Sunday, May 07, 2006

Day Thirteen

As the 17th gets closer I'm being slowly buried in a pile of books; the one I've been spending the last few hours with is The Collected Poems of Anne Sexton. Sexton is an interesting figure; she was very well known even in her lifetime even though her poetic output was concentrated in the last 18 years of her life. She's never associated with the New York-style avant-garde partly because she lived all her life in and around Boston, and partly because she was pegged as a confessional poet in the style of Lowell and Plath. Her poetry was not that formally experimental, but it was progressive in one important way: that she pushed the boundaries of what was considered appropriate subject matter for poetry by writing about the real traumas of her life - depression, suicide, abortion. In particular she opened up the possibilities for women to write about their lives - something that seems intrinsic to the style of much spoken word today. That's not the only reason she's on my reading list, though. She was also well-known partly because of her readings - which were mostly pretty traditional poetry readings, but which showcased her apparently impressive stage presence. I don't know what to make of the occasional suggestions I've read that her physical appearance figured in her popularity. It is always mentioned, for example, that for a time she worked as a model. She was tall, slim, and striking, and had a certain gravitas in reading her work. Mentioning this could be interpreted as either a sexist objectification or an interest in the role of the aura of the performer. In any case, Sexton liked performing and for a time she even fronted a jazz-poetry ensemble. Another interesting thing about Sexton - whose work developed intellectually without the benefit of any university degree - is that for a long period she would workshop her poems with her friend and fellow poet Maxine Kumin over the telephone (she had a second line installed in her house so that they could stay on as long as they wanted). This must have had an effect on the sound of the poems and the construction of her line breaks, as the work evolved in a purely oral medium.


Blogger Vince said...

Playwright / performer Leah Vineberg did a pastiche of a bunch of Ann Sexton texts for one of her first one-woman performance pieces back in the early nineties. (I think she goes by 'Lisa Vineberg' these days.) Maybe she was responding to the orality of the texts?

5:32 PM  

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