Friday, April 22, 2011

Notes For April 22nd, 2011

This Day In Writing History

On April 22nd, 1960, To Bedlam and Part Way Back, the first poetry collection by the famous American poet Anne Sexton, was published. Throughout her short life, Sexton, a former model, suffered from severe mental illness. After her second mental breakdown in 1955, she began seeing a therapist, Dr. Martin Orne, who diagnosed her with a condition now known as bipolar disorder.

It was Dr. Orne who suggested that Anne Sexton take up writing poetry. She decided to attend a poetry workshop, but was so nervous about it that she had a friend accompany her to the first session. The workshop was led by John Holmes - the poet, not the porn star. It unlocked a talent Anne never knew she had. All of a sudden, her poems were being published in The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, and The Saturday Review.

She later attended Boston University, studying with Robert Lowell, alongside soon-to-be famous poets such as Sylvia Plath and George Starbuck. The Pulitzer Prize winning poet W.D. Snodgrass became Anne's literary mentor. When her first poetry collection was published in 1960, it established her as one of the finest confessional poets of her generation.

Anne Sexton's third poetry collection, Live or Die (1968), won her a Pulitzer Prize. Around this time, she became a counterculture celebrity. She would perform live readings accompanied by a jazz-rock group. The ensemble billed itself as "Anne Sexton and Her Kind." The name of her band, "Her Kind," is also the title of one of her most famous poems, which appeared in her first poetry collection. It was the signature piece of her performances:

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.

Unfortunately, while Anne's fame and fortunes grew, her mental illness grew worse. She committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning (she locked herself in her garage and started her car with the windows open) at the age of 45. During her short life, Anne Sexton wrote over a dozen poetry collections and a play. She also co-wrote four children's books with her friend, Maxine Kumin.

After Anne's death, her troubled life would be the subject of controversy when her former therapist, Dr. Orne, gave biographer Diane Middlebrook audiotapes of his therapy sessions with Anne. Middlebrook's biography - published with the approval of Anne's daughter Linda - revealed many troubling details, including the fact that Anne had been sexually abused by her mother.

Her mother and some relatives vehemently denied that any abuse took place and accused her therapist of planting false memories during their hypnotherapy sessions. Other relatives, including Anne's daughter Linda, confirmed that Anne had been abused by her mother. The biography is still hotly debated to this day, as is the issue of whether doctor-patient confidentiality should remain in effect after the patient dies.

Quote Of The Day

"The beautiful feeling after writing a poem is on the whole better even than after sex, and that's saying a lot." - Anne Sexton

Vanguard Video

Today's video features rare documentary footage of Anne Sexton reading her poems. Enjoy!

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