Big Loves: Larry Sawyer on Anne Sexton

Today’s Big Loves guest is Larry Sawyer, author of Unable to Fully California (Otoliths, 2010).

Big Loves: Anne Sexton

When I first came upon the lines “the virgin is a lovely number” I felt for the first time, more so than when I’d read Wallace Stevens or was deciphering Apollinaire’s “Bergère ô tour Eiffel le troupeau des ponts bêle ce matin,” that here was a voice that whispered to me somewhere sweet as a sun, almost finally set, in a husky sultry whisper, “Snow White wake up.”

It seemed the playful irony had a dark side that rang true to where my life was at that precise time—coming to terms with humanity and mortality and there were lessons poetic (involving how to carry an extended metaphor successfully through a poem, how to give the right amount of closure without selling the store, using enjambment to create momentum, internal rhyme, wringing new meaning from old poetic assumptions, deflating cliché) and also lessons about living that were lyrical but most importantly tough.

Sexton’s diamond-studded nightmares were a revelation to me: I don’t so much view the work as being confessional as it is an UNVEILING of intricate life dioramas. Some seem unfinished but that’s what gives them such mordant wit and charm. Her vision was, and is, transformative because it’s a human drama that will obviously carry through to future generations. Witnessing them casts the reader “opened and undressed” (as in “Consorting with Angels”). And, as in “Bat,” an emotion or object is a poem-prism that casts off completely bizarre and yet somehow plausible confluences: “His awful skin  stretched out by some tradesman  is like my skin, here between my fingers,  a kind of webbing, a kind of frog.”

Anne Sexton’s poetry is something to be caught, read at night, and her flashlight still illumines that which is most marvelous, resonant and redolent of real experience but with wild flights that reward patient readers.

Visit Memorious magazine at for poetry, fiction, interviews, and art song.


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