LIVE OR DIE by Anne Sexton


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Outside of the work of Robert Lowell, with whom she studied, and that of the late Sylvia Plath, who was her friend, the poetry of Anne Sexton is probably the most remarkable example of the neo-gothic mode of confessional verse. Savagely personal, bleak, imagistic, with moments of ferocious humor and a fierce lyric gaiety, Miss Sexton recounts, largely through monologues, her recurring saison en enfer. ""Because there was no other place/to flee to/I came back to the scene of the disordered up my car keys and my cash,/keeping only a pack of Salem cigarettes/the way a child holds on to a toy./I signed myself in where a stranger/ puts the inked-in X's/for this is a mental hospital--/not a child's game."" The strain of marriage or motherhood, childhood guilts and parental deaths, pills, breakdowns, suicide notes--nothing is too demeaning, too wounding: Miss Sexton records experience with a raw, nervy brilliance, dramatizing the ills of body and mind in a language at once self-proclaiming and self-abased. Naturally, a good deal of the material tends to be thematically oppressive, the rhythms, though bold, often hammer away in an overly colloquial cadence, and the visual effects can seem a bit fragmentary or modishly hallucinatory. But we hardly read someone like Miss Sexton for mere technical polish: at her best her urgency, her genuineness is overwhelming.

Pub Date: Sept. 16th, 1966
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin