Anne Sexton: Contribution as American Poet

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      Anne Sexton (1928-1974), was born in Newton, Massachusetts. Her work is like that of Lowell with whom she studied, is ‘confessional poetry’ in the use of ordinary events of life to explore the self and its relation to the world. Among the main subjects were loneliness and depression which finally led her to suicide, her experience as a daughter, wife, and the mother and the natural world, specifically of the Massachusetts coastline and Maine. However, Sexton’s poems appeal powerfully to the emotions. They thrust taboo subjects such as sex, guilt, and suicide into close focus. Often they daringly introduce female topics such as child-bearing, the female body, or marriage seen from a female point of view. In poems like “Her kind” (1960), Sexton identifies with burned at the stake:

“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 women like that not ashamed to die. I have been her kind.”

      The titles of her works indicate their concern with the facts of madness and death. They include To Bedlam and Part Way Back (1960), Live or Die (1966), and the posthumous book The Awful Rowing Toward God (1975).

      Her first collection of poems was To Bedlam and Part Way Back (1960). It was followed by All My Pretty Ones (1962), Selected Poems (1964), Live or Die (1966) Love Poems (1969), Transformations (1971), The Book of Folly (1972), To Death Notebooks (1974), The Awful Rowing Towards God (1975), 45 Mercy Street (1976) and Words for Dr. Y: Uncollected Poems with Three Stories (1978) were edited by Linda Gray Sexton. Like Plath, Anne Sexton was a very passionate woman who attempted to be a lovable wife, mother, and a poet on the eve of the women’s moment in the United States.

      Like Plath, Sexton suffered from mental illness, and ultimately committed suicide. Her “confessional poetry” is more autobiographical than Plath’s and lacks the craftiness Plath’s earlier poems exhibit. Those who followed were also called the ‘idiosyncratic poets’. They have developed unique styles drawing on tradition but extended it into new realms with a distinctively contemporary flavor that one finds in John Berryman, Theodore Roethke, Richard Hugo, Philip Levine, James Dickey, Elizabeth Bishop, and Adrienne loxh.

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