Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Mommy's Angel

Philip Booth '48 was a mid-twentieth-century poet whose work was published regularly in such prominent places as The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and Poetry, among others. A native of Hanover, New Hampshire, Booth served in the USAF during World War II and then came to Dartmouth College, where he studied (albeit briefly) with Robert Frost. Upon graduation, Booth went to Columbia to earn a master's degree and then quickly returned to Dartmouth. After several years as an instructor of creative writing in the English department, he taught in turn at Bowdoin, Wellesley, and Syracuse, where he helped to found their Creative Writing program. During the course of his career, Booth won numerous prestigious fellowships, including ones from the Guggenheim and the NEA. He was elected a Fellow of the Academy of American Poets in 1983 and died in 2007.

In addition to his own poetic accomplishments, Booth was also a regular correspondent with other rising poets of his time, including Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Booth was the nephew of Plath's psychiatrist at Smith College and is first mentioned by Plath in her journal from 1958. At Rauner, we have a small cache of correspondence between Booth, Plath, and Hughes from the years 1960-61. Included is a rather cheery-looking Christmas card from December of 1960, in which Plath dotes upon her daughter, Frieda, barely eight months old at the time. Plath states that Frieda is "an angel to confound us atheists," while Hughes embarks upon a self-indulgent if tongue-in-cheek analysis of the card's cover image.

In a subsequent letter, dated March 29, 1961, Plath's description of her daughter is that of a "changeling" who is filling their nights with "teething yowls." She also mentions that she would give anything for a little money to pay for a nanny so that she could have some solid blocks of time in which to write. These apparently contradictory descriptions of motherly life will ring true for anyone who has children of their own. This small glimpse into Plath's experience as a mother makes her suicide less than two years later all the more poignant. In February of 1963, Plath would carefully seal off the door to where Frieda and her little brother slept before going to the kitchen, placing wet towels across the bottom of its door, and turning on the gas in the oven. By the time a nurse arrived several hours later to help her with the children, she was dead.

To read the Booth-Plath-Hughes correspondence at Rauner, ask for MS-426, Box 1, folder 12.

No comments :

Post a Comment