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Literary Treasures: Happy Birthday, Anne Sexton

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The following post is part of our monthly series, “Literary Treasures,” which champions the Library’s literary programming by highlighting audio and video recordings drawn from the Library’s extensive online collections, including the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature. By showcasing the works and thoughts of some of the greatest poets and writers from the past 75 years, the series advances the Library’s mission to “further the progress of knowledge and creativity for the benefit of the American people.”

Anne Sexton (1928-1974). //
Anne Sexton (1928-1974).

Born on this day in 1928, Anne Sexton is often regarded as the modern model of confessional poetry, in company with other confessional poets such as Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, John Berryman, and W. D. Snodgrass.

As a young writer in college, it was Anne Sexton’s poetry that first opened me to the possibilities of “confession”—presenting an outlet for what I had previously seen as too difficult to face, let alone allow in my own poetry. I owe Sexton a lot of gratitude for the ways she was open to examining and pushing personal and social boundaries in her writing, and for her celebrated contributions to poetry at large; I certainly wouldn’t be the poet I am today without her brave work in the world.

In 1972, along with poet X.J. Kennedy, Sexton read her poetry in the Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress, introduced by Poet Laureate Josephine Jacobsen. During the event, Sexton read “The Truth the Dead Know” from her second collection, All My Pretty Ones (1962)—a poem that still stirs in my brain nearly 15 years after first reading it.

Comments (2)

  1. HiAnne Sexton happy britday for you
    God part you you give you happy day.l happy you happy.Thakyou for you and love you.

  2. I first met Anne Sexton’s poetry through a poem that was joyous and affirmative but did end with what can be read as a foreshadowing of her untimely suicide. Still, it’s a wonderful poem. I bought of volume of her later poems which caused me to do a 180 about her.

    Welcome Morning Anne Sexton

    There is joy
    in all:
    in the hair I brush each morning,
    in the Cannon towel, newly washed,
    that I rub my body with each morning,
    in the chapel of eggs I cook
    each morning,
    in the outcry from the kettle
    that heats my coffee
    each morning,
    in the spoon and the chair
    that cry “hello there, Anne”
    each morning,
    in the godhead of the table
    that I set my silver, plate, cup upon
    each morning.

    All this is God,
    right here in my pea-green house
    each morning
    and I mean,
    though often forget,
    to give thanks,
    to faint down by the kitchen table
    in a prayer of rejoicing
    as the holy birds at the kitchen window
    peck into their marriage of seeds.

    So while I think of it,
    let me paint a thank-you on my palm
    for this God, this laughter of the morning,
    lest it go unspoken.

    The Joy that isn’t shared, I’ve heard,
    dies young.

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