Friday, May 28, 2010

Letters to Dead People

Letters to Dead People is an ongoing project by Celine Song. On the project's Facebook page, Song describes it as "Letters to people with no physical heartbeat, emptied bladder, dilated pupils, no consumption of air."

The template of these letters is always the same: a black background in the shape of a square upon which is typed, in caps-lock white font, a short letter written to a famous person who has died. The length of the letters vary (the shortest one, addressed to J.R.R. Tolkien, reads simply: "GEEK"). The letters are by turn serious, funny, or inspiring, but each of them captures, in the most concise way possible, a certain aspect of each dead person's life or legacy.

This is Celine Song's letter to Sylvia Plath, which can also be found here at her website:

Tattoo Friday: "I Am Vertical"

In this tattoo, a large chunk of one of Plath's poems has been transcribed onto the skin. The tattoo includes the entire first stanza of Plath's poem "I Am Vertical," amounting to a total of ten lines.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sylvia Plath on Gilmore Girls

Gilmore Girls was a television show that ran from 2000-2007; it chronicles the lives of single mother Lorelai Gilmore and her daughter, Rory, who live in the tiny and quirky town of Stars Hollow, Connecticut. The show is critically acclaimed for its complexity, witty banter, and rich cultural references. There are so many references embedded into the dialogue of the show, in fact, that many of the Gilmore Girls season DVD collections come with a "Guide to Gilmore-isms," described as "The 411 on many of the show's witty and memorable wordplays and pop culture references." These booklets are included to assist viewers who are confused about some of the references the Gilmores make (for instance, Nico, Billy Jack, and the Romanovs, to name a few).

One of the most commonly-referenced subjects throughout the seven seasons of Gilmore Girls was Sylvia Plath, whose works Rory, a voracious reader, devoured during her high school years. Rory's reading of Plath is analyzed in the 2010 essay collection Screwball Television: Critical Perspectives on Gilmore Girls edited by David Scott Diffrient and David Leary. In this volume, Anna Viola Sborgi analyzes Rory Gilmore's choices of reading, focusing especially on Plath:
Although some of these writers, in very different ways, reflect the kind of irony that permeates the series, one--Plath--at first seems an odd choice for an intertextual inclusion, given her famously tormented personality. In [the episode] "Double Date" (1.12), Rory reads the Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath while waiting for [her boyfriend] Dean and sitting on a bench outside his school. Plath's own personality, as much as the depiction of her autobiographical heroine in The Bell Jar (1963) (a girl making her way in the male-dominated New York editing world), might create some meaningful connections....There is, therefore, thematic overlap between this pioneering female author and the narrative developments in Gilmore Girls (p. 197).

But Sylvia Plath does not only appear on Rory's bookshelf. Her mother, Lorelei, also makes frequent references to Plath. During the episode "The Breakup, Part 2" (1.17), when Rory ponders attending a party thrown by her snobby classmate, her mother responds by quipping, "Honey, why don't you just stay home and read The Bell Jar? Same effect." On another instance, when Rory is contemplating who to write a college entrance essay about, the following conversation ensues:

LORELAI: You can evaluate a significant experience that's had an impact on you...or you can write about a person who has had a significant influence on you.
RORY: You?
LORELAI: Or one of your authors, Faulkner or...
RORY: Or Sylvia Plath.
LORELAI: Hm, might send the wrong message.
RORY: The sticking her head in the oven thing?
LORELAI: Yeah. Although she did make her kids a snack first, shows a certain maternal instinct. (Episode 3.3)

Obviously, Plath is depicted in a multitude of ways throughout Gilmore Girls: not only is she portrayed as a brilliant author who Rory admires enough to consider writing a college application essay about, but Plath also occasionally serves as the muse for several of Lorelai's jokes throughout each of Gilmore Girls's seven seasons. Either way, the show's constant references to Plath have furthered her presence in popular culture today.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Graffiti in the Name of Plath

Not all graffiti is a detriment to the surrounding area: in fact, this artist appears to have used graffiti in order to spread the words of famous people. Featured beneath a quote by Leonard Cohen is a line from Sylvia Plath's poem "Lady Lazarus." This is similar to many of the images featured by the Free Verse Project, although this representation of Plath's work seems far more permanent.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Monday, May 24, 2010

Joshua Radin and Sylvia Plath

Another positive reference to Sylvia Plath can be found in Joshua Radin's mellow song "These Photographs." Radin, who compares his lover to many admirable famous women (including, aside from Plath, Simone de Beauvoir and Mary Cassatt), establishes that to be placed among the ranks of these women is one of the highest possible compliments.

Song © Joshua Radin from his album We Were Here, released 6/13/06 by Sony.

You're Sylvia Plath
As you drift from the bath.
I hand you a robe and
So it goes, the moment'll pass.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Banana Poetry

Interestingly, modern artists seem to be finding new ways to interpret poetry, including Sylvia Plath's work., which is run by the Academy of American Poets, has dedicated an entire section of its website to the Free Verse Project (also viewable at their Flickr site), in which users can choose a favorite verse, create a visual representation of it, and submit it for display on the website.

An example is a quote from Plath's poem "Face Lift," which has been etched into a series of banana peels. Not only does the image correspond nicely with the words (the poetry regarding skin being peeled is carved onto the interior, fleshy skin peeled from the banana), but this is a way to utilize a unique canvas to visually represent Plath's poetry.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Sylvia Plath T-shirts

Many t-shirts featuring Sylvia Plath are available online. Two websites with a myriad of t-shirts are Zazzle and CafePress, each hosting shirts in many different styles and colors. In addition, some of the shirts display positive tributes to Plath, while others are more negative.

From Zazzle (click to enlarge):

The first is an excerpt from Plath's 1953 journal; the second commemorates Plath's lifespan; and the third simply professes love for Plath.

From CafePress (click to enlarge):

The first is a painting of Plath; the second is another profession of love; and the third is an excerpt from her poem "Lady Lazarus" which reads: "Out of the ash / I rise with my red hair / And I eat men like air."

Among the more negative t-shirts are the following (click to enlarge):

The first is an with furrowed brows beckoning, "Helloooo Sylvia..." and the second is a shirt querying "Did anyone ever think that maybe Sylvia Plath wasn't crazy, she was just cold?"

Of note is that on both websites, t-shirts with positive connotations far outnumber t-shirts that are more mocking or unpleasant.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Tattoo: "Tulips"

This week: a tattoo featuring a few lines from Plath's poem "Tulips." Interestingly, the three lines used in the tattoo do not appear consecutively in the poem; rather, the person who got this tattoo chose three lines from different stanzas of the poem and intertwined them as stems of literal tulips.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Literary Luminaries

An interesting representation of Sylvia Plath can be found among a collection of famous author caricatures which are for sale at the graphic design company Literary Luminaries, Inc. Their website describes the project as follows:
Luminary Graphics, Inc., is a graphic arts product company that features the caricature art of Mike Caplanis of the world's most famous authors, applied to a variety of products. These products include note cards (in singles and boxed sets), bookmarks, coffee mugs, umbrellas and book bags.
Caplanis creates caricatures of English and American authors spanning the centuries, from Charles Dickens to Louisa May Alcott to, yes, Sylvia Plath. His representation of her can be purchased in the form of a note card (either Plath separately or a Plath card in addition to cards featuring a collection of other writers), a bookmark, an umbrella, a book bag, or a mug. The site also offers posters, journals, magnets, and playing cards which are not available in Plath's image.

In creating Plath's caricature, Caplanis has not only captured her beautiful, flourishing side: although Plath appears calm, her eyes seem a bit more fiery, as though she could explode at any moment into some sort of artistic or personal frenzy. This gives representation to her personality as well as her writing.

It is interesting that Caplanis has been able to use classic authors and market them in such a way as to make the products they are featured upon seem unique and almost trendy. He groups authors either singly (such as on an individual bookmark) or in a group (as in this umbrella, which features, clockwise from the top: Zora Neale Hurston, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Louisa May Alcott, and Virginia Woolf). To be frank, Caplanis has made famous writers fashionable. While Plath may not need as much of a boost as some other authors, since she commonly garners a great deal of attention anyway, the Literary Luminaries project seems relevant to literature today.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ryan Adams - "Sylvia Plath"

Sylvia Plath figures fairly commonly into modern music. An example of this is Ryan Adams's song "Sylvia Plath," in which Adams characterizes Plath as an immensely troubled-- yet fascinating-- woman. He portrays her with several faults, but despite these troubles, Adams creates the feeling that it would have been a privilege to meet Plath and to have been around her. He accepts her faults and even embraces them, suggesting that if he had been in the position to, he would have cherished her.

In a way, Adams sums up a feeling common to many people who love Plath: that she was a beautifully complicated human being who is beloved by those who are enamored with her writing. He aptly states, "I wish I had a Sylvia Plath," summing up the fascination that surrounds her even today.

Song © Ryan Adams from his album Gold, released 9/25/01 by Lost Highway Records

Friday, May 14, 2010

Tattoo Friday

A Google search reveals that an overwhelming number of people choose to memorialize Sylvia Plath in the form of a tattoo. These physical homages to Plath show that there is, indeed, an almost cult-like obsession with her To keep the spirit of Plath adoration present, I will highlight a Plath tattoo each Friday.

"I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart: I am, I am, I am."
Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Exhibits B and C: More Suicide References

There is a somewhat disturbing trend popular in present-day in Sylvia Plath merchandising: in an attempt to humorously spoof Plath's death, products such as Sylvia Plath ouija boards and even oven mitts are available to the diligent Googler. Meant to appear clever or cute, these products' actual effect is less than amusing.

Although it could be argued that this ouija board was inspired by Plath's haunting poem "Ouija" or the fact that she and husband Ted Hughes experimented with a ouija board during their marriage, the board is both offensive and tacky. Plath is portrayed in glaring neon colors, but the final straw is that the ouija board's planchette is, of course, shaped like an oven, making it a classic representation of her suicide.

The same can be said of these droll Sylvia Plath oven mitts, originally available from LitDead on Etsy. The sale listing stated that the mitts were meant to "memorialize" Plath-- and what better way to do so than by mocking her suicide?

Of course, this merchandise could be considered entertaining to a certain degree. However, in the field of Plath merchandise as a whole, the ouija board and oven mitts are representative of the dominant tendency to forget Plath's literary achievements and instead cement her as a figure to be remembered by her death. Plath is reduced from a great writer to a woman whose sole importance seems to be that she committed suicide. The suicide is lauded with a sense of glamour, and becomes part of the tragic romanticism that surrounds Plath in the present day.

This should further cement the glaring reality that Plath's presence today is largely composed of portrayals of her death. Though Plath is often treated with much more respect, this more playful vein of merchandise-- which includes the Plath paper dolls-- is nevertheless popular and very widespread.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Exhibit A: Paper Doll

Although Sylvia Plath has been dead for nearly fifty years, she is constantly referenced in popular culture. From music and television to independent sellers on Etsy and personal tattoos, Plath is very much a presence in today's society. Interestingly, however, her reputation outside of literary circles seems to be based more upon her suicide than upon her actual writing. A large part of Plath's legacy seems to be based on the fact that she died young, in the midst of her writing prime. This added mystique has often wormed its way into Plath's representation in today's media.

Take, for instance, this Sylvia Plath paper doll (closeup at right) featured by the Etsy seller Lisa Perrin at her shop, LeLapinTriste. At first glance, the image of Plath with a pen in her hand seems fitting. However, upon viewing the entire paper doll set, a much more alarming overall concept reveals itself:

Amid a few changes of clothing and a minuscule typewriter is the most prominent accessory of all: an open oven, symbolic of Plath's 1963 suicide. Rather than choosing to represent Plath by using a relic from her life, Perrin has chosen to represent her by using the instrument of her death. This is a perfect example of the fact that modern portrayals of Plath often pay more attention to the suicide than to her work as a writer.

Although unfortunate, this is interesting from a cultural standpoint in that Plath's personal life directly interferes with common perceptions about her writing. Not all modern references to Plath include such glaring allusions to her death, but this phenomenon is definitely very prominent and will be visible in many upcoming posts.