Thursday, July 19, 2012

In Pen and Ink, Poet Plath Captures Cornucopia Harbor

CORNUCOPIA — In 1959, four years before poet Sylvia Plath committed suicide, she and her husband, Ted Hughes, hopped in her mother’s gray 1953 Chevy Sedan and set out on a Jack Kerouac-inspired cross-country road trip.

The highlight of their trip: Cornucopia, an unincorporated fishing village on the shore of Lake Superior, said David Trinidad, distinguished scholar at Columbia College in “On the Road with Sylvia and Ted: Plath and Hughes's 1959 Trip Across America,” in Plath Profiles, an online publication at Indiana University Northwest.

They camped in the hayfield of charter boat fisherman Andy Nozal, where Plath wrote she could “see Lake Superior through birch and apple tree branches; the water is blue and glittery and stretches to the horizon like a boundless sea,” said Trinidad, who reconstructed the coast-to-coast and back again two-month trip using postcards, journals and letters.

Plath spent the next morning, sketching a fishing tug at the Cornucopia dock, a dock that looks the same today with possibly the same fishing tug resting on the beach next to the dock along with other retired boats.

It was the only sketch Plath produced during her and Hughes’ 6,000-mile road trip, Trinidad said. Now the previously unseen pen-and-ink drawing of Harbour Cornucopia, Wisconsin, will be on display at London's Mayor Gallery Nov. 2 through Dec. 16, along with 43 other drawings, in an exhibit titled "Sylvia Plath: Her Drawings and Dadamaino: Volumes."

“She was very good,” said Trinidad. “She could have been an artist or a writer — she chose writer.”

Plath’s drawing of the boat at the Cornucopia dock can also be seen in the biographical note at the back of her semi-autobiographical work, “The Bell Jar.” A photograph of Plath wearing a straw hat, working on the drawing, as well as photograph of Hughes sitting in front of boat that Plath sketched, can be seen in the book, " "No Other Appetite": Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, and the Blood Jet of Poetry.

No one seems to remember the famous duo coming to Wisconsin’s northernmost town, even the 12-year-old Marcia Nozal who Plath mentioned in her postcards and journals.

Even though she fished with Plath and Hughes, Marcia Baker, 65, doesn’t remember the literary couple who tented in her parents’ hayfield. She also doesn’t remember eating perch, wild strawberries and blueberries for dinner with them or sitting with them in the moonlit apple orchard as her father told stories, details that Trinidad transcribed.

 “I had no idea,” said Baker, 65, a retired psychoanalyst and an active artist residing in Maine, during a telephone interview.

Cornucopia made a distinct impression on the pair, however. “Ted Hughes said their time in Cornucopia was the highlight,” Trinidad said.

Plath nearly wrote a story about Cornucopia called, “A Prospect of Cornucopia,” that she referred to in her journals as “merely an essay on the impossibility of perfect happiness.”

The short story in part has been partially preserved at Emory University. In it she writes of Cornucopia, "a place we hadn't planned on going to, hadn't even known existed until we came to it, a good fifty miles off our route," that it was "small, tidy, rich in dairy herds and orchards, streams and lakes brimming with fish--regular milk-and-honey dream towns."

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