Abstract

Abstract:

It is impossible to read much about American poet Anne Sexton before encountering references to her "perverse" imagination. Critics routinely argue that she paints a perverse vision of childhood sexuality, female identity, and adult sexuality in her work, and they often object to her frank discussions of the body, its pleasures, and its dangerous powers. Her depictions of mental illness, initiated in To Bedlam and Part Way Back, also earned the derision of many critics who urged her "not to enquire further." Helen Vendler (1988) argued that "a poem was never better for having a uterus in it," and James Dickey objected to being exposed to so much "naked suffering"; that quote was in Anne's wallet when she killed herself in her garage in 1974. In her interviews and her poetry, Sexton answered these critics as a confessional poet and a cultural critic. But even after her death, accusations of her perversion abound. First, her biographer, Diane Middlebrook, exposed her sexual abuse of her daughter Linda. And then Sexton's sister Blanche referred to the poet's "perverse imagination" in a 1991 letter to the Boston Globe, where she and her daughters objected to how Middlebrook's biography represented Sexton's family as riddled with alcoholism, child neglect and/or abuse, and suicide.

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