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« "Modernist Lament" [by James Cummins] | Main | The Winning Entry: "When Charles Bukowski Met Bob Dylan" [by Angela Ball] with judge Jim Cummins's comments & runners up »

October 04, 2021


Many thanks, dear Terence, for extending the "pick of the week" idea retrospectively. This is quite a striking poem, and while the word "masturbator" in the title of a poem may make some of us recoil, there's no doubting the strength of the opening ("The end of the affair is always death. / She’s my workshop") or the growing power of the refrain as one half of a closing couplet: "Today’s paper says that you are wed. / At night, alone, I marry the bed." Anne Sexton is a poet whose work repays rereading.

Thanks, David. My interest in Sexton was re-kindled by a book I read last year called
The Equivalents: A Story of Art, Female Friendship, and Liberation in the 1960s by Maggie Doherty.  She focuses a great deal of the book on the relationship between Sexton and Maxine Kumin. Sexton is a fascinating person and excellent poet. It was fun to rediscover her and her writing.

I’ve read every poem by Anne Sexton, and while this shows her 150-proof self-revelatory, it reads more like any poet would/could write while on Thorazine. She’s amazing and her poetry on myths break barriers for all women. My favourite poem of hers is Pain for a Daughter. The poetic quality puts her on par with Plath and is much better than Lowel: the tree of them were forerunners to the personal as universal and opened the door to witness writing seen as profound and historical. I like this choice though because writing with mental illness is extremely difficult to maintain and the McLean hospital group quit life before they ever quit words - the gift that’s eternal.

Thanks for that knowledgeable and insightful comment.

I knew Anne well and had the pleasure of working with her for several years. She had a wonderful sense of humor and a belly laugh. She was an accomplished formalist and a lover of music. She's often grouped with Plath and Lowell, but she was sui generis. I seriously doubt that either of them could have produced her "Transformations," an adventure into surrealist poetry, a nifty collaboration with Barbara Swan, highly praised by Kurt Vonnegut in his introduction. If you ever get the chance, enjoy Conrad Susa's opera based on the book. She also performed for three years with her "chamber rock" band, Anne Sexton & Her Kind, to which college students flocked. I understand that students still love her work, a good sign that she'll be a literary survivor. She wrote too many great poems to be ignored.

Thanks for the comment. I think you're right---her poems have great staying power.

I taught "Transformations" several times in my creative writing courses as well as "The Awful Rowing" to undergraduates. Sexton was always a hit. New readers benefit when her work is given some context to introduce it.

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That Ship Has Sailed
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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly


I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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