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Portraits of Poets

Anne Sexton: On the Anniversary of her Death [ed. Terence Winch]

Anne s


The Ballad of the Lonely Masturbator


The end of the affair is always death.   

She’s my workshop. Slippery eye,   

out of the tribe of myself my breath   

finds you gone. I horrify

those who stand by. I am fed.   

At night, alone, I marry the bed.


Finger to finger, now she’s mine.   

She’s not too far. She’s my encounter.   

I beat her like a bell. I recline

in the bower where you used to mount her.   

You borrowed me on the flowered spread.   

At night, alone, I marry the bed.


Take for instance this night, my love,   

that every single couple puts together   

with a joint overturning, beneath, above,   

the abundant two on sponge and feather,   

kneeling and pushing, head to head.   

At night alone, I marry the bed.


I break out of my body this way,   

an annoying miracle. Could I   

put the dream market on display?   

I am spread out. I crucify.

My little plum is what you said.   

At night, alone, I marry the bed.


Then my black-eyed rival came.

The lady of water, rising on the beach,   

a piano at her fingertips, shame   

on her lips and a flute’s speech.

And I was the knock-kneed broom instead.   

At night, alone, I marry the bed.


She took you the way a woman takes   

a bargain dress off the rack

and I broke the way a stone breaks.

I give back your books and fishing tack.   

Today’s paper says that you are wed.   

At night, alone, I marry the bed.


The boys and girls are one tonight.

They unbutton blouses. They unzip flies.   

They take off shoes. They turn off the light.   

The glimmering creatures are full of lies.

They are eating each other. They are overfed.   

At night, alone, I marry the bed.


Sexton with cigarette

 Anne Sexton studied with the poet Robert Lowell at Boston University and also worked as a model and a librarian. Although she had written some poetry in childhood, it was not until the later 1950s that she began to write seriously. Her first book, To Bedlam and Part Way Back, was published in 1960. The book won immediate attention because of the intensely personal and relentlessly honest self-revelatory nature of the poems recording her nervous breakdown and recovery. Their imagery was frequently brilliant, and their tone was both sardonic and vulnerable. Her second book of poems, All My Pretty Ones (1962), continued in the vein of uncompromising self-exploration. Live or Die (1966), a further record of emotional illness, won a Pulitzer Prize and was followed by, among others, Love Poems (1969), Transformations (1971), The Book of Folly (1972), and The Death Notebooks (1974). Sexton taught at Boston University in 1970–71 and at Colgate University in 1971–72. She also wrote a number of children’s books with her close friend, poet Maxine Kumin.  Sexton died by her own hand on Oct. 4th, 1974. The Awful Rowing Toward God (1975), 45 Mercy Street (1976, edited by her daughter, Linda Gray Sexton), and Uncollected Poems with Three Stories (1978) were published posthumously. Anne Sexton: A Self-Portrait in Letters, edited by Lois Ames and Linda Gray Sexton, was published in 1977 and No Evil Star: Selected Essays, Interviews, and Prose in 1985.      [from the Encyclopaedia Britannica]




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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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