December Diva: Anne Sexton

A poetry diva of incredible talent, with which she used to prolong her life for many years. Anne suffered tremendously from depression, and the thought of dying often infused itself into her everyday life; suicide to her, was her life’s most stunning conclusion.

“Anne Sexton as I remember her on our first meeting in the late winter of 1957, tall, blue-eyed, stunningly slim, her carefully coiffed dark hair decorated with flowers, her face skillfully made up, looked every inch the fashion model.”

“Women poets in particular owe a debt to Anne Sexton, who broke new ground, shattered taboos, and endured a barrage of attacks along the way because of the flamboyance of her subject matter, which, (all these years later), seems far less daring. She wrote openly about mentruation, abortion, masturbation, incest, adultery, and drug addiction at a time when proprieties embraced none of these as proper topics for poetry.” – from How It Was by Maxime Kumin.

Here an excerpt from Anne’s biography I call the Elegant Ending.

“Sexton drove home through beautiful Indian summer weather, the trees of Weston already in what she called their sourball colors, vivid as candy. In the peace of her airy kitchen she poured another glass of vodka to sip while she phoned her date for the evening and changed the hour of their meeting. She seems to have talked to no one else, and she wrote no notes.
        She stripped her fingers of rings, dropped them into her big purse, and from the coat closet she took her mother’s old fur coat. Though it was a sunny afternoon, a chill was in the air. The worn satin lining must have warmed quickly against her flesh;  death was going to feel something like an embrace, like falling asleep in familiar arms.  Long ago she had told Dr. Orne, “Every time I put it on I feel like my mother. A genuine fur coat. Only she wasn’t big, my mother was very small.” (“She was big,” said Dr. Orne.)  Fresh glass of vodka in hand, Sexton let herself into the garage and closed the doors behind her.  She climbed into the driver’s seat of her old red Cougar, bought in 1967, the year she started teaching.  She turned on the ignition and turned on the radio.”

But surely you know that everyone has a death,
his own death,
waiting for him.
So I will go now
without old age or disease,
wildly but accurately,
knowing my best route,
carried by that toy donkey I rode all these years,
never asking, “Where are we going?”
We were riding (if I’d only known)
to this.

                        – from Suicide Note by Anne Sexton (June 1965)


3 Responses to “December Diva: Anne Sexton”

  1. Sarcastic Bastard Says:

    I love Anne Sexton. As a poet, she blows my mind over and over with her strength in words, with her imagery. But I am very wary of making her death romantic. Suicides are not romantic at all. They lost the battle.

    Excuse my words if they are not very kind. I am in an angry funk right now.

    I love you.



  2. Lisa Chapman Says:

    I like Anne too–a poet needs to be comfortable putting their words out there with honesty and she certainly did. I think I know what you meant by elegant–her approach that day but she was very ill. I still haven’t finished the Diane Middlebrook bio – I should pick it back up. Another book you might want to pick up is “The Fading Smile” by Peter Davidson, which is about poets in Boston (Lowell, Plath, Sexton, etc.).

    Love, Lis


  3. Jennifer Rains Says:

    Her death is a tremendous saddness, and perhaps “elegant” does romanticise something so tragic too much. I guess I’m so haunted by how she did it…. The quote is from the Diane Middlebrook bio by the way. In any case, sorry if it doesn’t suit the mood. “The Fading Smile” sounds interesting for sure. Will have to put it on my Christmas book list. Thanks for the comments.


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