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Selected Poems of Anne Sexton
by Anne Sexton

To: ALL Date: 12/11 From: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Time: 9:52 AM Re: Anne Sexton s SELECTED POEMS To start this thread I want to say that Anne Sexton is not my favorite poet. She is more interesting than my favorite poets, and I have highly conflicting feelings about her. Her poems are absolutely unique in how intensely personal they are. You get to know all about her fears, her hatreds, her failures, her sins, her guilt, and, occasionally, her loves. It s hard to imagine someone like, say, Frost or Eliot dealing with these issues so directly and intimately. Something in a poem like "The Double Image" resonates deeply, even though my life couldn't be more different from hers. I admire her courage in being so open. On the other hand, I often feel like a ghoul reading an extended suicide note. This woman was obviously tearing herself in two while she wrote these poems. Wouldn t she have been better off playing bridge, reading P. G. Wodehouse, or watching the Red Sox self-destruct? Instead she locks herself up in a room, and with the backing of enthusiastic readers such as myself , she proceeds to go over every unpleasant thing that s ever happened to her. A second reservation about her work relates to her self pity. We all feel plenty sorry for ourselves most of the time, but many of us place a certain value on stoicism or, to be less generous, on denial. Sexton's shrink was no doubt thrilled with her work, but is all this venting a good thing? What's the real answer? --Jim in Oregon (and in denial) =============== Reply 1 of Note 46 =================  
To: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Date: 12/11 From: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Time: 3:44 PM Dear James, Consider this: maybe she would have done the deed years earlier if she did not have the writing of poetry to help exorcise her demons. Some of the issues she talks of, her descriptions of her life, her fears, her loneliness, resonate with me, and I'm sure resonate with many others as well (especially, yes, women). I think her writing in such a personal manner could have a validating and possibly a therapeutic effect on some. I don't mind looking so closely into someones' psyche. It helps me with my own. But it is too bad that someone with so much talent felt so unable to live. Sherry who hasn't read all the poems yet, but will. =============== Reply 2 of Note 46 =================  
To: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Date: 12/11 From: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Time: 11:29 PM Dear Jim, I am happy that you suggested this book of poetry because I like her work very much so far. I have only read the "Bedlam" section, but I think some of the poems are beautiful. We probably all know someone whose mind is locked inside depression or madness and cannot break free. Her poetry is her attempt to find a few moments of peace, I imagine. Jane who is reading this book ever so slowly. =============== Reply 3 of Note 46 =================  
To: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Date: 12/11 From: FNMN56E LYNN EVANS Time: 11:49 PM Jim, Great opening note to the discussion on Anne Sexton's poetry. I have much the same reaction (except for the notion that her poetry is more confessional than others; I kinda think she just hides it less; her confession is more naked and more raw, but certainly not more intimate; others just distill it more). The thing that draws me to her poetry is how stilted and brittle it seems, and at the same time how vulnerable. This is a woman struggling to connect in some way -- and poetry offered her her best chance -- but who was ultimately unsuccessful perhaps... But what a record she left of her ups and downs, her successes and failures. I'm intrigued too by how much she studied the forms of poetry, how closely she adhered to them and structured her poems. This from a woman who was supposedly letting it all hang out! Yet clearly, this structure was a comfort to her, she needed it (just as she needed the structure provided by class and its strict rules -- so that she knew what she was fighting against). Anyway, there's a rueful quality to her poetry, and maybe I like that most of all. The "I tried, and I know I've got something, but in the end something always defeats me" quality. I just love it. You can reach out and grab, but you can't get hold. It speaks on its own, and what it speaks of mostly is failure. Brilliant. In spite of itself. Lynn =============== Reply 4 of Note 46 =================  
To: FNMN56E LYNN EVANS Date: 12/12 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 4:00 PM I have conflicted feelings about Anne Sexton. On the one hand I want to say, "Ah, come off it lady. Quitcher beefing and get a life." On the other hand I marvel at seeing into the depths of this woman's soul and remind myself that she probably wasn't capable of getting a life. That was the problem. And we all have a bit of the abnormal in us, so wh'os to cast stones? She is a johnny-one-note, though. But that one note is strong, and clear and amazing. Im particularly taken by LULLABY: It is a summer evening. The yellow moths sag against the locked screens and the faded curtains suck over the window sills and from another building a goat calls in his dreams. This is the TV parlor in the best ward at Bedlam. The night nurse is passing out the evening pills. She walks on two erasers, padding by us one by one. My sleeping pill is white. It is a splendid pearl; it floats me out of myself, my stung skin as alien as a loose bolt of cloth. I will ignore the bed. I am linen on a shelf. Let the others moan in secret; let each lost butterfly go home. Old woolen head, take me like a yellow moth while the goat calls hush- a-bye. Theres no over-the-top breast-beating here, no wringing of emotional hands. Nothing but a clear, evocative image. But what an image. For that brief moment we are there. Not just in the room, but in her skin. Were not just hearing about her and how she feels. We ARE her. Wow. Ruth, who's waiting with great anticipation to see what the rest of you have to say =============== Reply 5 of Note 46 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 12/12 From: FNMN56E LYNN EVANS Time: 10:28 PM But Ruth, that's the thing. If she could've quit her beefing and got a life, she'd've done so. I'm always a little bit surprised when folks seem to think anyone would opt for such a narrow, unhappy life. The notion of free will? Ah well, that's just some guy talking. Lynn =============== Reply 6 of Note 46 =================  
To: FNMN56E LYNN EVANS Date: 12/13 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 1:14 AM Lynn, I said she probably wasn't capable of "getting a life" and that was the problem. There are some people who just seem genetically engineered so they can't cope with life and I'm sure she was one. Yet, as I read her, I can't help saying to myself, "Kvetch, kvetch, kvetch. Enough, already." Then I read a poem like the one I posted and she wins me over every time. When she's hot, she's very, very hot. What do you think of the poem I posted? Or what particular poem grabs you? Ruth, inland and cold and dreary =============== Reply 7 of Note 46 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 12/13 From: FNMN56E LYNN EVANS Time: 1:35 AM Ruth, The poem you posted was wonderful. And you're right: when she's on, she's on. The whole notion of "complaining" is interesting to me, for a couple reasons. Many folks are deaf to the sound of their own complaining, but have close to supernatural hearing for the sound of somebody else's. (I'm not thinking of you here, Ruth. Or at least no more than I'm thinking of myself or anybody else! Seems a human thing.) And part of the reason I think we react so strongly is that in spite of, or perhaps along with, our deafness to our own complaints, is the fact that we're often so conflicted over our own very human urge to say: "That's not fair!" Maybe it's part of our Puritan/Calvinist heritage or something. We're supposed to be content with our lot in life -- but of course ever willing to work hard to improve that lot! Go figure. Anyway, yes, Lullaby is lovely. I love the way she captures that moment of rest, when you're just on the verge of throwing in the towel and, by one of those ironic quirks that punctuate life, thereby find the strength to pull it together once again. I get this feeling Sexton had many many such moments, before that last one where there was no longer enough strength left. But lemme see if I can find another favorite. Hmm, that's two things to post now! Lynn =============== Reply 8 of Note 46 =================  
To: FNMN56E LYNN EVANS Date: 12/13 From: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Time: 9:08 AM RE:Kvetching Whether she could help herself or not, Sexton seems very self absorbed. The one thing that strikes me when I read a lot of her poems in one sitting is how few of them have any other topic than her personal happiness. Even the love poems. The pop psychologist in me wants to say that the surest way to depress yourself is to think about whether you're happy. The realist in me says that true depressives are way beyond uplifting little bromides like that. I do wonder if anyone besides Steve and me has heard Ann Sexton read on tape (or in person). Reading the poems, particularly the early ones, I had a feeling of a beaten, frail thing. On tape I heard this deep, honeyed, Lauren Bacall voice reeking of gin and cigarettes. A lot of the poems started to sound less like cries for help than weapons used to manipulate other people. Life being complex, I suppose that they could have been both. --Jim in Oregon (What, Me Worry?) =============== Reply 9 of Note 46 =================  
To: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Date: 12/13 From: FNMN56E LYNN EVANS Time: 10:12 AM Jim -- Yes, certainly one of the hallmarks of many kinds of mental illness is almost complete self-absorption? In her biography her readings were described exactly as you describe them. She was apparently quite a flamboyant performer -- could be terrified and in a dither on the way to the reading, could collapse after, but when she was on the lady was on. Lynn =============== Reply 10 of Note 46 =================  
To: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Date: 12/13 From: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Time: 11:57 AM Jim & All: I must say that I came to (actually, came *back* to) Sexton's poetry with reservations (orchestra section, two on the aisle...) because of some unfortunate experiences when I was introduced to her work in the 1970s. There was a small but vocal group of female lit students (some of them still dear friends of mine) then in the first fine flush of feminism who espoused her work with all the subtlety and charm of a battering ram. Her work was a clear indictment of everybody without a uterus (c'est moi), and the only appropriate discussion format was awed silence. (Remember the days when no conversation on any subject could proceed for more than three sentences without the word "uterus" being brought in? Sexton was clearly in the spirit of the times in this regard, or vice versa. But I digress...) That said, I'm surprised by reading Sexton from this vantage point in my life. Not so much for the raw power of her work, which I never questioned (not that I had a chance to ), but the audacity of her leaps of language and images which I think place her in the company of writers to be valued for *what they do with words*, rather than the subject matter or literal content, which go in and out of fashion with dismaying rapidity. One of her most surprising and unlikely tools, to me, is violating the "mixing metaphors" taboo to an absurd degree. How these jangling, unlikely, ungainly over-the-top images of a single idea can pile on one another to such moving effect is a Sexton sleight-of-hand that I can't fathom as yet. Anybody have a favorite, 12-part, mixed metaphor from one of her poems? >>Dale in Ala., still in deadline purgatory but missing you guys and guysettes to his very uterus if he but had one =============== Reply 11 of Note 46 =================  
To: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Date: 12/13 From: NDKB53A THERESA SIMPSON Time: 11:12 PM Jim - who is your favorite poet? Or favorite two or three? What do you think of Akhmatova? Or Tsvetaeva? Theresa - who needs to get busy and read some Sexton, but who did read Sexton's biography last year. I think she was a very talented poet, but don't know that I'd have wanted to spend any time at all in her actual presence =============== Reply 12 of Note 46 =================  
To: NDKB53A THERESA SIMPSON Date: 12/14 From: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Time: 6:53 PM Theresa, I have lots of favorite poets and they change all the time. The current list looks like this: Jane Kenyon -- depressive woman who spent less time complaining than A.S. Richard Hugo: depressive man from Northwest who spent just about as much time complaining as A.S. but didn't overtly dedicate anything to his sexual organs William Stafford -- underrated Oregon poet Gary Snyder -- one of the original Beats, very Zen Richard Wilbur -- very formal, witty, and elegant James Dickey -- Southern good ole boy & author of DELIVERANCE Dave Smith -- Southern with a mystical streak. Doesn't look like he eats well enough to be a good ole boy. The usual suspects: Keats, Wordsworth, Frost, Eliot, Whitman, Shakespeare, Whittier, Robert Lowell, Stevens, Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop, Ogden Nash New possibilities: Shel Silverstein, Alfred Corn, Charles Wright. And, of course, my all time favorite: Ruth Bavetta --Jim in Oregon =============== Reply 13 of Note 46 =================  
To: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Date: 12/14 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 7:45 PM Jim, you're a gentleman and a scholar. I've been reading William Stafford lately. Enjoying it very much. Ruth, who plans another post on AS =============== Reply 14 of Note 46 =================  
To: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Date: 12/14 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 8:26 PM I do find that the Sexton poems that speak loudest to me are not those when shes in full voice, tearing her hair and braying at the moon for succor. I gasp when I read this kind of poem, but I find it a bit off-putting. A little too much. Like someone overexcited and speaking rather too loudly and too close to my face. I want to back off and look out for saliva bits. But as Lynn said, when shes on, shes ON. What about this one? TO A FRIEND WHOSE WORK HAS COME TO TRIUMPH Consider Icarus, pasting those sticky wings on, testing that strange little tug at his shoulder bland, and think of that first flawless moment over the lawn of the labyrinth. Think of the difference it made! There below are the trees, as awkward as camels; and here are the shocked starlings pumping past and think of innocent Icarus who is doing quite well: larger than a sail, over the fog and the blast of the plushy ocean, he goes. Admire his wings! Feel the fire at his neck and see how casually he glances up and is caught, wondrously tunneling into that hot eye. Who cares that he fell back to the sea? See him acclaiming the sun and come plunging down while his sensible daddy goes straight into town. Now, thats a winner, in my book. What do you think, Lynn & Jim? All? Sherry, get in here, we need you . Ruth =============== Reply 15 of Note 46 =================  
To: FNMN56E LYNN EVANS Date: 12/14 From: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Time: 8:46 PM I discovered Anne Sexton when I was in my mid-20's. She and Adrienne Rich were the first two poets that I read, without an assignment, simply because I enjoyed them. When I think back about that period of time, it seemed like my friends and I were all walking about in a bit of a mist with surface selves that were very different than inner selves, which we didn't even acknowledge personally much of the time. I've never been sure if that was a female thing or just a function of being in my 20's, though I suspect it was both. In any case, her poems generated these huge clicks of recognition in my was sort of a laserbeam. I'm not in the least a depressive personality (I tend to be closer to that "cock-eyed optimist" type) but Sexton (and Rich) were the first ones who said such personal things in that beautiful language that resonated for me. I sort of gulped them down. Reading them now, with 30+ years perspective, I get that same startled feeling of recognition, but I can back away a bit. The positive side of that change is that I can savor her language more. I've been reading the poems that Jim highlighted and each one has at least one little gem that I go back to read and re-read. In "Music Swims Back to Me", it is: It was the strangled cold of November; even the stars were strapped in the sky and that moon too bright forking through the bars to stick me with a singing in my head. I find it interesting that, for me, her appeal still endures. I wondered if I only liked it so much in my 20's because she was the first I'd read who dared to say all that...and that's there...but there's more. Confessional style tends to be more the rule now and yet nothing quite matches Sexton. Maybe it's that laser, unblinking quality combined with the gift for language (gift sounds trite but can't think of anything better just now.) Have also been thinking a lot about her self-absorbed quality. I tend to think that the majority of artists, in all arts, are somewhat seems to be required to get at what is required to produce what they do. Admittedly, she's at the peak of the continuum. I was raised in one of those families in which it is truly a sin to "feel sorry for yourself." But, she seems to be walking through such a maze mentally that it doesn't get irritating to me. Also, I've been reading them a few at a time, which may lessen the impact. I've been wondering how she's viewed by other poets, critics, academics, etc. today. In the intro to the book, I got the feeling that she is still looked at with respect but people who write intros to books are usually fans. I would think that she could be quickly dismissed by those who dislike the extremely personal quality of her poetry. Can anyone enlighten me? Barb =============== Reply 16 of Note 46 =================  
To: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Date: 12/15 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 0:29 AM Barbara, yes her language is unique and wonderful. Just when you least expect she up and whops you with a real zinger, like this from FOR MY LOVER, RETURNING TO HIS WIFE: She is, in fact, exquisite. Fireworks in the dull middle of February and as real as a cast iron pot. Migarsh, after the lyrical beauty of a phrase like "fireworks in the dull middle of February" she grabs you from where you were floating out there in a lovely somewhere and slams to down to earth with "as real as a cast-iron pot." Bang, there you are, rooted to the earth again and you really FEEL that cast iron reality. Plunk. Ruth, who, although she has many more important things to do, has frittered away another Saturday with her new computer and popping on and off CR =============== Reply 17 of Note 46 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 12/15 From: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Time: 10:28 AM Oh Ruth, wonderful example. Barb...whose to-do list is so long that sometimes I just give up on it and fritter.... =============== Reply 20 of Note 46 =================  
To: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Date: 12/16 From: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Time: 0:22 AM Barb: My impression is that Sexton is highly influential. Molly Peacock, Linda McCarriston, Sharon Olds, and Marilyn Hacker are several poets that come immediately to mind. I also think about Mary Karr and all the other prose writers who have written about their dysfunctional families in recent years. There were and are critics who think her poems are too personal and that some of the taboos she violated were just stunts to get attention. At this point I don't know whether she still has the capacity to shock us. One thing that interests me is the tendency to associate Sexton with the Women's Movement. It seems to me that most of her poems transcend gender. Even "Menstruation at Forty" relates as much to the lost chances that we all know as it does to the physiology of women. I'd be interested to know which poems, if any, strike you as gender specific. --Jim in Oregon =============== Reply 21 of Note 46 =================  
To: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Date: 12/16 From: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Time: 5:51 AM Jim, First of all, I should say that I don't think that Sexton's poems only apply to, or were meant to only apply to, women. However, they were the first poems I'd read that I could relate to in such an intimate way. And, they were the first ones that I thought were so obviously *inclusive* of women...if that makes sense...and particularly of the woman I was. I'm still only part-way through the book, but there are a few poems that seem more to be talking about women than others. "In Celebration of my Uterus" comes to mind first (though I hesitate to point to that one after Dale's note) when she says: 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.... And, later: Many women are singing together of this: one is in a shoe factory cursing the machine, one is at the aquarium tending a seal.... And it goes on, of course, in that vein. Though this poem strikes me, it's not one of my favorites. I'm not sure if the perspective is more limiting, maybe it sounds a bit more political. As I read on, I'll let you know if I find others that are more gender-specific, but almost everything I read, even this one, could be applied universally in some manner. My method of reading this has been to go through and read the ones you highlighted and then go back to the beginning and read them all. I'm finding that, so far, my favorites are in ALL MY PRETTY ONES, but that my change. And, one of my favorites in that book, in addition to the Icarus one that Ruth posted here, is this one: YOUNG A thousand doors ago when I was a lonely kid in a big house with four garages and it was summer as long as I could remember, I lay on the lawn at night, clover wrinkling under me, the wise stars bedding over me, my mother's window a funnel of yellow light running out, my father's window, half shut, an eye where sleepers pass, and the boards of the house were smooth and white as wax and probably a million leaves sailed on their strange stalks as the crickets ticked together and I, in my brand new body, which was not a woman's yet, told the stars my questions and thought God could really see the heat and the painted light, elbows, knees, dreams, goodnight. Those are images that resonate for me, both the sensory and emotional ones. It is more mellow and dreamy than most of her's and yet just as purely *there.* On a visual basis, I wonder where she gets things like "my mother's window a funnel of yellow heat running out"...seems so perfect. A similar image for me is in "What the Dead Know" (another favorite of mine) when she says: We drive to the Cape. I cultivate myself where the sun gutters from the sky, where the sea swings in like an iron gate and we touch. In another country people die. =============== Reply 22 of Note 46 =================  
To: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Date: 12/16 From: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Time: 5:51 AM (cont. from last note) Where does she get those visual images?!? Thanks for recommending these, Jim. Hope your nominations to the CR reading list continue to be poetry, though I hate to restrict you. Maybe just keep making suggestions from time to time. Barb =============== Reply 23 of Note 46 =================  
To: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Date: 12/16 From: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Time: 3:26 PM Barbara: Thanks for posting Sexton's poem "Young." It hit me hard, as well. Lord knows there's no subject in fiction or poetry that's been run into the ground like the travails of growing up, but for me Sexton often takes the "expected" and pulls wonderful, surprising images out of it like scarves from the parent's window like "a yellow funnel running out," the other "an eye where sleepers pass." Powerful stuff. Likewise the line that Ruth notes, linking fireworks and a cast iron pot. I haven't been able to find a tape of Sexton reading her work, but I'll be on the lookout again when life settles down a bit. >>Dale, in snow-flurries-by-Thursday Ala. =============== Reply 24 of Note 46 =================  
To: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Date: 12/16 From: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Time: 7:36 PM Barb, Thanks for posting YOUNG. I bought this book with every intention to follow along with you guys, but life has interrupted. I think I better get busy and at least read the ones Jim was kind enough to point out. Ann, who is pretty dense when it comes to poetry, but who would like to learn =============== Reply 25 of Note 46 =================  
To: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Date: 12/16 From: NDKB53A THERESA SIMPSON Time: 11:58 PM I've been lax on reading these poems too, Ann. Must remedy that. I've really liked all the poems posted here so far - and noted that not a one was a mad women howling type of thing. It's funny that that's what she's known for, but the poems that apparently speak to the people here are all quite calm. Jim - what do you think of reading poetry in translation? Do you not bother? I can see that any translation worth reading as a poem would have to be very nearly a new creation. Invitation au Voyage, for example, sounds lovely in French. I've read two English translations - one was really trite, one was too dry. But the Tsvetaeva I read a bit of was wonderful, I thought. Theresa =============== Reply 26 of Note 46 =================  
To: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Date: 12/17 From: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Time: 0:59 AM I think that I like Sexton best when things are out of control as in "Flee on Your Donkey" "Turn, my hungers! For once make a deliberate decision. There are brains that rot here like black bananas. Hearts have grown as flat as dinner plates. Anne, Anne, flee on your donkey, flee this sad hotel, ride out on some hairy beast, gallop backward pressing your buttocks to his withers, sit to his clumsy gait somehow. Ride out any old way you please! In this place everyone talks to his own mouth. That's what it means to be crazy. Those I loved best died of it -- the fool's disease." There is something oddly liberating about Sexton's despair. What that is I'll have to leave to the analysts among you. (Where is Sabrina now that we need her? Didn't she say she was a psychologist?) --Jim in Oregon =============== Reply 27 of Note 46 =================  
To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 12/17 From: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Time: 5:51 AM Dale, Perfect description of what Sexton does sometimes with the "expected". It's what gives me that startled feeling reading her poems, this thing that you think you know as well as anything suddenly has a new aspect to it or some part of you is expressed so perfectly that you can see it better than before. My description of it is inadequate, as usual, but you obviously know what I mean. If you find the tape, let me know. I'm going to scavenge in my library's shelves over Christmas break and hope to find something. Barb =============== Reply 28 of Note 46 =================  
To: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Date: 12/17 From: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Time: 5:51 AM Ann and Theresa, Hope you'll jump in. Think you'll like Sexton a lot more than you might imagine. It would be easy in a quick glance to assign her to a stereotype, but there's so much more. Ann, I'm the most uneducated person around about poetry. Never finished rebelling against the approach taken to it in high school and college. But, Sexton is the one of the first to lead me out of that attitude. Barb =============== Reply 29 of Note 46 =================  
To: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Date: 12/17 From: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Time: 9:25 PM Ann, And be sure to read the ones selected from ALL MY PRETTY ONES. Barb =============== Reply 30 of Note 46 =================  
To: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Date: 12/18 From: BUYS59A BARBARA HILL Time: 7:59 PM Flee on Your Donkey was my favorite out of your recommendations because it communicated the long senseless nightmare that was her life so well. Also liked Us for how she used rythym. B. Hill =============== Reply 31 of Note 46 =================  
To: BUYS59A BARBARA HILL Date: 12/20 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 7:05 PM As I've said before, Sexton is most heart-catching for me when she tones it down, when she performs one of her minor miracles with words the swing me up and grab me by the throat. Take this example from CLOTHES. Listing the clothes she'll wear when she dies, Sexton includes painting shirt washed over and over of course spotted with every yellow kitchen I've painted. God, you don't mind if I bring all my kitchens? They hold the family laughter and the soup. Those last two lines bring tears to my eyes. They speak such volumes about love and family. Ruth, in California, blue, bright and beautiful =============== Reply 32 of Note 46 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 12/21 From: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Time: 10:48 PM Dear CR friends, Since today is first day of Christmas vacation and since I finished THE SPORTSWRITER last night, I started to read Anne Sexton again. I read the last two poems of the Bedlam section today, and I see what you mean about the madness coming through. The poems about her mother's cancer seem really cold to me. Jane who renewed the book at the library so she can keep reading. =============== Reply 33 of Note 46 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 12/30 From: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Time: 10:10 AM MORE ANNE SEXTON (in case P starts a new thread) Went back to read a little more Sexton yesterday and got hooked until the end of the book. I was totally with her all the way through LOVE POEMS, but got lost somewhat in TRANSFORMATIONS. I certainly agree with your assessment on that one, Jim, though the intro writers say that it was one of her most popular ones. I liked some of THE BOOK OF FOLLY though many of The Jesus Papers lost me. And, THE DEATH NOTEBOOKS were not my favorites except for "Clothes" from which Ruth posted. I did like many of the poems in THE AWFUL ROWING TOWARD GOD, though. And the intro writers imply that her powers were falling apart during some of this...though if they included these particular ones, they must've thought they were more up to her standards. The posthumous stuff was not my favorite, except for "Whale" which I liked a lot. One of the points that hit me throughout was how well she made me understand someone who struggles with the seduction of suicide. Sometimes, she did this in a screamingly lunatic way, but sometimes it was calmly rational...and I think I understood. "Live" was one of the more calmly rational ones and took me inside depression and the mind of someone who sees how others are reacting and yet is helpless sometimes to change it. At the end, the depression lifts and her vision was pretty striking: *** Today life opened inside me like an egg and there inside after considerable digging I found the answer. What a bargain! There was the sun, her yolk moving feverishly, tumbling her prize-- and you realize that she does this daily! I'd known she was a purifier but I hadn't thought she was solid hadn't known she was an answer. God! It's a dream, lovers sprouting in the yard like celery stalks and better, a husband straight as a redwood, two daughters, two sea urchins, picking roses off my hackles. If I'm on fire they dance around it and cook marshmallows. And if I'm ice they simply skate on me in little ballet costumes. *** All the images resound with me, but those last 7 lines do particularly. My copy of this book has gotten a bit dog-eared with turned down corners and coffee spilled on it. I think it's one that I will return to again. Barb  
To: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Date: 01/02 From: PGMQ87A ROBERTA BRANCA Time: 6:56 PM I am someone who unexpectedly became a fan of the denial camp when self pity proved to produce more problems than it solved for me. As for what Anne Sexton could have done instead, how about choosing better topics? After finding real release by venting anger, sadness, etc., I found writing about other things just as healing and empowering. I don't buy the bullshit that "a writer must suffer" or that writers who go crazy would never have been as good if they had been sane. I say they probably would have been better. Same with those addicted to drugs or alcohol. Stable people are more productive in other fields; why wouldn't it be true for writers? bmarie97 =============== Reply 2 of Note 1 =================  
To: PGMQ87A ROBERTA BRANCA Date: 01/02 From: FNMN56E LYNN EVANS Time: 8:09 PM Roberta -- I agree that writers don't have to suffer. But what if they do? Should they skirt the subject? And of course, there's just flat-out enough suffering in the world that I think many folks find that writers who write of suffering have something to say to them. Maybe you don't like Sexton's style: that's fine. But there'd be a whole lot less literature kicking around if folks side-stepped the suffering and wrote only the upbeat stuff. Lynn =============== Reply 3 of Note 1 =================  
To: FNMN56E LYNN EVANS Date: 01/02 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 10:44 PM Roberta, I think the question of what Sexton should have done for her psychological health is a separate one from the evaluation of her poetry. Maybe she should have tried focussing on something else. Maybe it would have helped her to live a happy life. But the point is, she didn't. She wrote this poetry and I think we have to take it as it is. It needs to be evaluated, read, criticized, explored, sunk into, rejected, hated, loved, etc., for what it is, not for what Sexton should or should not have down with her life. Ruth =============== Reply 4 of Note 1 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 01/02 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 10:57 PM And Roberta, about that artists-must-suffer stuff, I think you're absolutely right. I'm tired of that kind of press. Ruth, who does think, however, that a modicum of suffering probably help, that is, if you're going to write about suffering =============== Reply 9 of Note 1 =================  
To: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Date: 01/03 From: QGEE61A JULIE GERHART Time: 11:41 PM Jim: Ann Sexton's work is like a peek into a depressed person's journal, but there is one thing that hits with her poetry. It's honest, and it's not the traditional Romanticized, flowery image of poetry. It's someone pouring every aspect of herself on paper--the bad (especially) as well as the good. Did you ever read the lobster? It was one of the first sexton things I read. SHe could very well have said "Life sucks." I find her...intriguing. Not especially great, but her poems do lead you to think =============== Reply 10 of Note 1 =================  
To: QGEE61A JULIE GERHART Date: 01/04 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 1:37 AM Julie, have you posted here before? If not, welcome to Constant Reader. Glad to hear your comments on Sexton. I don't think I've ever read The Lobster. Is it short enough to post here? What else are you reading? Ruth =============== Reply 11 of Note 1 =================  
To: PGMQ87A ROBERTA BRANCA Date: 01/04 From: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Time: 9:11 AM As I said earlier, Sexton in agony is the Sexton that I like best. Even those of us who are not suicidely depressive can relate to being caught in impossible situations with ridiculous demands for behavior. The interesting question is when does explaining an unpleasant situation become self-pitying or whining. Certainly Macbeth's soliloquy on the death of Lady Macbeth ("Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player / That struts his hour upon the stage, / And then is heard no more ...") is not particularly upbeat, but for some reason nobody thinks of it as whining. What interests me about Sexton is the way she pushes the borders of what is acceptable. I think she oversteps them from time to time, particularly in the intimacy of some of the sex poems, but that's price you pay for undertaking the challenge. I do have sympathy with those who feel as if every abused woman in America has a book contract. What was original in Sexton is fast becoming a cliche, though being beaten probably hurts just as much whether or not it's done in an original fashion. What it comes to is that it isn't enough just to suffer. You have to have something interesting to say about it. Ruth, I think its time to cue up Auden's "Musee Des Beaux Arts". --Jim in Oregon =============== Reply 12 of Note 1 =================  
To: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Date: 01/04 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 1:17 PM Jim, Musee des Beaux Arts is probably my all time favorite poem. And not just because it ties into art, but for what it says about life. I did read it to my art history students, though, when we came to Breughel's Fall of Icarus, the painting mentioned in the poem. And also showed them his Crucifixion where the actual cross is tiny, way up in the corner, of a field teeeming with busy life. All I need is a hint of a nod to post that poem, or perhaps we ought to give it its own thread some day. It deserves it Ruth, on a gray day =============== Reply 14 of Note 1 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 01/04 From: QGEE61A JULIE GERHART Time: 1:30 PM As requested, here's Lobster by Anne Sexton. A shoe with legs, a stone dropped from heaven, he does his mournful work alone, he is like the old prospector for gold, with secret dreams of God-heads and fish heads. Until suddenly a cradle fastens round him and he is trapped as the U.S.A. sleeps. Somewhere far off a woman lights a cigarette; somewhere far off a car goes over a bridge; somewhere far off a bank is held up. This is the world the lobster knows not of. He is the old hunting dog of the sea who in the morning will rise from it and be undrowned and they will take his perfect green body and paint it red. =============== Reply 15 of Note 1 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 01/04 From: FNMN56E LYNN EVANS Time: 1:30 PM Jim -- I suppose in part (whether one's downbeat writings sound like "whining") it has to do with whether your regard your sufferings as the sort that the world has never seen before or whether you regard them as pretty much part of the human condition -- or maybe which way you "come across" in your writings. But I think too people tend to be "tone deaf" to their own brand of complaining and pick up much more readily on everyone else's. Lynn =============== Reply 16 of Note 1 =================  
To: QGEE61A JULIE GERHART Date: 01/04 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 5:10 PM Julie, thanks for posting "The Lobster", it's one I've never seen before. I like it. Socko ending. BTW, my first husband was a pharmacist, but I won't hold it against you. Ruth =============== Reply 17 of Note 1 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 01/04 From: QGEE61A JULIE GERHART Time: 7:31 PM Gee, thanks. Did you read the Kiss by sexton? THat one's even deeper. Julie =============== Reply 19 of Note 1 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 01/04 From: ZRAK98A ROBERT AVERY Time: 10:38 PM Ruth, I imagine others have already hinted and nodded, but in case they haven't, I'd love to read your favorite poem. And FALL OF ICARUS is one of my favorite paintings. Hm can't remember where I saw it...British Museum maybe? Or the Louvre? BTW, I thought of you when I posted the poem by Jane Cooper (hope you aren't insulted) elsewhere in CR. Hope you like it. Bob =============== Reply 20 of Note 1 =================  
To: ZRAK98A ROBERT AVERY Date: 01/05 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 0:11 AM Bob, I had a suspicion I'd posted Musee des Beaux Arts before, so I hied me off to the Archives, where I found I had not only posted it before, but done it TWICE. On the theory that three times is the charm, though, here it is again. MUSEE DES BEAUX ARTS - W. H. Auden (Like I said, it wouldnt take much to get me to post this poem. Trouble is, I have a sneaking suspicion Ive posted it before.) MUSEE DES BEAUX ARTS About suffering they were never wrong, The old Masters; how well they understood Its human position; how it takes place While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along; How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting For the miraculous birth, there always must be Children who did not especially want it to happen, skating On a pond at the edge of the wood: They never forgot That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse Scratches its innocent behind on a tree. In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry, But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky, Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on. Ruth ============== Note 46 =============== Note 19 =================  
To: ALL Date: 12/01 From: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Time: 12:09 PM Re: Anne Sexton's SELECTED POEMS. Since Anne Sexton is due to come up shortly on the Slo-Mo List, I thought I would pass along the following recommendations for those who want to skip through Sexton lightly. Greatest Hits: "Her Kind", "Music Swims Back to Me", "The Truth the Dead Know", "The Starry Night", "Wanting to Die", "The Room of My Life." Family and Madness: "Ringing the Bells", "The Double Image", "The Division of Parts", "Flee on Your Donkey" Sex and Gynecology: "The Abortion", "Menstruation at Forty", "In Celebration of My Uterus", "The Ballad of the Lonely Masturbator", "Song for a Lady", "Us" God: "With Mercy for the Greedy", "Jesus Awake", "Rowing" If you only read one poem: "The Double Image" If you only skip one section: TRANSFORMATIONS --Jim in Oregon =============== Reply 1 of Note 19 =================  
To: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Date: 12/01 From: FNMN56E LYNN EVANS Time: 12:58 PM Jim -- You picked some of my favorites. Here's an odd thing though. I was telling someone about "Flee on Your Donkey," and hearing the words, instead of just reading them, caused the image of a FLEA on one's donkey to jangle suddenly in my head -- which I found very disconcerting indeed. Now, alas, I can't seem to shake free of that weird little twist! Lynn =============== Reply 2 of Note 19 =================  
To: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Date: 12/01 From: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Time: 3:14 PM Thanks, Jim. I've been wanting to start on this book, but reading poems one after another, like a novel, didn't seem like a good idea. Savoring a few poems at a time sounded like a better choice and now you've given me the guide to do just that. Barb =============== Reply 3 of Note 19 =================  
To: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Date: 12/01 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 6:00 PM Jim, I'm looking forward to this. I've had Sexton's Selected Poems on my shelf for some time, but it's been several years since I've dipped into it. Ruth, hoping you've weathered the recent Oregon storms okay =============== Note 10 =================  
To: ALL Date: 11/02 From: VMMN97A FELIX MILLER Time: 12:23 PM ***ANNE SEXTON LABELED UN-POET***************** I have been following a thread on Usenet in rec.arts.books discussing whether poetry is truly poetry without some structure other than prose. The original poster in this thread, Uche Ogbuji,(sp?) quoted a poem by Anne Sexton as an example of writing which was *not* poetry by his standards. His contention is that if any *real* poem is written without line breaks, it still is recognizably a poem, whereas if line breaks are omitted from Sexton's poem ( or any of a large number of poems by modern writers), the work is indistinguishable from prose. As you might expect, this note resulted in a lot of counter-arguments for various poets, complete with prose-formatted versions of several poets, modern and not so new, as well. Here is the *prosed* version of Sexton's poem: *** The Moss of His Skin [snipped quote] >It is only important to smile and hold still to lie down beside him and>to rest awhile, to be folded up together as if we were silk, to sink>from the eyes of mother and not to talk. The black room took us like>a cave or a mouth or an indoor belly. I held my breath and daddy was>there, his thumbs, his fat skull his teeth, his hair growing like a field>or a shawl. I lay by the moss of his skin until it grew strange.>My sisters will never know that I fall out of myself and pretend that>Allah will not see how I hold my daddy like an old stone tree. *** Does anyone have an opinion on this? I think that the selection *is* a poem, but I am still trying to explain to myself why. In order to form an opinion, I suppose you would have to have a firm set of characteristics of what defines poetry. It has been a long time since I was in a poetry class. So I am still thinking on this one. from the november mountain, brilliantly clear, unlike my mind, Felix Malt does more than Milton can/to justify God's ways to Man. 11/2/96 12:17PM ET =============== Reply 1 of Note 10 =================  
To: VMMN97A FELIX MILLER Date: 11/02 From: ZRPD32A RICHARD HAGGART Time: 1:23 PM Felix: Such a good question. To me poetry is music without the orchestra; and I like Robert Frost's definition -- "Poetry is a way of taking life by the throat." Dick in alabastah' Alaska =============== Reply 2 of Note 10 =================  
To: VMMN97A FELIX MILLER Date: 11/02 From: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Time: 5:45 PM Felix, That sure sounds like a poem to me. I think poetry is any words strung together that are lyrical. Now what is the definition of lyrical. Seems like I'm just going around in circles. So what really is this man's point? I think poetry is whatever the person who wrote it says it is (does that make sense?) This sounds like that same old question "What is Art". Sherry =============== Reply 3 of Note 10 =================  
To: VMMN97A FELIX MILLER Date: 11/02 From: FNMN56E LYNN EVANS Time: 5:55 PM From reading Anne Sexton's biography, I know that Sexton was extremely interested in the tradition and history of poetry and often "charted" her poems, their meter and rhyme scheme, which intrigued me -- that this woman who was drawn to the cut-loose rebellion of poetry was drawn also to its traditions. Maybe it was part of her basically respectful (even while rebellious) nature, I don't know. Anyway, I am utterly unschooled when it comes to poetry, but I like Anne Sexton, in spite of, or even because of, her inability to really get to the heart of things. She always seems to sneak up on things, is in the end turned back on herself and her own limitations, and I find that so human and compelling... and I think too she was well aware of this aspect of her poetry, despaired of it, and in the end made use of it. And good for her, for finding courage where she could. Lynn =============== Reply 4 of Note 10 =================  
To: VMMN97A FELIX MILLER Date: 11/02 From: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Time: 5:56 PM Felix: I think the line break serves a crucial function in poetry, possibly as much so as the period or the paragraph break does in prose, though I don't have the expertise to put my finger on just what that is. Jim Heath, help! I've seen the device misused and over-used, sometimes to the point of unintentional parody, but that certainly shouldn't be held against "real" poets such as Sexton. As a result, I think that for somebody to arbitrarily remove a poem's line breaks and equate it with prose is either very naive or disingenuous. >>Dale in Ala., whose two cents are a bottomless well... =============== Reply 5 of Note 10 =================  
To: VMMN97A FELIX MILLER Date: 11/02 From: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Time: 7:48 PM The Usenet is a great source of bickering over what is poetry. The last time I looked in, one fellow announced that anything without uniform meter and rhyme was worthless. A number of people tried to make the case for free verse only to be told that they were fools and were wasting his time. He was a graduate student at Harvard and has doubtless moved on to saving the world. It's good to know that someone has taken up the battle. On the general question of what is poetry, I have a very inelegant definition. Poetry is a condensed form of expression that uses image, sound, and meter to make it's impression. Good poetry may require much more, but anything that makes the basic effort to these three elements qualifies as poetry in my mind. When you read the Sexton poem you quoted out loud, the rhythms are obvious even if they aren't repeated regular meter. As for sound, the repeated use of the s sound in the first sentence was not an accident. The moss image is also readily apparent. It looks like Anne lucked out this time and won't have to give back her Pulitzer Prize. I really don't see how anyone could confuse Sexton's work with a business letter, a novel, or any other form of prose. As for the notion of eliminating line breaks to determine if poetry is really prose, why don't we try eliminating the sun to see if day is really night? --Jim in Oregon =============== Reply 6 of Note 10 =================  
To: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Date: 11/03 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 1:48 AM If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off. I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way? Emily Dickinson Ruth, who thinks Jim's "why dont we try eliminating the sun to see if day is really night?", is pretty good poetry =============== Reply 7 of Note 10 =================  
To: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Date: 11/03 From: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Time: 9:29 AM Jim: Well said. But wouldn't you agree [bicker, bicker ] that there are countless passages from the novels of great stylists like Cormac McCarthy and others that fit the poetry definition as well? I'd certainly say McCarthy's description of wolves in the wild--"a terrible beauty, like flowers that feed on flesh"--qualifies. I have no problem with calling that "prose with poetic qualities," or some more efficient term. I think the irresistible force/immovable object tussle arises when folks such as those on Usenet insist on a clear-cut duality and dig in their heels. As a student of mine used to say, "Things don't be that simple." >>Dale in dual Ala. =============== Reply 8 of Note 10 =================  
To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 11/03 From: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Time: 11:59 AM Dale: Of course I would agree that prose can merge into poetry. I'm an agreeable guy. However, my guess is that even a Cormac McCarthy doesn't spend as much time working on rhythm and sound of what he says as, say, Dylan Thomas did. Judging from the size of McCarthy's books, he certainly doesn't work on compression. Thomas reportedly produced about one line of poetry a day. You could blame his alcoholism, but I suspect the real culprit is the devilish difficulty getting the words just right. This isn't to say novelists don't work, too. They just have different concerns. Dylan Thomas didn't have to come up with a plot and characters for "Fern Hill". Even famous narrative poems like PARADISE LOST are more interesting as poems than they are as stories. --Jim in Oregon =============== Reply 9 of Note 10 =================  
To: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Date: 11/03 From: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Time: 2:56 PM Jim: Point taken, but in fairness I think that fiction... especially "literary" far more language-driven than most folks realize. It's not so much a case of the logical mind "coming up with plots and characters" as it is beginning with one paradoxical image, or even one phrase, and painstakingly putting one word in front of another, acutely aware of word choice, rhythms, tone, etc., until after a few hundred pages a story has taken shape which the writer had absolutely no foreknowledge of. This leads, after thousands of wrong turns and dead ends and discarded sections, to a first draft--at which time the writer goes back to the beginning and tries to shape it into conventional enough dramatic situations to satisfy the reader's natural urge for same. (Okay, so James Joyce doesn't, but you get the idea.) In fact, my own standard for what separates "popular" from "literary" fiction is that with the former, plot and character are in the driver's seat; with the latter, language is, and in some mysterious way *creates* the story. One critic has said something to the effect that in Cormac McCarthy's novels, the central character is always the English language, and I have to agree. True, it's hard or impossible to sustain the intense lyricism of poetry for even a very long poem, much less a 400-page novel, but I think McCarthy comes as close as anybody now writing. As did the late William Goyen, a lesser-known favorite of mine, and a number of others. (Marty, how weigh ye in, here?) Of the fiction writers I know personally, many tell me that their manuscript will routinely go through 10, 15, even 20 complete, from-scratch revisions: each time tightening, polishing, and refining the sounds of the language to the best of their ability. (Next to some of them, the fact that my novel only went through 7 complete revisions over 7 years makes me feel like a sloth by comparison.) When two double-spaced pages is counted as a pretty fruitful full day's work, in which maybe one minute of time passes within the narrative, it's clear that the whole day isn't taken up by plotting and charactering but by almost microscopically refining the sounds and cadences of the words. Maybe I'm overstating my case a bit, here, but hey...isn't that the definition of a discussion? >>Dale in Ala., wearing his "So Many Books..." T-shirt, albeit over a sweatshirt as last night was our first hard freeze of the year: 23 degrees, which I would imagine is balmy to an Alaskan, eh, Dick? =============== Reply 10 of Note 10 =================  
To: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Date: 11/03 From: VMMN97A FELIX MILLER Time: 3:53 PM Jim, I was not citing the rab post to agree with it; I totally disagree, just without any rigorous underpinnings to my gut feelings. I have been reading some of Sexton's poetry in preparation for discussion on the slo-mo group, and find all of what I have read very good. I believe you nominated Sexton for the group, so I would like to thank you for leading me to fill in another of the great gaps in my reading. It occurred to me that you could turn around this line break thing and render any number of prose selections into what looks like poetry. Here is one passage I tried this on. From LOOK HOMEWARD, ANGEL: > Naked and alone we came into exile. In her dark womb we did not know our mother's face; from the prison of her flesh have we come into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth. > I wonder how Ogbuti(sp?) would class that? Felix Miller Malt does more than Milton can/to justify God's ways to Man. 11/3/96 3:38PM ET =============== Reply 11 of Note 10 =================  
To: VMMN97A FELIX MILLER Date: 11/03 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 6:42 PM All this fuss over what is or is not poetry reminds me of the "what is art"? question so beloved of graduate students and others who enjoy debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. If someone wrote it and says it's a poem, it's a poem in my book, and we can go on from there and debate the merits of the poem itself. When Marcel Duchamp presented his "readymades" in a gallery and called them art, one of his points was that when something, be it urinal or snowshovel, is presented as art, we look at it with different eyes than if we are merely going to pee or clear the front walk. Just as when something is presented as poetry we come to it with different expectations than if it is presented as prose, including the so-called "prose poems" which don't even have line breaks. If I want to make a bowl and call it a hat and sell it in a hat store, that's my privilege. It then becomes a hat, albeit a pretty poor one. I'm probably going out on a limb here and someone is going to back me into a corner.... Ruth, in sunny Redlands, sticking in her two cents worth =============== Reply 12 of Note 10 =================  
To: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Date: 11/03 From: KWWP63A SARA SAUERS Time: 8:23 PM Dear All, This has been an interesting dicussion to me as I recently finished wrestling with an assignment in my Typography class that requested that we typeset a stanza from a particular Emily Dickinson poem "in a design of our own choice". A spiral arrangement was even suggested. Well, this idea bothered me to no end. This is Ms Dickinson's poem, not mine! When I voiced my concern about disregarding the author's wishes in terms of format, the response was, "That's why I chose a dead poet." (!) Well, I did the assignment, giving the stanza a few more line breaks than it had, but I filed it under protest. This seems to have bothered no one else in the class which was equally as disturbing as the actual assignment. (And Jim, speaking of Ivy League academia saving the world, did you see the student from Harvard on Letterman the other night who stuck the handle of a spoon all the way up his nose and then fed himself Rice Krispies with it?) *Sara =============== Reply 13 of Note 10 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 11/03 From: ZRPD32A RICHARD HAGGART Time: 9:17 PM Ruth: There is a story about Abraham Lincoln to the effect that he was once asked how many legs a dog would have if you called a tail a leg. After no thought at all the skinny Republican lawyer replied, "Well, four, of course. Just callin' a tail a leg doesn't make it into one." Now we know that Abe was a country boy, and probably under the impression that Art ran a feedstore in Moline. Nevertheless, something about his reply sounds correct to me, Mssr. Duchamps' efforts notwithstanding. All distinctions regarding form, function and style aside, it seems to me that a definition (i.e., of Art) that encompasses both the Sistine Chapel and a chocolate coated naked lady, playing 'Stars and Stripes Forever' on the crotch kazoo, is so broad as to have extemely limited communicative utility. Perhaps this is why the avant garde artist or poet must tell us expressly what he or she is up to -- Duchamp by placing his urinal in an art show and the confectioned musician by specifying 'performance art' on her grant applications. If the urinal had been left on the sidewalk, I'd bet the house that it would now be in a dump somewhere and not in the Philadephia Museum of Art. Incidentally, the example you give of selling bowls as hats is extremely instructive with respect to this discussion. Under Alaska (and most modern) consumer law you would be guilty of actionable fraud for attempting to pass off bowls as hats (the law making no distinction between patently absurd fraud and more devious varieties). Implicit in such consumer protection laws are the notions that we can identify hats and bowls and that we can tell the difference between them on a reasonably reliable basis. This is obviously not a true statement about Art. For example, it would almost certainly be reasonable to cobble together a collection of bowls, label it 'Haberdasher's Stock No. 9' put it on display, and even charge a great deal of money for it. Put it in a gallery and you're safe; put it in the stream of commerce and it's jail city. Go figure as Kurt Vonnegut would say. So, I think there is something called 'poetry' and that it exists irrespective of what name the creator gives it. Query: what is poetry? Dick in Alaska, a state of mind =============== Reply 14 of Note 10 =================  
To: ZRPD32A RICHARD HAGGART Date: 11/04 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 1:46 AM Dick, I was afraid the lawyers would pop out of the woodwork on this one. As an artist, Lincoln made a fine politician. And I'm afraid you've misunderstood me. A urinal is a urinal is a urinal. The OBJECT itself doesn't change when we call it art (or a poem), but our PERCEPTION of it changes. Arthur Koestler used the concept of what he called MATRICES to explain the manner in which we perceive things. When we see a urinal labelled "art", it's jerked out of its usual matrix into a completely different one. (Hey look ma, there's a golf ball in with the eggs. That's gonna make a lousy breakfast.) The labels we put on things, "poetry", "art", etc., determine in part our perception of them. You are absolutely right in that if the urinal had been left on the sidewalk, it would now be in a dump somewhere instead of the Philadelphia Museum. But the point is, it WASN'T left on the sidewalk. It was put into an art gallery. And was thought about in a different matrix, using different standards. And became a visual statement that raised all kinds of philosophical questions about art. And THAT'S why it's in the museum. So if I read a particulary metrical, wonderfully phrased bit of writing whilst reading Cormac McCarthy. It's prose because he called it prose and he wrote the book. If the same bit appeared as a separate short piece in a slim volume labelled "Poetry", it would be poetry. (Especially if it had line breaks.) Ruth, who thinks a tail makes a pretty poor leg, even if you insist on calling it one =============== Reply 15 of Note 10 =================  
To: ZRPD32A RICHARD HAGGART Date: 11/04 From: FNMN56E LYNN EVANS Time: 9:42 AM Dick -- A tail might make a poor leg, but consider the breath-taking beauty and meaning it would accrue if it were signed, framed, and hanging over your couch. Lynn =============== Reply 16 of Note 10 =================  
To: ZRPD32A RICHARD HAGGART Date: 11/04 From: FNMN56E LYNN EVANS Time: 9:44 AM But you might occasionally notice, whilst walking through the room and observing it from an angle, that the matrix needed straightening... =============== Reply 17 of Note 10 =================  
To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 11/04 From: DCTW04A MARTY PRIOLA Time: 1:26 PM Dale, The critic who said that the central character of McCarthy's writing was language is none other than Shelby Foote. People who know him say that McCarthy is a painstaking stylist, and Ruth--was it?--posted the first paragraph of SUTTREE during our recent discussion of said book and exclaimed as to its poetic quality. My question about this whole subject is: assuming that books didn't exist, and there was no written tradition, would we still have poetry? My supposition is that we'd still have Homer, who was "writing" in an oral tradition. And some other poets too, like those Welsh poems that Bobby Burns collected and wrote down. Or whatever they were. Therefore, I'd argue that poetry is entirely a function of LANGUAGE and has little to do with TYPOGRAPHY, which is simply a function of BOOKS, and is completely independent of its appearance on a page. Sexton is poetry. So is McCarthy. --The Irrepressible DJP 11/4/96 12:13PM CT =============== Reply 18 of Note 10 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 11/04 From: DCTW04A MARTY PRIOLA Time: 1:26 PM Ruth, Your selling a bowl in a hat store makes it a hat bothers me a little. I'd have to say that selling a bowl in a hat store emphatically DOES NOT make it a hat. It might, as you say, change the matrix, but the matrix is irrelevant to the object's identity. That assertion on my part of course implies a view of languageas something concrete--in other words, there's some quality of "hatness" that makes the object a hat. And that object contains within its very existence the quality or qualities of "hatness." I just can't buy the assertion. True, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet--but by any other name, it wouldn't be a rose. It would be something else. --The Irrepressible DJP 11/4/96 12:19PM CT =============== Reply 19 of Note 10 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 11/04 From: EUCR61A RICHARD HAGGART Time: 3:00 PM Ruth: I think our problem here is that unlike a urinal, a poem has no non-artistic function. Hence, we can put the urinal on the wall and say, "See, the perception of the object is effected by this change in status/role/view, and this change and its effect on the viewer has an artistic component." I can agree with that analysis, even if I can't buy some of the specific examples we run into in real life from time to time. However, I'm not sure what an equivalent transformative act would be with regard to a poem -- to me a poem would be more akin to a formal oil painting, framed, signed and hung. It may be good or bad art, but it is ONLY a painting, and not a trivet, a hat or a frisbee, although an imaginative person might press a painting into (probably temporary) service for each of these three unrelated functions. We may be talking pears and pomegranites here. Thus, Art is the general category, into which urinals, paintings and chocolate covered ladies fit quite comfortably. Poetry, on the other hand is a mere component of a larger category: Literature. Now I would have no trouble at all agreeing with the notion that poetry, in almost any imaginable state is a type of Literature. Similarly, novels. However, it is within the broad categories that we draw the distinctions between poetry and novels that allow us to discuss these subjects intelligently at all. If these weren't useful categories, then I think we would have only a single word to describe written product, probably of Babylonian or Sumerian roots, that would translate loosely as 'bird scratch on papyrus'. But then we'd need inflections differentiating classical birdscratch from Danielle Steele, and omigod we're right back where we started from, with a definition like: 'usually but not always rhyming bird scratch on papyrus' or, poetry. In closing, I am trying to imagine Frost's poem 'Fog' being denominated as a novel and I find I can't do it. I just wish I had more in common with Abe Lincoln than his lack of imagination.... Dick in Alaska where it is snowing and cold and so on and so on and so on, but finds he's staying comfortably warm with this pleasant discussion. =============== Reply 20 of Note 10 =================  
To: EUCR61A RICHARD HAGGART Date: 11/04 From: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Time: 3:08 PM Dick: But what if I put my poems *into* a urinal? Hey, it's been suggested... >>Dale in Ala. =============== Reply 21 of Note 10 =================  
To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 11/04 From: EUCR61A RICHARD HAGGART Time: 5:15 PM Dale: Major, major bucks at auction is what we are talking here. Plus, add Lynn's dog tail (heck, how about the whole hind quarter, leg lifted?) and we could afford our own art and literature commune. All we need is one crazed Japanese collector. Dick in Alaska, always with the marketing angle =============== Reply 22 of Note 10 =================  
To: EUCR61A RICHARD HAGGART Date: 11/04 From: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Time: 6:13 PM Dick: "Just one crazed Japanese collector"? I like it. I say the line might be the year-2000 equivalent of the great phrasing in mid-20th-Century blues songs about that most desired of human denouements, "Just give me three steps toward the door..." >>Dale in Ala., who's sketching a tentative floor plan of the CR Commune for Literary and Visual Arts. What's the architect's symbol for a urinal? =============== Reply 23 of Note 10 =================  
To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 11/04 From: YHJK89A CATHERINE HILL Time: 11:27 PM I've been thinking about this what differentiates poetry and prose deal, with probably disastrous results. After reading Felix's Sexton quote and trying to imagine it as prose, the first thing I thought of was Beaumarchais's famous phrase (No, I have not read Beaumarchais. This was quoted in Shaw's MAN AND SUPERMAN.), "Anything too silly to be said can be sung". If you construed Sexton's poem as something someone is simply saying to somebody else - as in even a personal letter - it sounds positively dippy. One purpose of poetry seems to be to evoke ideas or emotions by sheer, often lush, wordplay rather than say 'em straight out. Sometimes that's the only way to get a point across. But offhand I'd say that (with the possible exception of James Joyce, of course) if it's too dippy to be prose it's poetry. Cathy =============== Reply 24 of Note 10 =================  
To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 11/04 From: NDKB53A THERESA SIMPSON Time: 11:31 PM When reading prose I cruise along, bouyed atop the words, so to speak, and gathering meaning where I may - and sufficient. Originality, complex ideas, may slow my course. I sometimes pause for clever usage, and may, indeed, retrace my steps for beauty. This method would be madness for a poem. Poetry will have none of this skimped attention. Rushing towards the end. Don't bother, that poem has not been read. Theresa - writing prose with strange line-breaks. But look Ma, it still ain't poetry. =============== Reply 25 of Note 10 =================  
To: NDKB53A THERESA SIMPSON Date: 11/05 From: FNMN56E LYNN EVANS Time: 1:22 AM Theresa, You need a rhyme scheme to clinch the transformation. Something featuring moon and June would be nice. Lynn =============== Reply 26 of Note 10 =================  
To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 11/05 From: ZRPD32A RICHARD HAGGART Time: 11:09 AM Dale: The architect's symbol for a urinal is a little man bent over dabbing at his trousers with a paper-towel. That's why even the most palatial men's rooms usually have only three or four urinals -- not enough room on the plans to put in more symbols. Dick in Alaska, where we need a symbol for slush =============== Reply 27 of Note 10 =================  
To: FNMN56E LYNN EVANS Date: 11/05 From: NDKB53A THERESA SIMPSON Time: 11:23 PM When reading prose by the light of the moon in June I cruise along..... Naaah, Lynn, still doesn't do it. Theresa =============== Reply 28 of Note 10 =================  
To: NDKB53A THERESA SIMPSON Date: 11/05 From: ZRPD32A RICHARD HAGGART Time: 11:27 PM Theresa: In my experience, any line involving 'moon' and 'June' needs a ukulele accompaniment to really make it rock. Try it, with a kind of swishy back-beat. It'll work. Probably how Homer got started. Dick in Alaska, digging for those Don Ho records =============== Reply 29 of Note 10 =================  
To: NDKB53A THERESA SIMPSON Date: 11/06 From: FNMN56E LYNN EVANS Time: 0:20 AM No? I award you the North North Torrance Honorary Poetry Award for 1996. There. Now you're a poet. P.S. Is it time for me to quote from Carolyn Forche's The Angel of History again? =============== Reply 30 of Note 10 =================  
To: DCTW04A MARTY PRIOLA Date: 11/07 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 11:37 PM Marty, It doesn't change the BOWL to put it in a hat store. It changes our thinking to see it there. A bowl is a bowl is a bowl. My point was that if you evaluate or experience or think about a bowl in terms of its being used as a hat, your experience with it is different than it is when you're just going to pour your Cheerios into it. Anyway, I thought your point about oral poetry was well-taken. In fact, when this same discussion cropped up at poetry workshop the other night (what is the difference between prose and poetry?) I dropped your question on our teacher, poet/editor Jack Grapes. His answer was that most oral poetry has rhyme and/or meter, at least in part so that it could be remembered. Modern poetry has line-breaks, which of course are only evident on the printed page. Different ages and different peoples have defined poetry in different ways. He also suggests that you can have POETRY without its being a POEM. A poem being a self-contained unit. Poetry being something that can crop up in any kind of writing, including CM. Ruth, who thinks a bowl makes a lousy hat =============== Reply 31 of Note 10 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 11/08 From: FNMN56E LYNN EVANS Time: 0:42 AM Ruth, Was it Freud who said sometimes a toilet bowl is just a toilet bowl? Your point is well taken, of course, and I doubt if anyone here disagrees. But heck, when it's a toilet bowl we're talking about, sometimes you just gotta leave the art criticism behind for a sec, elbow the guy next to you, and say: Hey, Mack! Wouldja look at that, fer cryin out loud? It's a terlet bowl! Or words to that effect. Lynn =============== Reply 32 of Note 10 =================  
To: FNMN56E LYNN EVANS Date: 11/08 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 2:15 AM That's what I keep trying to say, Lynn. A terlet bowl is a terlet bowl is a terlet bowl. It's Dick & Marty who keep thinking I'm trying to change it to something else. Ruth =============== Reply 33 of Note 10 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 11/08 From: FNMN56E LYNN EVANS Time: 9:58 AM Boys, stop teasing Ruth. (Or: wait'll your father gets home.) Lynn =============== Reply 34 of Note 10 =================  
To: FNMN56E LYNN EVANS Date: 11/08 From: ZRPD32A RICHARD HAGGART Time: 10:48 AM Ah, we was only funnin'... Dick in Alasky =============== Reply 35 of Note 10 =================  
To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 11/09 From: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Time: 0:53 AM Dale: Urinal poetry is part of a grand tradition, at least in these parts. "Here I sit all broken hearted, etc., etc." So you're the guy who writes that stuff. Actually I stay away for a few days and find that we are talking about tail in the living room and poetry in the urinals. Anne Sexton would be pleased. -- Jim in Oregon =============== Reply 36 of Note 10 =================  
To: ZRPD32A RICHARD HAGGART Date: 11/09 From: FNMN56E LYNN EVANS Time: 1:04 AM I think the kid who played Alfalfa was brilliant. An artiste in diminutive, cow-licked, freckle-faced form (talk about yer deceptive packaging), with a voice like an angel. What do you think, Ruth? =============== Reply 37 of Note 10 =================  
To: VMMN97A FELIX MILLER Date: 11/09 From: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Time: 1:47 AM I suppose we poetry lovers should take some satisfaction in the fact that while poets are being challenged to prove that they really write poetry, nobody ever challenges a writer of prose to prove that he or she is really writing prose. --Jim in Oregon =============== Reply 38 of Note 10 =================  
To: FNMN56E LYNN EVANS Date: 11/09 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 2:54 AM Lynn, who the hell is Alfalfa? Ruth, getting ready to hit the hay =============== Reply 39 of Note 10 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 11/10 From: YHJK89A CATHERINE HILL Time: 1:53 AM Of course, there are more colorful expressions for toilet bowl. My Irish friend, commenting on the recent stomach virus he picked up from his children, talked about "calling down the big white phone to Uncle Huey". No wonder we have so many Irish poets. Cathy


As I've said before, Sexton is most heart-catching for me when she tones it down, when she performs one of her minor miracles with words the swing me up and grab me by the throat.
One of the points that hit me throughout was how well she made me understand someone who struggles with the seduction of suicide. Sometimes, she did this in a screamingly lunatic way, but sometimes it was calmly rational...and I think I understood. "Live" was one of the more calmly rational ones and took me inside depression and the mind of someone who sees how others are reacting and yet is helpless sometimes to change it.
Anyway, I am utterly unschooled when it comes to poetry, but I like Anne Sexton, in spite of, or even because of, her inability to really get to the heart of things. She always seems to sneak up on things, is in the end turned back on herself and her own limitations, and I find that so human and compelling...

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