Kicking off her shoes, lighting a cigarette, she would read, in her marvelous, throaty, classy voice, harrowing accounts of insanity and love. She was an artist: her purpose was to make awesome experiences lively, immediate and real.
I’ve been reading Anne Sexton and wondering why I didn’t get around to reading her before. I knew her from Elizabeth Wurtzel and recently got a recommendation from a very good poet I know. The edition I have comes with a fine introduction from Diane Wood Middlebrook and Diana Hume George. In it they argue that, although Sexton is boxed away with Plath as an entirely confessional poet, she thought of herself as primarily a storyteller. As well as memoirs of her struggles with anxiety and thoughts of suicide the book contains gothic retellings of biblical and fairy tales.
It’s not often that you find a writer that gives you the impression that s/he has walked around in your soul. Art is full of a false and insinuating universality and related accounts of experiences and emotions that everyone is supposed to have lived and felt often leave me indifferent. Reading ‘Just Once’, though, I felt that Sexton knew me intimately, was speaking to and for me, and there was nothing frightening or even striking about this, it felt matter-of-fact, casual. The mood of ‘Just Once’ is something I feel all the time. Here it is:
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.