Hello, faithful reader(s). The posts that follow are ones that I wrote for a previous site. Why? Because I can. Also, I realized that to apply to writing jobs, you need a portfolio. So, without further ado…
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DEN MOTHER!
Today would have been Anne Sexton’s 87th birthday, and as she happens to be one of my favorite poets, I thought I’d write something about her. Oddly enough, I came to know of her work indirectly through the movie “Ocean’s Eleven” starring George Clooney and Brad Pitt. Let me explain:
It was 2001 and that movie had just come out. I wasn’t able to see it at the time, but on TV they had a movie with the same title playing, probably on Turner Classic. Anyway, this version was from 1960 and starred Frank Sinatra and the “Rat Pack”. I wasn’t into “old stuff” back then, but I figured what the hell, I’ll give it a chance. Thus began my love affair with Sinatra, fedoras, and movies in black and white. Through him I met Humphrey Bogart, George Raft, John Huston, Ava Gardner (duh!) and anything else that the oldies channel had to offer.
As I coursed through high school, my appreciation for the written word grew to such a state that I found myself belting 50′s ballads in the shower and jotting down lines of inspiration in spiral notebooks. I had been bit. Mostly by mosquitoes and other nameless pests, but also by the urge to scribble. I think I really started writing poetry but didn’t read much of it until I was in college. My major was playwriting, but I was grabbing inspiration from everywhere! As a playwright, it was sort of a guilty pleasure to escape into a novel or lines of verse that weren’t “required reading”. I guess I was fascinated by the idea of a talent being pulled into so many different paths that at once felt foreign yet familiar. Anne Sexton’s was a voice that spoke so directly to me that I couldn’t help but listen intently.
One fact I could not shake from my consciousness is that she chose to take her life on my birthday. Not the year, but the month and day: October 4th. From that point forward I knew we’d be connected somehow. Or rather, I’d feel connected to her.
“Menstruation at Forty”, “The Breast”, “For My Lover, Returning to His Wife”, “The Ballad of the Lonely Masturbator”–these are not poems you read at the dinner table. I was intrigued, shocked, embarrassed, and yes, sometimes aroused–but!– I was also inspired. Inspired by Sexton’s courage to just lay it all out there, bare. Exposed. Unrelenting. Unapologetic. She was a badass. She was not just a poet, which would have been enough. She was a performer. She was a personality. She was alive! And you can hear it in the recordings we’re lucky to have through the magic of YouTube. She felt the words. She lived the verses. She bled on the page. She rocked in tune to the rhythm of the limerick.
This all sounds cliche, I know. But Anne Sexton was all these things. Strangely, I feel confident in saying this, despite never having the opportunity to see her live. As with every other artist who leaves an impact, the evidence is in the works themselves. I don’t need to see a video to be moved by one of her poems. The words are enough to make me feel that a 1950′s “suburban housewife” living in Newton, Massachusetts gets me. She wrote about urges, heartache, lust, impulse, anxiety, sadness, suicide, bodily fluids, crazy aunts and distant fathers. She knew her material intimately, and wore it with an authority that was hard-won. So tonight, I’m raising my glass in a tribute to a “hell of a dame”, to borrow the words of another great poet.
Happy Birthday Ms. Dog!