Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Poem(s) o'the Day: Anne Sexton, "For My Lover, Returning to His Wife," "The Ballad of the Lonely Masturbator"

Two more from Sexton's Love Poems--one of my faves ("For My Lover"), and one that's just wonderfully striking ("Ballad").


For My Lover, Returning to His Wife

She is all there.
She was melted carefully down for you
and cast up from your childhood,
cast up from your one hundred favorite aggies.

She has always been there, my darling.
She is, in fact, exquisite.
Fireworks in the dull middle of February
and as real as a cast-iron pot.

Let's face it, I have been momentary.
A luxury. A bright red sloop in the harbor.
My hair rising like smoke from the car window.
Littleneck clams out of season.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Poem(s) o'the Day: Anne Sexton, "The Touch," "The Kiss"

I'm tackling Sexton's fourth volume, Love Poems, this week, and as such, expect beautiful meditations on romantic attachment and intimacy...GOTCHA. Sexton doesn't title a collection 'Love Poems' only to offer orthodox lyrics ruminating on a cuddle-hour on a pleasant, lilac-drenched spring day. These are poems about broken people (even literally, as in "The Break") reaching out for contact, only to be shredded and chucked back into a chaotic and meaningless world. There are married men and women parting to return to their 'proper' spouses, girls awakening into a violent and invasive sexuality, lonely hollow-people crying into their pillows as they masturbate themselves into temporary oblivion. It's not all bad; one poem is a joyous celebration of the uterus, another is a really hot short piece about the sensuality of barefeet and telling your fella to 'pierce me at my hunger mark.' But largely, Sexton's romantic topography is one pockmarked by people unable to fathom identity and existence, begging for a release from inward-looking (and thus annihilating) solitude, even if it means just the single moment of orgasm that removes you from your self. Bodies are always already failed caverns in which we're all trapped, and sometimes allow others to use up in the hope that they'll stay with us forever. But they don't.

In short, these are precisely the kind of 'love' poems I can support--indeed, the only sorts I can 'love' in some sense. It's perhaps Sexton's most subtle work--it doesn't dazzle with the precise language of To Bedlam and All My Pretty Ones, doesn't drown you in surrealism and madness as with Live or Die, doesn't draw blood and cackle like Transformations does, or meditate ceaselessly and despairingly on religion in the last three volumes, The Book of Folly, The Death Notebooks, The Awful Rowing Toward God. I suppose that's why I so often forget how much I adore these poems--they brush against you delicately, bruising but not piercing the flesh, and leave a sensual smoke behind. Much recommended. Here are two samples:

The Touch
For months my hand had been sealed off
in a tin box. Nothing was there but subway railings.
Perhaps it is bruised, I thought,
and that is why they have locked it up.
But when I looked in it lay there quietly.
You could tell time by this, I thought,
like a clock, by its five knuckles
and the thin underground veins.
It lay there like an unconscious woman
fed by tubes she knew not of.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Poem(s) o'the Day: Sexton, "Consorting with Angels," "Sylvia's Death"

Behind. Sunday was hangover-from-hell day. Monday was exhausted-from-idiocy-in-class day. Yesterday was holy-shit-I've-got-so-much-to-do-for-my-directed-study-meeting-tomorrow day. Thus, three poems, all from Sexton's third collection, Live or Die (which is what I'm working on this week in my directed study). She won the Pulitzer for this collection, actually, and re-reading it, I'm beginning to see why. It's as though everything Sexton had already or would soon tackle was in top form in this collection. There are the inklings of her later desperate grasping towards a nebulous god figure; there're incredible musings on the excesses and failures and joys of the (mostly female) body; mothers and daughters and their strange bonds abound; suicide and madness are dealt with in some of the most philosophical poems of her career. It's just lovely. Unfortunately, many of the best poems of the collection ("Flee On Your Donkey," "Little Girl, My String Bean, My Lovely Woman," "A Little Uncomplicated Hymn," "Cripples and Other Stories," "Live") are also incredibly long, so I'm sharing three that I enjoy, but that are also relatively short and easy to type up.


Consorting with Angels
Anne Sexton

I was tired of being a woman,
tired of the spoons and the pots,
tired of my mouth and my breasts,
tired of the cosmetics and the silks.
There were still men who sat at my table,
circled around the bowl I offered up.
The bowl was filled with purple grapes
and the flies hovered in for the scent
and even my father came with his white bone.
But I was tired of the gender of things.

Last night I had a dream
and I said to it...
'You are the answer.
You will outlive my husband and my father.'
In that dream there was a city made of chains
where Joan was put to death in man's clothes
and the nature of the angels went unexplained,
no two made in the same species,
one with a nose, one with an ear in its hand,
one chewing a star and recording its orbit,
each one like a poem obeying itself,
performing God's functions,
a people apart.