Last modified: Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Tipsheet: Sylvia Plath's 'Ariel' poems celebrate 50th anniversary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Sept. 12, 2012
EDITORS: As October is the 50th anniversary of poet Sylvia Plath's more well-known works, her "Ariel" collection and its "October" poems, Indiana University has several faculty experts who can provide insights on various aspects of the poet and her work. Sources may be contacted directly. If you need further assistance, contact Bethany Nolan with IU Communications at 812-855-6494 or firstname.lastname@example.org. This tipsheet addresses the following topics:
'Best poems of my life'
Sylvia Plath's "Ariel" poems, many of them written in October 1962, represent one of the most remarkable accomplishments in poetry. October 1962 was a period of unmatched productivity for Plath. She drafted or completed more than 25 poems over the course of the month, including what we now recognize as some of the most important poems of the 20th century, including "Daddy" and "Lady Lazarus." Even as Plath was writing what we now call the "October poems," she understood the momentousness of her accomplishment. She wrote to her mother on Oct. 16, 1962, "I am writing the best poems of my life; they will make my name." And make her name they did. Many of the poems Plath wrote that October would become the foundation of her collection "Ariel," which was published in the U.K. and the U.S. in 1965 and 1966, respectively. "Ariel" propelled Plath into the literary spotlight and would eventually become one of the best-selling books of poetry of the 20th century. As I discuss in my book, "Sylvia Plath and the Mythology of Women Readers," poems like "Daddy" and "Lady Lazarus" would also play a central role in Plath's iconic status within the feminist movement of the late 1960s and 70s, as women readers discovered in her work a vehicle for expressing their own anger and desire for personal and political empowerment.
Janet Badia is associate professor and director of women's studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. She's published widely on Sylvia Plath's rise to fame. Badia's most recent work on Plath is her book, "Sylvia Plath and the Mythology of Women Readers" (University of Massachusetts Press, 2011). Badia can be reached at 260-481-6895 or email@example.com. Top
Why Plath's poems still matter
Sylvia Plath remains an important figure in 20th century poetry, largely because of her "Ariel" poems. But Plath has not always been universally admired; some critics objected to her use of Holocaust and Hiroshima imagery to take on themes of suicide or divorce. Famously, she compared the patriarchal figure in her "Daddy" poem to a Nazi and herself to a Jew and gave voice to the frustrations of marriage and motherhood in a way that resonated with many women of her generation who felt like their ambition had no outlet. She and other poets of her generation -- Anne Sexton, Robert Lowell, John Berryman -- made poetry more intimate and personal, earning them the label "confessional." Her "Ariel" poems, written in the span of the few months from October 1962 to her death in February 1963, were freer and full of startling images and sudden shifts in tone, by turns white-hot, raging, scornful and sorrowful. Despite their intimate tone, Plath and her fellow confessionals began their careers by writing metered verse and working in traditional forms. We cannot underestimate the care and ambition Plath had for her work. During her brief life, she tirelessly imitated other poets, experimented with a range of forms and sent her work to the most prestigious magazines. It's fascinating to watch her transform poems from draft to draft in the Lilly Library's Plath Collection, seeing that what might appear to us to be spontaneous, passionate utterance had often gone through six or more drafts.
Karen Kovacik is Indiana's Poet Laureate 2012-13, and a professor of English and director of Creative Writing at IUPUI's School of Liberal Arts. Kovacik can be reached at 317-274-9831 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Top
Plath's 'Ariel' poems critique life, country
A half a century after her death, Sylvia Plath remains a central figure in American poetry. She can be considered this country's most famous, charismatic and talented poet of the 20th and 21st century. Her remarkable journals -- many of which are contained in IU's Lilly Library and her alma mater, Smith College -- are probably the most famous and honest papers ever penned by an American poet. Among her published work, the "Ariel" poems stand out because of their remarkable metaphors and honesty about love, birth, sex and betrayal, but also because of their underlying critique of American culture, stereotypes and politics. In "The Applicant," Plath said to America: "Now your head, excuse me, is empty/I have the ticket for that." More than any other female writer I can think of in American poetry, Plath attacks our ideals of love, motherhood, marriage, politics and religion. In an effort to showcase this brilliant author with human flaws, I created "Plath Profiles," an online journal that features essays inspired by Plath's work. Translated into more than 30 languages, the journal is the first dedicated to the study of Plath's poems, prose, artwork and life.
William "Bill" Buckley is an English professor at IU Northwest and the founding editor of "Plath Profiles," an online journal dedicated to the study of Plath. The fifth edition is now available online. Buckley can be reached at 219-980-6570 or email@example.com. Top
Collection reveals Plath's early years
The Lilly Library on Indiana University's Bloomington campus boasts extensive holdings related to Sylvia Plath, a major attraction to scholars all over the world. Among the Plath manuscripts at the Lilly are her juvenilia, her diaries, drafts of major poems, her artwork, stories and essays, along with photographs, an extensive collection of hand-made, exquisitely painted paper dolls and her letters, as well as letters from friends, lovers and family. There's even the requisite lock of hair! Plath has become an iconic poet: her rebelliousness, anger and cutting irony helped an entire generation of poets find their voice. But her papers at the Lilly -- the multiple drafts of poems, the handwritten corrections and edits in the typescripts of her prose, the journal entries struggling for descriptive precision -- paint a slightly different portrait: that of a seasoned professional who worked long and hard at perfecting her craft and reached such perfection at a very early age, a model for anyone anywhere who cares about good writing.
Christoph Irmscher is an English professor at IU Bloomington, where he teaches and writes about 19th and 20th century literature. The Department of English is part of IU's College of Arts and Sciences. Irmscher can be reached at 443-622-3277 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Top
Plath's lifelong creative process important
As a specialist on the relationship between Sylvia Plath's juvenilia, visual artwork and school work and her mature written compositions -- including her use of color and recurrent themes from childhood as well as influences from mentors that inform her most famous poetry -- my research areas look at her lifelong creative processes from the perspective of arts advocacy, which supports cross-disciplinary education for cognitive and personal development. That extends to similar relationships between visual and written expressions with other artists and authors as well, with a focus on early artistic identity development in the work of 20th century women and youth. I served as director and co-director, respectively, of interdisciplinary conferences related to Plath at Indiana University and Oxford University in 2002 and 2007, and am currently serving as co-director for the "Sylvia Plath Symposium" here at IU Oct. 24-27 commemorating the 50th anniversary of Plath's "Ariel" collection.
Kathleen Connors is visiting scholar at IU's Department of English, part of the university's College of Arts and Sciences. She is co-editor with Sally Bayley of "Eye Rhymes: Sylvia Plath's Art of the Visual" (Oxford Press, 2007); author of three essays on Plath; and curator of "Sylvia Plath's Visual Art and Manuscripts"(School of Fine Arts Gallery, 2002) and "A Self to Recover" (IU Art Museum, Oct. 23, 2012-Jan. 27, 2013) and co-curator of "Sylvia Plath -- Transitions" at the Lilly Library (Sept. 29-Oct. 31, 2012). Connors can be reached at 812-287-8199 or email@example.com. Top