Today is the birthday of Anne Sexton (1928-1974), American poet of the “confessional school” of writing.
Sexton was born in Newton, Massachusetts and raised in Boston suburbs. Although she was not college educated, she taught poetry at various Boston universities from 1970 to 1974. Tall, beautiful, and exquisitely coiffed and manicured, Sexton read to audiences that were often standing room only. While skirting current social issues (the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement), she addressed topics that were often considered too personal to put into poetry, including abortion, masturbation, mental illness, and above all, suicide. In fact it was the pull to suicide that compelled her to write poetry: perhaps writing would help her expel her inner demons. Through numerous therapists, medications, institutions, and suicide attempts, Sexton wrote. Though sometimes criticized for her candor, her poetry garnered immediate acclaim and earned her multiple awards and grants.
Anne Sexton committed suicide in 1974, leaving behind two children and nine books of poetry, including To Bedlam and Part Way Back, All My Pretty Ones, and The Awful Rowing Toward God.
Reading about Sexton’s life, one has to wonder why so many artists, blessed with creative genius, are cursed with the compulsion to kill themselves. And which comes first: the suicidal nature–which they to try to alleviate through art–or the creative fire that is so scorching, so all-consuming that they succumb to it? And why do others, equally talented, seem to be able to vanquish such demons? Perhaps if we can answer these questions some day, we’ll be better able to help and support persons of such genius.
Plimpton, George, editor. Women Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews.
New York: The Modern Library, 1998.
Sexton, Linda Gray. Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide.
Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2011.
Sexton, Anne. The Complete Poems.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1981.