This Morning the Writing Cafe is Serving…

Anne Sexton

Anne Sexton’s wonderful autumnal poem, Her Kind. The recommended menu while reading this poem? Pumpkin bread and hot apple cider. (Tea is an acceptable substitute for the apple cider.)

If you’d like to assume the persona of the writer, then you’ll have to put on a slash of lipstick. Your menu would then be a cigarette and a glass of scotch. Don’t be Sexton for too long, though. It was a lot of work being her and it did not end well. But while she was able, she managed to transform the nightmare of mental illness into art. And that is something to be celebrated this autumn morning.

If you’d like to hear Sexton read this poem, you can do that at the Academy of American Poets website. And if you’d like to know more about Sexton, Diane Middlebrook’s excellent biography is a good place to start. The biography made a little bit of a splash when it first came out because it’s based in part on tapes Sexton’s analyst made of their sessions. It’s a compulsively readable book. And Her Kind is a wonderful, accessible poem made to be read out loud.

Her Kind, Anne Sexton

I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.

I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.

I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.

(Without question, because of its chill factor and wildness, this poem is on my list of 100 favorite poems. I’m now up to 5 of 100. Maybe getting up to 25 or so would be a good winter project.)

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22 thoughts on “This Morning the Writing Cafe is Serving…

  1. “Wildness and chill factor,” indeed.The great thing about this poem by Anne Sexton (which by any measure is perfect) or by any great soul-heart-mind writer, is that it makes you stop whatever you are doing and go to work on a new poem or, perhaps, on one that is in progress and is ripe for possesion by this kind of inspiration–which is what I’m going to do right now, right after I listen to her read it, which I’m almost afraid to do. Thankfully, I gave up scotch and cigarettes long ago. I had never read this–thanks for putting it up.

  2. You made me laugh so much with your description of Anne Sexton. I’m saving that all up for 20 years hence. I figure if you’re going to do the lipstick/booze/cigarettes thing, it might as well be part of a disreputable old age. At the moment my body is a temple, but a time will come when I’ll decide to give that all up and live for pleasure alone….. I’m longing to get hold of the biography now. The tapes of the analysis!! How fantastic would it be to get to listen to them?

  3. I hadn’t expected her voice to be so high and girl-ish. She seemed to be holding back. Which, now that I think about it, seems like a good choice. It leaves room for your own reading. Good luck with that poem, Smokey.

    I’m with you litlove. A disreputable old age is my goal. I took a class from Diane Middlebrook when I was in graduate school — it was a seminar on Wallace Stevens and I drove down to Stanford once a week to sit in on it. She’s very charming and I can only imagine she got hold of those tapes because she’s such a captivating person and smart too. Whether it was ethical of the therapist (or maybe it was Sexton’s daughter’s decision?) to release them is the question that was debated when her book came out. All I know is that they certainly made for an interesting read.

  4. Oh, it’s beautiful.

    Reading Anne Sexton reminds me of being 15 and reading her again and again, knowing that I wasn’t fully understanding what she was saying but also knowing someday I would. I even have my old books of her poems with the scribbles (purple pen; I used to sign my name with a star; how mortifying). Reading this poem now makes me want to pull out a book of hers and read a little… see how I “understand” it today.

  5. Love it.

    For some odd reason, I envision a Transylvania backdrop circa Bela Lugosi’s Dracula.

    Which reminds me… I need to buy that too.

    This time of year — that’s perfect.

    Time to put on Peepshow and carve some jack-o-lanterns soon, I expect.

  6. Reading this made the hair on my scalp go prickly. I hadn’t heard of Anne Sexton before. Thank you for introducing her to me.

    Ooh, I’d love to assume the persona of the writer. She looks so interesting. I don’t think I quite cut it in my pink cords and with a chipped mug of green tea…

  7. BL – Thanks, she is one of my favorites and this is one I am happy to see in your top 100. ( I must say, I envision a future post where you have chosen 95 and are lamenting the restrictions of 100 – “so many deserving poems, too few slots” )

    Regarding the use of tapes she assumed to be confidential, I think it a betrayal of trust. She had given her readers all she could – her therapy was a gift to herself. However, it is a book I will put on my list. It must be fascinating.

    I tried the lipstick thing this morning and rather enjoyed it. Thanks!

    Q xo

  8. Wonderful description. I read it without the pumpkin bread (sigh!), but still a perfect poem with no accompaniment whatsoever. I’ll have to get that biography.

  9. It is chilling, isn’t it? Those lines “A woman like that is not a woman, quite.// I have been her kind.” spoke to me of the intolerance women who have not trod the middle line have experienced through the centuries: the witches, the midwives, the spinsters, the madwomen. All the women who were not good wives or daughters, not “survivors”.

  10. OOOh. What they all said.

    It is also impressive that there is such unobtrusive technical mastery describing such uncontrolled wildness. Maybe what they have in common is the obsession: “rearranging the disaligned” – HOW did she managed to come up with “dis-” instead of “mis-“. And “nude arms”. *shivers* *feels pity for women burned as witches* There but for the goddess, I suspect, go any of us.

    Thank you.

    AB

  11. Ahhh, dear Anne, one of my favorite poets.

    Thanks for posting her poem, Lily. Makes me want to go out and write a new Autumn/Halloween poem.

    BTW, I am really enjoying your blog! How did you start it? I’m a techie but know little or nothing about blogs. Did you purchase the bloglily domain, or pay for space on the exisiting wordpress.com domain?

    Thanks again, and I’ll talk with you soon. Take care!

  12. Love that picture of Anne. She was so amazingly glamourous. Reading that wonderful poem, I could almost hear her throaty voice. Was it–or am I only imagining that?

  13. It is a wonderful poem — effective, masterful, and sort of fun in the way she revels in the witchiness of the narrator. Nova, I read her much later, and liked knowing about her life, although I think Q is right that the use of those tapes is troubling. She chose what parts of her she wanted out there — and just because she was generous in what she revealed doesn’t mean she wanted more than that out there. Mick — I like the scene you set. I haven’t seen Peepshow, or heard of it. Time for me to do some looking around too. (Edwin, happy to hear you’re amazon-bound!) Helen, Your pink cords and chipped cup of tea sounds exactly the way I felt as I typed this up in my pajamas, longing to be a bit more glamorous, but not knowing exactly where that really red lipstick is stored. Maybe Q can help.

    Emily, yes, the food is optional. Sexton seems not to have been much of an eater, in fact. More a smoker and drinker, not a good wife and daughter, as Charlotte points out.

    Aprha, “What they all said.” That’s one of my favorite things to write in the comments section. (What she said!) And they are wonderful lines, I especially liked the “nude arms.”

    Hi Selene and Welcome! WordPress blogs are free and they’re very easy to set up. (If I can do it, anyone can…) Just go to the home page (www.wordpress.com) and start typing.

    Patry — The interesting thing is that her voice is sort of high and girl-ish. I was expecting more of a growl, and I found her reading presentation defeated that expectation. Also, she has a little bit of one of those New England-y midcentury American/British accents.

  14. Listening to her on the Academy website reminded me of a characteristic sound in other famous poems of that time. I’ve listened to many, like Eliot, Frost, Plath, Lowell, and now Her Kind, and I realize that there is a common tone in the actual reading voice– a kind of urgent, this is important, serious tone. It’s not arrogant or self important; I don’t mean that. It’s more that this is something that means a lot to me, and it sounds like it is coming from the heart or soul. You can hear the sacredness of poetry of that time. Maybe there is still that quality around, but not as consistently. And that’s probably all right too. Billy Collins, who I listened to recently seems lighter and entertaining, but usually he is just getting your attention with that and then his wisdom leaps out at you, snapping your head back. Her KInd pushed me back against a wall and slapped me around. I like both these styles of telling the truth.

  15. What a wonderful poem, and just perfect for Halloween, which I know is coming up in your part of the world. Down in New Zealand I’ll need to wait six months before I can read it at a Halloween ritual.

    For those planning a disreputable old age, I hope you know “Warning” by Jenny Joseph, which starts “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple…” – one of my favourite 100.

  16. I haven’t read Anne Sexton for a while and reading that particular poem reminds me of the woman who introduced me her work. She’s definitely someone who has ‘been that kind’. I really should make the effort to reconnect with both her and Sexton.

  17. I was googling “100 best poems” and came across your blog.
    Well, I have never read Anne Sexton but after reading this wonder ful poem by her, I’ll check out more poetry by her.

    I have been exposed to the canon; the Wasteland, Second Coming, Alfred Prufrock, Shakespeare sonnets are favorites, Wordsworth, etc. I’m going to explore further; women poets. I read a poem titled “A Woman is Talking Herself to Death”.
    Have you heard of it.

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