A striking exhibition illuminating the life and work of the late poet and writer Sylvia Plath has been assembled at the Grolier Club by noted scholar and author Judith G. Raymo. Titled “This is the Light of the Mind,” it opened on September 19 and continues through November 4, 2017.
The tribute to the renowned Plath, who committed suicide in 1963 at the age of 30, is mostly from the personal Plath collection of Raymo, who has annotated in detail various examples of Plath’s writing, history and personal correspondence. On surveying the assemblage one can get a firm impression of Plath’s professional and personal life, and come away with a feeling of the loss suffered when her career was tragically so short lived.
In the catalogue published in connection with the exhibit, Raymo notes: “I have been collecting editions of the works of the poet and writer Sylvia Plath for the past 25 years. My early interest was sparked by the posthumous publication of her extraordinary book of poems, ‘Ariel” (1965). Plath and I were both undergraduates who majored in English literature at Smith College in the 1950s. As I began to collect her works in earnest and to read many accounts of her life, I reflected on the experiences of young women who came of age in post-World War II society as we sought to negotiate often-conflicting expectations and challenges of mid-twentieth-century culture.
“We know the many details of Plath’s daily existence from her remarkably candid journals, in which she recorded her thoughts, experiences, and drafts of her poetry and fiction from the age of eleven. When read in tandem with her correspondence to her mother, her friends and her family, these documents provide us with an abundant record of a writer’s interior and private life and its many turning points.”
Raymo notes that “Plath’s poems and stories have been translated into more than thirty languages” and that “fictionalized versions of Plath’s life have been made into films, plays, novels and an Italian opera. ‘The Bell Jar’ regularly appears on high school reading lists and ‘Ariel” is now required reading in many gender studies courses. In 2010, Plath was inducted into Poet’s Corner in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. And in April, 2012, she was one of ten American poets honored with his or her image on a U.S. postage stamp.”
Attending the opening of the exhibition, I was particularly struck by the details Raymo provided in her meticulous descriptions of the material on display. One can spend considerable, pleasurable time reading the examples of poems and correspondence, and the explanations that accompany them. The exhibit is on the second floor of the Grolier Club, 47 East 60th Street. Posted September 24, 2017.