The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine on Manhattan's Upper West Side, the setting, the home of The American Poets' Corner, is magnificent. It is said to be the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, but it is not merely large ... it is gigantic, it is mammoth, it is enormous, it is colossal. It also is awesomely beautiful. The organ therein is stupendous ... I have never been so sumptuously enclosed and transfixed within sound as I have been when hearing it.
On November 4th, the Thursday evening program, "A Celebration of Sylvia Plath", consisted of speeches and readings of her poems -- Karen Kukil, an Associate Curator at the Smith College Rare Book Room, where much Plath material is held, spoke about passages from Plath's journals (which journals, in the unabridged edition, Kukil edited). Marilyn Nelson, distinguished in scholarly gown, the Poet in Residence at the Cathedral, spoke of her personal appreciation of Plath's work. Poet Annie Finch spoke about Plath's magic with our language. Several Plath poems were read by members of louderARTS, a Lower East Side consortium which refers to itself as "the home for all things performance poetry in New York City." They were beautiful and they were professional and they were excellent. Irish-born poet Paul Muldoon recited "Daddy". A pianist, a clarinetist, and a soprano performed three Plath poems which had been set to music by composer Ned Rorem. All in all, a beautifully dignified ceremony ... nothing more could be wished for except that Sylvia Plath herself could have been there to soak up the deep admiration she earned with her astonishing poetry ... and I hope that there is a life after death and that she was seeing all.
Performer-Readers from louderARTS
Program from Thursday evening ceremony.
The November Seventh Sunday late-afternoon ceremony, the formal induction, was incorporated within the Episcopalian Evensong. Three additional Plath poems were spoken -- poet Major Jackson's recitation of "Daddy" was especially eloquent, his voice a special gift.
Program from Sunday Evensong
At the end of Evensong all were invited to gather at The Poets' Corner in the cathedral for the unveiling of Plath's stone:
I was lucky at this segment of the ceremony ... Karen Kukil, to whom I had introduced myself on Thursday evening because I wanted to tell her how much I love The Rare Book Room at Smith College, where she is Associate Curator, asked me if I would take a few pictures for her. Thus I was able to photograph some distinguished people: Karen on the left; to her right, Susan Plath Winston, Sylvia Plath's niece, the beautiful daughter of Sylvia's only sibling, Warren; and, on the right, Emily Cook, a Smith College student and friend of Karen's; and Robert Shaw, a British Director who recently, in New York City, directed a staged version of Sylvia Plath's "Three Women: A Poem for Three Voices".
Following the unveiling, we were treated by the Cathedral and organist James Kennerley to an amazingly uplifting soul-filling recital. Swoonable sound.
What more can I add except many thanks to my friend, Ellen Miller; she provided me a bed in her apartment on St. Mark's Place on the Lower East Side -- New York City's most exciting block in my opinion -- after all, W.H. Auden once lived just across the street from Ellen; and Ellen subway-guided me here and there over the long weekend and didn't mind terribly, or so it seemed, that I wanted to get to both cathedral events at least an hour early lest I miss something.
It was a rich, rich weekend. There is no promise of a crowning moment to anything, but being at these ceremonies felt like a crowning moment to my life-long obsession with the poems and the biography of the woman who is my favorite poet and America's most amazing poet.
If indeed, Sylvia, you are somewhere with a vantage to see all, I offer a reverential kiss; I lift my hands from the keyboard to blow the kiss across the palms, aiming it toward a high pedestal in my mind. You have enriched my life tremendously.