Notes on Philip Larkin, Plath, Hughes

Notes on Philip Larkin, Plath, Hughes

“Ted Hughes, the devoted father,” Telegraph, Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev, 27 Mar 2009

1. “It was a fishing trip with his son Nicholas that brought to life a dream that had haunted Ted Hughes for years: that of a severed head pursuing him. Hughes had enjoyed hunting with his brother Gerald since childhood, and, prompted by the dream, he had written a story about two brothers hunting in America. "There is an episode in the story with a creature called Yetti. The elder brother is devoured, and all that is left of him is a severed head. The younger brother tries to run away, and the head chases him. When I wrote it, I felt that it will happen to me, and I imagined it to the last detail: the valley, with a forest, by a river that flows to the sea.”

2. "Two years later, I was invited to a poetry festival in Alaska. My son was with me, he was 18. We went fishing together, I took a canoe, and we parked in a remote place. And we reached a valley, by the sea; it was the same valley that I had an image of, but I was not with my brother but with my son. I am superstitious, and I was shocked."

3. “Hughes claimed that was the point at which he stopped writing prose "because everything that I wrote convinced me that I was prophesying what will happen in the next years, or that writing made it happen."

4. “This week, with the death of Hughes's only son, Nicholas, in Alaska, we were reminded of the disturbing story that the poet told us in 1996 during the only interview he gave in which he talked about his private life. It was indeed a week of chilling coincidences. March 23 is a date scorched in our memories since we wrote the biography of Ted Hughes's lover, Assia Wevill. Forty years have passed since that cold spring evening in 1969 when Assia rested her four-year-old daughter Shura on a makeshift bed, shut the kitchen door tightly, turned all the gas taps fully on and lay down beside the sleeping child. This year, the anniversary took on a new, tragic twist with the news of Nicholas's suicide in Alaska. The police investigation concluded that Dr Nicholas Hughes, a marine biologist, was "battling depression, no foul play suspected" and so closed case number 09-20959.”

5. Again occult muddleheadedness seems to enter into the Plath/Hughes tragic narrative. At first the “Ouija Board Dialog” and other poetic paraphanalia connected with Hughes’ so-called “mythological” and “shamanistic” and “Jungian-White Goddess” claptrap interested me. But now it all seems like a Sixities smokescreen for something else—free love, catting around, using Shakespeare for an excuse to get away with murder.

6. Biographers like Jacqueline Rose (The Haunting of Sylvia Plath) as well as personal accounts by Jillian Becker and Trevor Thomas the third member of the anti-Hughes axis of Elizabeth Sigmund and Clarissa Roche—these and other commentaries strip away the White Goddess veils and Hughes Estate “Wizard of Oz” curtain to reveal what?

7. The Hughes/Plath biographical project promulgated by the Hughes Estate and literary allies—seems to me to be rather pushy, fearful, overwrought and defensive. It reminds me of an octopus squirting clouds of murky ink—to distract critics from some “terrible revelation” as Aurelia Plath called it in her letter to Trevor Thomas.

8. Something similar to Robin Morgan's savage anti-Hughes poem included in the same folder as the typescript of the above memoir material. That a poem critical of Ted Hughes would be hounded by the Hughes Estate in the way it was fits exactly into the other examples of censorship and intimidation that took place with Jacqueline Rose, Janet Malcolm, Trevor Thomas, Jillian Becker and many other poets, writers and people privy to the facts of the strange case of the Plath “murder-suicide” cover-up. Here is Robin Morgan’s testimony about what happened to her when the Hughes Estate zeroed in on her:

9. “Robin Morgan's first book of poems made its own history. Thirty thousand hardcover copies selling in the first six months alone is unheard of for any book of poems, much less for a first book by a young poet. What no one, including Morgan and her publishers, anticipated was the size and hunger of the new female readership. Poets are accustomed to audiences of twenty loyal souls, but readings drew hundreds of people; on three occasions Morgan give readings for packed auditoriums that seated a thousand or more. The title poem, "Monster," was quickly termed ""The anthem of the Women's Movement,"" and lines from it showed up on buttons, bumper stickers, t-shirts, posters, and graffiti.”

10. “However, the book was attacked by the literary establishment because of Morgan's poem ""Arraignment,"" which implied that Sylvia Plath's suicide had been provoked by her husband Ted Hughes' battery and womanizing. Random House, without telling Morgan, made its separate peace with Hughes, who had threatened to sue even on the basis of the revised, irony-suffused version of the poem that finally appeared in the book. The publisher agreed to withdraw all copies from any markets in the entire Commonwealth, and Hughes then agreed not to lodge suit. There was nothing Morgan could do.”

11. “But women thought otherwise. Canadian women decided to publish a “pirated” edition--“pirated” with Morgan's permission. Within a month, women in Australia and in New Zealand published their own separate ""pirated"" editions. This happened all over the Commonwealth--spontaneously, furiously, astonishingly. Each edition was different, some with graphics by women, some with photos of Plath, some with both versions of “Arraignment.” Then an English women’s group published and distributed their edition--an act of special courage, since UK slander laws carry heavy sentences for printers and distributors as well as publishers.”

12. “Women all over the Commonwealth carried it further. They made it impossible for Hughes to give public poetry readings in his own country: English feminists picketed the venue with signs quoting lines from “Arraignment.” His reading tours in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States were canceled because of threatened mass protests by what came to be called “Arraignment Women,” who also repeatedly chiseled Hughes' name off Plath's grave marker.”

13. The politics of poetry, biography and homicide—merge together in the continuing “unraveling of the Plath archives.”

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