By the twilight of the Eisenhower era, America was already exhibiting signs it was ready to take on some cherished traditions of the status quo and that those alterations in the fabric of society would forever impact the way the material would be expected to fit. The changes in store for a country populated by a majority who were distinctly unready for the revolution would no longer remain an American dream deferred. Views on war, marriage, race, and sexuality were about to undergo the most radical transformation yet experienced in the short life of the new country. As Americans were readying themselves to challenge old beliefs, discussions that had forever been relegated to taking place behind tightly shut doors were being thrust to the forefront of America’s cultural conversation. The paradigm of American values was starting to swing to the left. These changes in perspective were also reflected in the poetry of the time.
America in the wake of breaking free from the shackles of post-WWII conformity was an America becoming highly sexualized and one in which traditional views on everything related to issues of sexuality were suddenly open game for poetic exploration without fear of bonfires, ostracism or even jail as a potential consequence. For instance, the longstanding and relatively stable institution of marriage came under the literary scrutiny of Gregory Corso in a poem with a title that indicated the level of directness of the challenges being made: "Marriage."
The new liberties enjoyed by writers to discuss issues previously not fit for the dainty art of poetry extended to what still remained even at the beginning of the sexual liberation of the 1960s one of the few topics relatively unexplored as a result of both enforced self-censorship and good old-fashioned pious censorship by self-appointed moral guardians. Before 1973 and the Supreme Court’s ruling on a case pitting Roe versus Wade, it was the very absence of abortion as a topic for both literary endeavors and polite social discourse that defined it as a political issue. One of the first moves toward the annihilation of that absence was Anne Sexton’s emotionally devastating work of verse whose title was even more to the point than Corso’s. In “The Abortion” Anne Sexton not only dares to extricate the issue of abortion from the dark side of human sexuality, she also becomes through her poem an oracle predicting the incendiary level of controversy which the previously quelled issue of abortion was soon to reach. What, after all, could have been a more controversial decision by Sexton than to write a poem on the distinctly adult topic of aborting a child that directly references the fairy tales told to young children?
“up in Pennsylvania, I met a little man,
not Rumpelstiltskin, at all, at all...
he took the fullness that love began.
Returning north, even the sky grew thin
like a high window looking nowhere.
The road was as flat as a sheet of tin.
Somebody who should have been born
The extent to which the invitation into the American discourse has taken the issue of abortion since Sexton published her provocative poem is beyond argument. The fact that between the Roe v. Wade ruling which served to dismantle the previous Draconian effort to regulate and deny access to safe medical procedures conducted by trained medical professionals and April of 2016 more than 50% of states had “imposed excessive and unnecessary regulations on abortion clinics” (Induced Abortion in the United States) indicates the level of effort that has gone into turning back the clock to make the very experience that Anne Sexton managed somehow to transform into transcendent poetry a case of the old normal become the new normal.
When reading “The Abortion” one cannot help but wonder just how long it might be before another poet is driven to write another poem about the exact same experience made necessary by the exact same legal conditions.