In October 2018, news broke that Zachary Turpin and Erin Singer had discovered previously uncollected poems by Anne Sexton. The poet's daughter, Linda Gray Sexton, tells the story in an interview with Fugue, a literary journal begun in 1990 at the University of Idaho, where Turpin teaches. The following is an excerpt from this interview.
Fugue: What was your experience of reading the poems presented in the forthcoming issue?
Linda Gray Sexton: It has been a unique experience to discover, read, and experience these poems lost to us for so many years. It has never happened before that a stranger has contacted me serendipitously about new-but-old poems of my mother’s and thus brought them to light. [....]
I think my mother might not have wanted these four poems published—and might in fact dismiss them—were she alive and still writing and creating the main body of her work; however, part of a literary executor’s job is to make posthumous decisions that take into account the literary world today and the writer’s place within it. The poet grants the executor the power to override her desires, and relies upon the wisdom the executor must exhibit in order to make the “correct” choices—even if they may not be exactly what she thinks she wants at the time she is making her decisions for publication after her death. Had she and I had the benefit of a discussion on the topic of these early poems, I think I might have changed her mind about publishing them after she was gone, as a way of elucidating her beginnings as the poet, Anne Sexton.
Fugue: Do you think these early works help bring your mother’s complex art and life into focus? Or do they reveal that there is an Anne who, for all our interest and care, we can simply never know?
Linda Gray Sexton: I find these poems to be tremendously revealing. My least favorite is “Argument in the Gallery” as it seems the most abstract and I find I am neither particularly moved by it nor do I see the “Anne” whom I have come to know so intimately over the years, not only “in person” but on the page, as well. To be emotionally moved by a poem was, of course, the quality she most treasured and to which she aimed above all. Eventually the formal qualities she captured so exactingly in the early poems—meter, rhyme, tone—were replaced by more inventive ones, in my humble opinion (being neither a poet myself, nor able to be much of a critic therefore).
As she moved onward in her career, her foremost objective became the “tapping” of the unconscious and bringing it into the light in a poetry that made language unique. (See “For John, Who Begs Me Not To Enquire Further” as an example of this concept of tapping the unconscious, albeit in an early iteration.) The internal mechanisms of the poems grow more mysterious as she ages, and one must dig for them to see how she has reinterpreted the more formal way of expressing herself. Despite this, in these early poems she did aim for the emotional pinpoint as the unconscious shaped it, and so makes herself infinitely “knowable.” My favorite of these is “Winter Colony,” with its overtones of a possible letter to a lover, or even an ode to winter with its cherished objective of skiing, though perhaps I only imagine this—yet in this imagining I become a true “follower” of what she may or may not have intended. And it is this dance between reader and poet that captures her final intent.