From the joy and anguish of her own experience, Anne Sexton crafted poems that told truths about the inner lives of men and women. The Complete Poems was a treat to read through. Few other American poets have written so many kinds of poems, on such different subjects, while successfully capturing the attention of the public.
Sexton’s poems are consistent in inventive images, swift pacing, and simple but powerful language. 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.
Sexton’s style was diary-like. Critics of confessional poetry might say that in maintaining fidelity to one’s person alone and will only be relevant to a certain class of readers. But I have to say that you don’t need to be a manic depressive to get Sexton’s poetry, you just need to be human. She’s completely and utterly universal.
Be careful of words,
even the miraculous ones.
For the miraculous we do our best,
sometimes they swarm like insects
and leave not a sting but a kiss.
They can be as good as fingers.
They can be as trusty as the rock
you stick your bottom on.
But they can be both daisies and bruises.
Yet I am in love with words.
They are doves falling out of the ceiling.
They are six holy oranges sitting in my lap.
They are the trees, the legs of summer,
and the sun, its passionate face.
Yet often they fail me.
I have so much I want to say,
so many stories, images, proverbs, etc.
But the words aren’t good enough,
the wrong ones kiss me.
Sometimes I fly like an eagle
but with the wings of a wren.
But I try to take care
and be gentle to them.
Words and eggs must be handled with care.
Once broken they are impossible
things to repair.
Put your mouthful of words away
and come with me to watch
the lilies open in such a field,
growing there like yachts,
slowly steering their petals
without nurses or clocks.
cold is in the air,
an aura of ice
All day I’ve built
a lifetime and now
the sun sinks to
The horizon bleeds
and sucks its thumb.
The little red thumb
goes out of sight.
And I wonder about
this lifetime with myself,
this dream I’m living.
I could eat the sky
like an apple
but I’d rather
ask the first star:
why am I here?
why do I live in this house?