Saturday, December 1, 2007

Anne Sexton

I just finished reading Anne Sexton: A Biography by Diane Wood Middlebrook. I now know that Sexton killed herself by getting in her car and letting it run in the garage with the door closed. I had often heard that she killed herself by putting her head in the oven like Sylvia Plath. Not so. I highly recommend Middlebrook's book to anyone who wants to know more about Sexton. It's quite well done, though if you have any romanticized notions about Sexton as a "mad poetess" then this book probably isn't for you. I was compelled to read this book after finishing Selected Poems of Anne Sexton, edited by Middlebrook. The poems are in chronological order and reading it straight through was like watching Sexton spiral out of control into madness. Her poetry is much more controlled - hell, it was just better - early in her career. From Selected Poems I developed a theory that when Sexton began writing the poetry helped control the madness. Toward the end of her life, the madness was clearly controlling the poetry and her life. Middlebrook's biography confirmed my theory.

Here's a poem I particularly like by Sexton:

I Remember

By the first of August
the invisible beetles began
to snore and the grass was
as tough as hemp and was
no color – no more than
the sand was a color and
we had worn our bare feet
bare since the twentieth
of June and there were times
we forgot to wind up your
alarm clock and some nights
we took our gin warm and neat
from old jelly glasses while
the sun blew out of sight
like a red picture hat and
one day I tied my hair back
with a ribbon and you said
that I looked almost like
a puritan lady and what
I remember best is that
the door to your room was
the door to mine.

(Anne Sexton from All My Pretty Ones, 1962)

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