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It will be impossible to do justice to the excellent work done by the organisers, the staff at the Special Collections and all the many helpers who made this conference possible. Nevertheless, here is a short, personal summary, which I hope may offer a glimpse of those interesting, challenging and inspiring three days. Writing these notes, I thought it might be useful to provide some additional information for anyone intending to stay at Emory for research (the first two sections).
Thanks are due to Andy Armitage for reading this for errors and weak points.
I arrived in Atlanta one day early, on Tuesday, 4 October, in order to have time to look around and to begin work in the Archives prior to the conference.
On weekdays, the Emory campus is easy to get to from the airport. You just take a MARTA train into the city, get off at the Arts Centre, stop N5 (you need to get transfer tokens when you enter the MARTA system), take bus number 36 (North Decatur) and get off at Emory Village or Clifton Rd. The whole journey takes about an hour or so and costs next to nothing. One thing to keep in mind though when travelling to Emory is that public transport at weekends and at night can be extremely poor to none existent. Another thing is that the Special Collections are closed on Sundays.
There is a variety of accommodation available in and around the campus, including the moderately priced University Inn, which has the additional advantage of being only a 5 minutes walk from the library. The ambient noise level on campus came to me as a shock, with the constant hum and huff of air conditioning systems accompanying you almost everywhere. (It was worse at the hotel, where you'll hear your neighbour's, even if you turn yours off.
For one who has never been to the Southern United States, the weather was surprisingly hot for early October, with temperatures regularly above 25° C and occasional torrential rain or high humidity 90-95% (We've had the opportunity of enjoying the weaker bits of what seems to have been a tropical storm. This was a bit like getting splashed with a bucket of warm water when you stepped out of the door.). The campus looks very green, with what I, in all botanical ignorance, would call rubber plants lining many streets. But there are also plenty of oaks and other trees in the many green spaces.
The campus has two simple food courts and a more pub-like 24-hour eating place by the railroad. The entire campus is alcohol-free, so if you want to go for a drink, you need to get off campus to one of several small restaurant-type places in Emory Village. However, these places close rather early at night (around 11).
Emory Village also has the only supermarket within easy walking distance, a much larger selection of stores being located some 15 minutes walk or a five minutes bus ride away up North Decatur Rd. (bus no. 36).
The campus has a bookstore which isn't worth talking about (set books mostly), but a much better, proper bookstore is located on Oxford Rd. in Emory Village.
I arrived at the Special Collections in the morning of 5 October. The Collections are housed on the 10th floor of the Robert W. Woodruff Library, an impressive 1970s(?) building near the Emory Village end of the campus. During the conference, there was small but splendid exhibition on the 10th floor displaying books, letters, photos etc. spanning Hughes's entire life. The exhibition was curated by Melissa Maday, who also helped organise the conference.
At the Special Collections I was greeted by very friendly and supportive staff who make it a pleasure working there. The rooms on the 10th floor are light and rather spacious, and there is a balcony all around the building you can access for a break, a chat or for getting your eyes off handwriting and typescript for a few moments. As I entered the work room, which is a little darker than the rest (no windows), Caroline Hall, Diane Middlebrook, Terry Gifford, Roger Rees, Neil Roberts and Daniel Weissbort were already working away busily.
All working desks at the Special Collections have power connections for mobile computer devices – apart from those, however, only pencil and paper are permitted. Moreover, it is strongly advisable to contact the Special Collection's staff with your request for material prior to getting there.
The choice of things to look at is vast, ranging from notebooks, letters, typescripts, to proof copies, books, photos and much more. So it is best to bring lots of time. Moreover, Ted Hughes's handwriting can be very difficult to read so that sometimes you are only left with the option to make a spirited, wild guess –
or, if you are lucky, ask one of the other people around who are familiar with Hughes's hand to give you a second opinion.
The conference opened on the evening of 5 October with a welcome address by Ron Schuchard, professor of modern English and Irish literature at Emory and one of our hosts, and a keynote by poet Craig Raine, former poetry editor at Faber & Faber and editor of the literary magazine Areté.
Craig Raine's talk, »The Double Exposure and Ted Hughes,« was exceptional in several respects. He gave a warm, personal and witty talk, anecdotal in parts but never lacking in insight. A perfect opener, and a hard act to follow. Several other speakers subsequently noted and pointed out aspects of ›doubleness‹ in their talks.
After the keynote, attendants were invited to the exhibition opening on the 10th floor of the library. The exhibition was curated by Melissa Maday, comprising rare publications, letters, photographs and manuscripts spanning Hughes's entire life.
The next morning began with a short address by Steve Enniss, followed by Ron Schuchard's talk on the topic of »Hughes and Eliot« and covering aspects such as their exchanges on matters of rhyme, rhythm and scansion (Eliot was Hughes's editor during his first years with Faber & Faber), Eliot's ›Dark Angel,‹ Shamanism, and how Hughes came to shape his notion of Eliot as he published it »A Dancer to God.«
Brendan Corcoran's talk focused on Hughes and Heaney. The two poets developed a strong and creative friendship since they met in the late 60s. Once aspect of this friendship was their exchange of work for comment and criticism througout the years, including Birthday Letters.
Daniel Weissbort has dedicated much of his life to promoting translations of little known poets/poems into English and is currently compiling a publication on Hughes's approach to translation. Hughes and Weissbort had collaborated on several projects, including the publication of the first few issues of »Modern Poetry in Translation«. Hughes continued to work with foreign language source texts throughout his life, making them his own and creatively transposing them into English. The output includes such celebrated texts as Tales from Ovid, and it is well possible that the last poem completed in his lifetime was Pushkin's »The Prophet.«
Anne-Marie Tatham continued in a related vein, closely examining Tales from Ovid, with a particular focus on the role and function of metamorphosis. Ovid's Metamorphoses – in their original form or in the shape in which they filtered down through Shakespeare and other writers to our present day – had always held a strong fascination for Hughes.
Shakespeare's work features in an even more prominent role in Hughes's creative thinking and output, and Vincent Broqua's talk was dedicated to an examination of this role. Hughes began reading Shakespeare intensively in his late teens/early twens, frequently returning to it throughout his life. Hughes's preoccupation with Shakespeare eventually culminated in the publication of Shakespeare and the Goddess – a work that caused a most disparate response among critics and readers.
Gavin Drummond spoke on a topic which, to my knowledge, has never been properly addressed before but plays a vital role in Hughes's creative approach and output – Ted Hughes's work with memory systems, such as memory maps. In the archives, the researcher will frequently encounter memory maps at seminal stages of poems and stories. Hughes thought that the craft of memorising was insufficiently and ineffectively taught to children and hence lost to many adults today – yet, he was convinced, a strong and accurate memory is a most useful tool not only for creative work but for daily life in general.
Ted Hughes's preoccupation about the First World War has for a long time fascinated and puzzled critics, partly, I suspect, because of the autobiographic tinge of his ›war poems.‹ There is the figure of the father who is unable to speak and cope, for example (his father really was a survivor of the »Great War«), or what Hughes saw as the paralysis of an entire generation. Marlene Briggs's talk examined these poems.
Cornelia Pearsall looked at a closely related aspect of Hughes's work, his discovery of writings of Keith Douglas and his attempts at making Douglas poetry better known (e.g. Selected Poems, 1964). A greatly gifted poet, Douglas was ten years older than Hughes and had died at age 24 during the invasion of Normandy (1944). Though Douglas's war poems are among the most unflinching and shattering in the English language, and even though a Collected Poems had come out in 1951, he was practically forgotten by the early sixties.
Another aspect of Hughes's life and work that deserves closer study is his time in America with Sylvia Plath in the late fifties. Though dates and facts are broadly known, there has been no detailed research on the topic. Melissa Maday drew on the wealth of material in American archives to throw more light on this period in her talks »Ted Hughes in America«.
Diane Middlebrook, author of Her husband. Hughes and Plath – a marriage, focussed her talk on Sylvia Plath's »Three Caryatids« poem, which caused an outburst of derision among Hughes's friends at Cambridge, which in turn is the background for two Birthday Letters poems. In the 1950s, Plath had written a number of poems based on paintings and sculpture. Drawing on these sources Diane Middlebrook elucidated the creative process behind the poems, shedding new light on the poetic approaches of Plath and Hughes.
The final talk of the day came from Andy Armitage. »The Birthday Letters Myth« presented a fresh approach to what has probably become Hughes most widely known publication. Rather than going along with the autobiographical reading of many critics, Armitage sketched out an alternative view of the book – that Hughes deliberately created Birthday Letters as mythic poetic sequence to be able to recover and present his own experience, to achieve something which a factual account would be unable to achieve.
In the evening,
Theater Emory & Out of Hand Theater treated us to a superb premiere of Euripides's Alcestis, which, I felt, captured the spirit of Hughes's text very well. A great production, performed by students and professional actors who succeeded in turning the entire theatre-going experience into an all-engaging event.
more on the last conference day as soon as I can make time for it
Roger Rees, »Between Monarchy and Democracy: Ted Hughes's Rain Charm for the Duchy«
Terry Gifford, »The Ecology of Ted Hughes: Wolfwatching – the Final Poetic Statement«
Anthony Cuda, »The Tramp«
Carol Bere, »Artistic Inspiration, Mysterious Power: Ted Hughes and the Notion of Duende«
Ann Skea, »Creatures of Light«
Rand Brandes, »Mercury in Taurus: W.B. Yeats and Ted Hughes«
Astrid Appels, »Intermediality in the Poetry of Ted Hughes«
Neil Roberts, »For ›From the Life and Songs of the Crow‹«
Lissa Paul, »Flexible Immunity: Contemporary Culture and the Better Kind of Folk Tale«
Claas Kazzer, »Family Relations – Traces of a Cosmology in Ted Hughes's Creation Tales«
Yehuda Koren & Eilat Negev (Authors), »His Life in Inscriptions: Ted Hughes's Library as a Biographical Tool«