Anne Sexton’s Witchy Poetry

 

“I have gone out, a possessed witch, haunting the black air, braver at night; dreaming evil, I have done my hitch.”

April is National Poetry Month!

Today, we explore Anne Sexton (1928-1974), an American writer most famous for her dark expressive style known as “confessional poetry”. Sexton’s verses often revealed the personal details of her life, which was marked by bouts of depression, hospitalizations, suicide attempts and bi-polar disorder.

She was born Anne Gray Harvey on November 8, 1928 in Newton, Massachusetts, the daughter of  Mary Gray Harvey and Ralph Churchill Harvey. She was educated at boarding school in Lowell and worked as a model for the Hart Agency in Boston.  There is, reportedly, some evidence that she may have been abused as a child. At the tender age of nineteen, Anne married Alfred Muller Sexton II. They had two children, Linda Gray Sexton and Joyce Ladd Sexton.

In 1954, after the birth of her second daughter, Anne suffered postpartum depression and was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. Her psychiatrist, Dr. Martin Orne,  encouraged her to write poetry as a form of therapy. She joined several writers groups and eventually developed friendships with literary greats such as Maxine Kumin, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath. They exchanged ideas in salons and discussion circles.

Her writing did not go unnoticed. During her lifetime, Anne Sexton was the recipient of numerous awards. These included: the Frost Fellowship, the Radcliffe Institute Fellowship, the Levinson Prize, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Fellowship, the Shelley Memorial Prize, and an invitation to read at Harvard. She also received a Guggenheim Fellowship, grants from the Ford Foundation and honorary degrees. She held professorships at Colgate University and Boston University. In 1967 she won a Pulitzer prize for her book Live or Die.

Yeah, that’s a LOT of accomplishments. especially for someone with bi-polar disorder!

Nonetheless, all of it meant little.  As it turned out, Live or Die was a prophetic title. Anne took her own life in 1974.

The story of her death is as follows: On October 4, 1974, Anne had lunch with Maxine Kumin. They discussed revisions for Anne’s manuscript of The Awful Rowing Toward God, scheduled for publication in March 1975. Upon returning home, Anne put on her mother’s old fur coat and drank a glass of vodka.

She then  removed all her rings, locked herself in her garage and started the engine of her car. She died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Weirdly, in an interview a year before her death, Sexton had requested that she did not want her poems from The Awful Rowing Toward God to be published until after she died.  She also claimed she had written the book “in 20 days with two days out for despair and three days out in a mental hospital.”

To this day Sexton’s work remains acclaimed in literary circles. Her haunting and vivid lyrics are not easily forgotten. This short poem, Her Kind, uses medieval witch and fairy tale imagery as metaphors for women’s roles, expectations, and the alienation they can bring. Critics have interpreted it as an exploration of death and sexuality.

Her Kind

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.

What do you think of Anne Sexton and her poetry? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

 

Not Princess Leia!

 

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“Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.” — Carrie Fisher

There are very few celebrity deaths that bring me to tears, but this one did.

I will always love Carrie/ Leia — a badass girl who, in dangerous situations proved herself to be no damsel in distress. She brought a new paradigm for the traditional fairy tale princess. Even Disney took a clue.  After Leia came the likes of Asian warrior Mulan, along with the super-smart Belle, Scottish Brave-girl Merida, ice queen Elsa and the wounded but loving Malificent.  They were  all radicals who cared more about helping their families and contributing to society’s greater good than they did about ball gowns, riches and marrying handsome princes.  Gone were the sleeping beauties, in were the new feminists.  Princess Leia set an important precedent.

To me, Carrie and Princess Leia are forever intertwined.  Carrie pulled off the role splendidly, and spoke to generations of girls. In real life she was a warrior too, defying conventions and taking on the taboos of addiction and mental illness. Her books were bittersweet, tragically hilarious.  Carrie Fisher was a brave, funny, frank and fantastic woman.

Star Wars may be fiction, but to many of us it is very real. The Force is forever with us. There are psychological/ Jungian/ collective subconscious reasons for its popularity. Deep within the human psyche lurks a longing for the righteousness of myth.

Just ask the late great Joseph Campbell, a professor of mythology who spent a good deal of time on George Lucas’ ranch.  He’ll give you an earful! Here is a short sample:

 

Some great Carrie moments that sum it all up:

 

Farewell sweet princess, you will not be forgotten. We will look for you among the stars, the Pleiades and Milky Way, walking the sky and mining the truth as you are wont to do.

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Poem of the Day: Howl by Allen Ginsberg

 

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness

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starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,

angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,

who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,

who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated,

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who passed through universities with radiant eyes hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war,

who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing obscene odes on the windows of the skull,

who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wall,

who got busted in their pubic beards returning through Laredo with a belt of marijuana for New York,

who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in Paradise Alley, death, or purgatoried their torsos night after night

 

with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, alcohol and cock and endless balls,

 incomparable blind streets of shuddering cloud and lightning in the mind leaping towards poles of Canada & Paterson, illuminating all the motionless world of Time between,

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 Peyote solidities of halls, backyard green tree cemetery dawns, wine drunkenness over the rooftops, storefront boroughs of teahead joyride neon blinking traffic light, sun and moon and tree vibrations in the roaring winter dusks of Brooklyn, ashcan rantings and kind king light of mind. 

 

ABOUT GINSBERG and HOWL:   Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997)  was a Beat Generation icon who hung out with his pals Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady and William Burroughs – jazz grooving, social misfits who often went On The Road as they tried to  piece life together in the shattered aftermath of  WWII.  They felt, in fact, ‘beat’.

Ginsberg’s poem Howl drew a lot of attention when, in 1957, US officials decided it was obscene, illegal, and could not be printed nor distributed in this country. (You saw that line about cock and endless balls, right?)

Keep in mind, the US was a very uptight place back then.  They basically tolerated nothing. Homosexuality was considered a mental illness. Drug abuse was unheard of, or at least unmentionable in the polite circles of 1950’s Americana.  ‘Leave it To Beaver’ was  considered the ideal of family life.  (Funny, eh?  Leave it to Beaver?  Could have been a very empowering statement of female sexuality 🙂 But I digress.)

Ironically, Ginsberg himself was out of the country at the time his poem went under scrutiny.  He never suffered backlash for the obscenity charges, but Lawrence Ferlinghetti, owner of City Lights book store in San Francisco, was arrested and stood trial.  Amazingly, Ferlinghetti won!   Viva la free press!    California Judge Clayton Horn decided that the poem was not obscene, and it was, in fact of  “redeeming social importance”.  Well now 🙂

I am not including the entire poem because it goes on for like 30 pages.  Read the whole thing here: http://www.wussu.com/poems/agh.htm

I love the ending lines!   Allegedly they are addressed to one Carl Solomon, a friend of Ginsberg’s whom he met while receiving electric shock treatment in a mental institution.

 

I’m with you in Rockland 
         where we wake up electrified out of the coma by our own souls’ airplanes roaring over the roof they’ve come to drop angelic bombs the hospital illuminates itself   imaginary walls collapse   O skinny legions run outside   O starry-spangled shock of mercy the eternal war is here   O victory forget your underwear we’re free

I’m with you in Rockland 

         in my dreams you walk dripping from a sea-journey on the highway across America in tears to the door of my cottage in the Western night

 

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