Friday, February 2, 2007

On Sexton

Last night's poetry group centered on a lively discussion of the work of Anne Sexton. The big surprise of the evening was the rediscovery of "The Jesus Papers," a collection from Sexton's "The Book of Folly." These are funny little bits, more stand-up comedy than poetry, that take a whole new turn on Jesus. Take "Jesus Suckles," a kind of love poem from JC to Mary:

Jesus Suckles

Mary, your great
white apples make me glad.
I feel your heart work its
machine and I doze like a fly.
I cough like a bird on its worm.
I'm a jelly-baby and you're my wife.
You're a rock and I the fringy algae.
You're a lily and I'm the bee that gets inside.
I close my eyes and suck you in like a fire.
I grow. I grow. I'm fattening out.
I'm a kid in a rowboat and you're the sea,
the salt, you're every fish of importance.

No. No.

All lies.
I am small
and you hold me.
You give me milk
and we are the same
and I am glad.

No. No.

All lies.
I am a truck.
I run everything.

I own you.

Compared to these and later pieces, such early work as "You, Doctor Martin" and "Double Image" begged the evening's big question: can Anne Sexton's work be considered purely for its poetic value, or does it's confessional content draw readers in, like lechers at a peep show, titillated by the "National Enquirer-esque" tell-all tale of an educated rich white woman?

Surely in poetic terms, her early work was
technically superior. The later work is all idea and content, with a fat, sloppy style that big themes obscure. While not entirely unappealling, the later work is much more broad in style; metaphors tend to be more common; poetic structure, when used, is primative as nursery rhymes. Amazing what happens when poets are forced to make a living by teaching those snot-nosed Harvard snobs. Without enough time to perfect every line, Sexton's later work is far less electrically charged.

By the way, Anne Sexton can be seen on YouTube reading "
Her Kind" which is purrty darn cool.

Tonight it's off to talk about Robert Burns. He and Anne have so much in common.

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