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Anne Sexton

1928–1974

Anne Sexton was born Anne Gray Harvey in Newton, Massachusetts, on November 9, 1928. She attended boarding school at Rogers Hall Lowell, Massachusetts, where she first started writing poetry. She attended Garland Junior College for one year and married Alfred Muller Sexton II at age nineteen. Sexton and her husband spent time in San Francisco before moving back to Massachusetts for the birth of their first daughter, Linda Gray Sexton, in 1953.

After her second daughter was born in 1955, Sexton was encouraged by her doctor to pursue an interest in poetry that she had developed in high school. In the fall of 1957, she joined writing groups in Boston that introduced her to many writers such as Maxine Kumin, Robert Lowell, and Sylvia Plath. She published her first two books, To Bedlam and Part Way Back (1960) and All My Pretty Ones (1962), with Houghton Mifflin.

In 1965, Sexton was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in London. She then went on to win the 1967 Pulitzer Prize in poetry for her third collection, Live or Die (Houghton Mifflin, 1966). In total, Sexton published nine volumes of poetry during her lifetime, including Love Poems (Houghton Mifflin, 1969), The Book of Folly (Houghton Mifflin, 1973) and The Awful Rowing Toward God (Houghton Mifflin, 9175). She also authored several children's books with Maxine Kumin.

Sexton received several major literary prizes including a Guggenheim Fellowship, the 1967 Shelley Memorial Prize, the 1962 Levinson Prize, and the Frost Fellowship to the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. She taught at Boston University and Colgate University, and died on October 4, 1974, in Weston, Massachusetts. Her papers are collected and housed at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
 


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

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

Prose

Anne Sexton: A Self-Portrait in Letters(Houghton Mifflin, 1977)
No Evil Star: Selected Essays, Interviews, and Prose (University of Michigan Press, 1985)

Anne Sexton
Photo credit: Rollie McKenna

By This Poet

5

Winter Colony

Stylishly, in the white season,
we come here wearing awkward logs
on our feet, to skate on icebergs,
to ride pulleys into the sky
and ride the sky down.

We ride the sky down,
our voices falling back behind us,
unraveling like smooth threads.
Say, I am the air I break; or say,
I am a spool unwinding.

I am the spool that unwound
while riding the sky down, that waits
now to ride the pulley back into the sky,
that comes here, stylishly,
each weekend, for the same trick
in the white season.

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.

Wanting to Die

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 carpenters they want to know which tools.
They never ask why build.

Twice I have so simply declared myself,
have possessed the enemy, eaten the enemy,
have taken on his craft, his magic.

In this way, heavy and thoughtful,
warmer than oil or water,
I have rested, drooling at the mouth-hole.

I did not think of my body at needle point.
Even the cornea and the leftover urine were gone.
Suicides have already betrayed the body.

Still-born, they don't always die,
but dazzled, they can't forget a drug so sweet
that even children would look on and smile.

To thrust all that life under your tongue!--
that, all by itself, becomes a passion.
Death's a sad Bone; bruised, you'd say,

and yet she waits for me, year after year,
to so delicately undo an old wound,
to empty my breath from its bad prison.

Balanced there, suicides sometimes meet,
raging at the fruit, a pumped-up moon,
leaving the bread they mistook for a kiss,

leaving the page of the book carelessly open,
something unsaid, the phone off the hook
and the love, whatever it was, an infection.

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