Thursday, 30 December 2010

Wintering

Hello everyone - I hope the Christmas season has treated you all well! I received driving lessons (I'm 25 - it's about time I learned!!), some nice pyjamas and a Jane Austen-themed day to day planner! I can't wait until I actually have some social events to pencil into said planner! I have such a weakness for Austen.. In fact, over this very holiday season I watched the BBC Pride and Prejudice adaptaton twice and demolished many chocolates while doing so!;)

My holidays haven't been completely un-Plath related however. One of my dear school friends hosts what is becoming an annual Poetry Ceilidh at her home over the break. A ceilidh is an Irish word, for a social gathering, where people sit up late and drink and tell stories, say poems, play music and generally have fun! This year I decided to step up and say a poem. So many people, when I tell them I'm doing study on Sylvia Plath, make some kind of joke about it being depressing work - when in reality, it could not be further from the truth! So I prefaced the poem I chose to read with this sentiment and then launched into 'Wintering'.

This is the easy time, there is nothing doing.
I have whirled the midwife's extractor,
I have my honey,
Six jars of it,
Six cat's eyes in the wine cellar,

Wintering in a dark without window
At the heart of the house
Next to the last tenant's rancid jam
and the bottles of empty glitters ----
Sir So-and-so's gin.

This is the room I have never been in
This is the room I could never breathe in.
The black bunched in there like a bat,
No light
But the torch and its faint

Chinese yellow on appalling objects ----
Black asininity. Decay.
Possession.
It is they who own me.
Neither cruel nor indifferent,

Only ignorant.
This is the time of hanging on for the bees--the bees
So slow I hardly know them,
Filing like soldiers
To the syrup tin

To make up for the honey I've taken.
Tate and Lyle keeps them going,
The refined snow.
It is Tate and Lyle they live on, instead of flowers.
They take it. The cold sets in.

Now they ball in a mass,
Black
Mind against all that white.
The smile of the snow is white.
It spreads itself out, a mile-long body of Meissen,

Into which, on warm days,
They can only carry their dead.
The bees are all women,
Maids and the long royal lady.
They have got rid of the men,

The blunt, clumsy stumblers, the boors.
Winter is for women ----
The woman, still at her knitting,
At the cradle of Spanis walnut,
Her body a bulb in the cold and too dumb to think.

Will the hive survive, will the gladiolas
Succeed in banking their fires
To enter another year?
What will they taste of, the Christmas roses?
The bees are flying. They taste the spring.

I chose this poem in particular because I think it is a beautiful and optimistic poem. Everyone at the ceilidh seemed to really enjoy it too. The issues discussed in this poem are so far removed from the general perception of Sylvia Plath. I think people are especially suprised when she drops in 'Tate and Lyle' - which adds a really modern twist to the poem. It definitely cements it in the modern world, where convenience products like jars of honey exist!

For me personally, it really is one of my favourite poems. The visual imagery when Plath details the basement where the honey is stored - in between the old jams and gin. The poem takes us on such a journey, from the bottom of the basement - under the house, to, at the end - the bees off flying in the sky: the beautiful, fresh spring. I think, especially after such a cold winter, the sentiment Plath expresses in the penultimate stanza was very welcomed as well!

Incidentally, my school friend who organised the night is also a poet in her own right. Her website is Catherine Brogan.com and I would urge you all to check it out! Catherine is a performance poet/slam poet whose work talks mainly about issues arising from living/growing up in Ireland. A lot of people would argue that this kind of poetry is very different from that of Sylvia Plath. But I am reminded of the Al Alvarez quote about Plath where he said that she told him she was reading out the poems that would become 'Ariel' aloud as she wrote them. Sylvia said she had never done that with her previous poems, but as she evolved as a writer; how the poems were articulated became a very important element for her. So perhaps the two kinds of poetry are not as different as one would think!

In other news, I received a great email from a Susan McMichael regarding the Christmas card I posted in my last blog. Susan commented where I transcribed "wonderful dinner with T.S. Eliot (who is an editor at Ted's publishing house), his charming Yorkshire wife and Mr and Mrs Steven Spenser at the Eliots' home here" that the couple in question should in fact be Mr and Mrs Steven Spender, (Steven being the noted poet!) and advised me to look a picture confirming this in the Wagner Martin biography, "Three Generation of Faber Poets" (June 1960). You were spot on, Susan! Thanks so much for your keen eye! I had a quick look online and found a picture taken from that 'wonderful dinner' Plath spoke about!


I also found a great article from The Guardian which talks about that dinner, and the shift in poetry throughout the generations. The quote I like most from the article: "Present were Mr and Mrs TS Eliot, Mr and Mrs Stephen Spender, Mr and Mrs Ted Hughes. The least luminous in that company, Mrs Hughes, would - eventually - outshine them all".

Well I shall check back in soon after the hubbub of New Year. I am going out with a few friends to a masquerade ball, which is exciting! Wishing you all a good end to 2010 and a great 2011!

Friday, 17 December 2010

Happy Christmas from Sylvia Plath!



This Christmas card inlay (click here for larger view), from Sylvia Plath to her beloved English Literature teacher, Mr Crockett was sold at auction in 2009. It is not unlike the card I saw at the UCD Archives, written to Jack and Máire Sweeney, but far more personal and warm. I have transcribed her sentiments as the following:

Dear Mr Crockett,

I was delighted to have your good(?) letter and to know 'The Colossus' is safe in your discerning hands. Most especially Ted and I were joyous to learn of your award and year in New York! We have always longed for the 'excuse' or 'gift' of a year in that superb city, and it is fire to hear how hear how admirably you and the family take to the rich life.

We are extremely happy in our small northern(?) niche in London where Regents' Park, Primrose Hill and the Zoo are our backyard, so to speak and long for a house in an adjoining street. We get ourselves on the cheap play tickets, foreign films, galleries and all the best fare, while living like anonymous creatures, Ted studiously avoiding the requests for public appearances that find their way to us. We had a wonderful dinner with T.S. Eliot (who is an editor at Ted's publishing house), his charming Yorkshire wife and Mr and Mrs Steven Spenser at the Eliots' home here. I was thrilled. Eliot has suggested revisions for Ted's children's book of light verse which Faber is publishing this spring and we treasure the memo with his notes on it. A warm welcome awaits you here anytime you pass through London again!

Fondest Christmas wishes to you, Mrs C and Debbie and Steve!
Sylvia

P.s. Frieda Rebecca Hughes arrives on April first 1960 - at home, delivered by a little Indian midwife and is the sun of our life - we both dote on her!


How lovely to see such a card inlay! Especially now in our era, where sending Christmas cards is now a thing of the past. I have received so many e-cards this year but do miss having bright coloured physical cards on my mantlepiece!

Things have been winding down in University for the winter break. We had a lovely mixer a few weeks ago with mulled wine and mince pies. It was a great opportunity to meet other graduate students within the University. Sometimes I think I can be a little odd in conversation, but I don't think I made any huge mistakes! Working on a project like this PhD, I have found, can be a little lonely at times. I am so grateful and glad to be here and to be studying such a fantastic topic, but there are some days where I miss conversation! Although being holed up in a dark corner of the library watching the snow eternally fall can be really great too. The more I read about Sylvia, the more real a person she becomes. I started off this work trying to seperate myself from her - to do the poetry justice, I needed to distance myself. But I just can't. Reading her journals and letters, looking at Christmas cards and personal memoirs like that of Nancy Hunter Steiner's "A Closer Look at Ariel" have just opened me up to the warmth, wit and wrath of Sylvia Plath! Every day brings something new and interesting. Life as a Plath fan is never dull!

As this blog-entry is more personal than fact-finding, I would like to link to a blog I recently discovered which I feel is just fantastic. BrontëBlog is devoted to the life and work of the Brontë sisters. It is updated practically every day and discusses and links to many essays, books and general information. Really a great site! The Brontës and Victorian Literature are another passion of mine.

Finally, as it's getting near Christmas, I want to finish this entry with a present to anyone who stops by to read! I have talked a little about my literary passions, but not at all about my musical interests! And in fact, there is a Plath-ian link here! My absolute favourite musician in the world is Ryan Adams. And the reason I got into him was that way back many years ago, one of my best friends put a song on a mix-tape for me by him. The song? 'SYLVIA PLATH'.

So as a present (mostly to myself), here is a recording of the terrific, wonderful and talented Ryan Adams singing all about Syl.



You can purchase this song or the amazing album Gold, which features the track on iTunes or Amazon. Better yet, check out the independent record label Ryan has just set up: paxam - and get your kicks from his kaleidoscope of songs. I bet Sylvia would have been a fan!

Merry Christmas everyone!

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Blizzards, sports and Gossip Girl?

It has been a long time since my last update. A large percent of this absence can be attributed to workload and the also.. the blizzarding snowfall the has enveloped Ireland over the past two weeks. We are so ill-equipped for such weather here, it again made me think of 'Snow Blitz' written by Sylvia Plath in 1963.



"The main road had not been plowed either. Random buses and cabs crawled along in deep white tracks. Here and there men with newspapers, brooms and rags attempted to discover their cars".

Driving conditions were so bad that I was unable to make it to University for quite a few days and my family home sporadically loses internet connection at intervals so I was quite cut off from the world! Reading (and relating to) 'Snow Blitz' again however, really made me think. Aside from the poems in "Ariel" and some Letters to Aurelia Plath, it is the only other piece of surviving material we have from 1963. I cannot understand why it has not been looked at more critically. The short story depicts very clearly the isolation, frustration and cold felt by Plath that winter. I personally related to the text when the central character realises that without running water (as a result of frozen pipes), faces could not be washed and tea could not be made!

Personally, without a cup of tea in the morning I generally resemble a bear (not unlike the 59th!), and it is with these smaller details of description Plath included in this short story that ring home the actual physicality of what she must have went through in the cold winter months leading to her death. Not having tea is one thing, but no running water, no heating, two sick children and very little help would bring any human being to a dark place. Here in 2010, the past few days have been miserable, I've had to plod knee-deep in snow to catch buses (many of which I found not to be running because of the snow - this information I could only assume after waiting 45mins in the blistering cold with no arriving transportation), sleep with many layers of pajamas and slip my way over footpaths. I can't even begin to imagine how one would cope with young children in a city with no family or close friends.

With the addition of 'Last Letter' by Ted Hughes, shedding more light on the cold winter and how Sylvia must have felt in those days; the image of her trudging back and forth to a telephone box to call Hughes is all the more poignant and miserable. 'Snow Blitz' however, is full of classic Plath wit and humour - the camaraderie of the London people rallying together gives a very human edge to the story, making it an enjoyable read and not as bleak as it could have been.

In a world away from snow, but in the same humourous vein as Plath, I received an email from Mike Cahill whose Read and React American Football blog featured a very Plathy synopsis allying NFL teams with quotes from our own dear Sylvia! Mike and I both wondered if Plath was the sporting type - I know she was on the high school basketball team but in terms of football we both agreed she could probably throw a killer ball!



Finally, I noted a Plath pop-culture reference the other day. While snowed in, I thought it best to catch up on my trashy television indulgences but when Serena from Gossip Girl asked her teacher about arbour imagery in the poetry of Sylvia Plath, I knew it was time to hit the books again! If only The Vampire Diaries would include a Plath reference: I would have to find some way to fit it into my thesis and divert a whole section to the outward physique of Damon Salvatore;)

P.s. Anyone got any suggestions for Serena?? An arbour can be defined as a shaded place formed by the leaves and branches of trees and plants that interweave naturally or are trained to grow around a trellis. For some reason 'Black Rook in Rainy Weather' comes to mind immediately for me. I visualise Plath standing under a tree, in a shaded place looking up at interwoven branches and leaves to see the bird above. Then the speaker's gaze moves onto the sky.. and the inevitable bigger questions!