ANNE SEXTON


Enlarge Picture Anne Gray Harvey was born November 9, 1928 in Weston, Mass. to Mary Gray Staples Harvey and Ralph Churchill Harvey. The youngest of three sisters, Anne was the baby of the family, always craving attention and loving to be held. Growing up, Anne saw her eldest sister, Jane, become Daddy’s girl, while her other sister Blanche, became reknown as the smart one of the three, loving to read and the only one to go to college. Her parents moving to Wellesley, Mass., Anne attended public schools from the time she was 6 until she was 17. At the age of 17, her parents sent her off to Rogers Hall, a preparatory school for girls, in Lowell, Mass.; hoping to ‘cure’ her of her wild nature and shape her into a proper woman. It was here that Anne first began to write poetry, which was published in the school yearbook. Yet shortly after beginning the call she had, her mother, who had come from a family of writers, accused Anne of plagiarism, disbelieving that her daughter could posess the talent to write such lovely poetry. Continuing on with the refinement of her womanhood, Anne attended the Garland School in Boston, a finishing school for women. It was here that she met and eloped with Alfred Muller Sexton II, whom everbody called Kayo. Kayo and Anne moved to Hamilton, New York, where Kayo was attending Colgate, University. Unable to afford making a living and supporting a wife, Kayo decided that they should move back to Massachusetts. Upon moving back, Anne enrolled in a modeling class at the Hart Agency, completing the course and going on to model for the agency for a short period of time. Meanwhile, Kayo had joined the naval reserve and had been shipped out on the USS Boxer to Korea. In 1952, Kayo came home for a year after the Boxer received war damage. It was during this time that Anne and Kayo conceived their first child. In July 1953, shortly after Kayo had been shipped out again, Anne gave birth to Linda Gray Sexton. Later that year Kayo was discharged and he returned home where he and Anne purchased a home in Newton Lower Falls, Massachusetts, not far from either of their parents. In 1954, Anne began struggling with recurring depression and began seeking counseling. During the time of her counseling she and Kayo gave birth to their second child, Joyce Ladd Sexton, whom they nicknamed Joy. Beginning in 1956, Annes mental condition worstened, leading up to her first psychiatric hospitalization and her first suicide attempt. In December of that year, under the guidance of her psychiatrist, Dr. Martin, she resumed writing poetry. Finding therapeutic value in her writing, she enrolled in John Holme’s poetry workshop, where she met Maxine Kumin. Yet falling, once again into a deep depression, Anne attempted suicide again in May, 1957. Again hospitalized, she continued to write poetry and in August received a scholarship to Antioch Writers’ Conference, where she met W. D. Snodgrass. In 1958, Anne enrolled in Robert Lowell’s graduate writing seminar at Boston University, where she met Sylvia Plath and George Starbuck. In 1959, she was awarded the Audience Poetry Prize. With this award Anne began work to publish the first of her books of poetry entitled To Bedlam and Part Way Back. The publisment of this book spurred Anne to keep writing and led to national recognition of her work. Following her first book, Anne published her second book,in 1962, entitled All My Pretty Ones. Following the release of this work, Anne continued her success by working on four children’s books with her longtime friend Maxine Kumin. During the span of August 22 to October 27, 1963, Anne toured Europe on a travelling fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Despite enjoying the trip, Anne returned a month early due to an emotional disturbance. Nineteen sixty-four proved to be an interesting year in Anne’s clinical life as her longtime psychiatrist moved his practice to Philadelphia, and she began seeing a new psychiatrist who started Anne on the drug, Thorazine, to control her on going depression and hospitalizatizations. In 1965, she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in London. Following this award she published her Pulitzer-prize winning book entitled Live or Die, in 1966. Continuing writing and teaching English literature at Wayland, Mass. High School, in June 1968 Anne was awarded honorary Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard becoming the first woman ever to join the 187-year-old chapter. Beginning in 1969, Anne published her book entitled Love Poems, following this book she continued work on her play Mercy Street until the fall where she began teaching a poetry seminar at Boston University. The success of her seminar led to her appointment as a lecturer at Boston University,in 1970 and her eventual award of full professorship, in 1972. Despite her success as a writer, poet, and playwright, Anne’s personal life took a sudden plunge in 1973, where she was hospitalized three times and received a divorce from her husband during the course of the year. Surviving much of the following year, Anne managed to bring her final works to a conclusion with the publishment of The Death Notebooks, a completed final editing of The Awful Rowing Toward God, and a tentative arrangement of poems in 45 Mercy Street. The conclusiveness of the works seemed to Anne to be a proper stopping point. Following her last poetry reading at Goucher College in Maryland on October 3, 1974, Anne returned home to commit suicide in her garage on October 4, 1974 by way of carbon monoxide poisoning. The tragic end she brought to her life was the result of several years of battling depression and dissatisfaction with her place in life. Despite this truth, she carved a place in the minds and hearts of the American literary world forever. In recent days, the release of Diane Wood Middlebrook’s biography of Anne Sexton’s life has caused controversy in the circles of certain groups of psychiatrists and moralists. The controversy centers around Middlebrook’s decision to include within her biography, excerpts from tapes recorded during Anne’s therapy sessions. The tapes were released to Middlebrook under the strict permission of Anne’s daughter, Linda Gray Sexton who authorized Middlebrook to utilize”Daddy” Warbucks by Anne Sexton In Memoriam What’s missing is the eyeballs in each of us, but it doesn’t matter because you’ve got the bucks, the bucks, the bucks. You let me touch them, fondle the green faces lick at their numbers and it lets you be my “Daddy!” “Daddy!” and though I fought all alone with molesters and crooks, I knew your money would save me, your courage, your “I’ve had considerable experience as a soldier… fighting to win millions for myself, it’s true. But I did win,” and me praying for “our men out there” just made it okay to be an orphan whose blood was no one’s, whose curls were hung up on a wire machine and electrified, while you built and unbuilt intrigues called nations, and did in the bad ones, always, always, and always came at my perils, the black Christs of childhood, always came when my heart stood naked in the street and they threw apples at it or twelve-day-old-dead-fish. “Daddy!” “Daddy,” we all won that war, when you sang me the money songs Annie, Annie you sang and I knew you drove a pure gold car and put diamonds in you coke for the crunchy sound, the adorable sound and the moon too was in your portfolio, as well as the ocean with its sleepy dead. And I was always brave, wasn’t I? I never bled? I never saw a man expose himself. No. No. I never saw a drunkard in his blubber. I never let lightning go in one car and out the other. And all the men out there were never to come. Never, like a deluge, to swim over my breasts and lay their lamps in my insides. No. No. Just me and my “Daddy” and his tempestuous bucks rolling in them like corn flakes and only the bad ones died. But I died yesterday, “Daddy,” I died, swallowing the Nazi-Jap animal and it won’t get out it keeps knocking at my eyes, my big orphan eyes, kicking! Until eyeballs pop out and even my dog puts up his four feet and lets go of his military secret with his big red tongue flying up and down like yours should have as we board our velvet train. all resources that she had to construct a thourough biography of Anne’s life. Though the controversy is real to many, the question of doctor-patient confidentiality has done little to hurt the success of the biography in the eyes of the general public. Cinderella by Anne Sexton You always read about it: the plumber with the twelve children who wins the Irish Sweepstakes. From toilets to riches. That story. Or the nursemaid, some luscious sweet from Denmark who captures the oldest son’s heart. from diapers to Dior. That story. Or a milkman who serves the wealthy, eggs, cream, butter, yogurt, milk, the white truck like an ambulance who goes into real estate and makes a pile. From homogenized to martinis at lunch. Or the charwoman who is on the bus when it cracks up and collects enough from the insurance. From mops to Bonwit Teller. That story. Once the wife of a rich man was on her deathbed and she said to her daughter Cinderella: Be devout. Be good. Then I will smile down from heaven in the seam of a cloud. The man took another wife who had two daughters, pretty enough but with hearts like blackjacks. Cinderella was their maid. She slept on the sooty hearth each night and walked around looking like Al Jolson. Her father brought presents home from town, jewels and gowns for the other women but the twig of a tree for Cinderella. She planted that twig on her mother’s grave and it grew to a tree where a white dove sat. Whenever she wished for anything the dove would drop it like an egg upon the ground. The bird is important, my dears, so heed him. Next came the ball, as you all know. It was a marriage market. The prince was looking for a wife. All but Cinderella were preparing and gussying up for the event. Cinderella begged to go too. Her stepmother threw a dish of lentils into the cinders and said: Pick them up in an hour and you shall go. The white dove brought all his friends; all the warm wings of the fatherland came, and picked up the lentils in a jiffy. No, Cinderella, said the stepmother, you have no clothes and cannot dance. That’s the way with stepmothers. Cinderella went to the tree at the grave and cried forth like a gospel singer: Mama! Mama! My turtledove, send me to the prince’s ball! The bird dropped down a golden dress and delicate little slippers. Rather a large package for a simple bird. So she went. Which is no surprise. Her stepmother and sisters didn’t recognize her without her cinder face and the prince took her hand on the spot and danced with no other the whole day. As nightfall came she thought she’d better get home. The prince walked her home and she disappeared into the pigeon house and although the prince took an axe and broke it open she was gone. Back to her cinders. These events repeated themselves for three days. However on the third day the prince covered the palace steps with cobbler’s wax and Cinderella’s gold shoe stuck upon it. Now he would find whom the shoe fit and find his strange dancing girl for keeps. He went to their house and the two sisters were delighted because they had lovely feet. The eldest went into a room to try the slipper on but her big toe got in the way so she simply sliced it off and put on the slipper. The prince rode away with her until the white dove told him to look at the blood pouring forth. That is the way with amputations. They just don’t heal up like a wish. The other sister cut off her heel but the blood told as blood will. The prince was getting tired. He began to feel like a shoe salesman. But he gave it one last try. This time Cinderella fit into the shoe like a love letter into its envelope. At the wedding ceremony the two sisters came to curry favor and the white dove pecked their eyes out. Two hollow spots were left like soup spoons. Cinderella and the prince lived, they say, happily ever after, like two dolls in a museum case never bothered by diapers or dust, never arguing over the timing of an egg, never telling the same story twice, never getting a middle-aged spread, their darling smiles pasted on for eternity.Courage by Anne Sexton It is in the small things we see it. The child’s first step, as awesome as an earthquake. The first time you rode a bike, wallowing up the sidewalk. The first spanking when your heart went on a journey all alone. When they called you crybaby or poor or fatty or crazy and made you into an alien, you drank their acid and concealed it. Later, if you faced the death of bombs and bullets you did not do it with a banner, you did it with only a hat to comver your heart. You did not fondle the weakness inside you though it was there. Your courage was a small coal that you kept swallowing. If your buddy saved you and died himself in so doing, then his courage was not courage, it was love; love as simple as shaving soap. Later, if you have endured a great despair, then you did it alone, getting a transfusion from the fire, picking the scabs off your heart, then wringing it out like a sock. Next, my kinsman, you powdered your sorrow, you gave it a back rub and then you covered it with a blanket and after it had slept a while it woke to the wings of the roses and was transformed. Later, when you face old age and its natural conclusion your courage will still be shown in the little ways, each spring will be a sword you’ll sharpen, those you love will live in a fever of love, and you’ll bargain with the calendar and at the last moment when death opens the back door you’ll put on your carpet slippers and stride out. Regular Bobbsey Twins. That story. The Abortion by Anne Sexton Somebody who should have been born is gone. Just as the earth puckered its mouth, each bud puffing out from its knot, I changed my shoes, and then drove south. Up past the Blue Mountains, where Pennsylvania humps on endlessly, wearing, like a crayoned cat, its green hair, its roads sunken in like a gray washboard; where, in truth, the ground cracks evilly, a dark socket from which the coal has poured, Somebody who should have been born is gone. the grass as bristly and stout as chives, and me wondering when the ground would break, and me wondering how anything fragile survives; up in Pennsylvania, I met a little man, not Rumpelstiltskin, at all, at all… he took the fullness that love began. Returning north, even the sky grew thin like a high window looking nowhere. The road was as flat as a sheet of tin. Somebody who should have been born is gone. Yes, woman, such logic will lead to loss without death. Or say what you meant, you coward…this baby that I bleed. See also: Love Poems and Quotes Poets by Nationality African American Poets Women Poets Thematic Poems Thematic Quotes Contemporary Poets Nobel Prize Poets American Poets English Poets Anne Sexton Poems Back to Poems Page Suicide Note by Anne Sexton “You speak to me of narcissism but I reply that it is a matter of my life” – Artaud “At this time let me somehow bequeath all the leftovers to my daughters and their daughters” – Anonymous Better, despite the worms talking to the mare’s hoof in the field; better, despite the season of young girls dropping their blood; better somehow to drop myself quickly into an old room. Better (someone said) not to be born and far better not to be born twice at thirteen where the boardinghouse, each year a bedroom, caught fire. Dear friend, I will have to sink with hundreds of others on a dumbwaiter into hell. I will be a light thing. I will enter death like someone’s lost optical lens. Life is half enlarged. The fish and owls are fierce today. Life tilts backward and forward. Even the wasps cannot find my eyes. Yes, eyes that were immediate once. Eyes that have been truly awake, eyes that told the whole story— poor dumb animals. Eyes that were pierced, little nail heads, light blue gunshots. And once with a mouth like a cup, clay colored or blood colored, open like the breakwater for the lost ocean and open like the noose for the first head. Once upon a time my hunger was for Jesus. O my hunger! My hunger! Before he grew old he rode calmly into Jerusalem in search of death. This time I certainly do not ask for understanding and yet I hope everyone else will turn their heads when an unrehearsed fish jumps on the surface of Echo Lake; when moonlight, its bass note turned up loud, hurts some building in Boston, when the truly beautiful lie together. I think of this, surely, and would think of it far longer if I were not… if I were not at that old fire. I could admit that I am only a coward crying me me me and not mention the little gnats, the moths, forced by circumstance to suck on the electric bulb. But surely you know that everyone has a death, his own death, waiting for him. So I will go now without old age or disease, wildly but accurately, knowing my best route, carried by that toy donkey I rode all these years, never asking, “Where are we going?” We were riding (if I’d only known) to this. Dear friend, please do not think that I visualize guitars playing or my father arching his bone. I do not even expect my mother’s mouth. I know that I have died before— once in November, once in June. How strange to choose June again, so concrete with its green breasts and bellies. Of course guitars will not play! The snakes will certainly not notice. New York City will not mind. At night the bats will beat on the trees, knowing it all, seeing what they sensed all day.

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