Ted with Stephen Spender, W.H. Auden, T.S. Eliot and Louis McNeice
Biographies, even the best of them (cf. Richard Holmes' recent two-volume Coleridge), tend to scratch a strange itch on the part of the literarily-bent, metronoming between offerings of intellectual revelation and rank prurience. But what distinguishes any writer, after all, is the long-term usefulness of the work itself. What a relief we know so little about the life of Shakespearełand so endlessly much about what he wrote. Perhaps no writer's work should have to bear the burden of biography, but be left to speak for itself. Then again, without the soaps and the talk-shows, whatever would we do?
Elaine Feinstein's Ted Hughes: The Life of a Poet is not an unsuccessful biographical rendering of England's late Poet Laureate. Neither does it not deal engagingly with the birth-to-death minutiae of this one man's life after the fashion of a chronological reportage, but documents in detail where he grew up, whom he married, how many children he had (and with whom), what he ate, and with whom he had sex. (This latter information is gleaned, one is assured, from chats with several of the concerned females, and from books based loosely on the intimate amatory experiences of those citizens.)
Although Feinstein avers from time to time that Hughes was indeed a great poet, much admired for his verse and his contribution to the literary world of the past century generally, one comes away from the book with a lingering whiff of the tabloidłthough dressed in the popular literary biographer's lingo, neither archly highbrow nor unbecomingly sensationalistic, but exhibiting withal an acceptable middlebrow melange of gossip and a good graduate-student 'crit' of the workłthat is, neither salivatingly salacious nor impenetrably academic. All told, if one is not particularly well-read in Hughes, The Life of a Poet is a benign enough introduction to Hughes the man, and a juicily interesting take on the internecine British literary social scene.
For the 'real news,' I'd recommend The Paris Review's interview with Hughes in their Art of Poetry series, Keith Sagar's The Art of Ted Hughes, editor Sandie Byrnes' term-paper cribfest The Poetry of Ted Hughes ("a reader's guide to essential criticism") or, best of all, Winter Pollen, Hughes' collection of essays on a range of subjects. One might, of course, begin at the beginning, with his plays, fiction, children's books, critical prose, and poetry.
Read him (and Feinstein) by all meansłand then put the books back on the shelf. I offer the following few notes not just on reading, but on collecting Ted Hughes as, I think, a kind of cautionary tale.
* * *
The second edition of Keith Sagar and Stephen Tabor's Ted Hughes: A Bibliography (1946-1995) is close to 500 pages long. The first section of the book alone, entitled "Books, Pamphlets and Broadsides," is 180 pages long. This section is what bibliographers call the A-list: it is the book collector's must-have list of the author's original works. In Hughes' A-list, there are 113 major items; many of these have variant editions in paperback or have otherwise been reissued in different formats. And that 180-page collation is already seven years out of date. Even at this writing, it would be challenging to track down all the variations and different printings of the A-list items.
Contributions to books and periodicals (the B-list) take up 152 pages. Then come the translations, interviews, recordings, broadcasts, scripts and "miscellaneous": 40 pages of that material. Towards the end of the bibliography, 24 pages list the books and articles about him. In 1997 or thereabouts, the bulk of Hughes' manuscripts went to Emory University in Atlantałsome two-and-a-half tonnes of material, according to a newspaper article I read at the time of Hughes' death (28 October, 1998). That article mentioned that Emory University is funded, in part, by Coca-Cola. And I, Michael Harris de la Mancha, have begun to collect Ted Hughes.
In the years to come, doubtless there will be a Collected Works, a Collected Letters and a definitive biography of some sort. I would like to live long enough to get a copy of each, go to "my" table at the Taverna Tropicana in Molivos, Lesvos, Greecełand read them until I am done with Ted Hughes. At that point, I will have become what I started out as: a reader. Somewhere along the line, miserabile dictu, I became a collector.
* * *
One of the distinctions between readers and collectors is that readers don't need money for their habit. Community libraries provide books (and much else) for free; and university libraries often house better collections than any one collector could amassłpartly because an individual's lifetime is not necessarily long enough to gather any definitive collection. Imagine trying to gather a complete Agatha Christie A-list. Or first edition/ first printings of John Updike? The playscripts of G.B Shaw? First issues and all the pirated versions of D.H. Lawrence? Indeed, given the expense of time and money, why bother collecting at all? Better simply to donate what one accumulates over the years to some temperature-and-humidity regulated Rare Books and Special Collections for the tax write-off (and you can still have access to your treasures).
If only the urge to collect were that innocent and charitable an inclinationłone which recognized good writing, fed the simple pleasures of reading, and properly celebrated the Author as having contributed richly to the life of the imagination by arranging the Complete Works on one's shelves, alphabetically in the context of the library, chronologically in the context of the set, the whole offering dust-free and shining in Mylar. If only the urge to collect were that innocent an obsession.
A dozen years ago, I received an unexpected letter at the College I taught at for almost thirty years. Neat handwriting, but smallish: my guess was that the writer was Catholic, female, educated by nuns, and fastidious. So much for judging her book, as it were, by her cover.
The first letters (several more arrived in short order) told me that the writer admired my poetry, that she felt a kinship with my efforts generally, and that she felt she should let me know of her admiration. Dutifully, though not untouched by the flattery, I replied. With a full teaching load, three children at home and a poetry press to run, I tended to answer all correspondence concisely and in a business-like way. Over the course of a year I'd correct anywhere from 600-800 term papers and deal with 150 manuscriptsłnot to mention personal correspondence with friends and the number of poets whose work I had edited.
Over the weeks, my correspondent's letters began to pile up. I'd read them over briefly, then put them back in the to-be-dealt-with-later stack of paperwork that seems to reproduce fissiparously on my deskłuntil one particular letter arrived that got my full attention. Apparently she'd been collecting my books, articles, interviews, and photographs for years. She'd attended readings. She had a room in her house devoted to me, replete with candles. Soon the phonecalls began, the notes got stuck through the front door of my home, under my office door at the College, under the windshield-wiper of my car. The letters began to arrive at home and at the College, sometimes three a day.
One day I was walking back to my office after a class and a woman was standing in the corridorłsome student waiting to see me, I thought. Then she fainted, hitting her head on the floor. I ran over to sit her up against the wall; she opened her eyes and fainted again. I understood by her appearance that she was in some psychological difficulty, that she needed professional help, and that she was the letter-writer. After I had established that she was indeed under available medical supervision, I walked her out of the College to the bus-stop and left. By the time she stopped writing me, I'd received close to 4000 letters.
* * *
By the year of Hughes' death, I'd read everything (I thought) he'd written. I'd bought paperbacks and trade editions almost exclusively at the secondhand bookshops whenever possible. As with the rest of my library (my second libraryłbut more about this in a moment), I obtained books as cheaply as I couldłand their provenance mattered not a whit. Yard sales, library sales, boxes left on the sidewalk on moving day.
Perhaps not so curiously, I rarely use our excellent local library, and try to buy books at the full-price bookshops as seldom as possible. With the advent of the Internet book-sales sites, I find that I look there first. By any reckoning, the combined listings of the book-sites provide a far bigger selection than any one store can offer. Conceivably, every book ever written could find its way onto the Internet. The brick-and-mortar stores would be replaced by keyboards and warehouses, with pleasant and underpaid students at a bank of terminals, dollying books about as efficiently as the courier services, slipping them into your house with the morning mail.
There are, however, a number of flies in this Utopian ointment. First, little can replace the veteran or knowledgeable bookstore owner; surely a good percentage of sales happen because of the proprietor's recommendations or through "word-of-mouth." Being able to read the first several pages of an actual book pulled down from the shelf is likely to result in more sales than any browsing through the cybershopłespecially if the title or author is unfamiliar. A bookstore is a destinationła tame adventure, it's true, but one involving both purpose and a little fresh air. It's not a service, in short, it's a placełrather like going down to the river to fly-cast as opposed to studying The Fishing Channel.
* * *
Book-shopping is a quite different business for the collector. When Hughes put out Birthday Letters (some 250,000 copies sold in the first months, a (poetry!) bestseller on all the appropriate lists), he also kept back 11 poems under the group title of Howls and Whispers, which he produced in a Gehenna Press limited edition, illustrated by the American artist Leonard Baskin. Printed letterpress on fine paper, the "regular" edition of this selection was on sale for $4,500 US. The Deluxe Edition was sold out before I had a chance to find out how much it was going for. Even the prospectus was beautiful: exquisitely printed on slightly off-white paper, the handset type (in the blackest ink) produces a crisp depth of pure-black print. In and of itself, the letterpressed page is a thing of pleasure to hold and look at. Howls and Whispers is signed by Hughes and Baskin: I'd buy a copy if I couldłjust to be able to look at it.
That I'd be reading poems of Hughes that other people wouldn't have access to is, I suspect, in the realm of a moral question, as I think Hughes is a great poet (and Baskin an extraordinary artist)łand his vision ought to be widely available. But I don't doubt for a moment that, had I had the object in my hands, I would have had that feeling of having stumbled across a true treasurełand that, for that one fleeting and delicious moment, the treasure would have been entirely mine. How quickly thereby would the heady perfume of a new selection of interesting poetry be undone by the acrid whiff of possessiveness and greed. The poet Hughes (whoever he really was), would be reduced to something collectable in the money-grubbed market-place; and the reader Harris to the Collector, the Futures Man. The Book Guy.
* * *
I mentioned earlier that I'd had a previous library, one that didn't fare quite as well as my current effort. In 1975, after teaching at the College for five years, I decided impulsively to quit my job. My assessment of the better students was that they could learn whatever it was I had to teach them in about a week; the other students probably needed more extended guidance, but not from the likes of me. For I, I had decided, I was a poetłand poets should not teach, as teaching was an 'expense of spirit.' More, poets should live in the country, to get back to basics, as it were. So I sold everything I owned, bought a secondhand Volks and a Martin guitar (my one concession to Possessions), and headed south to Mexico. I got as far as the Eastern Townships, bought a log cabin and ended up teaching at another local college. The need to produce an income was something I hadn't quite accounted for in my original impulsive decision.
In the middle of that youthful folly, I also sold all my books. Mostly American and British poetryłmany of them first edition hardcovers, they would have been worth a small fortune now (I permit myself to fantasize), had I only kept them. As it was, I sold the bulk of them to the College as secondhand books. Prior to cataloguing them in the Fall, the College stored them in the basement in stacks of boxes. The furnace ruptured, soaking the bottom boxes. Students discovered that there were boxes of books just sitting there in the basement and walked away with hundreds of books. I know this because, over the last 25 years, I've been buying back my own books from the secondhand shopsłat many times the price I originally paid for them. All of Hughes' early books, all hardcover firsts with pristine dustjackets. Hawk in the Rain. Lupercal. Crow. What was I thinking. Les pechTs de jeunesse, indeed.
* * *
Treasures also come in more modest packages: I was once invited to supper at a friend's house, along with a number of other poets. The discussion turned (as it often does) to particular writers and their canon-worthiness. Among others, the talk was of Montale, Szymborska, Merrill, Yeatsłand Hughes. Our host quietly left the table and returned with a battered, much-thumbed first hardcover trade edition of Crow (signed in pencil by Hughes on the endpaper), which he laid neatly at my place, between knife and fork. This should be yours, he said. As long as I don't have to eat it, I said. (For whatever reasons, I have always had difficulty receiving gifts, and tend to deflect my discomfort with whatever humour that just was.)
A year later, that same friend was in a car accident and thought he had broken his thumb. At two-thirty in the morning, the pain became such that he needed to be driven to the hospital. He called me (I tend to write at night), I picked him up and drove him to Emergency (which his injury wasn't). To get through the several inevitable hours of waiting, I brought him several volumes of rather mediocre poetry (to make him feel better) and one decent book (for medicinal purposes). I also put a flask of Ardbeg whiskey in his jacket. Thanks, he saidłas long as I don't have to drink it. (His thinking was that if he reeked of whiskey, he'd get served less promptly.) Thus are friendships cemented and imbued with history.
* * *
The fancier (numbered) edition of Crow, by the way, is a large, black cloth letterpress volume in a slipcase, illustrated by Baskin and signed by poet and artist. In 1998, a copy could be had for $250 US. It's now on sale for prices ranging up to $2000 USłclose to a tenfold increase in value in about three years' time.
First printings of the widely-popular Birthday Letters, on the other hand, shot up from $20 US to $80 US within months of its appearance, then leveled off at about $40. A signed copy (first edition, first printing) currently goes for about $100 US. If mutual funds behaved this way, the stock exchange would be a very hairy place.
* * *
Also hairy for any writer is to gauge the dollar-value of any one book (or a lifetime's work) on the Internet. The scarceness of any one item is, of course, a mitigating factor, but it is nevertheless possible to get a relatively clear sense of who's currently "hot"łalthough it's difficult to assess long-term canon-worthiness and dollar-value of any writer (these two considerations are, of course, intimately related). It's sobering to see the canon-and-dollar evaluations of, for example, Joseph Heller's books after Catch - 22 (but a lot of fun trying to find one of those little gems first-issue and in good shape).
During her short lifetime, Sylvia Plath would have had very little 'value' of either sort. The last time I picked up a copy of Ariel, however, it was in its 35th printingła printing for every year since her death. From a reader's perspective, it's clear she's currently "canon-worthy." From a collector's perspective, she's 'hot': a lock of her hair from her childhood (authenticated in writing by her mother) is being offered to the public for $3500 US. A macabre measuring-stick, to be surełbut consider this: a copy of the broadside "Pike", one of Hughes' benchmark poems, is going for about $1000 US. True, it's a very limited A-list item (only 150 copies of it were printed)łbut, really, it's just a piece of paper: Unlike the poems in Howls and Whispers, one could get a copy of the "Pike" poem in almost any current school anthology. The broadside itself is no object of any particular beauty (relative, say, to a Ming vase, a decent sunset or a pebble in water), and yet, apart from a number of actual holograph poems, "Pike" must be one of the more sought-after items in the Hughes bibliography. For the collector, scarcity is very much a part of the 'value' of any work (with the condition of the object a very close second). For the writer brave enough to want to gauge the fortunes of his or her worth in the dispassionately unforgiving market-place, click on Abebooks and take a good look.
Sylvia with Nicholas, 1961
* * *
The National Post (Toronto) reported, on the 26th of February, 2002, that a Canadian painting had sold for $4.6 million CAD, more than double the previous record for a Canadian painting (a landscape by Group of Seven member Lawren Harris called Baffin Island). The Post reported that the buyer wished to remain anonymous; his representative at the auction, a Winnipeg art dealer, when asked about the high price, said: "I called it where it would have went and I was right."
In the same article, The Post quotes a Toronto art dealer, who "credits the increased presence of US buyers in the Canadian market with the rise in prices" (sic), as saying: "They felt they were getting into a kind of private club of a small number of Canadian collectors. They thought they could come in and rob and pillage, and what's happened is they've just driven the prices up."
In the context of our current examination, I should pose a question: why are Canadian poets (apart from our two celebritiesłboth of whom are novelists who have inked movie deals) doing so abysmally on the Net?
And a second: in the form of a 'note to self': As an investor, would you buy a good shelf or two of Canadian poetry? Do you think we could encourage the Americans to invade our little private club? The Brits? Anybody? Just asking.
Some Internet prices (in US dollars) for Irving Layton's books:
The Swinging Flesh (1961): $20
Balls for a One-Armed Juggler (1963): $25
Periods of the Moon (1967): $20
The Pole-Vaulter (1974): $18
The Unwavering Eye (1975): $18
For My Brother Jesus (1976): $18
The Poems of Irving Layton (1977): $18
* * *
Layton's most valuable books are the early (and extremely scarce) onesłanything from 1945 (Here and Now, $2000) to 1956 (The Bull Calf, $500 for the hardcover). From 1956 on, the dollar value for the remaining 35 or so of his books (almost 40 years of writing) is relatively constantłgenerally $18-$25. What is the investor to assume: In Canada, when celebrity fades, the poetry itself becomes devalued? Did the poetry not have any value in the first place? Did Layton over-publish? What is Abebooks (a largely American tool) telling us?
Quick!: who are the major collectors of Canadian Poetry?
(Note to self: Canadian Poetry 1950-2000. Bre-X? Or Klondike? Is there gold in them thar hills?)
(Or has it already, like Ann Wilkinson, Charles BrucełIrving Layton?ł"Went"?)
* * *
In 1998, during an off-season vacation to the US (Long Island), my wife and I sought momentary respite from the week of solid rain and roiling seas (one more note to self: "off season" means just that). We ended up in a rather plain-looking bookshop on one of the plain-looking streets of one of the little towns of the "Hamptons". The other inhabitants of the areałPaul McCartney, Alan Alda, Lauren Bacallłwere elsewhere (wherever the 'season' went to, I guess). A shopping trip at the local bookstore seemed the best we could do.
"Local" in the Hamptons is different from "local" where I come from. Thousands of books (most of them shining in Mylar), a huge selection of first edition artbooks, rare novels, out-of-print poetryłand Ted Hughes. But like nothing I'd ever seen before. Leather-bound, slip-cased, letterpress books, numbered and signed by Ted Hughes and a variety of artists. First printings, limited editions. I couldn't believe my luck. Enough of Hughes' own Rainbow Press editions to empty my bank account (in about 10 minutes). But this, I rationalized, was how good poetry should be presented: in the frame of a well-made book, stamped, as it were, with the poet's own signature.
That day was the beginning of the rest of my fiscal life: on that day I became a Collector. Innocently, I had wandered into the clutches of Glen Horowitz, Rare Books and First Editions bookseller, described by Guy Lesser in the January 2002 Harper's as a "latter-day Rosenbach"łthat is, heir to the throne of the legendary twentieth-century bookdealer (Rosenbach had owned Conrad's first manuscripts, Eramus' translation of the New Testament illustrated by Hans Holbein, the Alice in Wonderland manuscript, four Gutenberg bibles, etc.)
Me, I walked out of that shop sublimely happy with my Rainbow Press treasures. (A month later I came across The Bibliographyłand paid the first visit to my bank manager in ten years).
* * *
I met Ted Hughes once, very briefly, and with almost 200 other people standing in a line to get books signed. It was 1984, at the Harbourfront Literary Festival in Toronto. I'd driven up from Montreal to hear him read. I hadn't meant to stand in the autograph-seekers' line; at the time I considered the work important, but the act of autography strange, superfluousłif not a little crass: I dislike labels affixed on the outside of clothes, for example, and think that a car would run as well without the dealer's name stenciled on the trunk, or the car manufacturer's name embossing the grille beside the picture of a cougar or jaguarłnone of this quasi-religious iconography helps when the car gets hauled to the garage for a new head gasket. (This is somewhat akin to the appearance of the Canada Council or Governor-General's emblems on Canadian books of poetry: neither improve the quality of the verse therein). So (in hindsight, stupidly) I didn't bring any books to Toronto for Hughes to sign. When I got to the head of the line, I thanked him for his work; he thanked me for my thanks.
But I'd gone to hear him read. An Author's Festival is, essentially, a celebration of celebrityłthe real work of the writers gets done at home; the real work of the readers gets done at home, too. The transaction between writer and reader is a private one, mitigated only (for publicity purposes) by profiles and reviews in newspapers and the literary magazines. So, the idea of seeing the words take shape in the form of a human being at a microphone under a spotlight is jarring. One of these featured citizens, a Scandinavian poet, read before Hughesłwith such a stammer it took him some forty minutes to get through his programme. He read in his mother-tongue, to boot. The English translations were read efficiently (it was fine poetry, even in translation), but the performance left the audience restless and agitated. When Hughes took the podium, things settled down, if only from relief.
I report the following without explicatory comment, but feel I must do so in the name of the archives of Hughesiana. Hughes read magnificently, with a directness and clarity that put me in mind of Richard Burton in his prime (though with a distinctly Yorkshire-flavoured accent). Twenty years later, I can still hear that voice in my head.
But he evidently affected other people differently: half-way through a poem about the difficult delivery (by Hughes) of a stillborn lamb from its mother, the woman to the right of me swooned, fell forward and had to put her head between her knees. The woman to the left of me began to shift rhythmically in her chair: she had a fine glaze of moisture on her upper lip; her face had turned a deep pink. As I've indicated elsewhere in these "Field Notes", sometimes I'm not sure I can read the surface of things properly. In this case, however, I'd suggest, with some conviction, that one of my seat-mates had been quite overcome by an excess of empathy; the other had just been shaken to her roots by a subterraneanly subtle, deeply engaging, and admirably prolonged, orgasm.
* * *
Recently I received a second e-mail from the (aptly-named) Waiting for Godot Books, offering the duplicates of the Sir Joseph Gold Collection of Hughesiana: an interesting listing of bits and pieces, some of which I don't have and am considering acquiring. Their first E-mission, one offering the Full Monty Gold Hughesiana (numbering some 75 pages singing cheek-to-cheek, as Roethke would have it), was an almost full anthem of Hughes' A-list output. A feast for the gods: perhaps almost too much of a meal for the one-item-at-a-time Hughes nibbler, but an endless banquet for someone who loves his work and has the means to own it.
My unalloyed love of the work itself is, of course, one rub; having not enough money to ensure one can properly court the objects of one's desire is the other. Were I truly passionate (that is, to the point of unhinged obsession) about possessing these "items", I'd have no hesitation in mortgaging my home, dipping into my kids' College Fund, selling my Martin guitar. I'm not being flip or off-handed here: these are very real considerations. I have come to see that my being prey to true obsession in the case of this current urge (however possibly fleeting) to acquire the $100,000 US Gold Collection is ominously, prophetic and possibly ruinous. But between the idea and the act falls the shadow of a dozen kinds of doubt. I am mosquitoed by doubt. It is doubt itself, in fact, that I cling to, and rely on to keep me sensible.
Perhaps that doubt is what drew me to Hughes in the first place. It seemsłon the surface, at leastłthat Hughes had none. True, he seems to have had a healthy regard for the "impulsive" forces of Nature and yet, as in his poem "Pike", dared to keep fishing in his metaphoric pond of darkness, no matter "what eye moved," no matter what terrors he might be stirring up. I, on the other hand, measure my courage in what afterwards I think of as a benign impulsiveness under the protection of good luck. I've often wondered what I'd be like in battle; I'm glad I haven't yet had the opportunity to find out.
To come to the point: I'm not really tempted to turn my house into a shrine for Hughes, though I'd be very interested to see what Emory University does with its Ted Hughes collection. Perhaps as my next off-season vacation.
* * *
If used-book shops and yard sales are interesting and pressureless places to find books, an auction, for the amateur, is an intimidating arena in which to test one's mettle. The clientele at the last book auction I went to was, in the main, comprised of retired persons in for a little entertainment andłbane of my existencełthe motley assortment of dealers one comes to recognize as having been at the front of the line a half an hour before you at the remainder sales, the estate sales, school library sales, etc. At the book sales, the bidders are, to a man (I have seen one female bookpicker), shadows, ciphers, the also-ran. They are Percentage Men, sometime readers (one suspects they have precious little time for it), seldom writers or publishers. A book, for them, is a commodity, one form of money, something to stuff into the plastic bags they carry into the Book Fair, the Yard Sale. They are Name Seekers, Buzz Acolytes. Whatever love they might once have had of the well-turned line, le Mot Juste, the Aching Insight of the poet or writer or artist has vanished ghost-like into the stultifying dust that settles in Second Hand storesłor the Internet's versions: Bibliofind, Abebooks and, the most desperate of them all, Ebay.com.
Still, my heart goes out to them, these pickers, these desperate men. I think when they were young, they must have loved a line of Frost, some declamation by Thomas, one of Larkin's clear-eyed takes on wandering down a hall for a piss, Snodgrass's poignant take on the blush that rises in a schoolgirl's cheek.... Lady M. wandering naked about the Castle. Perhaps some lover had read to them Hughes' post-adolescent "Song", or "Wind"łthe latter a brilliant assessment of the self quaking under the brunt of such circumstance as has one cling to one's armchair in terror (with the Beloved one chair over, praying, for dear life, to hold on). Surely the Book Guys have felt these emotions?
I have studied them, these pickers. I have been with them in the lines in front of the closed door at 8 o'clock in the morning anxious that they're first in, to beeline to the piles of old books or artbooks or crumbling Detective Novels. Thank God, so few of them go for Poetry. They are not usually interested in Poetry. And rightly so, for so few sales feature Poetry. There's always a line of the brown imperturbable faces of the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Reader's Digest Selections, the Home Medical Encyclopedia. Walls of wisdom fresh and unread lining the bookshelves of the previous owners, adorning the driveways beside old cribs, gnarled walking-sticks, books on how to preserve the marriages in between. Shakespeare in Coles notes. Nothing of Lear's broken heart but an abstract to fit between stops in the subway. Doorstoppers to contain the endless vistas of the beach. A bath-dampened Survival from the week off at the cottage with Atwood. Harlequins for a lifetime of despair in the single's flat of one's own head.
* * *
As for Plath's hair: I wonder whether elsewhere in some other search engine or site her blouses, her shoes, some ribbon that hung from her hair might not also be available for those who do their PhDs on her, or chip another chip of granite from her tombstone for a keepsake, or desecrate her marriage to the Hound of Hell, the tall dark man, "the rack and the screw" she aligned herself with for seven years.
Had she lived, perhaps she would have seen that seven years is little in a marriage, so little in a life. Hughes, in his almost seventy years, produced a little library of books, translated a bunch of poets, edited, introduced, supported hundreds of other enterprises. Wrote books for children, juried prizes, wrote recommendations, plays, stories, critical texts, even wrote a book about how to do it. How would Plath had done had she lived? Perhaps the 2 1/2 tonnes of papers housed at Emory University will shed light on her "what could have been." With her ambition intact she would have out-Sextoned Sexton, maintained her power like Moore or Clampitt or Olds or Gluckłor Hughes. Would she have lectured at the Festivals; would she, as Hughes did not, have written a Memoir? Her Letters, her Journals, her Poems suggest, Yes. Would the price of that lock of hair have risen to $5000, to $10,000? Would her tresses have ended up in some Smithsonian like Einstein's brain? Would the shards of her tombstone be offered on the Net? Will she fall from literary grace the way so many others have?
* * *
Hughes, it must be said, walked with the rest of us with corns on his feet, administered to toothaches, endured the explorations of the doctors. Why, finally, is it so important that I pay $500 for an offprint from the Grecourt Review? And that if I don't get it (knowing that the price will rise anyhow), I will feel an absence in my life? Why the urge to acquire the complete Hughes?
I monumentalize Akmatova, Amichai, Yeats, Heaney. I have memorized from first reading "Among School Children", "Prufrock", "My Papa's Waltz." There is no "Fern Hill" other than Thomas'; and yet, is there a richer or more sustained diversity than that offered by Hughes' Gaudete, "Pike", Crow, Shak