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from Anne Sexton ReadsCaedmon

About this poet

Anne Gray Harvey was born in Newton, Massachusetts, on November 9, 1928. She attended Garland Junior College for one year and married Alfred Muller Sexton II at age nineteen. She enrolled in a modeling course at the Hart Agency and lived in San Francisco and Baltimore. In 1953 she gave birth to a daughter. In 1954 she was diagnosed with postpartum depression, suffered her first mental breakdown, and was admitted to Westwood Lodge, a neuropsychiatric hospital she would repeatedly return to for help. In 1955, following the birth of her second daughter, Sexton suffered another breakdown and was hospitalized again; her children were sent to live with her husband's parents. That same year, on her birthday, she attempted suicide.

She was encouraged by her doctor to pursue an interest in writing poetry she had developed in high school, and in the fall of 1957 she enrolled in a poetry workshop at the Boston Center for Adult Education. In her introduction to Sexton's Complete Poems, the poet Maxine Kumin, who was enrolled with Sexton in the 1957 workshop and became her close friend, describes her belief that it was the writing of poetry that gave Sexton something to work toward and develop and thus enabled her to endure life for as long as she did. In 1974 at the age of 46, despite a successful writing career—she won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1967 for Live or Die—she lost her battle with mental illness and committed suicide.

Like Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, W. D. Snodgrass (who exerted a great influence on her work), and other Confessional poets, Sexton offers the reader an intimate view of the emotional anguish that characterized her life. She made the experience of being a woman a central issue in her poetry, and though she endured criticism for bringing subjects such as menstruation, abortion, and drug addiction into her work, her skill as a poet transcended the controversy over her subject matter.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

45 Mercy Street (1976)
All My Pretty Ones (1962)
Live or Die (1966)
Love Poems (1969)
Selected Poems (1964)
The Awful Rowing Toward God (1975)
The Book of Folly (1973)
The Complete Poems (1981)
The Death Notebooks (1974)
To Bedlam and Part Way Back (1960)
Transformations (1971)
Words for Dr. Y.: Uncollected Poems (1978)

Prose

Anne Sexton: A Self-Portrait in Letters (1977)

Her Kind

Anne Sexton, 1928 - 1974
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.

From The Complete Poems by Anne Sexton, published by Houghton Mifflin Company. Copyright © 1981 by Linda Gray Sexton. Used with permission.

Anne Sexton

Anne Sexton

In her work, Pulitzer Prize winner Anne Sexton—like Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, W. D. Snodgrass, and other Confessional poets—offers the reader an intimate view of the emotional anguish that characterized her life.

by this poet

poem
For my Mother, born March 1902, died March 1959
and my Father, born February 1900, died June 1959
Gone, I say and walk from church,
refusing the stiff procession to the grave,
letting the dead ride alone in the hearse.
It is June.  I am tired of being brave.

We drive to the
poem
Since you ask, most days I cannot remember.
I walk in my clothing, unmarked by that voyage.
Then the almost unnameable lust returns.

Even then I have nothing against life.  
I know well the grass blades you mention,
the furniture you have placed under the sun.

But suicides have a special language.
Like
poem
No matter what life you lead
the virgin is a lovely number:
cheeks as fragile as cigarette paper,
arms and legs made of Limoges,
lips like Vin Du Rhône,
rolling her china-blue doll eyes
open and shut.
Open to say, 
Good Day Mama,
and shut for the thrust
of the unicorn.
She is unsoiled.
She is as white as a