THE AWFUL ROWING TOWARD GOD by Anne Sexton

THE AWFUL ROWING TOWARD GOD

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KIRKUS REVIEW

These are last poems, last privacies, Sexton reserved for publication after her death. And since her work was, in such a complex and inextricable way, her life, it seems appropriate to give both their due and ask why she embarrassed us so, what inspired her to do it. Her poetry was hard on everyone, and the problem wasn't that it was confessional: confessionals can be swallowed if they have a modicum of originality and finesse; but Sexton's materials were, so to speak, from the public domain -- the most private experiences are the most conventional and universal -- and she heaped them up. Male critics winced at her technique; women squirmed (having a better sense of what she was doing and dealing with), and both resisted the identification she imposed or found themselves at a loss to talk about it. In either case the problem was the same -- how to react to such a toxic concentration of female myth, hysteric and Good Girl as well as demon mother. The dense, super-vitalized environments she set up evoked the panic of being rolled up in a rug, something of what she must have felt as woman, poet, suicide -- roles that overlapped and bound her. These poems are-secret and eccentric, psalms, jeremiads, rituals that bear entirely and wondrously on a made-up lore. God, finally, was her only possible companion, and He is the focus of a desperately lived metaphor. When we come to consider her poems as a manipulation of spaces and pressures received as given, her relevance extends to everyone (women will feel it first) and her import begins to come clear.

Pub Date: March 25th, 1975
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin