Anne Sexton (1928-1974)
Anne Sexton was an American poet best known for her personal autobiographical style of confessional verse. In 1967 she won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry for her book “Live or Die.” Additionally she was a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the first woman to be a member of the Harvard chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. The main themes of her poetry consisted of her suicidal tendencies, her battle with depression, isolation, and personal details of her intimate life including her marriage and children. In 1928 she was born in Newton, Massachusetts and would remain in the Boston area for the rest of her forty-five years. She married in 1948 and had two daughters. She was diagnosed with what is now called bipolar disorder and struggled with it much of her life, including several suicide attempts and a long relationship with Glenside Hospital. On October 4th, 1974 she put on her mother’s fur coat, removed her rings, poured herself a glass of vodka, locked herself in her garage turning on the car and committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning.
Besides her reoccurring themes of depression, isolation and suicide she also focused on certain issues specific to women which were not commonly addressed in poetry up to that point such as menstruation and abortion. She also more broadly addressed such subjects as masturbation and adultery all subjects that were taboo up until that point. Early in her career she focused almost entirely on autobiographical verse, but as her career progressed she made attempts to reach outside her own personal experience. One of her most successful of these was the book, “Transformations,” in which she retold Grimm’s fairy tales. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. commented after reading the book, “God love her.” The poet Denise Levertov said of her death, “We who are alive must make clear, as she could not, the distinction between creativity and self-destruction.”
A link to Anne Sexton reading her poem “Her Kind” :
A few quotes :
“All I wanted was a little piece of life, to be married, to have children…. I was trying my damnedest to lead a conventional life, for that was how I was brought up, and it was what my husband wanted of me. But one can’t build little white picket fences to keep the nightmares out.”
“Death, I need my little addiction to you. I need that tiny voice who, even as I rise from the sea, all woman, all there, says kill me, kill me.”
“The beautiful feeling after writing a poem is on the whole better even than after sex, and that’s saying a lot.”
Wanting To Die – By Anne Sexton
Since you ask, most days I cannot remember.
I walk in my clothing, unmarked by that voyage.
Then the almost unnameable lust returns.
Even then I have nothing against life.
I know well the grass blades you mention,
the furniture you have placed under the sun.
But suicides have a special language.
Like carpenters they want to know which tools.
They never ask why build.
Twice I have so simply declared myself,
have possessed the enemy, eaten the enemy,
have taken on his craft, his magic.
In this way, heavy and thoughtful,
warmer than oil or water,
I have rested, drooling at the mouth-hole.
I did not think of my body at needle point.
Even the cornea and the leftover urine were gone.
Suicides have already betrayed the body.
Still-born, they don’t always die,
but dazzled, they can’t forget a drug so sweet
that even children would look on and smile.
To thrust all that life under your tongue!–
that, all by itself, becomes a passion.
Death’s a sad Bone; bruised, you’d say,
and yet she waits for me, year after year,
to so delicately undo an old wound,
to empty my breath from its bad prison.
Balanced there, suicides sometimes meet,
raging at the fruit, a pumped-up moon,
leaving the bread they mistook for a kiss,
leaving the page of the book carelessly open,
something unsaid, the phone off the hook
and the love, whatever it was, an infection.