Anne Sexton

SnakArt is Life

Bliv bruger af LibraryThing, hvis du vil skrive et indlæg

Anne Sexton

Dette emne er markeret som "i hvile"—det seneste indlæg er mere end 90 dage gammel. Du kan vække emnet til live ved at poste et indlæg.

okt 12, 2007, 2:07 pm

Anne Sexton is new to me. I've been dipping in and out of her Complete Poems this year, but now want to make a more studied effort, starting from the beginning. Since Ill Lit is a popular thread, I though Art-is-Lifers(?awkward) might find a discussion of her poetry interesting. I hope so.

I'm working through To Bedlam and Part Way Back (1960), which I believe is her first book of poetry. One queston is about "Elizabeth Gone" and "Some Foreign Letters." Does anyone know who the subjects of these poems are?

okt 12, 2007, 2:49 pm

“Elizabeth Gone” and “Some Foreign Letters” are about her great-aunt, someone Sexton was close to.

okt 12, 2007, 5:22 pm

Poor Anne, she kind of languishes in Sylvia Plath's shadow and I think her (Sexton) a far better poet. Plus she was the subject of an unflattering biography by her daughter (I think I'm going to make my kids sign a non-disclosure agreement).

When I think of her, I can't help humming that gorgeous, moving Peter Gabriel song "Mercy Street".

Now I'll bet I have YOU humming it for the rest of the day...

okt 13, 2007, 3:33 pm

Never heard of Peter Gabriel's "Mercy Street". Is it at all like "Shakin' Street" by MC5?

okt 13, 2007, 4:52 pm

Some years after Anne Sexton's death, a volume called "Collected Poems" was released which was very poorly edited. It included quite a bit of unfinished stuff that had she lived, would have been discarded or revised. So the best way to start with
Anne Sexton's works is with the books published during her lifetime.

Redigeret: okt 13, 2007, 7:49 pm


"Mercy Street" is on Peter Gabriel's "So" album, which sold gazillions of copies thanks to the appeal of the single "Sledgehammer". There's also a lovely duet that Gabriel performs with the magnificent Kate Bush ("Don't Give Up") but, in my view, "Mercy Street" is the best song on the album. Haunting and it really does evoke the spirit of Sexton's work...

Here, I just dug a version of "Mercy Street" off YouTube--I can't figure out how to do a link on LibraryThing (I've told you previously I am technologically challenged) but paste this in your subject line and it will take you there. Enjoy, kiddo:

okt 13, 2007, 8:16 pm

Thanks, I'm listening even as I type.

Redigeret: okt 14, 2007, 11:06 am

So am I. I found a copy of So in my collection. I have heard the song before but did not remember it. Not a bad song to be humming all day. Of course, the whole album is gorgeous.

Back to Anne. I like the idea of starting from the beginning of her published works, so I can see the evolution, not that I'm any poetry expert.

MarianV, the volume I have is The Complete Poems published by Houghton-Mifflin in 1981. It includes all published books plus the posthumous 45 Mercy Street and Words for Dr. Y.

I'm really struck by "Her Kind":

I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.

I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.

I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.

This poem...I bet it calls out to unusual women everywhere. I'm wondering about the "driver." Could it be an allusion to Dickinson's "Because I Could Not Stop for Death"? I love the "warm caves" bit, the image of this outcast(?) who goes and outfits this cave and "rearranging the disaligned."

It is so sad, Sexton's death obsession is clear from her earliest works. How could anyone recover from that?

"Unknown Girl in the Maternity Ward" could be the most brutal poem I've ever read.

Thanks, everyone, for adding your experiences to this reading experience. :-)

Edited for coherence.

okt 14, 2007, 11:27 am


"I have ridden in your cart, driver..."

I wonder if she is referring to the custom of bearing condemned prisoners through the streets of a town or city in a tumbrel or cart before taking them to a place of execution. Especially when seen in the context of the "flames still bite my thigh" and "my ribs crack where the wheels wind".

Lovely, troubling poem--Sexton is never an easy read.

I agree re: your remarks on her death obsession--some people you just know are not meant to live out their full three score and ten...

okt 14, 2007, 11:45 am

I see what you mean, Cliff. I reread the last stanza and I can see a woman punished for witchcraft.

okt 14, 2007, 11:53 am


Hey, don't take my opinion as gospel, that's what makes poetry so wonderful to me, it can be examined from a thousand different angles and each one is as relevant as the next. Cripes, now I sound like a post-modernist (somebody give me a slap)....

okt 14, 2007, 12:02 pm

Don't worry, I don't take anyone's opinion as gospel. And I'll slap you if that's your thing, but I'm not sure why I'm doing it. *slap* ;-)

okt 14, 2007, 12:28 pm

Thanks...I needed that.

okt 21, 2007, 2:17 pm

For John, Who Begs Me Not to Enquire Further

Not that it was beautiful,
but that, in the end, there was
a certain sense of order there;
something worth learning
in that narrow diary of my mind,
in the commonplaces of the asylum
where the cracked mirror
or my own selfish death
outstared me.
And if I tried
to give you something else,
something outside of myself,
you would not know
that the worst of anyone
can be, finally,
an accident of hope.
I tapped my own head;
it was a glass, an inverted bowl.
It is a small thing
to rage in your own bowl.
At first it was private.
Then it was more than myself;
it was you, or your house
or your kitchen.
And if you turn away
because there is no lesson here
I will hold my awkward bowl,
with all its cracked stars shining
like a complicated lie,
and fasten a new skin around it
as if I were dressing an orange
or a strange sun.
Not that it was beautiful,
but that I found some order there.
There ought to be something special
for someone
in this kind of hope.
This is something I would never find
in a lovelier place, my dear,
although your fear is anyone's fear,
like an invisible veil between us all...
and sometimes in private,
my kitchen, your kitchen,
my face, your face.

This is the poem out of To Bedlam and Part Way Back that speaks to me the most. I read--I don't know if it's accurate--that this poem was in response to a writing teacher's desire that Anne not write about all her dark and womanly stuff.

It is a small thing/to rage in your own bowl. This line hits me in that place where I rage in my own bowl. That trapped feeling. All of these thoughts and intensity and no outlet. God, I admire this woman's bravery, to expose herself as she does. That's a challenge in my own writing: I get scared when I expose myself, although I know that's probably where the writing is good and meaningful and original.

There ought to be something special/for someone/in this kind of hope.

okt 21, 2007, 2:53 pm

A bloody good poem, absolutely unrelenting, refusing to avert its the best of Sexton's work. Thanks for posting it, I really got rocked back on my heels by it, like a hard slap, delivered without warning or pretext...

okt 21, 2007, 3:55 pm

I do what I can :-)

Does anyone know the significance of "an orange or a strange sun"? That bit of color jumps out at me, and I'm not sure of the reference. Why orange?

okt 21, 2007, 4:30 pm

It could be simply an autobiographical reference to a favorite of oft-used bowl. Sometimes the simplest explanations are the correct ones...or I might be completely and utterly wrong...

okt 21, 2007, 11:38 pm

A sun is usually not orange unless it is rising or setting. It could have something to do with beginnings and endings.

okt 22, 2007, 4:44 pm

i would suggest one be very careful about "studying" a poet from beginning to end. if you find something you like of the poet's, surely go find some more, but my suggestion would be to first find something written around the same time, then branch out.
Since the middle 1970's, i've carried 3 books with me, making sure they are always within reach, one of them , Anne's "Love Poems." and if i had to pick 10 poems as the best i've ever read, this would be one of them:

The Kiss

My mouth blooms like a cut.
I've been wronged all year, tedious
nights, nothing but rough elbows in them
and delicate boxes of Kleenex calling crybaby
crybaby , you fool!

Before today my body was useless.
Now it's tearing at its square corners.
It's tearing old Mary's garments off, knot by knot
and see -- Now it's shot full of these electric bolts.
Zing! A resurrection!

Once it was a boat, quite wooden
and with no business, no salt water under it
and in need of some paint. It was no more
than a group of boards. But you hoisted her, rigged her.
She's been elected.

My nerves are turned on. I hear them like
musical instruments. Where there was silence
the drums, the strings are incurably playing. You did this.
Pure genius at work.
Darling, the composer has stepped
into fire.

Anne Sexton

okt 22, 2007, 6:02 pm

Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for:


okt 22, 2007, 6:50 pm

Wow, what a poem! It would be a fine poem without the first line, but that first line makes the whole thing read differently. And that last line - what a warning. I'll be thinking about this one.

okt 23, 2007, 1:36 pm

Citygirl...#14. What an interesting tumble of feelings and images. As for the "orange" - I think it is actually an orange, as in the fruit. It has skin. But that's just how it reads to me.

And Tim ... wow. Anne definately deserves the applause. But now I wonder, what are the other two books you keep with you at all times within easy reach, do tell!

Redigeret: okt 23, 2007, 2:11 pm

The Kiss is an amazing poem. Stunning, in fact.

villandry, I was wondering why the use of two orange-colored circles (discs, globes), the orange and the sun, in juxtaposition with the clear globe, the bowl that is her head. Those lines puzzle me. The hazards of poetry...some things we'll never know.

Edited for preposition exchange. Silly prepositions.

okt 23, 2007, 2:47 pm

22: Orange as a fruit makes sense regarding Sexton, who wrote a lot about food. Good call!

Redigeret: okt 23, 2007, 4:03 pm

a smile and a nod, villandry.

not to shift the mood from Anne Sexton, but my other 2 books are Neruda's "The Captains Verses" and John Berryman's "The Dream Songs".

okt 23, 2007, 3:46 pm

Wasn't Berryman another suicide? I seem to recall...

okt 23, 2007, 4:05 pm

indeed he was, Cliff. the early 70's were hell for us hopefully poets, all our poet idols sticking their heads in ovens, jumping off bridges, swallowing fumes in the garage. it got to be a point where one had to wonder just what would it cost to jump in to that career.

i'm shaking my head. life's definitely been strange. coulda been worse, i guess. i could have been published. probably would have killed myself hanggliding.

okt 23, 2007, 4:39 pm

Cliff, John Berryman jumped off a bridge into the Mississippi River. His father was a suicide and Berryman discovered the body. Berryman carried a death wish with him throughout his life. I think at the end he was unhealthy, both mentally and physically, and he just couldn't go on. Recordings of Berryman reading his Dream Songs gets frequent play on my iTunes list.

Redigeret: okt 24, 2007, 11:54 am

Thanks for the stuff on Berryman. I knew I'd heard something along those lines (about his tragic end).

I love listening to recordings of poets/writers reading from their work. I've got a really old double LP of Dylan Thomas reading. And I don't have a record player, took me ages to find someone to put it on tape for me. Thomas was an excellent reader--his readings/ performances must have been something (live).

One of these days I'll join the rest of the world and get hooked up with this iPod and portable music technology. I'm a music lover and I'm wayyy behind the times...

okt 24, 2007, 2:31 pm

Oh Cliff; once you go with iTunes/iPod there (digital) will be no looking back. There are other players, of course, but iPod is the one for me.

Redigeret: mar 30, 2009, 7:13 am

This is in terms of ¨For John, Who Begs Me Not to Inquire Further:¨
For me, it is the image of Anne holding out her inverted bowl to this unknown being that is most striking. The orange that comes and goes on this discussion was chosen, as far as I am concerned, on the basis of it being a fruit easily skinned. The peel is the ¨dressing¨ that Anne uses to make her poems pretty (yes, an ¨All My Pretty Ones¨ reference). Raging in one´s own bowl is different to twisting your bowl to go outwards and face the people, so that it may form shapes of physical things such as kitchens. To turn out a bowl is the pain this most lovely woman experienced to give us these poems. In celebration to her genius, I have read her complete poems time and again. It has no place on my bookshelf, but one beside my bed. Anne is one woman who is always welcome there.

Somebody else asks about ¨Elizabeth Gone,¨ and I have confirmation that Elizabeth was an alter-ego created by Anne who would do all the immoral things that Anne wouldn´t. This makes the reading of the poem much more powerful, and quite brilliant. Who else could address a goodbye poem to a twin that they had invented and believed in?
That is a serious question, I would love to read another poet with such topics.

maj 11, 2009, 12:24 am

Dear #14, You convinced me to buy a book of her poems,
Thanks, Guido.

maj 11, 2009, 11:05 am

You're welcome, Guido. I let my Sexton reading lapse awhile ago, but I think it would be good to get back to it...when I can can get to my copy of the book, which is in California, while I am in Canada.

And, oktsar, thanks for the info on "Elizabeth Gone"; gives it a different feel.

Redigeret: maj 11, 2009, 4:39 pm

Er, Cliff #6, try this link,

Sorry mate, I have never liked my generations music (and I am a real BB. DOB: 17/01/47)
OK Baez and Hoyt Axton are good, but deep purple and other wankers of that ilk...

And let there be ROCKS thrown from ON HIGH PLACES and may the heathen known as guido be cast out hence..

Sorry, this link was good a few minutes ago, now
irrelevant. See what I mean, BAH HUMBUG...

maj 13, 2009, 2:03 am

Guido, how quickly things change in the music biz. :-)

Redigeret: maj 13, 2009, 4:33 am

Dear Group,

What happened to Tim Watkinson.
He posted that Magic poem in #19.
I went to see who he was, and was told he
never existed.

Guido is curious...

maj 13, 2009, 11:25 pm

I don't know what happened to Tim. I used to have great conversations with him. Then one day his profile disappeared. It reappeared. It went back and forth like that for a while. I haven't checked on him in a long time. I hope he is well!