Anne Sexton1




Anne Sexton



The third decade of the twentieth century brought on more explicit writers than ever before, but none were as expressive as Anne Sexton. Her style of writing, her works, the image that she created, and the crazy life that she led are all prime examples of this. Known as one of the most “confessional” poets of her time, Anne Sexton was also one of the most criticized. She was known to use images of incest, adultery, and madness to reveal the depths of her deeply troubled life, which often brought on much controversy. Despite this, Anne went on to win many awards and go down as one of the best poets of all time.

Anne Sexton was born Anne Gray Harvey on November 9, 1928 in Newton, Massachusetts to Ralph Churchill and Mary Gray Staples Harvey (Discovering Biographies 1). From then on, Sexton spent most of her life in the affluent, upper-middle class suburbs of Boston (Discovering Biographies 2). According to many of the experiences described in her poems, she led a very unhappy childhood that’s horrifying memories affected her throughout her life.


To overcome her troubles, she married at age nineteen and attempted to settle into the role of housewife and mother (Discovering Biographies 2). Shortly after her marriage, Anne enrolled in a modeling course at the Hart Agency and lived in San Francisco and Baltimore (Academy of American Poets 1). During this time Anne was also educated at Earland Junior College from 1947- 1948 (Twentieth Century American Literature 2). Through out her early twenties, Sexton began to experience bouts of depression that eventually led to hospitalization (Discovering Biographies 2). In 1955, after the birth of her second daughter, Sexton attempted suicide (Discovering Biographies 2). She was then placed under the care of Dr. Martin Orne, who encouraged her to write poems as a form of therapy (Discovering Biographies 1). “Poetry gave me a rebirth at age twenty-nine” (American Literature 3591), Anne quoted many times during her career. Anne deeply admired and attempted to emulate the confessional poem “Heart’s Needle” by Shodgrass (Discovering Biographies 2). Sexton decided to enroll in Robert Lowell’s graduate writing seminar at the Boston Center for Adult Education (Discovering Biographies 2). She then went on to be a scholar at the Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study from 1961- 1963 (American Literature 3596). During the nineteen-sixties, Anne gave spirited public readings accompanied by the music group, “Her Kind” (Discovering Biographies 1). Despite her literary success, Sexton continually battled depression and psychosis. She began writing extremely personal verse concerning her experiences as a mental patient (Discovering Biographies 1). The chronic mental illness that controlled Anne’s life was the anguished center of her family’s life (Linda Sexton 1). Anne was extremely possessive of her daughter Linda and also confessed to having murderous impulses towards her (Linda Sexton 1). “I made myself numb, made my body like stone in exchange for my mother’s love” Anne’s eldest daughter exclaimed (Linda Sexton 1). In 1974, Anne committed suicide using carbon monoxide (Discovering Biographies 2). Even though Anne led an extremely confusing life, she was said to have lived it as a “treasury” that would be remembered forever.

Anne’s “open” style of writing was a very debatable issue. Some thought Sexton was one of the best known and most controversial of the confessional poets, a group composed of New England writers who rose to prominence in the nineteen-sixties (Contemporary Literary Criticism 311). While others believed as her notoriety grew, Sexton became unable to separate her life and her art (Litz 669). Sexton’s work offers the reader an intimate view of the emotional anguish that characterized her life (Academy of American Poets 1). Anne’s early poetry was said to be hopeful and joyful while it became much darker in her latter years (American Literature 3591). She was said to see poetry as a physical experience and she used imagery as the “heart of poetry” (Anne Sexton 1). Her favorite topics were sex, illegitimacy, guilt, madness, and suicide (Roth Publishing 1). Anne was often compared to Sylvia Plath but distinguishes herself from Plath in her interest in the flesh rather than in emblem of pain and mutilation (American Literature 3596). Some people believed Anne’s style made her a bad artist while others saw it as an amazing