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.”
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.