Apr 15, 2010

Anne Sexton's "The Truth the Dead Know." Anne Sexton on Film

The Truth the Dead Know by Anne Sexton : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

YouTube - Anne Sexton at home - 1 (VOSE)

On YouTube, there's a treasure trove of Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath, among others, reading their work. This clip also shows Sexton at home, and I found it curiously disturbing. I suppose I encountered the same trite questions we often ask about suicides: she was so bright, she was attractive, she liked center stage, she could take herself lightly--or at least not gravely--about the

theatrics of reading aloud, she had a husband in a time when that mattered, she was a late bloomer but rising star in poetry . . . . In short, we could say she seemed to have everything. My somewhat educated brain knows how irrelevant those factors can be in mental illness, yet the thoughts persist. And would I have enjoyed lunch or sharing an office with Anne Sexton in real life?

As for the poem, "The Truth the Dead Know," I'm interested in your reactions. I hear a bit of Emily Dickinson's tight, tough language and unexpected rhymes and images, including the motif of stone. I wonder if the poem is a good example of fixed form forcing the author into creativity in the form of words and thoughts she might not have discovered if the rhyme and meter hadn't forced her there. I wonder how many contemporary free verse--or simply sloppy--poets pause to wonder about this. Some great writers have. Consider some titles: "The Caged Skylark," "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," and "Nuns Fret Not at Their Convent's Narrow Room."

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Barbaro said...

That's a pretty amazing video--I had no idea what she sounded or acted like. Remarkably coy.

Wikipedia mentions an affair with her second therapist as a possible catalyst to suicide. Interesting. But I think in general people look too hard for "reasons" for suicide, which is almost always caused by mental illness, and thus has no real logic.

To me Sexton is more a "trailblazer" than a poet in her own right--often wordy and erratic, she tackled subjects others shied away from.

Banjo52 said...

Barbaro, yes about the therapist. And was he the one who, with Sexton's daughter, published his notes from their therapy together? Or was that the first therapist? I also read or heard references to numerous affairs, numerous suicide attempts, and an alcohol problem.

Other tidbits: to work up the nerve to try a poetry workshop, as her therapist suggested, Sexton had to enlist a friend's help and attendance for support. The day she killed herself, she'd spent hours in mutual critiquing with poet Maxine Kumin, a luminary, at least by reputation.

I wonder--if Sexton had written fiction and thus developed a broader audience, would she be the female Hemingway? And as you say, Barbaro, do we read her poetry for the art of it or for a peek show? Are we voyeurs? But the two poems I've posted have a lot to respect, I think.

Anonymous said...

I quite liked the first poem, reminded me of Dover Beach "Ah love, let us be true to one another..."

And then you included the second poem and video and that killed it. She sounded like one of those absolute bores who traps you at parties. Plath too.

And since today's theme is suicide, someone quoted Stevie Smith this morning. Her impishness and brevity help her work rise above the confessional.

Brenda's Arizona said...

My comments on the video include the word 'creepy'. It somehow is creepy. Anne seems so flirty when first being 'interviewed' (the part in the white dress). But later in the video, when asked about hospitals - she falters. "Medical hospitals or psychiatric?" I swear I saw the hesitation - she would have had a playful, not too serious answer for "medical hospital"? But being led to the psychiatric part put a huge pause in her dialogue. The fear, hesitation, creeps into her face as she turns to flick her cigarette into an unseen ashtray...

I like the poem, mostly. Some people need the processional. Some don't. Some cry tears at funerals, some don't. It isn't based on the relationship you had with the deceased. It isn't based on the shock you are in. I don't think it is based on anything but something unquantifiable.

"more like stone than the sea would be if it stopped." Wow, great analogy. That is stone. That is solid stillness. OUCH.

Can't wait to read more responses!
And I hesitate to watch too many Anne Sexton videos that I see on YouTube. Has anyone watched the others? I think I am afraid of them. What if she is me??

Banjo52 said...

AH, there's one of Stevie Smith's that I really liked--something about far out or in deep--it's one of her most famous, I think. Did you see the movie about her? I'll try to find that poem. And others?

And I'll go back to "Dover Beach" again. For whatever reason, I've loved parts of it, but never the whole, the way so many people have loved it. Are you aware of the satire on it, "Dover Bitch"? Can't recall the author or how much I liked it, but now I'll try to remember to check on it too.

To you, AH, and Braz, I feel some talk about confessional writing coming on. Maybe next week. I think the pros and cons are remarkably strong.

Braz, I agree about the stone ocean image. Wow.

I think I also agree about the individual nature of grieving.

"What if she is me?" I guess I don't really know you, but that would surprise me greatly. Of course, one of my points about the confessional is that those works speak to all of us, whether we'll admit it or not. I assume that's one of the major reasons the work has survived.

Anonymous said...

I was much too far out all my life
I wasn't waving I was drowning.


Yes, let's pick up that topic, should prove interesting. Sometimes I go over a piece I've written and am shocked by all the I's.

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