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From The Joy And Anguish Of Her Own Experience, Sexton Fashioned Poems That Told Truths About The Inner Lives Of Men And Women This Book Comprises Sexton S Ten Volumes Of Verse, Including The Pulitzer Prize Winner Live Or Die, As Well As Seven Poems From Her Last Years I m in this workshop and I have this poem and Kathleen Fraser says that if I don t take every pronoun out of my poem I run the risk of seeming confessional which is at the worst, Anne Sexton, and at the best, Sylvia Plath I felt stomped on Not because she was right about my poem, but because I became aware that everyone could see me doing it, reading the complete Sexton, cover to cover one spring in college I can see me beside the pool reading it and I m thinking fuck you Kathleen, because everyone is a young women sometimes and everyone wants those long long legs. strings are incurably playingthe composer has stepped into fire I devoured The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton, whose poetry, especially her love poems, quivers with a pulsating eros as it sways to its orgiastic echoes My nerves are turned on I hear them likemusical instruments Where there was silencethe drums, the strings are incurably playing You did this.Pure genius at work Darling, the composer has steppedinto fire. From The Kiss Hers was a tragic life, throughout most of which she suffered severe mental illness Yet, by the late 1960s she was one of the most revered poets in America, having won the Pulitzer and being made the first female member of the Harvard chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.Her poetry seems most notable for the openness with which she wrote confessional poetry about topics still deemed taboo for open personal discussion such as incest, masturbation, menstruation, adultery and drug addiction By the early 1970s, some critics saw her as a lazy boozy poetess Others since have been kinder, saying that she had matured to the use her poems as an instrument against the politesse of language, politics, religion and sex Rothenberg, Joris, Poems for the Millenium, 1995 A passage from another of my favorite poems, Eighteen Days Without You Draw me good, draw me warm.Bring me your raw boned wrist and yourstrange, Mr Bind, strange stubborn horn.Darling, bring with this an hour of undulations, forthis is the music for which I was born Lock in Be alert, my acrobatand I will be soft wood and you the nailand we will make fiery ovens for Jack Spratand you will hurl yourself into my tiny jailand we will take a supper together and thatwill be that. At age 45, in October 1974, Ms Sexton locked herself in her garage, started her car s engine and committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning.Peter Gabriel obviously loved her poetry enough to write and dedicate to her a song called Mercy Street on his 1986 album a few linesshe pictures the broken glass, she pictures the steamshe pictures a soulwith no leak at the seam dreaming of mercy streetwear your insides outdreaming of mercy Anne, with her father is out in the boatriding the waterriding the waves on the seaThank you to the publisher Open Road Integrated Media and NetGalley for a copy of this wonderful book in exchange for a fair review. Sexton is a bit of an obsession of mine I ve been reading her poetry since I was a teenager, and almost wrote my dissertation on her She s often compared to Sylvia Plath who was her friend , but her poetry is very different Where Plath is something of an intellectual poet and a meticulous craftsman, Sexton is dramatic and playful she doesn t have the same control of language as Plath, but she is a little accessible Plath was an introvert, but Sexton loved to perform for an audience and her poetry reflects her personality Like Plath, though, she was deeply troubled and committed suicide in a similar fashion.Her best poems are in her first two books, and in the collection called Transformations which offers modern re tellings of classic fairy tales usually from a woman s perspective Briar Rose Sleeping Beauty is fantastic. Disclaimer ARC via Open Road Media and Netgalley I was first introduced to Anne Sexton in college during an American Poetry class Actually, I was introduced to Sexton s poetry because by that time she was long dead Shortly afterwards, I read her Transformations which will always be one of my favorite books In her poetic retellings of various Brother Grimm stories, from the most famous to less well known, Sexton shows how fairy tales are still current and powerful, and still can be connected to the modern day Therefore, when Open Road Media put this up on Netgalley, I immediately downloaded it If you are someone who has been following my reviews for a while what I am about to say is old hat If not, then you should know that I am Auto Approved for Open Road Media titles on Netgalley For me, Open Road Media is one of those publishing companies that synonymous with excellence I love their reprinting of various lesser known feminist books as well as various studies of current issues such as abortion The Complete Poems of Sexton continues in this tradition Care was taken in producing the digital version As most readers of digital media can tell you, poetry is not always formatted well for e readers This is not the case here Open Road Media took care to preserve each poems structure and look The only criticism I have on this front is the lack of illustrations for Transformations Sexton s poetry is dark and hits the reader hard There is something unflinching or uncompromising in her writing In this collection, one can not only see that but also how fairy tale and myth inspired influenced her writing even before Transformations Take, for instance, Where I Live in This Honorable House of the Laurel Tree , a poem written from the viewpoint of Daphne after her transformation into the tree when trying to escape from Apollo In Sexton s poem, the lines are blurry, the anger subdued, and the tragedy up front and center Or The Farmer s Wife a poem that showcases a marriage that isn t as blooming as would first appears Here, she is tapping into the ideas and themes in the Feminine Mystique or for the modern reader as expressed in the music of Paula Cole The witches are here as well, both as giver and taker They are tied with Sexton s view of life and birth In fact, many of the poems mediate about birth and the connection to finding oneself This is most powerfully expressed in the poem The Abortion as well as the poem Water In fact, it is impossible to read either one of those poems without thinking about current issues before the US Supreme Court Considering Sexton s struggle with mental illness, it is no surprise that many poems, even those about birth, also connect to death or even a struggle against an unimaginable though not evil darkness There is Sylvia s Death , about Plath, which eventually gives way to poems that meditate on religion And in many ways these poems Protestant Easter being one that are the most powerful because they are about that quest of understanding and a desire to come to terms with something that in many ways defies description The poems are not just about doubt, but even a desire, a need, to believe Sexton s poetry has long had the reputation being dark, but that is a simplistic description Her poetry is human This collection showcases that. Someone once said that we have art in order not to die of the truth, a dictum we might neatly apply to Sexton s perspectives To Hayden Carruth, the poems raise the never solved problem of what literature really is, where you draw the line between art and documentaryMaxine Kumin in her Foreword Sexton s poetry transcends the shamelessly personal because, unlike Plath, she did not disguise herself behind metaphors not in the least as cerebrally as Plath, anyway And in doing so, she rendered herself not only accessible than Plath but paradoxically hard to read As I said, she transcends the mere personal this is flesh and blood here You re not simply reading a journal, you re reading each and every waking thought, every single nightmare and dream, every trip to the hospital, every death and every birth which she went through This is than biography This is the poetic reconstruction of the person Anne Sexton was in all its nakednessI did not know the woman I would benor that blood would bloom in meeach month like an exotic flower,nor that children,two monuments,would break from between my legstwo cramped girls breathing carelessly,each asleep in her tiny beauty.I did not know that my life, in the end,would run over my mother s like a truckand all that would remainfrom the year I was sixwas a small hole in my heart, a deaf spot,so that I might hearthe unsaid clearlyCritics of confessional poetry might say that in maintaining fidelity to one s person alone, writers risk universality, and will only be relevant to a certain class of readers But I have to say that you do not need to be a manic depressive to get Sexton s poetry, you just need to be human We re not all that different from each other deep down where fears fester and dreams are born By simply being Anne Sexton, she wrote about the human condition, in its insanity, glory and passion She wrote about me and you and all of us, in our collective rowing towards something meaningful and substantial In short, she s universal and relevant as heckSweet weight,in celebration of the woman I amand of the soul of the woman I amand of the central creature and its delightI sing for you I dare to live.Hello, spirit Hello, cup.Fasten, cover Cover that does contain.Hello to the soil of the fields.Welcome, rootsComing to the poetry, I think Transformations stands out remarkably in terms of literary significance from the rest of her books What she did is something very fascinating here She reworked many famous Grimm stories, and brought them down to planet earth, stripping them of their happily ever afters, and exposing them for what they really stand for in the real world which we all inhabit Those who have cherished Hans Christian Anderson and Brothers Grimm as kids might be a little appalled to read these poems, but I believe that very few will fail to appreciate these twisted interpretations Here sCinderella , for example.All in all, it has been one hell of an experience reading Sexton, and you finish with the illusion, if you can call it that, of having known a very troubled yet sensitive spirit intimately There are poems about madness, about the parent child relation and how things never go right there, about her mother s death, her father and sister, about her children, about her marriage, about being a woman and living as one and how hard that gets, about God and religion and her constant battle with doubt and belief and how sometimes one wins over the other and so on, and about simply being The being part is not really easy for many people, and it surely wasn t easy for Anne who ultimately and successfully committed suicide at the age of 45, but leaving herself behind in her poetry for all of us to knowIf it is true that she attracted the worshipful attention of a cult group pruriently interested in her suicidal impulses, her psychotic breakdowns, her frequent hospitalizations, it must equally be acknowledged that her very frankness succored many who clung to her poems as to the Holy Grail Time will sort out the dross among these poems and burnish the gold Anne Sexton has earned her place in the canonMy favorite poems from this collection, in the order of appearance To Bedlam and Part Way Back 1960 You, Doctor MartinHer KindUnknown Girl in the Maternity WardNoon Walk on the Asylum WalkRinging the BellsLullabyA Story for Rose on the Midnight Flight to BostonFor John, Who Begs Me Not to Enquire FurtherThe Double ImageThe Division of PartsAll My Pretty Ones 1962 All My Pretty OnesTo a Friend Whose Work Has Come to TriumphThe OperationA Curse Against ElegiesFrom the GardenFor Eleanor Boylan Talking With GodThe Black ArtLetter Writing During a January NortheasterLive or Die 1966 Consorting With AngelsLove SongSylvia s DeathProtestant EasterCripples and Other StoriesThe AddictLove Poems 1969 For My Lover, Returning to His WifeTransformations 1971 Snow White and the Seven DwarfsCinderellaRed Riding HoodBriar Rose Sleeping Beauty The Book of Folly 1972 The Ambition BirdThe Doctor of the HeartAnna Who Was MadThe OtherJesus DiesThe Death Notebooks 1974 Baby PictureThe Awful Rowing Towards God 1975 RowingThe Poet of IgnoranceThe Sickness Unto DeathThe Evil SeekersFrenzySnowSmall WirePosthumously Published The Child BearersLove Letter Written in a Burning Building What can I say about Anne Sexton She s incomparable perhaps wholly unique in the history of women s poetry I d like to review each of her books separately at some point, which is why I ve kept this on my shelf for so long, even though I finished rereading the entire brick in March As so many comment, the poetry is sometimes hit or miss particularly in her last two or three collections But far often which critics conveniently forget , she s absolutely on, absolutely raw, absolutely a master wordsmith If you re just thinking of approaching Sexton and don t quite know where to begin, start with the poems The Double Image, Her Kind, The Operation, All My Pretty Ones or Live among a million others or with the books Love Poems or Transformations She s certainly not for everyone I don t suppose any poet that imagines pissing in God s eye or rewrites the Whitmanian catalogue technique with the uterus will prove resonant for all readers I don t think there s a braver poet in the 20th century, a honest one, or one invested in struggling to define an absolutely singular identity at any expense Max Kumin s introduction to this book is great as well, and she probably articulates all of this far better than I can Anne Sexton has pulled me through many a tough time, many a creative dry spell, and if I could carry this book and Ariel with me at all times, I d consider myself damn lucky. I have not read much poetry in the 15 years I have been alive I have read the poems that are required, expected, to be read in school, but that is pretty much where it ends.There are certain poets whose names I have seen and automatically wanted to read Anne Sexton is one of them Maybe it was the sex in her last name that grabbed my attention I am a teenage boy and all.Maybe it s the picture of her on the cover of her Collected Poems, though I bought her Selected Poems first I gave that away The covers for both are beautiful.Maybe it s the fact that, in her time, the things she wrote were controversial, ludicrous, insane Maybe it s because she was insane.This book has been sitting on my bookshelf for over a year A few weeks ago I picked it up, put it on my bedside table, and told myself I would read it now And I did And I loved it.But something happened about a month ago that completely convinced me that I had to read it I will start with this story.My mother and I were driving in Somerville, away from Somerville, the night we went to see Anna Vogelzang We didn t follow the directions We ended up in Weston.We drove through the town and I looked at the houses, the dim lights that shined in each window, the perfectly cut grass, the calm of this little town I asked my mom if there were any markets in the town, or if people had to go into Boston, the outskirts, to shop for themselves She told me she didn t know.I felt like there was something inside of me, some sort of otherworldly presence It scared me, as well as the fact that my mother and I were the only two people out on the streets and had no idea where we were going.But I knew what I felt We were lost.We got through the town, found our way home, and I went to sleep.But I didn t forget the feeling.Eventually I got to this book I picked it up, took it from under the lamp on my bedside table, and read the foreword written by Maxine Kumin.I read that she lived and died in Weston, Massachusetts.And I knew it was her.It doesn t mean she wasn t haunting me It doesn t mean much of anything at all.What I think it does mean is that it was finally time to read this book.So I did.I read this book everywhere in my kitchen, my bedroom, my mother s car, during my finals I would sit and read the words to myself, out loud and in my mind Sometimes I would hear her voice, the voice that gave her much noteriety when she gave public readings Sometimes I would hear someone I couldn t recognize.Sometimes I would hear myself.The foreword that precedes this book is the perfect introduction to Anne Sexton s poetry Maxine Kumin, a legendary poet herself, was one of Anne s best friends She was in her critique group with her, along with two other men whose names I have forgotten.From the beginning, she knew Anne was different Anne was tortured, psychotic, unstable, all of her life She crafted stories and lies and was always brilliant, always writing, always destined to change the world of poetry.People warned Maxine of Anne, but it didn t stop her She was one of the last people to see Anne alive.The foreword ends The book begins I braced myself and started reading.I considered only letting myself read one collection a day, so it would take me 10, and for the most part this is what I did I went through the poems slowly, giving myself time to dissect the lines and attempt to understand them Mostly I did The meter of her early poems was like a metronome in my mind.To Bedlam and Part Way Back was Anne s first collection It contains the first poems she wrote after she began going to workshops and working with Maxine and the men From the beginning she submitted to magazines, and she quickly rose and advanced and made her way into publishing These poems have potential, brilliance, laced into every single one They are easy to read, hard to read, and anxiety ridden I would pick highlights, but I m not sure how long we d be here if I did.All My Pretty Ones, Anne s second collection, was published two years later It has all of the same things as To Bedlam and Part Way back did, but it also has something new Another part of Anne is introduced, as she gets comfortable in her writing and uncomfortable with the path her life has taken These poems don t shy away from her illness, as none of hers ever did It is explained bluntly, her emotions, though they were not obvious to her at all.The words knew than she did.I had a lot of singular thoughts about these collections as I read them, which I probably should have written down I have forgotten them now Some of them are still here Those are the ones I think are important to write down and get out, for you to read.I am writing this all at once.Live or Die is Anne s third collection It won the Pulitzer Prize This is one of my favorites of the books that are compiled in this collection The poems are arranged in chronological order, and highlight Anne s life, all of her life, and the things that haunted her for the years she was alive.There is something about these poems that is especially shocking.Love Poems are about love They are not about love The imagery in these poems is beautiful, horrifying, and in this collection yet another part of Anne is introduced It has been acknowledged many times that Anne s writing got much disfigured and complicated as she got older She always had her style, always, but it was changing Here, it is evident than in the poems before it.Here, she is shining on the top of the world.Transformations is frequently recognized as Anne s best collection, or maybe I m just telling myself that I ve read it Frankly, I did not like this collection I liked it, appreciated it, but I couldn t get into it It is a retelling of the Grimm s fairy tales, going one by one through them I could not relate to them, though I could not relate to many of Anne s poems before It was obvious now, and I felt like I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.I will read them again eventually I will re read this whole collection..If you haven t noticed, I am going one by one through each of the collections and sharing my thoughts You don t have to keep reading Better yet, run as fast as you can to some bookstore and buy this, if it is there If it is not there, order it.You will know what I m talking about when I say that Anne is almost godly, so close that the almost is barely necessary.I am going to continue.The Book of Folly is a return to Anne s old work, but also a look forward to her new work, the things she was going to write There is the harsh honesty that was always there in her earlier collections, but also the imagery that was present in Love Poems and Transformations Even with the imagery, you still know that she is not writing of anyone but herself.It never feels self centered It feels like you are reading something you cannot drop on the floor.The Death Notebooks is the last collection of Anne s work that was published before she died It is about death, of course, but everything Anne wrote is about death in some way Everything Anne wrote is about everything You can fit each poem into so many different categories, without pushing it or deforming it in order for it to slide in smoothly.Her poems are the perfect fit They are the kinds of poems I have dreamed of writing.Here, though, it is obvious that Anne was going to go.Anne wrote The Awful Rowing Toward God quickly, in just a few weeks, during a mental breakdown This is the collection she presented to Maxine the day she took her life Here, she is as distracted as ever, as lustful with the idea of suicide as she has ever been.These poems are about religion, God, the things she was frantically searching for in the last years of her life I am writing these words so quickly I can barely keep up with my thoughts That s what this collection reminded me of tying up loose ends.She would not allow this to be published before she died It was already scheduled for the spring on 1975 when she killed herself.Anne was working on 45 Mercy Street, revising it, up until she died There is an editor s note before it, and in it her daughter writes that some poems have been excluded due to danger of the resentment for Anne s family that lies in some of the poems.This collection is full of secrets, and that is what I felt while reading it, like I knew something I shouldn t know.It was different, reading this, knowing that she was already dead.It hit me again and again, though she has been dead for almost 40 years.The Divorce Papers, the third part of this collection, is one of my favorite series of Anne s that is in this collection.It is about the disintegration of everything around her, and the poems are breathtaking, as always.Words For Dr Y is a collection that was put together by Anne s daughter Linda who is Anne s literary executor The first series is a compilation of letters that Anne wrote to her therapist about the things she was thinking about, the things he was telling her, that stretches over the span of 10 years.The third series of poems that are here is probably my favorite, or my close favorite, of all of the things in this book It is called Scorpio, Bad Spider, Die There are horoscopes, anecdotes, and the words are sparse and minimal and yet the emotional undertones are as present and assaulting as ever.These were written years before she fell into the death hole.The final poems, a few last poems from her last years, are almost not there They are Anne, always Anne, but she is already gone Her marriage has dissolved and her children are distancing themselves from her and she is losing herself, has already lost herself.The last poem that she wrote in her life, only a few weeks before she killed herself, is Love Letter Written in a Burning Building Reading it, I knew it was coming And it did.I have written this review in Microsoft Word It is 5 pages long, 1850 words and I am not even finished, and I doubt anyone has made it this far.That s good Maybe you are already on your way to the bookstore.There will never be another Anne Sexton People will try to write like her, and probably already have, but she is the kind of poet and person that only comes once every century, millennium, and she is one of a kind.She would ve died by now even if she hadn t killed herself, probably.Maybe it had to happen.Reading these poems, I felt insane It was horrifying, that I began to understand why she said the things she did, believed she could I felt alive reading these poems, something I m always searching to feel when I read.I felt it I always felt it.I want to know about her life There is a biography I am curious about, and also a compilation of letters she wrote that her daughter Linda Gray edited I am also curious to read her daughter s writings.I want to know about her The Confessionalism that Anne s writing almost always resides in does not mean that it is a Confession, a simply stated apology.This is not her life, these poems It is her life It is her illness It is all of the women she ever was, those doomed, tortured women.But she was brilliant And that is enough. To Bedlam and Part Way Back 1960 4 5All My Pretty Ones 1962 5 5Live or Die 1966 4 5Love Poems 1969 5 5Transformations 1971 3 5The Book of Folly 1972 5 5The Death Notebooks 1974 5 5The Awful Rowing Toward God 1975 5 5POSTHUMOUSLY PUBLISHED WORK 45 Mercy Street 1976 5 5Words for Dr Y 1978 4 5Other Poems 1971 1973 5 5Scorpio, Bad Spider, Die 1971 5 5Last Poems 4 5All Anne Sexton s major work in one place, plus previously unreleased material to complete, what is arguably, the greatest collection of poetry I have ever read Only slightly hampered by Transformations , which seems out of place with everything else She is at her troubling best when writing of death, wife beaters, mental illness, menstruation, and cancer, rather than Rumpelstiltskin, Cinderella, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Whilst I believe Transformations to be her weakest work, all the rest of it, she simply didn t put a foot wrong.The later poems towards the end of her life clearly highlight a rapidly disturbed mind.It s sad to see The facts of Anne s difficult and chaotic life are well known, and no other American poet in our time has cried out aloud publicly on so many private details While the frankness of these revelations attracted many readers, especially women, who identified strongly with the female aspect of the poems, a number of critics for the most part misogynist men, took offense Probably down to the fact they couldn t handle a woman being talented, and doing so well.The intimate details divulged in Sexton s poetry enchanted or repelled with equal passion In addition to the strong feelings Anne s work aroused, there was the undeniable fact of her physical beauty Her presence on the platform dazzled with its staginess, its props of water glass, cigarettes, and ashtray She used pregnant pauses, husky whispers, pseudoshouts to calculated effect A Sexton audience might hiss its displeasure or deliver a standing ovation One thing it wouldn t have done, is doze off during a reading Anne basked in the attention she attracted, partly because it was antithetical to an earlier generation s view of the woman writer as poetess and partly because she was flattered by andenjoyed the adoration of her public But behind the glamorously garbed woman lurked a terrified and homely child, cowed from the cradle onward, it seemed, by the indifference and cruelties of her world Her parents, she was convinced, had not wanted her to be born Her sisters, she alleged, competed against and won out over her Her teachers, unable to rouse the slumbering intelligencefrom its hiding place, treated her with impatience and anger Anne s counterphobic response to rejection and admonishment was always to defy, dare, press, contravene Thus the frightenedlittle girl became a flamboyant and provocative woman, bursting at the seems to put pen to paper The timid girl who skulked in closets burst forth as an exhibitionist, the intensely private individual bared her soul to the masses, and in public readings where almost invariably there was standing room only All My Pretty Ones , The Death Notebooks and the posthumously released 45 Mercy Street I would say are my favourite volumes But overall, there was very little to begrudge about.Over 600 pages of simply great poetry.It s impossible to pluck out of so many the poems that stuck in my mind, so have randomly picked three to finish off with A CURSE AGAINST ELEGIESOh, love, why do we argue like this I am tired of all your pious talk.Also, I am tired of all the dead.They refuse to listen,so leave them alone.Take your foot out of the graveyard,they are busy being dead.Everyone was always to blame the last empty fifth of booze,the rusty nails and chicken feathersthat stuck in the mud on the back doorstep,the worms that lived under the cat s earand the thin lipped preacherwho refused to callexcept once on a flea ridden daywhen he came scuffing in through the yardlooking for a scapegoat.I hid in the kitchen under the ragbag.I refuse to remember the dead.And the dead are bored with the whole thing But you you go ahead,go on, go on back downinto the graveyard,lie down where you think their faces are talk back to your old bad dreams THREE GREEN WINDOWSHalf awake in my Sunday napI see three green windowsin three different lights one west, one south, one east.I have forgotten that old friends are dying.I have forgotten that I grow middle aged.At each window such rustlings The trees persist, yeasty and sensuous,as thick as saints.I see three wet gargoyles covered with birds.Their skins shine in the sun like leather.I m on my bed as light as a sponge.Soon it will be summer.She is my mother.She will tell me a story and keep me asleepagainst her plump and fruity skin.I see leaves leaves that are washed and innocent,leaves that never knew a cellar,born in their own green bloodlike the hands of mermaids.I do not think of the rusty wagon on the walk.I pay no attention to the red squirrelsthat leap like machines beside the house.I do not remember the real trunks of the treesthat stand beneath the windowsas bulky as artichokes.I turn like a giant,secretly watching, secretly knowing,secretly naming each elegant sea.I have misplaced the Van Allen belt,the sewers and the drainage,the urban renewal and the suburban centers.I have forgotten the names of the literary critics.I know what I know.I am the child I was,living the life that was mine.I am young and half asleep.It is a time of water, a time of trees.AS IT WAS WRITTENEarth, earth,riding your merry go roundtoward extinction,right to the roots,thickening the oceans like gravy,festering in your caves,you are becoming a latrine Your trees are twisted chairs.Your flowers moan at their mirrors,and cry for a sun that doesn t wear a mask.Your clouds wear white,trying to become nunsand say novenas to the sky.The sky is yellow with its jaundice,and its veins spill into the riverswhere the fish kneel downto swallow hair and goat s eyes.All in all, I d say,the world is strangling.And I, in my bed each night,listen to my twenty shoesconverse about it.And the moon,under its dark hood,falls out of the sky each night,with its hungry red mouthto suck at my scars. I ve carried this book around for a long time now and I think I ll continue to do so.