author of 1-8OO-HOT-RIBS, Rock Farm, Notarikon, The Plath Cabinet, and most recently Can I Finish, Please? She also edited Word of Mouth: Poems featured on NPRâ€™s All Things Considered. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Ploughshares, The Paris Review, The LA Times and Best American Poetry among other journals. She lives on a farm and teaches literature, writing, and poetry at Indiana University.
11.30-12.45: Panel A Title: ‘Now there are these veils’: Theoretical interpretations of Sylvia Plath’s work
The vampire who said he was you: ‘Siring’ poems from the corpus of Sylvia Plath
The female vampire has undergone a radical transformation since Lucy Westenra became the Bloofer Lady in Dracula – she refracts the frustrations of women, their sexuality and agency. I explore these themes in Bloofer, my collection of found poems on the female vampire, which takes Sylvia Plath as its critical focus in the context of my creative writing PhD. This paper will specifically examine the role Plath plays in the writing process of Bloofer, particularly the use of her archive and the transgressive relationship I take with her literary corpus.
Found poetry is on the cutting edge of 21st century avant-garde poetics. The form’s use of juxtaposition and recontextualisation make it a transformative tool to impart new meanings and readings of a text. It is through this medium that the more vampiric elements of Plath’s life and work come to the fore: she takes her place alongside female vampires from across three centuries as an unposthumous voice robbed of its agency. My relocation of these female vampires, including Plath, to a new page in which the previous author no longer holds sway becomes a political act of transgression and rebellion.
The purpose of this creative collection is to use the ‘female vampire’ conceit to enable recovery of feminine voices from male interpretations and contexts, enabling these characters to claim ownership of their narratives and comment on the structures that oppress them. However, the approach differs slightly from established fictional vampire characters with Plath. Here, the relationship between author(s) and text(s) blur(s): she symbolically presents as ‘vampire’ biographically, and it is her literary corpus – neither dead nor undead – that allows me to transform into a ‘vampire’ by feeding off her remains, creating poems from the unpublished realia in her archive. This symbiosis functions as a metaphor for the relationship of poets influencing poets and introduces many meta synergies, and ties most closely with the thematic links in my critical work that focus on trangressive, gothic feminine, and abject readings of Plath’s work alongside the poems ‘sired’ by her. After all, Plath herself said the blood jet is poetry.
Cathleen Allyn Conway is a PhD creative writing research student at Goldsmiths, University of London. She is the co-editor of Plath Profiles, the only academic journal dedicated to the work of Sylvia Plath, and the founder and co-editor of women’s protest poetry magazine Thank You For Swallowing. A poet, journalist and English teacher, her work has appeared in print, online and anthologies, including Bitch, The Mary Sue, Bitch, The Sun, the Financial Times, the Daily Telegraph. Her pamphlet Static Cling was published by Dancing Girl Press in 2012 and was the editor of the 2016 Inter-Disciplinary.Net Press anthology Lilith Rising: Perspectives on Evil and the Feminine, in which her essay “Each Dead Child, Coiled: The Dark Side of Pregnancy in the Poems of Sylvia Plath” appeared. Originally from Chicago, she lives in south London with her partner and son.
Dying as an Art: Performing Suffering, Suffering the Performance of Death in Sylvia Plath’s ‘Lady Lazarus’
Among the agonised artists, the literary bleeding hearts of the Twentieth Century, Sylvia Plath, whose name is synonymous with suffering, stands out. Plath’s cultural standing — the influence she continues to exert on a public sphere still hungry for biographical revelation, on an academic world still eager to write about her — is one in which the experience and the representation of the experience of suffering, particularly female suffering, feature so prominently that they have become keystones to interpretation. In Claiming Plath: The Poet as Exemplary Figure (2013), Marianne Egelund suggests that the title of Susan Sontag’s 1962 essay, ‘The Artist as Exemplary Sufferer’, offers an ‘expression’ that ‘applies equally well to how Plath is both seen and used’, in other words, to how she has been received, understood, rejected, owned. This paper aims to elaborate on that connection, the ways in which Plath’s suffering can be read as an exemplary form of modernist artmaking, and also to situate Plath’s output within the project described in another of Sontag’s essays, ‘The Aesthetics of Silence’ (1967). In this later essay Sontag views art of the Twentieth Century as ‘a particularly adaptable site on which to stage the formal dramas besetting consciousness’, claiming that the site no longer offers ‘an expression of human consciousness’, ‘but rather its antidote’, a method of estrangement that ends in cessation, silence, a cancellation of the self. The paper also intends to show how Plath self-consciously performs suffering, that is to say, emphasizes the performativity of suffering, in an examination of ‘Lady Lazarus’, a poem which may well be read as an act which self-consciously participates in and broadens an artistic tradition of suffering, and which anticipates a reading of that very act as one which belongs to an artistic tradition of suffering.
Georg Nöffke is a lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Pretoria. In 2014 he obtained his MA with a dissertation that focuses on the intertextual dialogue between Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath in selected poems. He is in the process of completing a PhD that examines the iconicity of artistic suffering in the work and reception of Sylvia Plath, the South African poet Ingrid Jonker, and Susan Sontag.
Fragments for the Whole: Synecdoche and Recovery in Ariel
In Ariel, Sylvia Plath often describes the self through synecdoche, using, in Kenneth Burke’s description of the trope, parts for the whole and containers for the contained. The device is most notable when she describes a body through its parts—in “Lady Lazarus,” “The Applicant,” or “The Detective,” for example. In some cases, Plath goes beyond the merely figurative definition of synecdoche, as her poems depict parts literally dismembered from the whole (the mouth vaporized in “The Detective,” the foot a paperweight in “Lady Lazarus,” or the top of the thumb severed in “Cut”). The synecdoche becomes extreme through violent severing, and these examples are perhaps the most significant in the collection. To understand synecdoche’s role in Plath’s poems, I employ Burke’s idea of the “noblest synecdoche,” one in which “the individual is treated as a replica of the universe” to allow us to “look through the remotest astronomical distances to the ‘truth within’ or [to] look within to learn the ‘truth in all the universe without.’” That part, that is, stands in for the particular whole and for something larger. Keeping with the conference title’s final word, fragments, I examine images of fragmented parts of wholes throughout Plath’s Ariel: The Restored Edition, discussing the dismembering and vaporizing, the destructiveness for which Plath’s late poems are well-known. However, I also suggest synecdoche leads to recovery, rejuvenation, and “resolution of a new life,” to quote Frieda Hughes. The undoing of the such “vaporizations” happens over the bee poems, finishing with the individual bees of the hive’s colony merging into one balled, swarming mass. My argument, therefore, is that when
Plath employs synecdoche to fragment and portray her poetic self in Ariel, she does so to take that self apart and then work toward a state of being “put together entirely” as a poetic persona that she may fail to create for the father figure in The Colossus. Though this construction and rebirth of self has been discussed in Plath’s work often, here I argue that it is depicted and is best discussed and understood through the lens of this one trope, synecdoche.
Dr Gary Leising is the author of four collections of poetry, including The Alp at the End of My Street, which won the Brick Road Poetry Prize. He has presented at conferences on many writers including Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath, and has published reviews of contemporary poets as well as essays on the poetry of James Dickey. He is professor and chair of the English department at Utica College in New York.
11.30-12.45: Panel B Title: Teaching and Learning in Sylvia Plath Studies and Women’s Studies: Community Engagement, Digital Humanities, and Service Learning
Teaching and Learning in Sylvia Plath Studies and Women’s Studies: Community Engagement, Digital Humanities, and Service Learning
This presentation includes members across ranks—faculty, staff, and student—in order to bring together different perspectives, expertise, and experiences of teaching and learning in Sylvia Plath Studies. All of the proposed panellists have taught and/or completed an intensive course with Sylvia Plath as a focus within the 2016-2017 academic year. The objective of the presenters is to showcase successful forays into community engagement, digital humanities, and service learning, specifically related to pedagogy and the projects that resulted from it. Ideas and concrete strategies for engaging in teaching and learning will be discussed and detailed, and photographs, a short movie, and poetry explications that emerged from two Plath-centric courses will be presented, along with additional options (e.g., social media) and tips (i.e., technical and ethical considerations) for engaging students and others in the literary and feminist study of Plath and her circle. Moreover, consideration of the significance of the study and teaching of Plath’s poetry (as well as the literary and artistic contributions of Ted Hughes and Assia Wevill) will be integral to the presentation.
Special attention will be paid to how community engagement, digital humanities, and service learning function as important facets of student learning, as well as to teaching practices that engage students, staff, faculty, and community members in the study of literature and women’s studies concerns. Specifically, the professor and students involved in two Plath courses—one is an upper-level literature and women’s studies seminar populated by majors and minors in literature and women’s studies and the other is a lower-level introduction to poetry course that features mostly non-majors—will highlight the design of the two courses in the event that other instructors would like to replicate them in part. The professor and students will explore why Plath matters now and address the relevance of Plath Studies to the broader principles of learning, including the following: core communication skills; critical thinking; understanding society and culture; integration and application of knowledge; intellectual depth, breadth, and adaptiveness; and feminist values and ethics.
In summary, the panel will follow roughly this outline: ·
Overview of the design of the Plath Studies courses and course projects (from faculty and student perspectives) as they relate to community engagement, digital humanities, and service learning:
· Discussion of why Plath and her words matter now; the significance and relevance of Plath Studies in the twenty-first-century classroom and world · Exploration of what students learned from studying Plath in a women’s studies seminar and an introductory literature course, with concrete strategies and tips offered to further community engagement, digital humanities, and service learning initiatives in other courses · Showcase and discussion of course products and examples of student work (including photographs from an installed exhibition, materials related to an all-community presentation and discussion, and poetry explications) · Consideration of future directions for Plath Studies in the classroom (including archival research options, literature and technology partnerships and combinations, and grassroots book groups focused on Plath).
Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick, Ph.D., Professor of English, Affiliate Faculty in Women’s Studies, Director of the Office of Student Research at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus, Organizer of the panel Julie’s research and teaching interests pivot on literature by women and women’s studies concerns, including trauma studies and identity politics, from feminist perspectives. She is the author of a book and more than 30 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters about literature and women’s studies. She is the recipient of a New Frontiers Exploratory Travel Fellowship from Indiana University, which funded her 2016 sabbatical at the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript and Rare Book Library at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia and allowed her to study artefacts related to Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, and Assia Wevill. Her current book project focuses on these three figures. She was a featured presenter at the Sylvia Plath Symposium at IU-Bloomington in 2012.
Bailey Burnett, Ball State University Graduate Student in English Bailey is a first-year graduate student studying English at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. She recently earned a Bachelor’s Degree in English, with a concentration in creative writing and minors in literature and women’s studies, at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus. She won two awards during her senior year at IUPUC: Most Outstanding Student in Liberal Arts and Best English Essay. Her winning essay,” Interpreting the Love Triangle: An Analysis of Sylvia Plath, Assia Wevill, and Ted Hughes,” analyzes the poetry of Plath, Wevill, and Hughes in an attempt to understand the three perspectives involved in the famous literary love triangle. This essay is a product from an intensive seminar on Sylvia Plath
Studies that Bailey completed in 2016. This course included archival work at the Lilly Library at Indiana University and archival study of artefacts from the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript and Rare Book Library at Emory University. She produced two community engagement and service learning projects that were a finalist for the Indiana University Faculty Academy on Excellence in Teaching’s Academy Award in Community Engagement. In using her creative writing training, she has written poetry, as well as a short film script, inspired and based on Plath. She intends to pursue study of Plath throughout the course of her graduate school career.
Brandi Rund, Support Services Team Lead, University Information Technological Services, Indiana University and Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus Brandi works in UITS at IUPUC. She received her AAS from Ivy Tech in Computer Information Systems in May 2016, and faculty selected her as the 2016 Outstanding Graduate for the CIS Program. Currently, she is a junior at IUPUC, working toward her B.A. in General Studies with a minor in Women’s Studies, and she is the Secretary of Feminism Club. She appreciates all that she is learning concerning Women’s Studies and recently completed intensive study of the poetics in Sylvia Plath’s poetry. Brandi is interested in the ways in which literature, women’s studies, and technology converge in the digital humanities. She won the 2017 Outstanding Woman Leader Award from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) for her excellent leadership in technology services and feminist service work.
Courtney Watkins, Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus (IUPUC) Undergraduate Student Majoring in Sociology and Minoring in Literature and Women’s Studies Courtney is a senior at IUPUC and is the President of Feminism Club at IUPUC. She completed an intensive seminar on Sylvia Plath Studies in 2016, which included archival work at the Lilly Library at Indiana University and archival study of artifacts from the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript and Rare Book Library at Emory University. She produced two community engagement and service learning projects that were a finalist for the Indiana University Faculty Academy on Excellence in Teaching’s Academy Award in Community Engagement. She also completed a course that provided intensive study of Sylvia Plath’s poetics and poetry in 2017.
11.30-12.45: Panel C Title: Metaphorical and Literal Interpretations
Sylvia Plath’s ‘Body Electric”
In this paper, Dr Helle will pursue a broader definition of Plath's use of the "language of electricity" through material aesthetics and cultural studies of electricity as a post-romantic trope.
Anita Helle was the founding Director of the School of Writing, Literature, and Film from 2011-2015, and Director of the CLA Center for Teaching, Learning, and Research from 1999-2002. At Oregon State University since 1991, she has received the Burlington Northern University Teaching Award, the College of Liberal Arts Robert Frank Research and Creativity Award and the G. Warren Hovland Award for Service. Research and teaching interests include 20th/21st century American women writers, mid-20th century poetry and the lyric tradition, feminist theory, literacy and pedagogy, and the rhetoric and poetics of illness narrative. Her publications include essays in American Literary Scholarship, American Literature, College Composition and Communication, Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, and Literature and Medicine. She has written extensively on the poetry of Sylvia Plath and archival material work, including The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath (University of Michigan Press 2007/2008), and in Representing Sylvia Plath (Cambridge University Press, 2010). She is affiliate faculty in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and the Medical Humanities Certificate Program. Her recent publication includes a special double issue of Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature (2015) on breast cancer narrative, theory, and memory, and a study of the poet Anne Sexton's photographic self-fashioning (2016).
Birthdays, Deathdays – Plath’s metaphorical and psychological landscapes.
This paper will explore selected poems of Sylvia Plath in an attempt to present a synthesis of her psychic landscapes and her relation to her mother, father and husband. My particular focus will be on ‘Winter Landscape with Rooks’, ‘Ariel’ and ‘Birthday Present’, also considering some of her other poems and with reference to Ted Hughes’ ‘Birthday Letters’. The publication of Sylvia Plath’s letters this year is a welcome addition to the volumes of ‘Letters Home’ which accompanied my earliest studies of her work in the 1970s. So many, occasional, apparently casual comments in these letters offered insight to Plath’s interior self and also the landscapes and contexts in which she situates her poems. No doubt now there will be further revelations, both surprising and confirming.
Plath’s depiction of landscape and settings in her work developed rapidly : from the literal to the metaphorical and psychological, from physical interiors and exteriors, domestic and natural, to presentations of internal psychic domains. One of her earliest poems, ‘I thought that I could not be hurt‘ has interesting features which can be read as foreshadowing some in ‘Winter Landscape with Rooks’, written in 1956, the year of her marriage to Ted Hughes. Plath already uses a variety of examples of physical description which also have clear psychological resonance. These may have been unconscious at the time of writing ; in later poems Plath’s self-awareness, already acute in her teens, becomes much greater : a serious burden and even, to some extent, a block to creativity.
Both ‘Ariel’, the titular poem and ‘Birthday Present’, from her posthumously published collection, exemplify the tortured and desperate psychic profundity to which Plath finally succumbed. They also retain some of the descriptive qualities of the depictions of landscape and setting from her earlier work ; however in these poems the interior, psychological content overwhelms the unfettered delight in the natural world and physical and material contexts which she was previously able to express. The oft-considered ‘attraction-repulsion’ aspect of Plath’s relationship with her father has not so frequently been related to her mother and husband, or to the landscapes and settings Plath depicted. It is the synthesis of these which I hope to present, however little of the ‘tip of the iceberg’, I can do justice to in twenty minutes.
Dr Rose Atfield taught English and creative writing for over 20 years at Brunel University, establishing both undergraduate and post-graduate programmes in Creative Writing which attracted writers such as Fay Weldon, Celia Bradfield and subsequently Benjamin Zephaniah to teach at the university. She has published on a variety of Irish poets : Heaney, Boland, McGuckian, Dorcey and others. She is now
a 'free-lance academic', enjoying the freedom to present papers at various conferences and she continues to write a full-length study of the poetry of Eavan Boland which she hopes will be published within the next year.
“Joy—deeper still than grief can be:” Reading Plath Reading
Visiting the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts is a profound experience for Plath scholars. As Gail Crowther and Peter K. Steinberg have recently put it, archives are “magical places,” where “time refuses to bend to chronological imposition;” places that are both “haunted,” exciting, and about “play and storytelling.”1 This paper is an act of archival storytelling: a personal essay which braids together fragments of academic and personal discoveries about the nature and subject of my search during a visit to the Sylvia Plath Collection in the fall of 2011. In it, I trace a small selection of Plath's influences regarding the philosophy and form of her writing; through books from her personal library such as Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra and Forster’s Aspects of the Novel, I track her urge to emphasize and remember, her marginalia. But beyond an act of analysis, this essay aims to capture the emotional investment and vulnerability of the archival researcher: how in reading Plath reading, I find myself read.
Originally from Canada, Dr Gwendolyn Haevens completed her PhD in English Literature from Uppsala University, Sweden in 2015. Her thesis, Mad Pursuits: Therapeutic Narration in Postwar American Fiction, examined three landmark American novels—J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951), Ralph Waldo Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952), and Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar (1963)—as representations and interrogations of postwar America’s confidence in the therapeutic capacity of narrative to redress psychological problems.
13.15-14.30: Panel A Title: Plath as Cultural Currency - Advertising, Clothing and Film
Plath as Punch Line
My focus in this paper is on contemporary references to Plath, particularly in popular cinema. According to author Marc Spitz, Plath is “both a literary and feminist icon and a too-easy punch line.” Oddly enough, in his own book, Twee (2014), Spitz does more or less the same, co-opting Plath into honorary membership of what he calls a Twee Tribe. “When she took the gas in her London kitchen,” he concludes his pen-portrait of her life and work, “Plath led a kind of march of the warscarred into oblivion that would both seal her as a Twee heroine (tragic, beautiful, damned) and afford her followers a vacuum to fill.” What about some of these punch lines? One of the most famous is in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall (1977) when Alvy berates Annie for owning a copy of Ariel. “Aha, Sylvia Plath,” he begins. “Interesting poetess whose tragic suicide was misinterpreted as romantic by the college-girl mentality.” In Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight (2013), Plath’s death is again invoked by a soon-to-be-quarrelling couple. “Now I know why Sylvia Plath put her head in a toaster,” Celine tells Jesse in the build-up to one of contemporary cinema’s most visceral arguments. Drawing on various recent books that take as their starting point a feeling of embarrassment or shame about defending or defining poetry, including Maureen McLane’s My Poets (2012), Gillian White’s Lyric Shame (2014) and Ben Lerner’s The Hatred of Poetry (2016), I want to reflect on some of the reasons why Plath, perhaps more than any other twentieth-century poet, is often the punch line to arguments about love that are nearly always (and at the same time) arguments about poetry.
Dr Jonathan Ellis is Reader in American Literature at the University of Sheffield. He is the author of Art and Memory in the Work of Elizabeth Bishop (2006), co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to Elizabeth Bishop (2014), and editor of Letter Writing Among Poets: From William Wordsworth to Elizabeth Bishop (2015). His articles and essays on twentieth-century poetry have appeared in various journals, including English, The Journal of Modern Literature, Mosaic, PN Review and Poetry Ireland Review.
‘Your friends from breakfast to bedtime’: Plath, television and TV advertising
Sylvia Plath declared in a letter to Myron Lotz in 1953 ‘I never watch television’ and her sentiments are echoed in a journal entry in 1952 in which she writes ‘of the gross crudities of soporific television, of loud brash convertibles and vulgar display’. However, by 1957 she was considering television as a possible destination for her writing as her Journal entry in the summer of 1957 indicates: ‘TV: try that’.
In this paper, I will consider Plath’s story ‘The Wishing-Box’ (1956) as an example of contemporaneous concerns about television’s ‘utopian promise of increased social life and the dystopian outcome of domestic seclusion’, alongside a series of 1955 advertisements from NBC Television aimed squarely at housewives. Deliberately playing on the fact that housewives were often isolated during the day, one of the ads refers to the presenters as ‘friends – exciting friends’ coming ‘into your home’. In ‘The Wishing-Box, Agnes is forced to resort to television to ‘lull her into a rhythmic trance’ (54) in an attempt to escape from her isolation and frustration, and the conclusion of the story demonstrates that television does not provide the companionship promised by NBC’s advertisements. The paper will conclude with an examination of the representation of television and children in her later poems, and the ways in which she emphasises the importance of the visual in childhood.
By exploring these examples of both ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture, this paper will demonstrate how Plath’s depiction of the television set reflects and subverts popular programming and social discourse, and how she explores the peculiarity of the housewife’s relationship with television.
Nicola Presley is Senior Lecturer in English Literature at Bath Spa University. She is currently completing her PhD on the intertextuality of popular culture in the work of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. She has research interests in women’s poetry; post-war British and American fiction; and digital literature.
“Get bathrobe and slippers and nightgown & work on femininity”: Sylvia Plath, self-identity and sleepwear
From aqua bathrobes to pink fuzzy dressing gowns, leopard print slippers to floral flannel nightgowns, sleepwear looms large in Sylvia Plath’s life and work. For Plath, sleepwear functioned as an expressive tool for navigating her own identity as a woman, wife, mother, writer, student and artist. It’s in slippers that she revels in the quiet familiarity of marriage; in a nightgown that she negotiates images of femininity; and in sewing little nighties for her daughter that she experiences pride in her identity as a mother. However, Plath also experienced sleepwear as an intimate expression of conflicting images of womanhood at the midcentury, and the challenges of balancing domesticity with work; all of which Plath felt deeply, even issuing herself a firm instruction in her journal: “Get bathrobe and slippers and nightgown & work on femininity.” Plath engaged with sleepwear across her professional, personal and creative lives. As a guest editor at Mademoiselle, she met with high-profile sleepwear brands and learned the power of effective sales copy. As a young woman questioning everything from American consumer culture to women’s roles in society, she explored these issues through her visual art, creating collages in which images of women wearing housecoats, fluffy slippers and mommy-and-me matching dressing gown sets abound. As a writer, Plath understood sleepwear’s propensity to articulate aspects of private behavior, private relationships and private worlds; parlaying the details of this intimate category of clothing into character identity, emotional significance and expressive detail across her writings. This paper, then, will consider the way in which sleepwear functioned not only in Plath’s personal day-to-day life, as detailed in her journals and correspondence, but across her myriad creative works, including her poetry, prose and artwork. It will also seek to situate Plath’s relationship with sleepwear in the broader context of the contemporary sleepwear industry, referencing key brands, trends and advertising, and sleepwear’s presence in both popular culture and women’s periodicals. The paper will unpack the symbolic and material significance of key garments referenced by Plath in order to understand how such clothing could, and did, contribute to shaping Plath’s self-identity at the midcentury.
Rebecca C. Tuite is a fashion historian and author based in Los Angeles, CA. She is a doctoral candidate at the Bard Graduate Center in New York City, and is currently writing her dissertation, “Sleepwear in Hollywood Film & Television, and the U.S. Sleepwear Industry, 1945-1977.” Her research interests include film and fashion, ready-to-wear fashion, fashion photography, twentiethcentury American fashion, as well as the history of women’s higher education in the United States,
with a particular focus on the clothing and campus culture at the Seven Sisters Colleges. Rebecca is the author of Seven Sisters Style: The All-American Preppy Look (Rizzoli International Publications).
13.15-14.30 Panel B Title: ‘The cloud that distils a mirror’: Perspectives on Sylvia Plath, Motherhood and Children
Motherhood and Authorial Identity in Sylvia Plath’s Poetry
In Sylvia Plath’s poetry, motherhood and artistic creation are inseparably intertwined. Pregnancy, childbirth and baby are recurrent motifs in her writing, and they often work as metaphors of literary creation and poetic output. Furthermore, they show that Plath, bearing apprehensions about the incompatibility of her maternal role with her poetic career, attempted to integrate the two in the process of establishing herself as an author. Feminist readings from a biological perspective have discussed this procreation-creation metaphor in terms of its counter-mythic representation of anatomy, as it represents the devalorization of the phallocentric association of pen with penis while also manifesting the strong, authorial self of a female poet.
However, the nature of motherhood in Plath’s works is not consistent with an essentialistic approach based solely on female biology. While maternal experiences might be expected to consolidate the mother/author’s selfhood, they often destabilize it. The mother in “Morning Song” (1961), for example, abandons the stable parenthood/authorship which she nearly achieves, by declaring “I’m no more your mother / Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow / Effacement” to her newborn baby.
Critics have tended to discuss the speaker’s unsuccessful pursuit of authority in terms of the oppression imposed on female writers by a male-dominated culture. Moreover, they have examined the way in which the dilemma of the female author is overcome by the mutuality of procreation and writing, and have pointed out the resulting subversive qualities of Plath’s works. However, they have yet to assess the full subversiveness of her poetry due to their dependence on the conventional notion of “author.” In contrast, I would like to reassess Plath’s renouncement of authority as her strategy for reconfiguring the notion of “author.” By presenting a weak selfhood of the mother/author, she questions the premise that the “author” is a “strong” being with a certain authority, the premise on which Bloomian theory of authorship as well as Gilbert and Gubar’s “anxiety of authorship” are based. I will explore how Plath’s unauthoritative mother figure represents the unique author of “living” poems.
Shihoko Inoue is a doctoral student in the Department of Cross-Cultural Interaction at Kobe City University of Foreign Studies, Japan. She received her MA from Kobe City University of Foreign Studies in 2015.
The Unnatural Mother
Domesticity is painful and even more so for a female poet in the 50s. The social pressures of being a wife, mother, housewife certainly played a part in the dissolve of Plath’s ability to cope. Complaining was unacceptable and walking away was a sin. Becoming a mother wasn’t a choice it was a requirement. She only had her words to sift through the darkness she was feeling by the burden of being a poet, a wife, a mother, and trying to understand what independence was.
Many women suffer with post-partum depression, however, Plath suffered depression long before marriage because, as her work indicates, she felt a separateness from other women and an endured a longing to be normal and want the “normal” life. While she wrestled with the demons of social norms her peers, such as Ginsberg or Kerouac, were off experiencing everything. They could taste life twice without consequence because they were white male writers. Her male counterparts (including her own husband) could have children they abandoned, wives they left behind, lovers they threw away and instead of being judged be considered Gods by fans, other writers, and critics.
I wish to use her words to place her in a time of discomfort and rigidity where she felt trapped in her own skin because she was literally trapped by society to be something she felt pressured to be. Her desire to create creatively and express herself was not fulfilling her want to become a writer, it was also her therapy from a young age. Many women experience depression and post-partum depression but she documented it and it’s worth telling the tale to reveal the difficulty, perhaps the impossibility, of being a wifemotherhousewife and also choosing to be a writer.
Jacqueline Kirkpatrick is an English instructor at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY. Her creative nonfiction work has been published in Creative Nonfiction, The Rumpus, and Thought Catalog. She is also an editor for the literary journal Pine Hills Review.
Sylvia Plath’s Stories for Children
Sylvia Plath wrote three stories for the children : ‘The It-Doesn’t – Matter Suit’, ‘Mrs. Cherry’s Kitchen’, and ‘The Bed Book’, the first two in prose form, and the third in verse form; none of which received considerable critical attention. Plath is primarily presented as a Confessional Poet whose best poems deal with death, depression and suicidal thoughts. Plath was quite serious regarding the stories for children which finds mentions in her journal written on 29th March and 26th September of 1959. These stories are a medley of fancy, fantasy, and supreme childlike imagination. These stories show Plath’s caring nature for the children and reveal her latent faculty as a writer of children’s stories.
The unimpressive, ‘shortest and thinnest of all the Nix brothers’, armoured with the ‘It-Doesn’tMatter Suit’, impressed one and all, and all the cats and dogs of Winkelburg followed him ‘purring and grring with admiration’ for Nix and his suit. Thus Nix assumes the impression of the ‘Piper of Hamelin’ but unlike the Piper he provides only cheerfulness with elan not only for the tender children but also for the aged and experienced readers as well. In ‘Mrs. Cherry’s Kitchen’ the Toaster, the Coffee percolator, the Icebox et al felt that they could perform their own work well enough and they could even outshine others in their fields . The kitchen is presided over by two ‘Kitchen Pixies’, and they gave them the permission to avoid a strike. After their vain and awful trials all of them are willing to mind their own work, and sanity is restored back in Mrs. Cherry’s kitchen. Plath’s fancy runs riot in ‘The Bed Book’ where she catalogues thirteen types of beds of all different sizes and for varied fanciful purposes; for example, a ‘Pocket-size Bed’ is small as a pea and it ‘grows suitably’ when watered. The illustrations by David Roberts also adds to the festive merry feeling of the stories. This element of abundant playfulness in Plath is completely eclipsed by the typical focus of critical attention in a particular way.
Dibakar Sarkar has presented papers in national and international conferences and his published papers include ‘Are the Children’s editions of Macbeth Different’, ‘The First Bangla Translation of T.S.Eliot’ and others. He works as an Assistant Professor of English at Ramakrishna Mission Residential College in Kolkata; and is pursuing his Ph.D in Rabindra Bharati University.
13.15-14.30 Panel C Title: Novel Considerations: Perspectives on The Bell Jar
Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and Mary Jane Ward’s The Snake Pit: More Than a Couple of Potboilers
A journal entry made by Sylvia Plath in 1959 makes it clear that an early motivation for penning The Bell Jar was financial gain. She wrote that “there is an increasing market for mental-hospital stuff. I am a fool if I don't relive, recreate it”. The book Plath turned to for inspiration for her “potboiler” (as she termed her novel in a 1962 letter) was Mary Jane Ward’s 1946 novel The Snake Pit. The financial attraction to Ward’s story was understandable: it was a best seller, and had been adapted into a hugely successful Hollywood movie that Variety magazine argued, despite its harrowing content, was a surprise contender for “top grosser of the year” for 20th Century Fox in 1949. These financial lures aside, this paper will examine these two texts by Ward and Plath respectively and argue that they should be understood as profoundly political, rather than being dismissed as frivolous “potboilers”. Both of these novels can be much better comprehended as uncompromising examples of polemic against psychiatric oppression, and in particular, institutionalized oppression against women. For instance, this paper will investigate the importance of power dynamics in the gendered relationship between male doctors/female patients, and the punitive utilization of ECT (electroconvulsive therapy), alongside other invasive forms of patient control (such as hydrotherapy). I will also demonstrate that the only possible cure offered to women patients in both of these novels amounts to adjustment to the conventional female role, alongside a brief consideration of Plath’s problematic relationship with gender politics more generally in The Bell Jar.
Joanna Wilson is a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh. Her thesis explores the intersections between anti-psychiatric theories and American popular fiction in the early 1960s. In addition to her studies, she works as a Student Coordinator for the James Tait Black Memorial Prizes, awarded by the University of Edinburgh each year. She is also in the early stages of organising a medical humanities conference titled "Madness, Mental Illness and the Mind Doctors in 20th and 21st Century Pop Culture" to be held in May 2018.
Metaphors of Madness: Sylvia Plath’s Rejection of Patriarchal Language in The Bell Jar
Throughout history, the concept of madness has been linked to women and defined by men. From Hippocrates, who first linked madness in women to their reproductive systems, to Victorian physicians, who acknowledged hysteria as a scientific disease, historically, madness has been viewed as the result of the woman’s fragile constitution. Even in the twentieth century, when psychiatrists began to examine their patients’ social and cultural situations, the woman’s place remained that of patient, and the man’s that of doctor. In addition, because the creative realm – including the use of creative language – belonged to men, creative or intellectual women were viewed as somehow defective. Therefore, when female writers such as Virginia Woolf and Mary Jane Ward began to illustrate that female madness can be a result of external circumstances, they had to do so using the language of men. In her works, Sylvia Plath shows her awareness of patriarchal oppression and, in her semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, she displays an understanding of madness as a social and cultural construction. The Bell Jar is based on her own experience with mental illness, and depicts Esther Greenwood’s madness as a reaction to patriarchal society, wherein Esther is unable to reconcile dominant notions of the feminine with her creativity. Plath also knew ‘that in patriarchal culture, figurative language, like analytical language, putatively belongs to men’ (Axelrod 1990:13). Therefore, while she draws on contemporary metaphors to depict madness, such as R.D. Laing’s notion of the divided self, in The Bell Jar Plath also creates new metaphors of madness to depict psychic deterioration. In this paper, I argue that Plath creates new vocabularies and metaphors of madness to depict female madness as the result of patriarchal oppression; I suggest that these new vocabularies of madness are also an attempt to reject representations of madness that have been constructed through patriarchal ideologies and expressed in patriarchal language.
Stephanie De Villiers is a lecturer in the Unit for Academic Literacy at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. She has just received an MA, where she looked at constructions of female madness, focusing on Sylvia Plath, Margaret Atwood and Jean Rhys.
Representation of Female Identity in The Bell Jar: Plath’s/Esther’s Quest for her Authentic Female Identity in Cold War America
Sylvia Plath’s novel The Bell Jar has been the subject of numerous analyses focused on psychological, autobiographical or cultural aspects. Nevertheless, the importance of Cold War period in American history and its relation to the female identity formation, narrator’s search for the authentic voice resulting in the mental imprisonment of self and the suicidal behaviour is crucial for further objective research of psychological phenomena in the novel. Thus, the focus of this analysis is on the representation of narrator’s female identity in Cold War America. The study reveals that the novel uncovers various images or even symbols as the clues referring to the Cold War atmosphere as well as the impact it has on female individual and formation of her own personal identity. I argue that the pressure of this era leads the female narrator to social separation, fragmentation of self and total identity crisis of the individual. The purpose of the paper, however, is to show the ways Plath used to introduce the concept of female identity including the cultural context as the important source contributing to further research on psychological significance of the novel or feminist discourse related to Sylvia Plath.
Nikola Butkovicova holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Presov, Slovakia in English Language and Literature and History. Her undergraduate research interest included female identity and the supernatural in Victorian fiction. As a PhD. candidate, she shifted her focus to the representation of female identity in the novels written by Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf. During her studies, she spent a semester at Université Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée in Paris, France in 2016 with focus on American literature and history. She worked as an English teacher in language schools. Currently, she is teaching English and History at bilingual grammar school in Presov.
15.00-16.15: Panel A Title: Personal Reflections: A safe space to talk about what Sylvia Plath means to us as fans and readers
Plath as a Pathway to Grown Up Poetry
I’d like to explore the experience of learning, teaching, reading and responding to Sylvia Plath. My own study of Plath began in Year 9 and was a timely intervention – hers was an answer to the calls of my awkward adolescence. And as a secondary teacher of English it strikes me that the introduction of Plath into the classroom continues to need careful management – I am always poised for reactions. The demands of Plath’s work are such that there is a compelling and/or rejecting reaction equally possible from pupils. No one is indifferent. This in a sense fills me with joy because to the young those black and white photographs of a sleek haired young lady may look glamorous and neat, yet the poetry still unsettles even the most sanguine of students. This throws up questions of when to introduce her work, and to whom, and why. I will touch upon the difference in reactions between boys and girls.
I’d particularly like to share my experience of teaching her poetry at A Level, with close attention to the amounts of juice students can squeeze from her poesy, the eye-opening confessionality of her work and its effect on students, and the continuing inspiration she provides to move them more undauntedly into reading more modern poetry, which remains the literary genre least comfortable for many English students (and teachers) alike.
I will make mention of the work of Sharon Olds, Vicky Feaver and Melissa Lee-Houghton as inheritors of Plath’s great achievement before a brief foray into my own poetic responses to Plath and Emily Dickinson (whom I consider the primary precursor to Plath) as pioneers into and across the female landscape, in fearless and frontier spirit, and who have inspired my poetry too.
Alexandra Davis is a teacher of English at Woodbridge School Suffolk. Her website is www.alexandrapoet.wordpress.com and she can be found on twitter @alexandrapoet.
Sylvia Plath’s Guide to Life
People tend to think of the dark moments of Sylvia Plath’s life when they hear her name. Oh, that angry poet? The one who committed suicide? Wasn’t she so young when she died? What did she write, that rage-filled poetry and The Bell Jar? On the contrary, as a pre-teen in 1970s New York City, I found her to be a guide for my chaotic and undisciplined life. I looked to Sylvia Plath to inspire me to write, to strive for academic excellence, to travel and to embrace life.
As is so often revealed in Plath’s letters and diary entries, she was a multi-faceted erson. Bubbly and happy one minute, downcast and troubled the next. Typical teenager, who actually seemed to have it all together in my eyes. We both came from Austrian/German backgrounds, we had similar mothers, we both liked to write, we both liked boys. The list went on. I knew, by reading her biographies, that Plath’s life was short. I couldn’t pretend to understand the dynamics of her turbulent marriage. My home life was turbulent as well, so I focused on her. Just on Sylvia Plath, and how, through all the storms of her life, she managed to produce, create and thrive.
My proposal will tell the tale of my life in parallel to Plath’s and how, at important moments, I counted on her past choices to help guide me on mine. I took pride in that we both studied and spoke German, we both wrote, we both were Anglophiles. She married young and I married younger, both of us with two children. I would turn to her words when I needed a boost as a female who wanted so much more than marriage and children, but not quite sure how to “have it all”. She loved to travel, as did I. She had passionate love, and I certainly matched her in that area. She missed her father and oh, how I did as well. Plath provided me with a guide to life.
Lisa Wagoner (BS/BA HIgh Point University) is a writer, poet, independent scholar, workshop facilitator/leader, and a longtime devotee of Sylvia Plath. A native of North Carolina, she grew up in New York City, and has traveled widely. Her written work has been published primarily in the Southeast, and she is presently working on a book about building community among solitary practitioners.
You Mean Ted Hughes’ Wife?
A solo-journey through the West Yorkshire English countryside took me to the grave of Sylvia Plath— a poet I had studied and taught my entire adult life. For my Masters in English Literature, I had written my culminating thesis on her work’s portrayal of the “separate-self” and then when I went back to school for my MFA in Creative Writing, the road, once again, took me back to Sylvia.
“You Mean Ted Hughes’ Wife?” is a creative essay of exploration and discovery. It’s part of a much larger collection called Burning Sage; however, it stands alone as a tribute to the poet who has taught me about passion, demons, endings, and the ephemeral nature of beauty. The piece reflects my own personal journey. As a mother at the age of nineteen, I struggled to overcome stigma in the academic world. I desperately tried to make sense of the multivalent life I was living as a student, a writer, a mother, and later, as a teacher. “Ted Hughes’ Wife” encompasses much of that while still exploring what it is about Plath that keeps drawing me back. How do we find our authentic selves in a society of stigma, objectification, and patriarchy? Why are young women still compelled to read and reread about the tortured young girl in The Bell Jar and the haunting soul of “Lady Lazarus”? There’s a universality to Plath’s poetics that unveils much more that the “madwoman” trope—much more than being Ted Hughes’ wife.
While I have much experience researching Plath’s works, this panel will delve more into the creative writing journey I took leading to Primrose Hill, Heptonstall, and St. Thomas’ Cemetery. Participants will also hear about my chance meeting with Stuart—an elderly Heptonstall resident who guards Sylvia’s grave because of a promise he made to a woman twenty years ago.
Jennifer Rieger is the English Department Chair at Upper Merion Area High School in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania and teaches 12th grade Advanced Placement and creative writing courses. An advocate for her students, she dedicates her time to empowering young people through reading, writing, and acts of love. Jennifer holds a BA in English, an MA in English Literature, and an MFA in Creative Writing. Her first thesis investigated the works of Sylvia Plath and the exploration of the separateself. She more recently finished her first book, Burning Sage—a collection of essays and poetry regarding unconventional motherhood, unconventional teacherhood, and her love affair with lifelong learning. Jen has been published in BUST Magazine, The Sigh Press, Role Reboot Magazine, The Manifest-Station, and Philadelphia Stories. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and two tiny dogs.
15.00-16.15: Panel B Title: Personal Reflections: Creative and Poetic Responses to the life and work of Sylvia Plath
Sarah Fletcher Reads her Poetry
Sarah Fletcher will be reading poetry from her upcoming pamphlet 'Tableau Violence' with the Poetry Business. Her poetry examines the intersections of violence, sex and disgust, drawing on psychoanalysis and feminism to inform her questions and conclusions. Drawing on collections such as 'Ariel' by Sylvia Plath and 'Diving Into the Wreck' by Adrienne Rich, Fletcher seeks to place the political in a corporeal reality, where preconceived truths and human perceptions are problematised and challenged.
She is particularly inspired by Cixous's concept of the ĂŠcriture fĂŠminine and how it overlaps with conceptions of trauma and narrative as theorised by psychologist Francine Shapiro and academic Cathy Caruth. Fletcher tries to articulate often unsayable experiences in canonical forms and devices, questioning through poetry how much these preconcieved notions can accommodate trauma that resists narrative.
The poems she will read for the conference were written over a period of 2 years and are to be published together as part of the 'New Poets Prize' by Poetry Business.
Her poetry has been published widely, with recent poems appearing in Poetry London, The North, the London Magazine and The Rialto. Her first pamphlet 'Kissing Angles' was published by Dead Ink in 2015 and shortlisted for a Saboteur Award. She is half American and half British, currently living in London.
Sarah Fletcher is studying for a Masters in Creative Writing: Poetry at Royal Holloway, University of London. She was a Foyle Young Poet and a recipient of the Christopher Tower Prize for Poetry from Christ Church, Oxford (which she won again in 2013). In 2015, she published a poetry pamphlet 'Kissing Angles' on Dead Ink Books which was shortlisted for a Saboteur Award. This year, she was a winner of the Poetry Business New Poets Prize, and will be publishing a pamphlet with their impress Smith|Doorstop in January 2018.
Sylvia Plath Proposal: Beyond How Own Skin
I first encountered Sylvia Plath in a short story anthology nine years ago. Her photograph stared up at me. She was haunting, dangerous, mysterious. Her story, ‘Superman and Paula Brown’s New Snowsuit’ left an impression too. I loved the colour, the way one unique choice of word turned a sentence and made it sing. I read The Bell Jar, her poetry, biographies; I wanted to know everything about the woman who changed the way I wrote. Two years ago while studying for my Critical and Creative Writing Masters, I was set an exercise: write about a real event as though it were fiction. I chose Sylvia Plath’s death. My lecturer thought the idea was ‘audacious’. I persevered. The exercise developed into my dissertation and now I am writing a novel; a piece of biographical-fiction: Beyond Her Own Skin.
Written in the first person, from Plath’s perspective, my novel interweaves words and phrases directly from her poetry, prose, letters and journals with my own creative writing to tell her story. I have studied Plath’s work in great detail to emulate vocabulary, structure and the rhythm of her speech and writing, creating her voice authentically. By blending fact and fiction and employing the intimacy of first person narrative, I want to make Plath’s work and life story accessible and engaging for new audiences as well as existing fans.
Spanning the years of 1953-1963, I have undertaken extensive research (several libraries’ worth of biographies, hours of Googling and damp treks across the Yorkshire Moors), to ensure the details in my novel are as accurate as possible. I have maintained the chronology of all events, though in some places, due to a lack of material, I have embellished the characters’ thoughts and speech, as well as some setting descriptions. I have been vigilant in ensuring that any fictionalisations are heavily embedded in and extrapolated from available facts. Currently a work in progress, I would value the opportunity to share an extract of my novel.
Laura McKenzie graduated from the University of Winchester in 2016 with an MA in Critical and Creative Writing. She currently works in an NHS mental health unit and is completing her debut novel Beyond Her Own Skin, a biographical fiction about Sylvia Plath. She lives in Southampton with her cat Brambles. Contact: @MissMcWrites or firstname.lastname@example.org
Creative Interpretations: Snapshots into the Life of Sylvia Plath
This artistic contribution provides an outside, but loyal, perspective and interpretation of events throughout the span of Sylvia Plath’s life. The artist has completed an intensive course with Sylvia Plath as the sole focus during the 2016-2017 academic career, in which she studied published and unpublished archival work from the Lilly Library at Indiana University and the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript and Rare Book Library at Emory University. The goal of the artist is to understand Plath, through the medium in which Plath’s fame and success originated, in order to analyze and critique hindering factors that were featured throughout Plath’s life. These factors, deeply rooted in women’s studies work, include: feminine identity, domestic violence, depression, love/relationships, and motherhood. The entirety of the artwork will include four poems and one short-film script.
The poems, all either directly or conceptually related to Plath and Hughes, Plath and motherhood, Plath and love, and Plath and mental illness, are titled: Aftermath, Sivvy’s Quiet Hour, Reflecting in the Yard (Inspired by Sylvia Plath’s Falcon Yard), and Attack. The poems not only reflect upon relevant topics associated to Plath’s life, but relevant topics associated to the lives of women in the 21st century.
Bailey Burnett is a first-year graduate student studying English at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. She recently earned a Bachelor’s Degree in English, with a concentration in creative writing and minors in literature and women’s studies, at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus. She won two awards during her senior year at IUPUC: Most Outstanding Student in Liberal Arts and Best English Essay. Her winning essay, Interpreting the Love Triangle: An Analysis of Sylvia Plath, Assia Wevill, and Ted Hughes, deeply analyzed the poetry of Plath, Wevill, and Hughes in an attempt to understand the three perspectives involved in the famous literary love triangle. This essay is a production from an intensive seminar on Sylvia Plath Studies in which Bailey completed in 2016. This course included archival work at the Lilly Library at Indiana University and archival study of artifacts from the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript and Rare Book Library at Emory University. In using her creative writing training, she has written poetry, as well as a short film script, inspired and based on Plath. She intends on continuing her pursuit as a Plath scholar throughout the course of her graduate school career.
Dark Place is Not a Dark Place. Lucie McLaughlin’s poetics, in the shape of a long letter to Sylvia Plath across different textual discourses, uses non-linear and auto-fictive narratives as a method to abstract experience, pinioning psychological discontent with conceptual enjambments between reader and writer. At times, she achieves synchronicity of form and content, whilst also dismantling into a context of chaotic abandon. The hybrid nature of these writings (poems met with fiction, met with essays) gather multiple subjectivities and voices, such as Maggie Nelson’s in the Argonauts, dissolving the boundary of self and other, to recover something deeply anonymous about the dark chasms and vulnerabilities along which Plath’s lines skim the surface. At the intersection between lived experience and narrative, a reflection emerges of ideas about words and language itself, influenced by epic poems and texts by Anne Carson and Eileen Myles, as well as the permeation of Plath’s own timbres, into the gaps between art and life.
Lucie McLaughlin lives in Belfast and London. She speaks, performs, makes and writes with a fervent rhythm, symptomatic of a way (and multiple ways) of thinking through poetry.
Sarah Oâ€™Connor Reads her Poetry
Here is a slice of toast, covered with a thin layer of butter. The butter has melted; a smear of umami pate tops it. A sticky layer of raspberry jam unevenly spread sits above that. A slice of Stilton. Here, have some chocolate spread. Madam, you forgot the straight tequila dipping sauce.
Layered meaning; sticky moments; textures that clash, slide together, merge uncannily - we eat up every word.
When I go to poetry workshops, I most often have people scoff at how I let sound take an early draft in a different direction, how I like the chimes built into a poem, how (sometimes, in some poems) sound dictates a particular word choice. I shine up the platter I have brought with me and present to them a gleaming Lady Lazarus.
Sylvia, thank you.
Thank you too for your journals. Your art did not come free. Your work ethic and dead-certness about your status as a poet stands in stark contrast to to own doubting, stuttering belief. But the works I eat feed me.
Sarah Oâ€™Connor is from Tipperary and studied in University College Cork and in Boston College, Massachusetts. In the past, she has worked in publishing (including for Oxford University Press) and in politics. She now works in corporate communications for a PR agency in Dublin. Her poetry has been published in Wordlegs, The Weary Blues, Skylight 47, Poethead, and Headstuff. She was selected for the Hennessy New Irish Writing page for the Irish Times in 2017. She is working on a first collection of poetry and a young adult novel called The Ghost Station, set in Berlin in 1989. She tweets @theghoststation.
Published on Oct 26, 2017
Programme for the Sylvia Plath: Letters, Words and Fragments Conference at Ulster University this 10-11th November, 2017.