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Anne Sexton - Confessional Poet

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Anne Sexton - Confessional Poet

Anne Sexton: Confessional Poet

The Pulitzer-Prize winning Anne Sexton is one of the best known confessional poets. A confession is defined by the ritual discourse in which the speaking subject is also the subject of the statement. Anne Sexton’s autobiographical work framed her personal experiences growing up in mid century America. Writing very openly regarding subjects ranging from her mental breakdowns to erotic fantasies, the poet struggled as a New England housewife, who had never been to college and was forced to deal with her mental illness on a daily basis. In analyzing Anne Sexton’s life experience, it is clear that her poems such as “ Starry Night” and “Cinderella” are true reflections on her perspective of life from childhood struggles to just before her tragic death in October 1974.

Born to Ralf Gray Harvey and on November 9th, 1928, Anne Gray Harvey was raised in a dysfunctional family as the youngest of two sisters in Newton, Massachusetts. As a child, she was never close to her sisters and her parents went out most nights, threw large parties and drank constantly. Around this time, it is important to note that she was beaten and possibly harassed. Her great aunt, Anne Dingley, provided her with the most affection and eventually moved in with the Harveys when Anne was eleven.. While


attending a finishing school for women in Boston called Garland Junior College, she met Alfred Muller Sexton. Although she was already engaged to someone else, at age nineteen she married Alfred and they had their first child, named Linda Gray Sexton in 1953. At this time, Alfred took a traveling salesman job in Anne’s father’s business, which left Anne by herself to raise her daughter. This led to her first serious mental breakdown. She was hospitalized and diagnosed with post-partum depression. Later in 1954, Anne’s beloved nana passed away and she gave birth to her second daughter, Joyce Ladd Sexton in 1955. Subsequently , she suffered terrors and fits of rage falling back into a severe depression . During these episodes, Anne would harm her children in the same way her mother did to her and attempted suicide, causing her to be institutionalized..

Her family paid first for household help, then for psychiatric help. While the children lived with relatives, Anne began treatment first with Martha Brunner-Orne in 1955, and later with her son, Martin Orne. He recognized Anne’s creative potential and encouraged her to write as a way to express her inner emotions. Eventually Anne enrolled in an evening poetry workshop which lead to acceptances from magazines such as Harper’s and The New Yorker. As her poetry developed, she was accepted into Robert Lowell’s famous writing seminar at Boston University, where she met Sylvia Plath and George Starbuck. Anne was encouraged to write her poems based on self analysis and reflected and soon became a “confessional poet.” The suicide of her friend Sylvia plath affected her terribly and became involved in an affair with her new therapist that didn’t last very long. Anne’s personal life went downhill in 1973 when she was hospitalized

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