In March of last year, Toronto collector Greg Gatenby auctioned off “some 1,700 LPs, 45s, and 10-inch discs”-worth of recorded literary history, containing readings by such canonical figures as “Auden and Atwood, Camus and Capote, Eliot, Faulkner, Kipling, Shaw and Yeats,” and the recordings featured here from Sylvia Plath. Gatenby’s entire collection went on sale for a buy-it-now price of $85,000 (I assume it’s sold by now), and while we might have preferred that he donated these artifacts to libraries, there may have been no need. Most of them are already, or we hope soon will be, digitized and free online. Sylvia Plath reading her poetry (now out of print) was originally released on vinyl and cassette in 1977 by prolific spoken word record label Caedmon, but of course the readings they document all took place over fifteen years earlier, some at least as early as 1959, the year before the publication of her first book, The Colossus and Other Poems.
Many of the poems here appeared in The Colossus, the only collection of poems Plath published in her lifetime. Some, like “November Graveyard”—first published in Mademoiselle in 1958—were collected late, in the Ted Hughes-edited Collected Poems in 1981, and the rest appeared in Ariel and other posthumous collections. Oddly, the title poem of her first book doesn’t appear, nor will you hear any of the poems that made Plath an infamous literary figure: no “Ariel,” no “Daddy,” no “Lady Lazarus,” though you can hear her read those poems elsewhere. Many of these poems are more lush, less visceral and personal, though no less rich with arresting and sometimes disturbing imagery. Several of these readings took place in February 1959 at Harvard’s Woodberry Poetry Room. The album’s official description tells us these are “selections from the last 6 years of her life,” and also include “readings for the BBC before she wrote her controversial novel, The Bell Jar.”
Before Caedmon collected these lesser-known poems recorded readings of “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus” had already been released on the compilation record The Poet Speaks in 1965. Listening to Plath read these poems may prompt you to pull out your own editions to read them for yourself, whether again or for the first time. To see a full listing of the poems Plath reads above, scroll to the bottom of this bibliography page on sylviaplath.info.
Find more great poetry readings in our audio collection — 1,000 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.
Hear Sylvia Plath Read Fifteen Poems From Her Final Collection, Ariel, in 1962 Recording
For Sylvia Plath’s 81st Birthday, Hear Her Read ‘A Birthday Present’
Lady Lazarus: Watch an Experimental Film Spoken by Sylvia Plath
Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.
I was wondering now if you had any information on how much a mint condition copy of the vinyl would go for these days. I happened upon one and I am curious.