Hughes, Plath, and a Wellcome ‘Skin-posium’

I have been working hard at playing tourist, as my lovely mother was over for an extended visit. My head spins when I think of all we managed to do & see.

The timing was perfect for me to send the manuscript of my novel to the excellent Debi Alper, who completed a dizzyingly rapid and thorough critique so that now, one day after my mother has gone home, my manuscript sits at my desk ready for me to dig into and revise.  I can’t thank Debi enough for her feedback. She stopped my compass spinning and pointed it North. Time to write.

Book cover

I just finished reading Her Husband: Hughes and Plath: A Marriage, by Diane Middlebrook, and this deserves some comment as well. Though I’ve read some of both Hughes and Plath’s poetry, this is the first book I’ve read about them as a couple and it really blew me away. Though of course the personal aspects of their life are tied to the rest of the story, Middlebrook focuses on the creation of the couple as artists — as writers. The passion, power, struggles, determination, despair, and fierce certainty both Plath and Hughes dealt with are so familiar, yet rendered in the most dramatic, tragic consequences. The book is up for critique, of course, and this review by Andrew Motion probably gives the fairest idea of the strengths and weaknesses of Middlebrook’s approach.

And finally, one of my favourite places in London, the Wellcome Collection, is putting on a Symposium tonight and tomorrow, on…skin:

Nudity is an intimate state, perceived differently across times and cultures. For some it is a taboo, for others something to be celebrated. Join us for this special two-part ‘skin-posium’ to explore nakedness in all its guises.

Friday: Literary reading, 19.00-21.00
Bask in words of literary masterminds Milton, Keats, Tennyson and others. The evening includes a drinks reception so you can get to know your fellow guests.

Saturday: Talks and discussions, 10.30-17.00
Experts from the worlds of history of art, evolutionary science and more will explore how bare skin is understood in different cultures, how nudity makes us feel and how our ancestors evolved to reveal their bare skin in the first place.

Our multidisciplinary speakers include ‘Skin’ curator Javier Moscoso, fashion historian Rebecca Arnold, geneticist Walter Bodmer, historian of art Jill Burke, author of ‘A Brief History of Nakedness’, Philip Carr-Gomm, human geographer Glenn Smith and anthropologist and film-maker Michael Yorke. Friday evening is curated by Steven Connor, author of ‘The Book of Skin’.

Because my next project is on anatomical models, and because I’m beginning to incorporate my work as an artist’s model into my writing, this is of particular interest to me and I’m really looking forward to it!

Ideally I don’t mix my different writing projects: I want to sort out my Caroline Herschel novel before I get too much into the anatomical model writing. But you can’t stop the muse. I’ve got over 10 pages of new poems which are going to be the ‘next project’ after the novel. Seeing as I began writing novels towards the end of working on Darwin’s Microscope, I simply believe my brain wants a break from one genre or the other. Not that I’m at the ‘end’ of the novel, but I’ve been with it for about a year and a half, and my brain is leaping back to poetry, so it can breathe again. I am embracing this productivity and trying to do it justice.