Anne Sexton: Poems Background

Anne Sexton: Poems Background

The deeply influential poet who stood at the forefront of examining the constrictions upon gender during the era in which she lived as a vital element of her poetry is perhaps paradoxically known to the world as Anne Sexton. Sexton was the name that Anne Harvey took upon her vows of marriage to Alfred Muller Sexton II. The idea of such a leading voice in the feminist poetry movement of America publishing under her husband’s last name might seem somewhat counter-intuitive, indeed, until the realization dawns that publishing as Anne Harvey would still have meant being known by a man’s name. And in the case of her abusive father, a man whose name was best left to gather dust in the archives of historical footnotes.

That abuse at the hands of her father eventually led Sexton to seek psychotherapy for the clinical depression which haunted her life and work. The realization of Sexton’s struggle to channel her mental instability into literary form comes in the form of poetry that transforms the pain of low self-esteem into brilliant insight into the darker aspects of motherhood, sexuality, and a near-constant teetering on the brink of suicide. Writing poetry was, in fact, an act of desperation encouraged by the physician treating her depression. Once she began the therapeutic process of refashioning the disturbing events of her life which led to bouts of madness and acts of self-destruction, a new world opened up.

Under the tutelage of renowned poet Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton became known as one of the leading confessional poets of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Her first collection with a title directly referencing the treatment of mental illness, To Bedlam and Part Way Back, appeared in 1960. Six years later Live or Die took home the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Never one to shy away from controversial subjects, references to incest permeate throughout Sexton’s verse, informed by alleged accounts of being victimized herself by both that abusive father and an aunt who lived with them. Since her recollections of that particular abuse often contain conflicting accounts, it is not known for sure whether her mental instability resulted from actual cases of incest or whether her obsession with the incestuous themes is symptomatic of her mental instability.

From a literary standpoint, of course, it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other. The intensity and power of Sexton’s poetry stem directly from her willingness to confront the demons causing her depression rather than do what so many others do: turn out the lights and hide. The brutal honesty of her confessional poetry is proof enough that inside her mind every single instance of incest and every other form of abuse which helped to shape and form her fragmented mental state was palpably and viscerally real and true and factual.

That those demons which drove Anne Sexton to the heights of creativity also eventually led her to the depths of destruction only confirms that reality. In 1974, Anne Sexton committed suicide at the age of 45.

The life of Anne Sexton was marked by an immense amount of pain and trauma, but her unflinching courage to confront her demons and her willingness to share her life story with the world through her poetry were remarkable. Her poems provided an insight not only into her personal struggles but also into the struggles that so many women of her era faced when it came to navigating their way through a patriarchal society. The feminist movement of the late 1960s and 1970s was greatly influenced by Anne Sexton’s work, and she continues to be an inspiration to many women today. Her legacy is one of courage and strength in the face of adversity.

Anne Sexton often wrote about her innermost thoughts, fears, and feelings, while still managing to maintain a creative expression of them. Her works explored issues of sexuality, motherhood, and mental illness in a way that was honest, raw, and deeply personal. This has made her work both timeless and powerful, as it speaks to people of all generations. Sexton’s creative style was truly innovative, as she often used a mix of traditional and non-traditional forms of poetry to explore her themes, often combining free verse with more traditional forms.

Sexton’s work was not only important for its artistic merit, but it also helped to bring to light the issues of mental health and gender oppression that were faced by so many women of her time. By unapologetically exploring these themes in her poetry, she was able to bring attention to the struggles of women and inspire future generations to speak up and fight for change. Her bravery and her willingness to be vulnerable in her writing have truly made her an inspiration to many, and her work continues to be celebrated and appreciated by poetry fans around the world.

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