Sunday, August 02, 2009

Selected Poems of Anne Sexton edited by Diane Wood Middlebrook and Diana Hume George

I found Sexton depressing and difficult to read for more than 15-20 minutes at a time. While her poetry did show occasional flashes of humor, her verse did not appeal to me at all. I am really sorry she could not use her poetry to exorcise the demons tormenting her. We often hear of the cathartic effect of writing about personal difficulties, but apparently that effect was not at work in Sexton’s psyche. I can offer personal testimony to the positive effect writing can have when dealing with traumatic events in my past; however, Sexton must have been completely overwhelmed by her marital problems and her depression, compounded with her addiction.

Clearly, she had a great deal of talent. Quite a few of her poems struck me as more than interesting. For example, two of her recollection poems – “I Remember” (51) and “One for My Dame” (73) – showed me some flashes of humor, while holding my attention with her word choice, structure, and clever images. These undoubtedly were my favorites. Unfortunately, a half-dozen or so nuggets appeared far too infrequently to make me any sort of fan of Sexton’s.

Her religious poetry – regardless of some negative imagery – did not appeal to me at all. Her cries for help seemed desperate and (we now know) hopeless. Even her faith could not give her the comfort and support she so anxiously sought.

Her popularity among young women in the 60s and 70s puzzles me. I can imagine their feeling a connection with her anxieties and difficulties dealing with day to day existence. However, did that many women share her experiences? Was it merely a matter of sympathy and solidarity? Perhaps some larger issue works among her readers creating a connection which enables them to plod on, since, in comparison, their lives were so much better.

Only a couple of Anne’s poems have crossed my desk over the years. None of them urged me to explore her work further, and now I am convinced I made the right choice then.

Maybe I am wrong by a wide margin. I would love to hear from some Sexton fans about this.

--Chiron, 8/6/09

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