Ok, I’m gonna take a different tact from the RIAA’s methods of dealing with college students, rather then threatening suit and certain incrimination -I will celebrate the unbelievably cool work that has been going on here at UMW. Amanda Rutstein has been blogging an independent study on Sylvia Plath that she is doing with Professor Claudia Emerson (this prof even has her own wikipedia article for good reason!). She found the WordPress Multi-User site I created for the English, Linguistics, and Speech department (an experiment of sorts), and decided that a blog may be useful way to track the progress of her Plath research over the course of the semester. I don’t think anyone had any idea how useful it would prove!
Amanda started discussing her readings of Plath while talking about all the cool resources available to scholars on sites like YouTube. Moreover, she blogged a discussion her class had with Dr. Donovan from VCU, who is the Editor-in-Chief of the online literary journal Blackbird. During this discussion it came out that one of the students at VCU had “discovered” a poem by Sylvia Plath, “Ennui,” and Blackbird had published the piece to much acclaim. This was obviously a source of excitement for a budding Plath scholar and led Amanda to some more research -all of which she has blogged. To make a long, amazing story about undergraduate research a bit shorter -Amanda quickly realized that there are a number of Plath’s earlier poems in the Lilly Library at Indiana University that have already been indexed, including “Ennui,” but not published in the Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath. Seems like the great find by Blackbird had already been discovered, and that many of Plath’s early poems have by sequestered in the Lilly Library for scholars but remain unpublished for a broader audience. According to Amanda:
I’ve been reviewing the articles that came out around the time that “Ennui” was published in Blackbird and I am continually surprised by the quotes I find! For instance the one listed above which I found in both The Washington Post and USA Today. In an effort to remain unbiased and fair I was giving Dr. Donovan (the editor of Blackbird) and Anna Journey (the graduate student who “found” “Ennui”) the benefit of the doubt and hoping that they had just been rather vague in describing how she “found” the sonnet, rather than simply claiming it a true discovery (in every sense of the word). However, it seems that everyone I’ve spoken with, and everyone in conjunction with Sylvia Plath (ie: Linda Wagner-Martin) were all under the same assumption I was: that Anna Journey did find an undiscovered poem. It seems completely inconceivable that no one ever flipped to the end of Plath’s Collected Poems and saw the list that allowed me such easy access to Plath’s unpublished poetry! I hate to harp on this, but I’m going to! All of Sylvia Plath’s unpublished juvenilia is accounted for and catalogued and safely stored in her archive at the Lilly Library.
She follows this with a very cool point:
For a minimal fee, and a reasonable reason, any student/teacher/scholar can get a copy of these poems and a chance to try to get them published. It is criminal, in my opinion, that this is not common knowledge, and has been, in effect, further hidden from the public due to the publication of “Ennui”.
Wow, so Amanda’s process has led her to an interesting discovery about the whereabouts of Plath’s earlier, unpublished poems. She then goes on to secure a copy of an unpublished poem from the Lilly Library for herself:
Very exciting stuff!!! I just got a letter from the Lilly Library with a copy of the poem I had requested along with all the paperwork I will need to get publishing rights. I might try to get rights to reproduce the poem on this blog, because it seems like everything is running so smoothly that I might as well try. I cannot believe how quickly I was able to get a copy of this poem. The poem is titled “Words of Advice to an English Prof” it’s actually not a great poem. I mean it’s fine, it’s cute but it’s not written in any precise form although it does have a tight end rhyme. The neat thing is just that I’m reading it, that I own a copy and that it was so SO easy to get. It is also fascinating to see something so mediocre by such a fantastic poet, it really shows her progress. I would love to get the original draft with her professor’s notes on it. It’s late, and I don’t have anything specific to say right now other than to spread the news that I have the poem and hopefully soon I can share it with everyone right here on this blog!
And now she is simply waiting to get the go ahead from the Lilly Library to publish it! Imagine that, an undergraduate begins a process of studying Sylvia Plath’s poems three months ago, and is currently on the verge of presenting a heretofore unpublished poem by a literary giant to the rest of the world on her own blog. It just blows my little mind! Now you tell me undergraduate research won’t be affected by these tools! While no tool will ever be able to replace the passion and drive of student research -the possibilities of connecting, collaborating, and publishing one’s work to a larger audience is only a click away! If you’ve made it this far -do me a favor- let Amanda know that you’ve read her blog and that this is, indeed, a very cool thing!
Below is an ordered list of blog posts that take you through the quotes and details of Amanda’s discovery. Well worth following at length! Also, rather than commenting here -please save your comments for Amanda’s posts. She deserves all the meager attention I can muster for the hard work and effort she has devoted to this research over the last several months.