Saturday, March 31, 2012

BOOK REVIEW CORNER – The Complete Poems: Anne Sexton

Guest blogger and Penumbra Publishing author Natasha Larry (DARWIN’S CHILDREN series) reviews the poetry of Anne Sexton in THE COMPLETE POEMS: ANNE SEXTON by Anne Sexton...

Anne Sexton
© 1981, Mariner Publishing 1999
Confessional Poetry
Reviewed by Natasha Larry, Penumbra Publishing author and blogger at
Available in paperback and hardcover on Amazon and other retailers

I don’t spend a lot of time reading poetry, but there are a few poets I wish I could have dinner with. Anne Sexton happens to be one of them. Sexton was a confessional poet, and was around in the wacky sixties. I consider her one of the greatest women poets of all time.

At age forty, she killed herself, but before she did, she let the world with a mind-blowing collection of poetic verse that will live on forever. This collection gathers all her poetic works into one volume.

Sexton wrote with a naked honestly that, while not always beautiful like Plath, whom some considered her rival, was raw and made her stand out among the other confessionals.

One of my favorite poems is The Truth the Dead Know, which I actually stole for a chapter title in Unnatural Law. It is worth posting at length here:

For my Mother, born March 1902, died March 1959
and my Father, born February 1900, died June 1959

Gone, I say and walk from church,
refusing the stiff procession to the grave,
letting the dead ride alone in the hearse
It is June. I am tired of being brave.

We drive to the Cape. I cultivate
myself where the sun gutters from the sky,
where the sea swings in like an iron gate
and we touch. In another country people die.

My darling, the wind falls in like stones
from the whitehearted water and when we touch
we enter touch entirely. No one's alone.
Men kill for this, or for as much.

And what of the dead? They lie without shoes
in the stone boats.  They are more like stone
than the sea would be if it stopped. They refuse
to be blessed, throat, eye and knucklebone.

Another of her poems stood out for me as one of her best and arguably, most insightful. It is titled Just Once:

Just once I knew what life was for.
In Boston, quite suddenly, I understood;
walked there along the Charles River,
watched the lights copying themselves,
all neoned and strobe-hearted, opening
their mouths as wide as opera singers;
counted the stars, my little campaigners,
my scar daisies, and knew that I walked my love
on the night green side of it and cried
my heart to the eastbound cars and cried
my heart to the westbound cars and took
my truth across a small humped bridge
and hurried my truth, the charm of it, home
and hoarded these constants into morning
only to find them gone.

To me, this poem is less gory and suicidal than most of Sexton’s other works. I’m not going to sit here and pretend I have an English degree, or that I’m interested in analyzing poetry, because I am not. I do, however, know when a writer or poet speaks to me personally. I believe that Sexton is an icon. All lovers of poetry should read her, and all women should respect the fearlessness in her work.


  1. Hi Tasha and Pat :) No wonder you needed braces, you've been doing a lot of writing lately! Another good one, I never read Sexton. In truth I haven't read any poetry at all in years. Hers sounds raw and powerful. I have an English degree but I won't anyalyze her work either, like a lot of writers I'm sure she had issues. I always enjoyed more modern (20th century) poetry versus the classics (except Shakespeare of course :-)

  2. The braces are doing me wonders! =) I think you'd really like Sexton, although she is hard to read, in the end its worth it.

  3. Great review. You're right. You don't have to analyze it. The poem should speak to you. To paraphrase Billy Collins, the poem needs to have a little door or window so you can get inside and have a look around.


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