Saturday, 26 February 2011

My thesis title and night-owl habits

Well it's Friday night and I've been studying all day. I do like getting into the 'zone' when it comes to study though. Currently I'm analysing some poems ('The Disquieting Muses', 'The Rabbit Catcher', 'The Arrival of the Bee Box') to try and prove the actual point of my PhD. I haven't really alluded to the actual specifics of my thesis on this blog yet... and following advice from some lovely commenters, I've decided to keep the lid closed on my actual topic focus.

Needless to say, my topic hopes to look at a new method of interpretation that I believe deeply influenced and impacted the life and work of Plath. I hope that, by using this topic as a central theme, and investigating it’s ramifications, I will be able to draw new conclusions of Plath's work and a better assessment of the critical literature pertaining to her.

So tonight I am working on my first chapter - where essentially I'm trying to prove my hypothesis. I hope that the work I've been doing for the past few weeks translates well onto the page. The age-old problem really is: getting what you want to say articulated properly onto the page!

Well I'm calling it a night now. I'm listening to my favourite radio staton RTE Radio 1's Late Date - they just played a request for me before 1am: Ryan Adams, of course. My obsession knows no bounds;)

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Personal musings and Plath popularity.

I'm back at my desk at Uni after a quiet but pleasant weekend where far too much sitting in front of the fire was done and not enough writing up! It was great to have my friends visit me last week as well, we had a great time chatting, eating (and drinking!) as well as watching every single episode of the BBC Pride and Prejudice tv series (with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle). I'm a lucky person to have such geeky friends! ;) I took a few photos of the surrounding area of where I now live so thought it might be nice to share them here.

On a personal level, people often wonder why I chose to come to the University I am currently studying in to do my PhD. My alma-mater was at Queen's University in Belfast and my MLitt was earned at the University of Glasgow. I think it's true to say that I have never really been a city girl at heart. Indeed, when I finished my undergrad I had vague dreams of moving to a deserted island off the Irish coast and working in a grocery shop/writing poetry half in half! The days of me writing poetry are long gone I think! But it's great to be able to live in the countryside and study. I was worried at the start that I wouldn't fit in, I would know no-one and it would be difficult to settle into a new University for postgrad study, but it has been just the opposite. My tutors and supervisors are really encouraging and book requests from the British Library are almost instantaneous. If I ever get stressed, I can just take a walk around the beautiful countryside:) So far, so good, I guess!!

Now, back to the Plath-world. A friend of mine forwarded me a Call for Papers she saw - from the Ted Hughes Society. I would definitely think about subscribing to such a publication because I am very interested in looking at how Plath and Hughes influenced each other in their writing. Although the two didn't believe they had much impact in any obvious way, I think even the way that they organised writing schedules and wrote on the back of paper the other had used: is so interesting. Especially for Sylvia, the influence of the Cambirdge education (more Classical texts studied) and Ted's more nature-themed work definitely resonates throughout 'The Colossus'.

However - the existence of the Ted Hughes Society did make me stop a little and think. Not that there should be a competition between the two but I wonder: why isn't there something like this for Sylvia. Indeed, I believe that a Centre for Sylvia Plath Studies would be a very worthwhile group to have in existence! The University of Exeter has a Centre for South-West Studies which I think could be the perfect grounds for Plath study in the UK, because of the historical background - however, any institution could get something like this up and running. I am very ill-informed when it comes to acquiring grants and money but when I'm finished my PhD and if nothing has yet been established, it's something I would very much like to look into.

The most popular Sylvia Plath Facebook page has over 43,000 members and there are other smaller groups with members in their thousands. Plath conferences and Journals have contributors and interested parties from all over the world - in education or not, which is the brilliant feature about Plath: and I don't believe it is capitalised on enough. The brilliant Plath Profiles Journal is really the only 'alive' resource Plath fans have. More should be done! If Virigina Woolf can have her own Centre, why not Sylvia?

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Sylvia Plath's passion for fashion

A double-post from me today as I probably won't be around for the rest of the week. Two dear friends are visiting me tomorrow and then I'm house-sitting at the weekend sans internet, which will give me a good chance to carry on with my writing. Got just over 1000 (badly written) words done today and a fair analysis of 'The Rabbit Catcher' so it wasn't altogether unproductive.

I thought it would be a neat idea to do a Sylvia Plath fashion post! Sylvia was a very fashion-conscious person, even doing fashion reviews for a Cambridge University student paper during her time in England. The photographs we have of her show a diverse range of chunky necklaces, flat pumps, colourful scarves, sweeping skirts and country-styled clothing. Using the great software over at I was able to make a few fashion collages:)

If you click the collage itself, the link will take you to a page where the moden-day items are listed and available for purchace:) To me, scarves, swimsuits and the occasional trench-coat are the hallmarks of Sylvia's fashion passion. Intelligence chic! :) Hope you all have a great rest of week and weekend, readers - I'll check back in soon!

Google Trending and procrastination

Procrastinating over a cup of tea this morning, I thought it might be interesting to see how Plath trends on the internet.

Very happy to see that Dublin, Ireland is the most popular city for Sylvia Plath-related google searches! Who knew that there were so many Plath fans in Ireland! Here's the top 10 cities that ran the terms "Sylvia Plath" through google.

1. Dublin, Ireland
2. Boston, MA, USA
3. Philadelphia, PA, USA
4. New York, NY, USA
5. Brisbane, Australia
6. Sydney, Australia
7. Los Angeles, CA, USA
8. Miami, FL, USA
9. Singapore, Singapore
10. Chicago, IL, USA

The most popular stories searched were:

- Restored Sylvia Plath manuscript gets reading (Modesto Bee - Dec 1 2004)
- London gallery gets only surviving Sylvia Plath portrait of Ted Hughes (National Post - Oct 4 2005)
- Online Literary Journal To Feature Unpublished Sylvia Plath Poem (All Headline News - Oct 31 2006)
- Ted Hughes 'regretted not publishing Sylvia Plath Birthday Letters sooner' ( - Oct 14 2008)
- Son of Sylvia Plath commits suicide (International Herald Tribune - Mar 23 2009)
- Ted Hughes poem on Sylvia Plath published (Kansas City Star - Oct 7 2010).

Aside from all that I'm supposed to be starting my thesis write-up today. In fact, I could very well have started yesterday but staring out the window was far too important to contemplate doing anything else! I'm supposed to submit the first draft of my first chapter to supervisor on March 1. It will be good to have officially started writing, I know I'll feel better once I start. It's the getting started that's the problem! ;)

Friday, 11 February 2011

Upcoming Plath Books and opinions

Today is the 48th Anniversary of Sylvia's death. Instead of dwelling on the sad anniversary of today, like Peter Steinberg over at what I believe to be the best Plath blog/information site online, Sylvia Plath Info; I want to focus on her lasting legacy and the great contribution she made to literature. Looking on today I was thrilled to see so many books pending release on the subject of Sylvia Plath. And even more so to see an upcoming book from Sally Bayley and Tracy Brain - two of the foremost scholars on Plath today.

The amazon blurb for 'Representing Sylvia Plath' states: This book explores the many layers of her often unreliable and complex representations and the difficult relationship between the reader and her texts. The volume evaluates the historical, familial and cultural sources which Plath drew upon for material: from family photographs, letters and personal history to contemporary literary and cinematic holocaust texts. It examines Plath's creative processes: what she does with materials ranging from Romantic paintings to women's magazine fiction, how she transforms these in multiple drafts and the tools she uses to do this, including her use of colour. Finally the book investigates specific instances when Plath herself becomes the subject matter for other artists, writers, film makers and biographers.

I think this is going to prove a very interesting and worthwhile read, forwarding the thoughts and discussions from another great Plath text: 'Eye Rhymes: Sylvia Plath's Art of the Visual. The fact Sally Bayley is on board for both of these raises my expectations!

I really do beleve that right now is the best time to be exploring the life and work of Sylvia Plath. Even casual Plath fans are aware of the stigma attached to her work - the casual dismissing of her poetry as 'crazy' or the complete overlooking of her poetry in favour of her personal life. What scholars like Kathleen Connors, Bayley and Tracy Brain are doing is opening up the whole spectrum in which we view Sylvia Plath. I feel that it is so important to stop looking at the personal elements now and focus on actual materials that can be analysed. The 'Eye Rhymes' book is full of wonderful drawings Plath did in her girlhood, detailing her feelings towards war, art, the role of women and how she viewed herself (the pictures below illustrate this - they are some of Plath's own drawings from her younger days). In analysing these paintings, new conclusions were drawn in 'Eye Rhymes': I can only imagine the same suit will follow in this new publication. 'Representing Sylvia Plath' will be available from 31 August, 2011.

I guess the point of this post is - and this is relevant to even the casual Plath fan - it is important for me to assert my belief that Plath criticism is only now becoming something of substance. So many friends of mine with just a passing interest in Plath have had their brains ruined by ill-informed biographies and can no longer view the poems as anything other than biographical. Although it may seem daunting to perhaps chose a more critically-minded book, if you want to learn more about Sylvia Plath, I would honestly say, choosing something academic rather than biographic is the best bet when it comes to Plath. I aim to make a section of Recommended Academic Plath Books as a sub-section of this blog, but if you require any suggestions at all, don't hesitate to email me:)

While critics, too are very guilty of allowing their personal agendas to hold sway in their work, I believe that biographers are the main perpetrators of this crime. Indeed I feel there is a strong case for argument that Plath's life story has been told and re-told so many times, there really is no place left for a biography. Until the Hughes Trunk at Emory University is opened in 2023, which may or may not hold more Plath information (perhaps the maroon-backed ledgers?) everything to do with Plath, biographically-speaking has been covered.

Sitting here, on the anniversary of her death, I can think of nothing more honourable of a way in acknowledging Sylvia Plath than to throw out all the slurs and allegations and every bit of knowledge you, as reader have, about Plath and her life and relationships. Take the poems and read them. Read them out loud! Let the beautiful words affect you in whatever way you will react to them. And enjoy. Sylvia Plath was a brilliant mind, and she is gone far too soon. But her legacy lives on and every day I learn something new about myself from reading her poems or looking at intelligent interpretation of her work. So in that way, I guess, she lives on. I would urge all other Plath fans to do the same!:)

To finish, here's a list of some other upcoming Plath books:
The Grief of Influence: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes
Sylvia Plath and the Mythology of Women Readers
And Letters Home has just been released for the Kindle:)

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Audio Books and Poems

I have been a bad blogger for the past week and a bit! Apologies for the lack of updates! My time has been spent arranging insane deadlines with my supervisor (first chapter draft due March 1st - eek!) and finishing off reading some interesting books. I aim for my next post to be a review of 'The Other Sylvia Plath', by Tracy Brain. Other than that, I went to a Woodstock Revival night over the weekend for my friend's birthday which was really enjoyable. The weather has changed into a much milder climate and now that the evenings are getting a bit longer, there's a real sense of optimism in the air, I think!:)

I received an email the other day from Ellie Russell at the British Library - it was such an honour to have someone from that fine institution email me. I hope to get the chance to peruse the Hughes archives at the BL in the near future. Ellie drew my attention to the 'Sylvia Plath: The Spoken Word' audio set, which includes Sylvia reading some of her own poems, and an interview between her and Ted Hughes. You can view more information and have the opportunity to purchase this product by clicking here.

I have not had the pleasure of listening to this cd yet, but I have heard Sylvia read her poems a lot: free cd's from The Guardian and youtube videos have been my source. To be quite honest I am not especially fond of Sylvia's speaking voice. The first time I heard it I thought she seemed quite haughty and my opinion hasn't been much changed since! Sorry Syl! For those of you who have not heard Plath read, here's a clip of her reading 'Daddy'. Let me know what you think of her voice!

However, I do think recordings like this are extremely important in the study of Sylvia Plath. One of the key elements Plath herself noted of her changing poetic style was the fact that she felt her poems needed to be read aloud. Plath commented that with her poems in 'The Colossus', she was more concerned about how they looked on the page. But with 'Ariel', it was different. I believe she was talking more about the poems written after her move from Devon to London here. Poems like 'Edge', 'The Munich Mannequins' and the "dolorous bells" of 'Sheep in Fog' sound so beautiful when spoken aloud. However no-one can deny the effectiveness of the nursery-rhyme chantings that resonate through 'Daddy' also.

While on the topic of audiobooks, I want to recommend what I think is possibly the coolest audiobook around (maybe excepting Stephen Fry and the 'Harry Potter' books). One of the best indie-film actresses around, Parker Posey narrated Betty Friedan's 'The Feminine Mystique' a few years ago and it really is such a pleasure to listen to. Posey has perfect diction and illuminates the text. It's available on iTunes as well and although a little expensive, I think it's a must-have for anyone who enjoys audiobooks!

To me, 'The Feminine Mystique' is one of the most important books ever written for women. The first time I read it, I felt as though a lot of what Friedan spoke about still had relevance in my own life. It's one of those books that change how you view yourself, your parents and your society as a whole. And the fact that Parker Posey, one of the best (and most underrated) acting talents around narrated it, only adds to how great an audiobook this is! :)

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

"Let thy speech be better than silence, or be silent"

I got back from my first conference in Dublin on Sunday evening. The conference itself was held in the really beautiful Clinton Institute for American Studies at UCD, Ireland. I really enjoyed meeting so many interesting people (including another Plath fan!) and the papers presented ranged from looking at IRA Activity in the USA in the 1930s to an analysis of the work of Jonathan Safran Foer in relation to post 9/11 literature. It was very exciting.

Now, to my paper... It really did not go as well as I had wanted. It's so strange - I spent a lot of time ensuring it was within the amount of time allocated and to my mind, it worked perfectly. However, things did not work out that way on the day and I was told I had five minutes left when I was on page 7 of 13! So you can imagine my complete horror. In my panicked state, I decided to skip out a lot of the conclusion which pretty much stopped the paper getting tied up in the way I wanted it to. I was very diasppointed in myself because I worked hard on the paper and I did conclude with some interesting parallels between Plath's split-self and the splitting of selves in the USA. I'm going to edit it a bit and hopefully submit it to a Journal so all the hard work does not go to waste. I will upload the paper itself for any interested readers in a few days - I just can't bear to look at it right now!

Public speaking is a vital part of pursuing a PhD. Not even in terms of conferences, but in lecturing and attending administrative meetings, even - it's really important to have a confidence when speaking. I have a good background in public speaking really, which makes my poor execution of the paper all the more frustrating. In my school days, I entered a lot of public speaking competitions and local feis (Irish cultural festival type-thing) competitions; but I guess in my defence it has been a long time since I've had to speak in a room full of highly-educated people who were all so nice, yet intimidating! I guess maybe a quick shot of whiskey could be a way around the nerves: to be honest if I had done that, I would've had more confidence to just say my full paper and not worry about running over time!;)

My next conference presentation will be in April - it will be arguably more intimidating because my old alma mater is hosting the event but I really do think I will learn from my mistakes and hopefully present a better paper next time. Fingers crossed!

Aside from the conference, I spent the weekend in Dublin and attended my friend Laura's birthday night out. To be honest I was quite upset with myself over how the paper had gone but going out and spending time with friends was the only sure way to get over my disappointment. Dublin is a great city to go out in, we had a great night.

I'm the second from left in this group picture:) I think that is is so important to make sure you keep your friends when studying for something as specific as a PhD. It can be very easy to just lose yourself in reading. It takes that extra bit of effort to go out and socialise, but it's so important to do it. In a way, it refreshes the mind as well! I know I would probably still be cut up about my paper if I hadn't gone out and had a laugh with my girl-friends:)

On the Sunday I was delighted to meet up with my dear friend Claire Hennessy for lunch and a chat. Claire is an established writer in her own right, creative writing lecturer and postgraduate student at Trinity College Dublin. Aside from being amazed at her multi-tasking abilities, she recommended me some great Irish poetry, namely Leanne O'Sullivan, a young poet from Cork. I have a lot of frustrations with female poets in Ireland (particularly Northern Ireland), but Leanne O'Sullivan - although I have not yet read very much by her - is someone who lacks pretension and has a lot of interesting and different themes in her work. Definitely worth a read if you are interested in poetry:)

After such a busy weekend, I took yesterday off but today I'm back at work. My library request for Tracy Brain's 'The Other Sylvia Plath' has come in and I am very excited to read! I will hopefully do a review on this book in the near future as I think Tracy Brain is one of the most progressive thinkers on Plath at this moment in time: a must-read for the Plath enthuasiast!