I’m currently making my way through Anne Sexton’s Complete Poems, and it’s nothing short of breathtaking.

Anne Sexton at home

Born in 1928, she belongs to the group of american writers known as “confessional poets”, championed by contemporary Robert Lowell.

Her poems are highly personal observations on life, death and the “interior female experience”, introducing issues specific to women such as menstruation and abortion to the poetic discourse. If you don’t know anything about her, check out Anne Sexton at home, a 14 minute video featuring the poet talking about work and family.

But you really should pick up the Complete Poems from Mariner Books. Here’s the first part of one of my favourites, The Double Image:


I am thirty this November. You are still small, in your fourth year. We stand watching the yellow leaves go queer, flapping in the winter rain. falling flat and washed. And I remember mostly the three autumns you did not live here. They said I’d never get you back again. I tell you what you’ll never really know: all the medical hypothesis that explained my brain will never be as true as these struck leaves letting go.

I, who chose two times to kill myself, had said your nickname the mewling mouths when you first came; until a fever rattled in your throat and I moved like a pantomine above your head. Ugly angels spoke to me. The blame, I heard them say, was mine. They tattled like green witches in my head, letting doom leak like a broken faucet; as if doom had flooded my belly and filled your bassinet, an old debt I must assume.

Death was simpler than I’d thought. The day life made you well and whole I let the witches take away my guilty soul. I pretended I was dead until the white men pumped the poison out, putting me armless and washed through the rigamarole of talking boxes and the electric bed. I laughed to see the private iron in that hotel. Today the yellow leaves go queer. You ask me where they go I say today believed in itself, or else it fell.

Today, my small child, Joyce, love your self’s self where it lives. There is no special God to refer to; or if there is, why did I let you grow in another place. You did not know my voice when I came back to call. All the superlatives of tomorrow’s white tree and mistletoe will not help you know the holidays you had to miss. The time I did not love myself, I visited your shoveled walks; you held my glove. There was new snow after this.