Fame at last
I met Anne Sexton six months before her suicide, in April 1974. My colleague Carol Smith and I were doing a series of interviews with women writers, and we had heard how Sexton and her friend Maxine Kumin had worked together for years, talking about their poems in long telephone sessions when neither of then could get out of the house. We wanted to ask them about their relationship as housewives, friends and poets, and so it was arranged that they should come to give a joint poetry reading at Douglass College, where we taught, and that we should meet with them in the afternoon before the reading.
Vol. 13 No. 24 · 19 December 1991
Elaine Showalter’s assertions (LRB, 7 November) about the importance of Anne Sexton’s work remain just that: assertions, unsupported by critical argument or analysis. Among Sexton’s ‘credentials for acceptance in poetry’, Showalter cites her salesmanship and marketing, together with her mental illness: her ‘having graduated from a number of Boston’s finest mental establishments and finally, with the class of 1973, becoming an alumna of McLean Hospital, alma mater of Lowell and Plath’. This strange reasoning is perhaps meant to be understood in the context of Showalter’s apparent acceptance of the biographer’s diagnosis of the cause of Sexton’s illness: ‘the social confusions of growing up in a female body and of living as a woman in post-war American society’. But even those poets of the time who grew up in ‘male bodies’, people like Lowell, Berryman and Jarrell, also suffered from mental illnesses, and two of them committed suicide. So the problem asks to be seen in terms of the contemporary cultural situation, which the poets found inimical, rather than in terms of gender.
Kobe College, Nishinomiya,