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From the joy and anguish of her own experience, Sexton fashioned poems that told truths about the inner lives of men and women. This book comprises Sexton's ten volumes of verse, including the Pulitzer Prize-winner Live or Die, as well as seven poems from her last years. From the joy and anguish of her own experience, Sexton fashioned poems that told truths about the inner lives of men and women. This book comprises Sexton's ten volumes of verse, including the Pulitzer Prize-winner Live or Die, as well as seven poems from her last years.


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From the joy and anguish of her own experience, Sexton fashioned poems that told truths about the inner lives of men and women. This book comprises Sexton's ten volumes of verse, including the Pulitzer Prize-winner Live or Die, as well as seven poems from her last years. From the joy and anguish of her own experience, Sexton fashioned poems that told truths about the inner lives of men and women. This book comprises Sexton's ten volumes of verse, including the Pulitzer Prize-winner Live or Die, as well as seven poems from her last years.

30 review for The Complete Poems

  1. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    From the self-conscious and contemplative poems of To Bedlam and Part Way Back to the strange and surreal verse of The Awful Rowing Toward God, Anne Sexton's work encompasses a wide range of styles: few other American poets have written so many kinds of poems, on such different subjects, while successfully capturing the attention of the public. Often interested in personal relationships, as well as the bond between poet and audience, Sexton's poems consistently dazzle readers with inventive imag From the self-conscious and contemplative poems of To Bedlam and Part Way Back to the strange and surreal verse of The Awful Rowing Toward God, Anne Sexton's work encompasses a wide range of styles: few other American poets have written so many kinds of poems, on such different subjects, while successfully capturing the attention of the public. Often interested in personal relationships, as well as the bond between poet and audience, Sexton's poems consistently dazzle readers with inventive images, swift pacing, and simple but powerful language. So, too, does her work typically take on taboo topics and experiences belonging to women. But her specific subject matter shifts from collection to collection. All My Pretty Ones deals with the death of parents and entering middle age; Love Poems domestic misery and unsustainable affairs; Transformations fairytales and patriarchal oppression; The Death Notebooks celebrity and suicide. Different as the collections might be from each other, though, there is a distinct stylistic progression amongst them, making The Complete Poems best read in order.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Steven Godin

    To Bedlam and Part Way Back (1960) - 4/5 All My Pretty Ones (1962) - 5/5 Live or Die (1966) - 4/5 Love Poems (1969) - 5/5 Transformations (1971) - 3/5 The Book of Folly (1972) - 5/5 The Death Notebooks (1974) - 5/5 The Awful Rowing Toward God (1975) - 5/5 POSTHUMOUSLY PUBLISHED WORK - 45 Mercy Street (1976) - 5/5 Words for Dr. Y (1978) - 4/5 Other Poems (1971-1973) - 5/5 Scorpio, Bad Spider, Die (1971) - 5/5 Last Poems - 4/5 All Anne Sexton's major work in one place, plus previously unreleased material to co To Bedlam and Part Way Back (1960) - 4/5 All My Pretty Ones (1962) - 5/5 Live or Die (1966) - 4/5 Love Poems (1969) - 5/5 Transformations (1971) - 3/5 The Book of Folly (1972) - 5/5 The Death Notebooks (1974) - 5/5 The Awful Rowing Toward God (1975) - 5/5 POSTHUMOUSLY PUBLISHED WORK - 45 Mercy Street (1976) - 5/5 Words for Dr. Y (1978) - 4/5 Other Poems (1971-1973) - 5/5 Scorpio, Bad Spider, Die (1971) - 5/5 Last Poems - 4/5 All Anne Sexton's major work in one place, plus previously unreleased material to complete, what is arguably, the greatest collection of poetry I have ever read. Only slightly hampered by 'Transformations', which seems out of place with everything else. She is at her troubling best when writing of death, wife beaters, mental illness, menstruation, and cancer, rather than Rumpelstiltskin, Cinderella, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Whilst I believe Transformations to be her weakest work, all the rest of it, she simply didn't put a foot wrong. The later poems towards the end of her life clearly highlight a rapidly disturbed mind. It's sad to see. The facts of Anne's difficult and chaotic life are well known, and no other American poet in our time has cried out aloud publicly on so many private details. While the frankness of these revelations attracted many readers, especially women, who identified strongly with the female aspect of the poems, a number of critics - for the most part misogynist men, took offense. Probably down to the fact they couldn't handle a woman being talented, and doing so well. The intimate details divulged in Sexton's poetry enchanted or repelled with equal passion. In addition to the strong feelings Anne's work aroused, there was the undeniable fact of her physical beauty. Her presence on the platform dazzled with its staginess, its props of water glass, cigarettes, and ashtray. She used pregnant pauses, husky whispers, pseudoshouts to calculated effect. A Sexton audience might hiss its displeasure or deliver a standing ovation. One thing it wouldn't have done, is doze off during a reading. Anne basked in the attention she attracted, partly because it was antithetical to an earlier generation's view of the woman writer as 'poetess' and partly because she was flattered by and enjoyed the adoration of her public. But behind the glamorously garbed woman lurked a terrified and homely child, cowed from the cradle onward, it seemed, by the indifference and cruelties of her world. Her parents, she was convinced, had not wanted her to be born. Her sisters, she alleged, competed against and won out over her. Her teachers, unable to rouse the slumbering intelligence from its hiding place, treated her with impatience and anger. Anne's counterphobic response to rejection and admonishment was always to defy, dare, press, contravene. Thus the frightened little girl became a flamboyant and provocative woman, bursting at the seems to put pen to paper. The timid girl who skulked in closets burst forth as an exhibitionist, the intensely private individual bared her soul to the masses, and in public readings where almost invariably there was standing room only. 'All My Pretty Ones', 'The Death Notebooks' and the posthumously released '45 Mercy Street' I would say are my favourite volumes. But overall, there was very little to begrudge about. Over 600 pages of simply great poetry. It's impossible to pluck out of so many the poems that stuck in my mind, so have randomly picked three to finish off with. A CURSE AGAINST ELEGIES Oh, love, why do we argue like this? I am tired of all your pious talk. Also, I am tired of all the dead. They refuse to listen, so leave them alone. Take your foot out of the graveyard, they are busy being dead. Everyone was always to blame: the last empty fifth of booze, the rusty nails and chicken feathers that stuck in the mud on the back doorstep, the worms that lived under the cat's ear and the thin-lipped preacher who refused to call except once on a flea-ridden day when he came scuffing in through the yard looking for a scapegoat. I hid in the kitchen under the ragbag. I refuse to remember the dead. And the dead are bored with the whole thing. But you — you go ahead, go on, go on back down into the graveyard, lie down where you think their faces are; talk back to your old bad dreams. THREE GREEN WINDOWS Half awake in my Sunday nap I see three green windows in three different lights — one west, one south, one east. I have forgotten that old friends are dying. I have forgotten that I grow middle-aged. At each window such rustlings! The trees persist, yeasty and sensuous, as thick as saints. I see three wet gargoyles covered with birds. Their skins shine in the sun like leather. I'm on my bed as light as a sponge. Soon it will be summer. She is my mother. She will tell me a story and keep me asleep against her plump and fruity skin. I see leaves — leaves that are washed and innocent, leaves that never knew a cellar, born in their own green blood like the hands of mermaids. I do not think of the rusty wagon on the walk. I pay no attention to the red squirrels that leap like machines beside the house. I do not remember the real trunks of the trees that stand beneath the windows as bulky as artichokes. I turn like a giant, secretly watching, secretly knowing, secretly naming each elegant sea. I have misplaced the Van Allen belt, the sewers and the drainage, the urban renewal and the suburban centers. I have forgotten the names of the literary critics. I know what I know. I am the child I was, living the life that was mine. I am young and half asleep. It is a time of water, a time of trees. AS IT WAS WRITTEN Earth, earth, riding your merry-go-round toward extinction, right to the roots, thickening the oceans like gravy, festering in your caves, you are becoming a latrine. Your trees are twisted chairs. Your flowers moan at their mirrors, and cry for a sun that doesn't wear a mask. Your clouds wear white, trying to become nuns and say novenas to the sky. The sky is yellow with its jaundice, and its veins spill into the rivers where the fish kneel down to swallow hair and goat's eyes. All in all, I'd say, the world is strangling. And I, in my bed each night, listen to my twenty shoes converse about it. And the moon, under its dark hood, falls out of the sky each night, with its hungry red mouth to suck at my scars.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Perry

    "strings are incurably playing...the composer has stepped into fire." I devoured The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton, whose poetry, especially her love poems, quivers with a pulsating eros as it sways to its orgiastic echoes. My nerves are turned on. I hear them like musical instruments. Where there was silence the drums, the strings are incurably playing. You did this. Pure genius at work. Darling, the composer has stepped into fire. From "The Kiss." Hers was a tragic life, throughout most of which she "strings are incurably playing...the composer has stepped into fire." I devoured The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton, whose poetry, especially her love poems, quivers with a pulsating eros as it sways to its orgiastic echoes. My nerves are turned on. I hear them like musical instruments. Where there was silence the drums, the strings are incurably playing. You did this. Pure genius at work. Darling, the composer has stepped into fire. From "The Kiss." Hers was a tragic life, throughout most of which she suffered severe mental illness. Yet, by the late 1960s she was one of the most revered poets in America, having won the Pulitzer and being made the first female member of the Harvard chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. Her poetry seems most notable for the openness with which she wrote confessional poetry about topics still deemed taboo for open personal discussion such as incest, masturbation, menstruation, adultery and drug addiction. By the early 1970s, some critics saw her as a lazy boozy poetess. Others since have been kinder, saying that she had matured to the use her poems as an "instrument against the 'politesse' of language, politics, religion [and] sex." Rothenberg, Joris, Poems for the Millenium, 1995. A passage from another of my favorite poems, "Eighteen Days Without You": Draw me good, draw me warm. Bring me your raw-boned wrist and your strange, Mr. Bind, strange stubborn horn. Darling, bring with this an hour of undulations, for this is the music for which I was born. Lock in! Be alert, my acrobat and I will be soft wood and you the nail and we will make fiery ovens for Jack Sprat and you will hurl yourself into my tiny jail and we will take a supper together and that will be that. At age 45, in October 1974, Ms. Sexton locked herself in her garage, started her car's engine and committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning. Peter Gabriel obviously loved her poetry enough to write and dedicate to her a song called "Mercy Street" on his 1986 album; a few lines: "she pictures the broken glass, she pictures the steam she pictures a soul with no leak at the seam *** dreaming of mercy street wear your insides out dreaming of mercy *** Anne, with her father is out in the boat riding the water riding the waves on the sea." Thank you to the publisher Open Road Integrated Media and NetGalley for a copy of this wonderful book in exchange for a fair review.

  4. 4 out of 5

    John

    Sexton is a bit of an obsession of mine--I've been reading her poetry since I was a teenager, and *almost* wrote my dissertation on her! She's often compared to Sylvia Plath (who was her friend), but her poetry is very different. Where Plath is something of an intellectual poet and a meticulous craftsman, Sexton is more dramatic and playful; she doesn't have the same control of language as Plath, but she is a little more accessible. Plath was an introvert, but Sexton loved to perform for an audi Sexton is a bit of an obsession of mine--I've been reading her poetry since I was a teenager, and *almost* wrote my dissertation on her! She's often compared to Sylvia Plath (who was her friend), but her poetry is very different. Where Plath is something of an intellectual poet and a meticulous craftsman, Sexton is more dramatic and playful; she doesn't have the same control of language as Plath, but she is a little more accessible. Plath was an introvert, but Sexton loved to perform for an audience and her poetry reflects her personality. Like Plath, though, she was deeply troubled and committed suicide in a similar fashion. Her best poems are in her first two books, and in the collection called "Transformations" which offers modern re-tellings of classic fairy-tales--usually from a woman's perspective. "Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty)" is fantastic.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kimber

    "Loneliness is just an exile from God." -Anne Sexton, April 1,1963 Writing poems, for me, is simply a way to express what cannot be expressed any other way. This is also how Anne was as a Confessional poet and as someone who began writing in therapy, her poems were an extension of her psychoanalysis but she went much further: she became an artist. So much of her work is the process, the process, the process- of throwing clay to make a jar. these are my favorites - Her Kind The Farmer's Wife Unknown Gi "Loneliness is just an exile from God." -Anne Sexton, April 1,1963 Writing poems, for me, is simply a way to express what cannot be expressed any other way. This is also how Anne was as a Confessional poet and as someone who began writing in therapy, her poems were an extension of her psychoanalysis but she went much further: she became an artist. So much of her work is the process, the process, the process- of throwing clay to make a jar. these are my favorites - Her Kind The Farmer's Wife Unknown Girl in the Maternity Ward The Truth the Dead Know The Starry Night The Abortion With Mercy for the Greedy Housewife For Eleanor Boylan Talking with God The Black Art Just Once Man and Wife The entire book of "The Awful Rowing Toward God" is what I consider to be her masterpiece Just Once 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.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Dawn

    I'm in this workshop and I have this poem and Kathleen Fraser says that if I don't take every pronoun out of my poem I run the risk of seeming confessional which is "at the worst, Anne Sexton, and at the best, Sylvia Plath." I felt stomped on. Not because she was right about my poem, but because I became aware that everyone could see me doing it, reading the complete Sexton, cover to cover one spring in college. I can see me beside the pool reading it and I'm thinking fuck you Kathleen, because I'm in this workshop and I have this poem and Kathleen Fraser says that if I don't take every pronoun out of my poem I run the risk of seeming confessional which is "at the worst, Anne Sexton, and at the best, Sylvia Plath." I felt stomped on. Not because she was right about my poem, but because I became aware that everyone could see me doing it, reading the complete Sexton, cover to cover one spring in college. I can see me beside the pool reading it and I'm thinking fuck you Kathleen, because everyone is a young women sometimes and everyone wants those long long legs.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Momina Masood

    "Someone once said that we have art in order not to die of the truth, a dictum we might neatly apply to Sexton's perspectives. To Hayden Carruth, the poems "raise the never-solved problem of what literature really is, where you draw the line between art and documentary." -- Maxine Kumin in her Foreword Sexton's poetry transcends the shamelessly personal because, unlike Plath, she did not disguise herself behind metaphors; not in the least as cerebrally as Plath, anyway. And in doing so, she rend "Someone once said that we have art in order not to die of the truth, a dictum we might neatly apply to Sexton's perspectives. To Hayden Carruth, the poems "raise the never-solved problem of what literature really is, where you draw the line between art and documentary." -- Maxine Kumin in her Foreword Sexton's poetry transcends the shamelessly personal because, unlike Plath, she did not disguise herself behind metaphors; not in the least as cerebrally as Plath, anyway. And in doing so, she rendered herself not only more accessible than Plath but paradoxically more hard to read. As I said, she transcends the mere personal; this is flesh and blood here. You're not simply reading a journal, you're reading each and every waking thought, every single nightmare and dream, every trip to the hospital, every death and every birth which she went through. This is more than biography. This is the poetic reconstruction of the person Anne Sexton was in all its nakedness. "I did not know the woman I would be nor that blood would bloom in me each month like an exotic flower, nor that children, two monuments, would break from between my legs two cramped girls breathing carelessly, each asleep in her tiny beauty. I did not know that my life, in the end, would run over my mother's like a truck and all that would remain from the year I was six was a small hole in my heart, a deaf spot, so that I might hear the unsaid more clearly." Critics of confessional poetry might say that in maintaining fidelity to one's person alone, writers risk universality, and will only be relevant to a certain class of readers. But I have to say that you do not need to be a manic depressive to get Sexton's poetry, you just need to be human. We're not all that different from each other deep down where fears fester and dreams are born. By simply being Anne Sexton, she wrote about the human condition, in its insanity, glory and passion. She wrote about me and you and all of us, in our collective rowing towards something more meaningful and substantial. In short, she's universal and relevant as heck! "Sweet weight, in celebration of the woman I am and of the soul of the woman I am and of the central creature and its delight I sing for you. I dare to live. Hello, spirit. Hello, cup. Fasten, cover. Cover that does contain. Hello to the soil of the fields. Welcome, roots." Coming to the poetry, I think Transformations stands out remarkably in terms of literary significance from the rest of her books. What she did is something very fascinating here. She reworked many famous Grimm stories, and brought them down to planet earth, stripping them of their happily-ever-afters, and exposing them for what they really stand for in the real world which we all inhabit. Those who have cherished Hans Christian Anderson and Brothers Grimm as kids might be a little appalled to read these poems, but I believe that very few will fail to appreciate these twisted interpretations. Here's Cinderella , for example. All in all, it has been one hell of an experience reading Sexton, and you finish with the illusion, if you can call it that, of having known a very troubled yet sensitive spirit intimately. There are poems about madness, about the parent-child relation and how things never go right there, about her mother's death, her father and sister, about her children, about her marriage, about being a woman and living as one and how hard that gets, about God and religion and her constant battle with doubt and belief and how sometimes one wins over the other and so on, and about simply being. The being part is not really easy for many people, and it surely wasn't easy for Anne who ultimately and successfully committed suicide at the age of 45, but leaving herself behind in her poetry for all of us to know. "If it is true that she attracted the worshipful attention of a cult group pruriently interested in her suicidal impulses, her psychotic breakdowns, her frequent hospitalizations, it must equally be acknowledged that her very frankness succored many who clung to her poems as to the Holy Grail. Time will sort out the dross among these poems and burnish the gold. Anne Sexton has earned her place in the canon." My favorite poems from this collection, in the order of appearance: To Bedlam and Part Way Back (1960) You, Doctor Martin Her Kind Unknown Girl in the Maternity Ward Noon Walk on the Asylum Walk Ringing the Bells Lullaby A Story for Rose on the Midnight Flight to Boston For John, Who Begs Me Not to Enquire Further The Double Image The Division of Parts All My Pretty Ones (1962) All My Pretty Ones To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Triumph The Operation A Curse Against Elegies From the Garden For Eleanor Boylan Talking With God The Black Art Letter Writing During a January Northeaster Live or Die (1966) Consorting With Angels Love Song Sylvia's Death Protestant Easter Cripples and Other Stories The Addict Love Poems (1969) For My Lover, Returning to His Wife Transformations (1971) Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Cinderella Red Riding Hood Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty) The Book of Folly (1972) The Ambition Bird The Doctor of the Heart Anna Who Was Mad The Other Jesus Dies The Death Notebooks (1974) Baby Picture The Awful Rowing Towards God (1975) Rowing The Poet of Ignorance The Sickness Unto Death The Evil Seekers Frenzy Snow Small Wire Posthumously Published: The Child Bearers Love Letter Written in a Burning Building

  8. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    Disclaimer: ARC via Open Road Media and Netgalley I was first introduced to Anne Sexton in college during an American Poetry class. Actually, I was introduced to Sexton’s poetry because by that time she was long dead. Shortly afterwards, I read her Transformations which will always be one of my favorite books. In her poetic retellings of various Brother Grimm stories, from the most famous to less well known, Sexton shows how fairy tales are still current and powerful, and still can be connected Disclaimer: ARC via Open Road Media and Netgalley I was first introduced to Anne Sexton in college during an American Poetry class. Actually, I was introduced to Sexton’s poetry because by that time she was long dead. Shortly afterwards, I read her Transformations which will always be one of my favorite books. In her poetic retellings of various Brother Grimm stories, from the most famous to less well known, Sexton shows how fairy tales are still current and powerful, and still can be connected to the modern day. Therefore, when Open Road Media put this up on Netgalley, I immediately downloaded it. If you are someone who has been following my reviews for a while what I am about to say is old hat. If not, then you should know that I am Auto-Approved for Open Road Media titles on Netgalley. For me, Open Road Media is one of those publishing companies that synonymous with excellence. I love their reprinting of various lesser known feminist books as well as various studies of current issues (such as abortion). The Complete Poems of Sexton continues in this tradition. Care was taken in producing the digital version. As most readers of digital media can tell you, poetry is not always formatted well for e-readers. This is not the case here. Open Road Media took care to preserve each poems structure and look. The only criticism I have on this front is the lack of illustrations for Transformations. Sexton’s poetry is dark and hits the reader hard. There is something unflinching or uncompromising in her writing. In this collection, one can not only see that but also how fairy tale and myth inspired/influenced her writing even before Transformations. Take, for instance, “Where I Live in This Honorable House of the Laurel Tree”, a poem written from the viewpoint of Daphne after her transformation into the tree when trying to escape from Apollo. In Sexton’s poem, the lines are more blurry, the anger subdued, and the tragedy up front and center. Or “The Farmer’s Wife” a poem that showcases a marriage that isn’t as blooming as would first appears. Here, she is tapping into the ideas and themes in the Feminine Mystique or for the more modern reader as expressed in the music of Paula Cole. The witches are here as well, both as giver and taker. They are tied with Sexton’s view of life and birth. In fact, many of the poems mediate about birth and the connection to finding oneself. This is most powerfully expressed in the poem “The Abortion” as well as the poem “Water”. In fact, it is impossible to read either one of those poems without thinking about current issues before the US Supreme Court. Considering Sexton’s struggle with mental illness, it is no surprise that many poems, even those about birth, also connect to death or even a struggle against an unimaginable though not evil darkness. There is “Sylvia’s Death”, about Plath, which eventually gives way to poems that meditate on religion. And in many ways these poems (“Protestant Easter” being one) that are the most powerful because they are about that quest of understanding and a desire to come to terms with something that in many ways defies description. The poems are not just about doubt, but even a desire, a need, to believe. Sexton’s poetry has long had the reputation being dark, but that is a simplistic description. Her poetry is human. This collection showcases that.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    What can I say about Anne Sexton? She's incomparable--perhaps wholly unique in the history of women's poetry. I'd like to review each of her books separately at some point, which is why I've kept this on my shelf for so long, even though I finished rereading the entire brick in March. As so many comment, the poetry is sometimes hit or miss--particularly in her last two or three collections. But far more often (which critics conveniently forget), she's absolutely on, absolutely raw, absolutely a What can I say about Anne Sexton? She's incomparable--perhaps wholly unique in the history of women's poetry. I'd like to review each of her books separately at some point, which is why I've kept this on my shelf for so long, even though I finished rereading the entire brick in March. As so many comment, the poetry is sometimes hit or miss--particularly in her last two or three collections. But far more often (which critics conveniently forget), she's absolutely on, absolutely raw, absolutely a master wordsmith. If you're just thinking of approaching Sexton and don't quite know where to begin, start with the poems "The Double Image," "Her Kind," "The Operation," "All My Pretty Ones" or "Live" (among a million others)--or with the books Love Poems or Transformations. She's certainly not for everyone--I don't suppose any poet that imagines pissing in God's eye or rewrites the Whitmanian 'catalogue technique' with the uterus will prove resonant for all readers. I don't think there's a braver poet in the 20th century, a more honest one, or one more invested in struggling to define an absolutely singular identity at any expense. Max Kumin's introduction to this book is great as well, and she probably articulates all of this far better than I can. Anne Sexton has pulled me through many a tough time, many a creative dry-spell, and if I could carry this book (and Ariel) with me at all times, I'd consider myself damn lucky.

  10. 4 out of 5

    William

    On the whole, Anne Sexton stands as one of the few confessional poets whose constant symbolic callbacks and reincorporation can be endearing and in fact, make her more fit to be read again and gain. These brilliant and disquieting images she tears from time spent alone, tortured by the alienation of life passing everything by, are brought back again in her poems. Occasionally something is touched on briefly only to be mentioned in certain devastating verses later in her collections, revealing mo On the whole, Anne Sexton stands as one of the few confessional poets whose constant symbolic callbacks and reincorporation can be endearing and in fact, make her more fit to be read again and gain. These brilliant and disquieting images she tears from time spent alone, tortured by the alienation of life passing everything by, are brought back again in her poems. Occasionally something is touched on briefly only to be mentioned in certain devastating verses later in her collections, revealing more a little more clearness in the dark abstractions of her work. I like it enough to say she has some of my favorite collections I've read, and that she never really made me hate her style, never was her work (which is always painful and emotionally affecting) unreadable. So as far as poetry that's made strides in representing the bitter sufferings of mental illness, it ranks up there. There are poems with better form, with better diction, even with more interesting lives behind them, but the kind of bleak self-humouring truthfulness that comes through in her best verses remains unparalleled by the confessionalists of the time and since.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jonfaith

    Only my books anoint me, and a few friends, those who reach into my veins. This proved to be a psychologically crushing endeavor. Good Housekeeping ravaged by psychosis and incestual violence. There's so much pain and damaged mechanisms. Everything is filtered through fear and upheaval, all coping is suicidal. Words and eggs must be handled with care. Once broken they are impossible things to repair. The uneasy element in this exchange is the crucial role that parenting plays in her tableaux. More unc Only my books anoint me, and a few friends, those who reach into my veins. This proved to be a psychologically crushing endeavor. Good Housekeeping ravaged by psychosis and incestual violence. There's so much pain and damaged mechanisms. Everything is filtered through fear and upheaval, all coping is suicidal. Words and eggs must be handled with care. Once broken they are impossible things to repair. The uneasy element in this exchange is the crucial role that parenting plays in her tableaux. More uncomfortable are the allegations made after the fact by her children. This is more than emotionally choppy this is Medea meets Mommie Dearest in a spiral of corporeal shame. Hellenic worship of the form is itself contorted into countless variations on institutional deformation, whether that be a mental health facility or Dachau. The body is twisted, filled with chemicals, milk and desire are withdrawn for the feed of cattle or the will of the boys at the front. Advertisements become medical opinion. Menstruation, vodka breakfasts and the sour cheese smell of disappointment haunt these poems.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Robby

    I have not read much poetry in the 15 years I have been alive. I have read the poems that are required, expected, to be read in school, but that is pretty much where it ends. There are certain poets whose names I have seen and automatically wanted to read. Anne Sexton is one of them. Maybe it was the ‘sex’ in her last name that grabbed my attention. I am a teenage boy and all. Maybe it's the picture of her on the cover of her Collected Poems, though I bought her Selected Poems first. I gave that a I have not read much poetry in the 15 years I have been alive. I have read the poems that are required, expected, to be read in school, but that is pretty much where it ends. There are certain poets whose names I have seen and automatically wanted to read. Anne Sexton is one of them. Maybe it was the ‘sex’ in her last name that grabbed my attention. I am a teenage boy and all. Maybe it's the picture of her on the cover of her Collected Poems, though I bought her Selected Poems first. I gave that away. The covers for both are beautiful. Maybe it’s the fact that, in her time, the things she wrote were controversial, ludicrous, insane. Maybe it’s because she was insane. This book has been sitting on my bookshelf for over a year. A few weeks ago I picked it up, put it on my bedside table, and told myself I would read it now. And I did. And I loved it. But something happened about a month ago that completely convinced me that I had to read it. I will start with this story. My mother and I were driving in Somerville, away from Somerville, the night we went to see Anna Vogelzang. We didn’t follow the directions. We ended up in Weston. We drove through the town and I looked at the houses, the dim lights that shined in each window, the perfectly cut grass, the calm of this little town. I asked my mom if there were any markets in the town, or if people had to go into Boston, the outskirts, to shop for themselves. She told me she didn’t know. I felt like there was something inside of me, some sort of otherworldly presence. It scared me, as well as the fact that my mother and I were the only two people out on the streets and had no idea where we were going. But I knew what I felt. We were lost. We got through the town, found our way home, and I went to sleep. But I didn’t forget the feeling. Eventually I got to this book. I picked it up, took it from under the lamp on my bedside table, and read the foreword written by Maxine Kumin. I read that she lived and died in Weston, Massachusetts. And I knew it was her. It doesn’t mean she wasn’t haunting me. It doesn’t mean much of anything at all. What I think it does mean is that it was finally time to read this book. So I did. I read this book everywhere- in my kitchen, my bedroom, my mother’s car, during my finals. I would sit and read the words to myself, out loud and in my mind. Sometimes I would hear her voice, the voice that gave her much noteriety when she gave public readings. Sometimes I would hear someone I couldn’t recognize. Sometimes I would hear myself. The foreword that precedes this book is the perfect introduction to Anne Sexton’s poetry. Maxine Kumin, a legendary poet herself, was one of Anne’s best friends. She was in her critique group with her, along with two other men whose names I have forgotten. From the beginning, she knew Anne was different. Anne was tortured, psychotic, unstable, all of her life. She crafted stories and lies and was always brilliant, always writing, always destined to change the world of poetry. People warned Maxine of Anne, but it didn’t stop her. She was one of the last people to see Anne alive. The foreword ends. The book begins. I braced myself and started reading. I considered only letting myself read one collection a day, so it would take me 10, and for the most part this is what I did. I went through the poems slowly, giving myself time to dissect the lines and attempt to understand them. Mostly I did.. The meter of her early poems was like a metronome in my mind. To Bedlam and Part Way Back was Anne’s first collection. It contains the first poems she wrote after she began going to workshops and working with Maxine and the men. From the beginning she submitted to magazines, and she quickly rose and advanced and made her way into publishing. These poems have potential, brilliance, laced into every single one. They are easy to read, hard to read, and anxiety-ridden. I would pick highlights, but I’m not sure how long we’d be here if I did. All My Pretty Ones, Anne’s second collection, was published two years later. It has all of the same things as To Bedlam and Part Way back did, but it also has something new. Another part of Anne is introduced, as she gets more comfortable in her writing and more uncomfortable with the path her life has taken. These poems don’t shy away from her illness, as none of hers ever did. It is explained bluntly, her emotions, though they were not obvious to her at all. The words knew more than she did. I had a lot of singular thoughts about these collections as I read them, which I probably should have written down. I have forgotten them now. Some of them are still here. Those are the ones I think are important to write down and get out, for you to read. I am writing this all at once. Live or Die is Anne’s third collection. It won the Pulitzer Prize. This is one of my favorites of the books that are compiled in this collection. The poems are arranged in chronological order, and highlight Anne’s life, all of her life, and the things that haunted her for the years she was alive. There is something about these poems that is especially shocking. Love Poems are about love. They are not about love. The imagery in these poems is beautiful, horrifying, and in this collection yet another part of Anne is introduced. It has been acknowledged many times that Anne’s writing got much more disfigured and complicated as she got older. She always had her style, always, but it was changing. Here, it is more evident than in the poems before it. Here, she is shining on the top of the world. Transformations is frequently recognized as Anne’s best collection, or maybe I’m just telling myself that I’ve read it. Frankly, I did not like this collection. I liked it, appreciated it, but I couldn’t get into it. It is a retelling of the Grimm’s fairy tales, going one by one through them. I could not relate to them, though I could not relate to many of Anne’s poems before. It was more obvious now, and I felt like I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I will read them again eventually. I will re-read this whole collection.. If you haven’t noticed, I am going one by one through each of the collections and sharing my thoughts. You don’t have to keep reading. Better yet, run as fast as you can to some bookstore and buy this, if it is there. If it is not there, order it. You will know what I’m talking about when I say that Anne is almost godly, so close that the ‘almost’ is barely necessary. I am going to continue. The Book of Folly is a return to Anne’s old work, but also a look forward to her new work, the things she was going to write. There is the harsh honesty that was always there in her earlier collections, but also the imagery that was present in Love Poems and Transformations. Even with the imagery, you still know that she is not writing of anyone but herself. It never feels self-centered. It feels like you are reading something you cannot drop on the floor. The Death Notebooks is the last collection of Anne’s work that was published before she died. It is about death, of course, but everything Anne wrote is about death in some way. Everything Anne wrote is about everything. You can fit each poem into so many different categories, without pushing it or deforming it in order for it to slide in smoothly. Her poems are the perfect fit. They are the kinds of poems I have dreamed of writing. Here, though, it is obvious that Anne was going to go. Anne wrote The Awful Rowing Toward God quickly, in just a few weeks, during a mental breakdown. This is the collection she presented to Maxine the day she took her life. Here, she is as distracted as ever, as lustful with the idea of suicide as she has ever been. These poems are about religion, God, the things she was frantically searching for in the last years of her life. I am writing these words so quickly I can barely keep up with my thoughts. That’s what this collection reminded me of- tying up loose ends. She would not allow this to be published before she died. It was already scheduled for the spring on 1975 when she killed herself. Anne was working on 45 Mercy Street, revising it, up until she died. There is an editor’s note before it, and in it her daughter writes that some poems have been excluded due to danger of the resentment for Anne’s family that lies in some of the poems. This collection is full of secrets, and that is what I felt while reading it, like I knew something I shouldn’t know. It was different, reading this, knowing that she was already dead. It hit me again and again, though she has been dead for almost 40 years. The Divorce Papers, the third part of this collection, is one of my favorite series’ of Anne’s that is in this collection. It is about the disintegration of everything around her, and the poems are breathtaking, as always. Words For Dr. Y. is a collection that was put together by Anne’s daughter Linda (who is Anne’s literary executor.) The first series is a compilation of letters that Anne wrote to her therapist about the things she was thinking about, the things he was telling her, that stretches over the span of 10 years. The third series of poems that are here is probably my favorite, or my close favorite, of all of the things in this book. It is called “Scorpio, Bad Spider, Die.” There are horoscopes, anecdotes, and the words are sparse and minimal and yet the emotional undertones are as present and assaulting as ever. These were written years before she fell into the death hole. The final poems, a few last poems from her last years, are almost not there. They are Anne, always Anne, but she is already gone. Her marriage has dissolved and her children are distancing themselves from her and she is losing herself, has already lost herself. The last poem that she wrote in her life, only a few weeks before she killed herself, is “Love Letter Written in a Burning Building.” Reading it, I knew it was coming. And it did. I have written this review in Microsoft Word. It is 5 pages long, 1850 words and I am not even finished, and I doubt anyone has made it this far. That’s good. Maybe you are already on your way to the bookstore. There will never be another Anne Sexton. People will try to write like her, and probably already have, but she is the kind of poet and person that only comes once every century, millennium, and she is one-of-a-kind. She would’ve died by now even if she hadn’t killed herself, probably. Maybe it had to happen. Reading these poems, I felt insane. It was horrifying, that I began to understand why she said the things she did, believed she could. I felt alive reading these poems, something I'm always searching to feel when I read. I felt it. I always felt it. I want to know more about her life. There is a biography I am curious about, and also a compilation of letters she wrote that her daughter (Linda Gray) edited. I am also curious to read her daughter’s writings. I want to know more about her. The Confessionalism that Anne’s writing almost always resides in does not mean that it is a Confession, a simply stated apology. This is not her life, these poems. It is her life. It is her illness. It is all of the women she ever was, those doomed, tortured women. But she was brilliant. And that is enough.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Riker

    Is there a match in the world to For my lover returning to his wife? I don't think so.... and then To my Little girl, My Stringbean The motherly advice that "Dear Linda, Women are born twice" Her words are perfect in so many ways. There are poems that go too far for my to enjoy them - I like some darkness in life, but I've been through my melodramatic stage already...so I don't need it quite as much.... that aside - read Transformations in its entirety - the reveal it gives to fairytales is a fabulou Is there a match in the world to For my lover returning to his wife? I don't think so.... and then To my Little girl, My Stringbean The motherly advice that "Dear Linda, Women are born twice" Her words are perfect in so many ways. There are poems that go too far for my to enjoy them - I like some darkness in life, but I've been through my melodramatic stage already...so I don't need it quite as much.... that aside - read Transformations in its entirety - the reveal it gives to fairytales is a fabulous peel of veneer and disturbing use of imagination!!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ruby

    I've carried this book around for a long time now and I think I'll continue to do so. I've carried this book around for a long time now and I think I'll continue to do so.

  15. 5 out of 5

    M.L. Rio

    Sometimes brilliant, sometime baffling, frequently both.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Infada Spain

    totally alluring...

  17. 4 out of 5

    Abby

    Beautiful, strong, and sad. These are not poems for the faint of heart. I appreciated reading her complete works, as this volume provided a fuller picture of the artist and her transformation over time. The anger and the darkness grow as the years pass, but Sexton never loses her focus and her courage.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Eadweard

    Favorite collections: Love Poems The Death Notebook The Awful Rowing Toward God Favorite poem: Wanting To Die "Suicides have already betrayed the body." -- "my death from the wrists, two name tags, blood worn like a corsage to bloom" -- "All day I've built a lifetime and now the sun sinks to undo it" -- "To die whole riddled with nothing but desire for it, is like breakfast after love." Favorite collections: Love Poems The Death Notebook The Awful Rowing Toward God Favorite poem: Wanting To Die "Suicides have already betrayed the body." -- "my death from the wrists, two name tags, blood worn like a corsage to bloom" -- "All day I've built a lifetime and now the sun sinks to undo it" -- "To die whole riddled with nothing but desire for it, is like breakfast after love."

  19. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    I had read a little of Anne Sexton over the years, not much, but I had remembered rather liking what I'd read. The Sylvia Plath comparisons are often made, but I like Sexton's accounts of depression and bloodied tampons quite a bit more -- I never got over Plath's melodrama, nor her studied misery. With Sexton, I feel like I'm getting the real thing, the 1950s mad housewife of legend as seen in the wild. Start with "Wanting to Die" - it's a classic for a reason after all, then work your way thro I had read a little of Anne Sexton over the years, not much, but I had remembered rather liking what I'd read. The Sylvia Plath comparisons are often made, but I like Sexton's accounts of depression and bloodied tampons quite a bit more -- I never got over Plath's melodrama, nor her studied misery. With Sexton, I feel like I'm getting the real thing, the 1950s mad housewife of legend as seen in the wild. Start with "Wanting to Die" - it's a classic for a reason after all, then work your way through the rest of the confessional poems and the delightfully fucked up "Transformations." This: "Cinderella and the prince lived, they say, happily ever after, like two dolls in a museum case never bothered by diapers or dust, never arguing over the timing of an egg, never telling the same story twice, never getting a middle-aged spread, their darling smiles pasted on for eternity. Regular Bobbsey Twins. That story." That's the sound of her cigarette being pressed against your arm.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Debra

    I have mixed feelings about poetry. I want to love it, but it is rare that I come across a poem or poet that I really enjoy. I want a poem to speak to me on a personal level; that is what a good poem is supposed to do. Admittedly, I am not the sort of reader that takes pleasure in dissecting or analyzing a piece. For me, a great deal of poetry is like a moody acquaintance that could be fascinating if he wasn't so difficult to like. The first poem by Anne Sexton that I read was "Her Kind" and jus I have mixed feelings about poetry. I want to love it, but it is rare that I come across a poem or poet that I really enjoy. I want a poem to speak to me on a personal level; that is what a good poem is supposed to do. Admittedly, I am not the sort of reader that takes pleasure in dissecting or analyzing a piece. For me, a great deal of poetry is like a moody acquaintance that could be fascinating if he wasn't so difficult to like. The first poem by Anne Sexton that I read was "Her Kind" and just like that I was hooked. I admire her raw confessional style. Perhaps part of the reason Anne's poetry speaks to me is because I understand the dark place she often writes from. I've been there.

  21. 5 out of 5

    E. G.

    A Note on the Text, by Linda Gray Sexton How It Was: Maxine Kumin on Anne Sexton --To Bedlam and Part Way Back (1960) --All My Pretty Ones (1962) --Live or Die (1966) --Love Poems (1969) --Transformations (1971) --The Book of Folly (1972) --The Death Notebooks (1974) --The Awful Rowing Toward God (1975) Posthumously Published Work Editor's Note --Mercy Street (1976) Editor's Note --Words for Dr. Y. (1978) Last Poems --Admonitions to a Special Person --In Excelsis --Uses --As It Was Written --Lessons in Hunger -- A Note on the Text, by Linda Gray Sexton How It Was: Maxine Kumin on Anne Sexton --To Bedlam and Part Way Back (1960) --All My Pretty Ones (1962) --Live or Die (1966) --Love Poems (1969) --Transformations (1971) --The Book of Folly (1972) --The Death Notebooks (1974) --The Awful Rowing Toward God (1975) Posthumously Published Work Editor's Note --Mercy Street (1976) Editor's Note --Words for Dr. Y. (1978) Last Poems --Admonitions to a Special Person --In Excelsis --Uses --As It Was Written --Lessons in Hunger --Love Letter Written in a Burning Building Index of Titles

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I originally gave this four stars because Anne Sexton is far from perfect and there are poems of hers (esp. Transformations) that I don't like that much but then again, when she's on, it's pretty much as close as I'm ever going to come to smoking crack. Really, I love how she can pile on the similes as if they were college students piling into a phone booth. I originally gave this four stars because Anne Sexton is far from perfect and there are poems of hers (esp. Transformations) that I don't like that much but then again, when she's on, it's pretty much as close as I'm ever going to come to smoking crack. Really, I love how she can pile on the similes as if they were college students piling into a phone booth.

  23. 5 out of 5

    mwpm mwpm

    The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton brings together the eight books published in Sexton's lifetime ( To Bedlam and Part Way Back , All My Pretty Ones , Live or Die , Love Poems , Transformations , The Book of Folly , The Death Notebooks , The Awful Rowing Toward God ), and the two books published posthumously ( 45 Mercy Street , Words for Dr. Y: Uncollected Poems with Three Stories )... From To Bedlam and Part Way Back ... I am thirty this November. You are still small, The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton brings together the eight books published in Sexton's lifetime ( To Bedlam and Part Way Back , All My Pretty Ones , Live or Die , Love Poems , Transformations , The Book of Folly , The Death Notebooks , The Awful Rowing Toward God ), and the two books published posthumously ( 45 Mercy Street , Words for Dr. Y: Uncollected Poems with Three Stories )... From To Bedlam and Part Way Back ... I am thirty this November. You are still small, in your fourth year. We stand watching the yellow leaves go queer, flapping in the winter rain, falling flat and washed. And I remember mostly the three autumns you did not live here. They said I’d never get you back again. I tell you what you’ll never really know: all the medical hypothesis that explained my brain will never be as true as these struck leaves letting go. I, who chose two times to kill myself, had said your nickname the mewling months when you first came; until a fever rattled in your throat and I moved like a pantomime above your head. Ugly angels spoke to me. The blame, I heard them say, was mine. They tattled like green witches in my head, letting doom leak like a broken faucet; as if doom had flooded my belly and filled your bassinet, an old debt I must assume. Death was simpler than I’d thought. The day life made you well and whole I let the witches take away my guilty soul. I pretended I was dead until the white men pumped the poison out, putting me armless and washed through the rigamarole of talking boxes and the electric bed. I laughed to see the private iron in that hotel. Today the yellow leaves go queer. You ask me where they go. I say today believed in itself, or else it fell. Today, my small child, Joyce, love your self’s self where it lives. There is no special God to refer to; or if there is, why did I let you grow in another place. You did not know my voice when I came back to call. All the superlatives of tomorrow’s white tree and mistletoe will not help you know the holidays you had to miss. The time I did not love myself, I visited your shoveled walks; you held my glove. There was new snow after this. - The Double Image, 1, pg. 35-36 From All My Pretty Ones ... Father, this year's jinx rides us apart where you followed our mother to her cold slumber; a second shock boiling its stone to your heart, leaving me here to shuffle and disencumber you from the residence you could not afford: a gold key, your half of a woolen mill, twenty suits from Dunne's, and English Ford, the love and legal verbiage of another will, boxes of pictures of people I do not know. I touch their cardboard faces. They must go. But the eyes, as thick as woo in this album, hold me. I stop here, where a small boy waits in a ruffled dress for someone to come . . . for this soldier who holds his bugle like a toy or for this velvet lady who cannot smile. Is this your father's father, this commodore in a mailman suit? My father, time meanwhile has made it unimportant who you are looking for. I'll never know what these faces are all about. I lock them into their book and throw them out. This is the yellow scrapbook that you began the year I was born; as crackling now and wrinkly as tobacco leaves: clippings where Hoover outran the Democrats, wiggling his dry finger at me and Prohibition; news where the Hindenburg went down and recent years where you went flush on war. This year, solvent bu sick, you meant to marry that pretty widow in a one-month rush. But before you had that second chance, I cried on your fat shoulder. Three days later you died. These are the snapshots of marriage, stopped at places. Side by side at the rail toward Nassau now; here, with the winner's cup at the speedboat races, here, in tails at the Cotillion, you take a bow, here, by our kennel of dogs with their pink eyes, running like show-bread pigs in their chain-link pen; here, at the horseshow where my sister wins a prize; and here, standing like a duke among groups of men. Now I fold you down, my drunkard, my navigator, my first lost keeper, to love or look at later. I hold a five-year diary that my mother kept for three years, telling all she does not say of your alcoholic tendency. You overslept, she writes. My God, father, each Christmas Day with your blood, will I drink down your glass of wine? The diary of your hurly-burly years goes to my shelf to wait for my age to pass. Only in this hoarded span will love persevere. Where you are pretty or not, I outlive you, bend down my strange face to yours and forgive you. - All My Pretty Ones, pg. 49-51 From Live or Die ... Since you ask, most days I cannot remember. I walk in my clothing, unmarked by that voyage. Then the almost unnameable lust returns. Even then I have nothing against life. I know well the grass blades you mention, the furniture you have placed under the sun. But suicides have a special language. Like carpenters they want to know which tools. They never ask why build. Twice I have so simply declared myself, have possessed the enemy, eaten the enemy, have taken on his craft, his magic. In this way, heavy and thoughtful, warmer than oil or water, I have rested, drooling at the mouth-hole. I did not think of my body at needle point. Even the cornea and the leftover urine were gone. Suicide have already betrayed the body. Still-born, they don't always die, bu dazzled, they can't forget a drug so sweet that even children would look on and smile. To thrust all that life under your tongue! - that, all by itself, becomes a passion. Death's a sad bone; bruised, you'd say, and yet she waits for me, year after year, to so delicately undo an old wound, to empty my breath from its bad poison. Balanced there, suicides sometimes meet, raging at the fruit, a pumped-up moon, leaving the bread they mistook for a kiss, leaving the page of the book carelessly open, something unsaid, the phone off the hook and the love, whatever it was, an infection. - Wanting to Die, pg. 142-143 From Love Poems ... I was wrapped in black fur and white fur an you undid me and then you placed me in gold light and then you crowned me, while snow fell outside the door in diagonal darts. While a ten-inch snow came down like stars in small calcium fragments, we were in our own bodies (that room that will bury us) and you were in my body (that room that will outlive us) and at first I rubbed your feet dry with a towel because I was your slave and then you called me princess. Princess! Oh then I stood up in my gold skin and I beat down the psalms and I beat down the clothes and you undid the bridle and you undid the reins and I undid the buttons, and bones, the confusions, the New England postcards, the January ten o'clock night, and we rose up like wheat, acre after acre of gold, and we harvested, we harvested. - Us, pg. 202-203 From Transformations ... The speaker in this case is a middle-aged witch, me - tangled on my two great arms, my face in a book and my mouth wide, ready to tell you a story or two. I have come to remind you, all of you: Alice, Samuel, Kurt, Eleanor, Jane, Brian, Maryel, all of you draw near. Alice, at fifty-six do you remember? Do you remember when you were read to as a child? Samuel, at twenty-two have you forgotten? Forgotten the ten P.M. dreams where the wicked king went up in smoke? Are you comatose? Are you undersea? Attention, my dears, let me present to you this boy. He is sixteen and he wants some answers. He is each of us. I mean you I mean me. It is not enough to read Hesse and drink clam chowder, we must have the answers. The boy has found a gold key and he is looking for what it will open. This boy! Upon finding a nickel he would look for a wallet. This boy! Upon finding a string he would look for a harp. Therefore he holds the key tightly. Its secret whimper like a dog in heat. He turns the key. Presto! It opens this book of odd tales which transform the Brothers Grimm. Transform? As if an enlarged paper clip could be a piece of sculpture. (And it could.) - The Gold Key, pg. 223-224 From The Book of Folly ... We are America. We are the coffin fillers. We are the grocers of death. We pack them in crates like cauliflowers. The bomb opens like a shoebox. And the child? The child is certainly not yawning. And the woman? The woman is bathing her heart. It has been torn out of her and because it is burnt and as a last act she is rinsing it off in the river. This is the death market. America, where are your credentials? - The Firebombers, pg. 308 From The Death Notebooks ... Time grows dim. Time that was so long grows short, time, all goggle-eyed, wiggling her skirts, singing her torch song, giving the boys a buzz and a ride, that Nazi Mama with her beer and sauerkraut. Time, old gal of mine, will soon dim out. May I say how young she was back then, playing piggley-witch and hoola-hoop, dancing the jango with six awful men, letting the chickens out of the coop, promising to marry Jack ad Jerome, and never bothering, never, never, to come back home. Time was when time had time enough and the sea washed me daily in its delicate brine. There is no terror when you swim in the buff or speed up the boat and hang out the line. Time was when I could hiccup and hold my breath and not in that instant meet Mr. Death. Mr. Death, you actor, you have many masks. Once you were sleek, a kind of Valentino with my father's bathtub gin in your flask. With my cinched-in waist and my dumb vertigo at the crook of your long white arm and yet you never bent me back, never, never, into your blackguard charm. Next, Mr. Death, you held out the bait during my first decline, as they say, telling that suicide baby to celebrate her own going in her own puppet play. I went out popping pills and crying adieu in my own death camp with my own little Jew. Now your beer belly hangs out like Fatso. You are popping your buttons and expelling gas. How can I lie down with you, my comical beau when you are so middle-aged and lower-class. Yet you'll press me down in your envelope; pressed at neat as a butterfly, forever, forever, beside Mussolini and the Pope. Mr. Death, when you came to the ovens it was short and to the drowning man you were likewise kind, and the nicest of all to the baby I had to abort and middling you were to all the crucified combined. But when it comes to my death let it be slow, let it be pantomime, this last peep show, so that I may squat at the edge trying on my black necessary trousseau. - For Mr. Death Who Stands with His Door Open, pg. 351-352 From The Awful Rowing Toward God ... A story, a story! (Let it go. Let is come.) I was stamped out like a Plymouth fender into this world. First came the crib with its glacial bars. Then dolls and the devotion to their plastic mouths. Then there was school, the little straight rows of chairs, blotting my name over and over, but undersea all the time, a stranger whose elbows wouldn't work. Then there was life with its cruel houses and people who seldom touched - through touch is all - but I grew, like a pig in a trenchcoat I grew, and then there were many strange apparitions, the nagging rain, the sun turning into poison and all of that, saws working through my heart, but I grew, I grew, and God was there like an island I had not rowed to, still ignorant of Him, my arms and my legs worked, and I grew, I grew, I wore rubies and bought tomatoes and now, in my middle age, about nineteen in the head I'd say, I am rowing, I am rowing though the oarlocks stick and are rusty and the sea blinks and rolls like a worried eyeball, bu I am rowing, I am rowing, though the wind pushes me back and I know that that island will not be perfect, it will have the flaws of life, the absurdities of the dinner table, bu there will be a door and I will open it and I will get rid of the rat inside of me, the gnawing pestilential rat. God will take it with his two hands and embrace it. As the African says: This is my tale which I have told, if it be sweet, if it be not sweet, take somewhere else and let some return to me. This story ends with me still rowing. - Rowing, pg. 17-18 From 45 Mercy Street ... In my dream, drilling into the marrow of my entire bone, my real dream, I'm walking up and down Beacon Hill searching for a street sign - namely MERCY STREET. Not there. I try the Back Bay. Not there. Not there. And yet I know the number. 45 Mercy Street. I know the stained-glass of the foyer, the three flights of the house with its parquet floors. I know the furniture and mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, the servants. I know the cupboard of Spode, the boat of ice, solid silver, where the butter sits in neat squares like strange giant's teeth on the big mahogany table. I know it well. Not there. Where did you go? 45 Mercy Street, with great-grandmother kneeling in her whale-bone corset and praying gently but fiercely to the wash basin, at five A.M. at noon dozing in her wiggy rocker, grandfather taking a nip in the pantry, grandmother pushing the bell for the downstairs maid, and Nana rocking Mother with an oversized flower on her forehead to cover the curl of when she was good and when she was . . . And where she was begat and in a generation the third she will beget, me, with the stranger's seed blooming into the flower called Horrid. I walk in a yellow dress and a white pocketbook stuffed with cigarettes, enough pills, my wallet, my keys, and being twenty-eight, or is it forty-five? I walk. I walk. I hold matches at the street signs for it is dark, as dark as the leathery dead and I have lost my green Ford, my house in the suburbs, two little kids sucked up like pollen by the bee in me and a husband who has wiped off his eyes in order not to see my inside out and I am walking and looking and this is no dream just my oily life where the people are alibis and the street is unfindable for an entire lifetime. Pull the shades down - I don't care! Bold the door, mercy, erase the number, rip down my street sign, what can it matter, what can it matter to this cheapskate who wants to own the past that went out on a dead ship and left me only with paper? Not there. I open my pocketbook, as women do, and fish swim back and forth between the dollars and the lipstick. I pick them out, one by one and throw them at the street signs, and shoot my pocketbook into the Charlie River. Next I pull the dream off and slam into the cement wall of the clumsy calendar I live in, my life, and its hauled up notebooks. - 45 Mercy Street, pg. 481-484 From Words for Dr. Y: Uncollected Poems with Three Stories ... What about all the psychotics of the world? Why do they keep eating? Why do they keep making plans and meeting people at the appointed time? Don't they know there is nothing, a void, an eyeless socket, a grave with the corpse stolen? Don't they know that God gave them their miraculous sickness like a shield, like armour and if their eyes are in the wrong part of their head, they shouldn't complain? What are they doing seeing their doctors when the world's up for grabs. - from Letters to Dr. Y, pg. 574

  24. 5 out of 5

    Shannon

    oof... This collection took me much longer to finish than I originally imagined. Anne Sexton writes beautiful poems about some of the heaviest topics. Trying to pick favorite out of 600 pages seems silly but the two that really brought tears to my eyes were The Kiss and the poem dedicated to Sylvia Plath after her death.

  25. 4 out of 5

    winterthekatt

    I've always been drawn to confessional poetry, so inevitably one of the first poets I came across when I started researching this genre was Anne Sexton. I was immediately addicted. Anne Sexton was a brilliant poet with a brutally honest voice and I was hooked. The first book I bought of hers is proof of this -every other page is dog-eared and about 90% of it is highlighted. I am still fascinated by her poetry and how she never shied away from any topic. Her life, heartbreaking and tumultuous is I've always been drawn to confessional poetry, so inevitably one of the first poets I came across when I started researching this genre was Anne Sexton. I was immediately addicted. Anne Sexton was a brilliant poet with a brutally honest voice and I was hooked. The first book I bought of hers is proof of this -every other page is dog-eared and about 90% of it is highlighted. I am still fascinated by her poetry and how she never shied away from any topic. Her life, heartbreaking and tumultuous is basically chronicled in her collection of poems throughout the years. The Complete Poems by Anne Sexton is exactly what it claims to be. It is a massive and truly complete collection. This book is an absolute must have! *I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jessi

    Anne Sexton is one of my favorite poets. Confessional poets have always appealed to me with their raw honesty and intensity.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Cherise Wolas

    I've been reading Anne Sexton's poems for months now. For those who don't like poetry, her work could change your mind. I've been reading Anne Sexton's poems for months now. For those who don't like poetry, her work could change your mind.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Wilder

    Anne Sexton belongs on that shelf marked FOR THE LAYMAN. Like Allen Ginsberg and Kurt Vonnegut, she is one of those writers you don’t have to know much about writing to understand; and like them she is an avatar of literature as resource for expressing lived wisdom. For one who is relentlessly—awful contemporary word...CONFESSIONAL...the thing that separates Anne out from her 2019, Millennial, auto-fictiony cohort is that Anne keeps everything vivid, crackly, almost operatically intense. After T Anne Sexton belongs on that shelf marked FOR THE LAYMAN. Like Allen Ginsberg and Kurt Vonnegut, she is one of those writers you don’t have to know much about writing to understand; and like them she is an avatar of literature as resource for expressing lived wisdom. For one who is relentlessly—awful contemporary word...CONFESSIONAL...the thing that separates Anne out from her 2019, Millennial, auto-fictiony cohort is that Anne keeps everything vivid, crackly, almost operatically intense. After TRANSFORMATIONS, Sexton’s flabbergasting, Breillat-like gene transplants of fairy tales, Sexton goes into a bit of a decline. One notices the unfortunate influence of the Beats. Things get topical—and some poets can transform the topical into the eternal; some not. Sexton was one of the nots. Sexton will be timeless. She’ll be read, at the very least, as long as there are women in pain. It’s too bad, that niche, as she makes an effort to—-and succeeds at—-finding imagery dazzling enough to make her experiences resonate with everyone. I like the Facebook-post-esque writers of 2019, Sexton seeks not just to “speak her truth” but to communicate across a chasm. An autodidact, Sexton had the common touch. She still does, today.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton is now available in ebook from Open Road Integrated Media. The book includes the complete poems and posthumously published work. It is a substantial volume of work. Sexton plumbed her own life as a woman, mother, daughter, wife and lover, addressed her struggle with depression, institutionalization, and suicide attempts. The Publisher's Note explains how the poems were adapted to the ebook form. And How It Was: Maxine Kumin on Anne Sexton, a revealing essay abou The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton is now available in ebook from Open Road Integrated Media. The book includes the complete poems and posthumously published work. It is a substantial volume of work. Sexton plumbed her own life as a woman, mother, daughter, wife and lover, addressed her struggle with depression, institutionalization, and suicide attempts. The Publisher's Note explains how the poems were adapted to the ebook form. And How It Was: Maxine Kumin on Anne Sexton, a revealing essay about Kumin's professional and personal relationship with Sexton. Kumin writes that an elderly priest told Sexton that "God is your typewriter"; those words kept Sexton going for another year as she wrote her last book of poetry, The Awful Rowing Toward God. I found The Awful Rowing Toward God by Anne Sexton shortly after it's publication in paperback. I did not have much money in those days, and buying a book was a thoughtful decision. I did not know Sexton. I did not know about 'confessional' poetry or about Sexton's demons and suicide. The title caught my attention and I brought it home. Sexton was a revelation. Her imagery was so novel and individualistic, unlike anything I had ever read before. Her voice was clear and honest. I fell in love with these poems. She impacted my own poetry more than I care to admit, but I was young and trying new things. The volume begins with Rowing with its imagery of God as an island the poet endeavors to reach, an imperfect island but where "there will be a door and I will open it and I will get rid of the rat inside of me the gnawing pestilential rat. God will take it with his two hands/and embrace it." She tells us she is on a quest. In the poem Courage she writes about what courage means in life, "it is in the small things we see it./The child's first step,/as awesome as an earthquake," to the courage of enduring despair, and the courage of old age when "at the last moment/when death opens the back door/you'll put on your carpet slippers and stride out." At times the poems reflected me back to other poets. For instance, in The Poet of Ignorance Sexton writes, "I try to forget it, go about my business, cook the broccoli, open and shut books, brush my teeth and tie my shoes." and I recalled Emily Dickinson's poem about performing the mundane as a way of carrying on: "I tie my hat--I crease my shawl-- Life's little duties so--precisely-- ... Therefore--we do life's labor-- Though Life's Reward--be done-- With scrupulous exactness-- To hold our senses on.--" Sexton refers to an animal, a crab clutching fast to her heart; Dickinson to a Bomb held to her bosom. The last poems were my favorites. Not So. Not So., beginning "I cannot walk an inch/without trying to walk to God" and ending "You have a thousand prayers/but God has one." In The Rowing Endeth, the poet has arrived "at the dock of the island called God" and plays a game of poker with the deity. God wins and laughs, "the laughter rolling like a hoop out of His mouth/and into mine,/and such laughter that He doubles right over me/laughing a Rejoice-Chorus at our two triumphs." And as the whole universe laughs, she ends, "Dearest dealer/I with my royal straight flush/love you for your wild card/that untamable, eternal, gut-driven ha-ha/and lucky love." The Christian faith is a comedy: God always wins for out of death comes the joy of resurrection. Death brought Sexton death respite from her demons. I pray that she found peace. I received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review. "[Her poems] will be understood in time--not as 'women's poetry' or 'confessional poetry'--but as myths that expand the human consciousness." Erica Jong

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lolly K Dandeneau

    Her poetry isn't always dark, it has its childlike fairy tale moments- what is it about those tormented that we love to read? Honestly, it's the similar feelings and hungers we all have moment to moment. She was open and had no reservation about letting readers in. Her poems were about so many different things from death, to love and sex. They are timeless and meaningful and reading them induce the weirdest dreams I have had, admittedly I can say the same when I read Plath or Anais Nin's diaries Her poetry isn't always dark, it has its childlike fairy tale moments- what is it about those tormented that we love to read? Honestly, it's the similar feelings and hungers we all have moment to moment. She was open and had no reservation about letting readers in. Her poems were about so many different things from death, to love and sex. They are timeless and meaningful and reading them induce the weirdest dreams I have had, admittedly I can say the same when I read Plath or Anais Nin's diaries. I adore the three writers for different reasons. There is a place as a woman you enter when another shares their confessions of the soul with you, a safe place where you are free to have communion with the different emotions so many of us share and aren't always free to give voice to. Some emotions are ugly and needy, others are strong and ahead of their time... always a surprise. It's a courtship with life and death and all things crammed in the middle. "Even so, I kept right on going on, a sort of human statement, lugging myself as if I were a sawed-off body in the trunk, the steamer trunk. This became a perjury of the soul. It became an outright lie and even though I dressed the body it was still naked, still killed. It was caught in the first place at birth, like a fish But I played it, dressed it up, dressed it up like somebody's doll. Is life something you play? And all the time wanting to get rid of it? And further, everyone yelling at you to shut up. And no wonder! People don't like to be told that you're sick and then be forced to watch you come down with the hammer......" there is more and that is just an excerpt from Live - but it sticks to me like gum. Funny how pairing words and twisting them into poems can relay so much meaning. And on I play at my own life.... Wonderful collection but I am biased. I love Sexton.

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