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!

 

 

 

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Daffodils (a tanka)

 

flowers 5

Rain shatters deep earth

Roots burst yellow perfection

Long awaited blooms

Arabesque before the sun

April healing winter’s cold

flowers 6 - Copy

** Note: Inspired by T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland’.

“April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.”  
Happy National Poetry Month!

Shakespeare’s Words and Wisdom

“Lord, what fools these mortals be!”  – A Midsummer Night’s Dream

real

 

No one knows the exact actual date of Shakespeare’s birth. We do, however, know through church records that he was baptized on April 26th, 1564.  It was customary back then to baptize babies within three days of their birth. (This was done so they wouldn’t end up in Limbo, which was NOT, btw, a dance —  but rather a state of suspension in which one’s soul was not fit for Heaven, yet not bad enough for Hell.  It all had to do with that pesky original sin, which could be expunged with baptism.)   We also know, through death records, that Shakespeare passed away on April 23rd, 1616 at the ripe old age of 52. (This reportedly following a drinking binge with Ben Johnson and some theater buddies, come down to Stratford for some merry making.  Maybe celebrating his birthday!)   Imagination and poetic license allow us to say, within reason, that Shakespeare’s birth date and death date both fall on April 23rd.

Therefore, TODAY marks the  400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and the 452nd anniversary of his birth.  Yay Will!

Birthday-Shakespeare

In honor of my all time favorite writer, I would like to submit a compilation of some of his most profound quotes.  I mean, he covered everything —  birth, death, love, sex, men, women, music, good, evil, humanity itself.  It’s worth looking into –  maybe even worth considering as part of  our own life philosophies. Let me know what you think!

 

“Sigh no more, ladies, sigh nor more;

    Men were deceivers ever;

One foot in sea and one on shore,

    To one thing constant never.”  –  Much Ado About Nothing

Arthur Hughes - The Pained Heart (aka 'Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more')

Ah, yes, pretty maids.  Be not bothered by those jack-a-nape rogues you call boyfriends who refuse commitment and wedding rings, all the while drooling over the latest porn posts.  Listen to the immortal Bard.  ‘Constant to one thing never.’  What did you expect?  Instead best get your career in track, use birth control and invest in a good 401 k.

 

“Thou know’st the first time that we smell the air we wawl and cry. When we are born we cry, that we are come to this great state of fools.” – King Lear

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Well, after all now.  We know this planet earth is a rather silly place, don’t we?  Of course little babies coming in here are gong to be upset.  Especially considering a lot of them now are Indigos and Crystal children from the constellation Sirius and such outermost regions. The cradle-grave journey is a short stay, so heed the Bard’s advice and know this is but a state of fools.

 

 

“To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”  – Hamlet

day-and-night

As Abe Lincoln once said, ‘You can’t please all of the people all of the time.’ So you may as well please yourself. They are going to criticize you anyway, so heed this great seed of wisdom  from the Shakes and be your own original self at all times.

 

Well, if Fortune be a woman, she’s a good wench for this gear.” – The Merchant of Venice

pirate wench

Need we say more?  Just don’t mess with any swashbuckling wenches 🙂

 

“By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.” – Macbeth

fairy

And watch out for them wicked witches!  They just might make some dire predictions that may or may not come true, depending upon your own ambition.

 

“Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” – Macbeth

walking-shadow

As I mentioned before, it’s a short stay here on planet earth, begging the immortal question,’What’s the point?’

 

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – Hamlet

Good_vs_Evil_by_Saibel

Everyone knows this.  Hasten not to make those moral judgments, ye foolish mortals,  for one man’s trash is another’s treasure.  If you don’t believe me just check out ebay 🙂    It is the thinking that makes it so.

 

If music be the food of love…

play on

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,

Urban-Angels-1
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

 

ginsberg

An Invitation at Beltane

 

diamond_sky_by_yuumei-d6ndqbd

Will you follow me                                                                                                                                                         Into these diamond skies?                                                                                                                          Breathing air of lilac as the                                                                                                                              Beltane fires rise

 

Will you follow me                                                                                                                                                  Into this thunder clap?                                                                                                                                           April rain ensuing and the                                                                                                                                   Aries sun entrapped

Rain-And-Rainbow-Desktop-Wallpaper-1024x640

Will you take a look                                                                                                                                                Into this  glint of spring?                                                                                                                          Mushrooms sprouting rampant in a                                                                                                                    Faery circle ring

mushroom

 

 

But if you follow me                                                                                                                                          Things will never be the same.                                                                                                                        Whole soul  transformations and                                                                                                                      You’ll scarce know whence you came.

If take this route                                                                                                                                                   You’ll be vapid and confused.                                                                                                                        Journey down a rabbit’s hole                                                                                                                                   Be challenged and abused.

Opening your mind                                                                                                                                              You’ll be senseless and distraught                                                                                                                   Garrulous and punchy and                                                                                                                               Forget all you’ve been taught.

If you dare the risk                                                                                                                                     Life has never been so true                                                                                                                                       A mesh of  flesh and color like                                                                                                                               An artist palette  hue.

 

If you share this path                                                                                                                                             Love will show you all its parts                                                                                                                             Connected and perfected in                                                                                                                                     The opening of hearts.

fairy collage