writing to live

Just found this in Erica Jong’s “Remembering Anne Sexton,” New York Times, 27 Oct 1974.

I would like to say something final and telling about suicide–something as final as suicide itself– but it seems to me that Ann Sexton killed herself because it is just too painful to live in this world without numbness, and she had no numbness at all. All the little denials, all the stratagems of not- feeling by which most of us endure from minute to minute were unavailable to her. Words spared her for a while. With the process of writing the poem, there is a kind of connection which sustains one. Then the poem is done and one is alone again. Other people may enjoy the poem later, but the poet can hardly relate to it. The poet is happy only while writing the poem.

If only one could write all the time! If only there were not all those hours of non-writing to get through!

Wow. Yes.

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2 thoughts on “writing to live

  1. I’m sure I’ve probably mentioned this in class, but I find it so disturbing how a whole genreration and half or so (late 70’s into the 90’s and possibly still today) of women poets and wannabe poets idolized Plath and Sexton, not just as poets, but as these goddess/madwomen. The yoking of madness with skill is so deeply problematic. Have you found a great deal of this in your research?

  2. Hey, Julie.
    Actually, no, I haven’t. I’m looking mainly at The Awful Rowing Toward God, and the critics do talk about her lack of self-love, lack of sense-of-self, but that’s about it. I don’t get, in these critics, any (or much) connection of madness and creativity.

    Actually, in some of the critics I’ve read, there’s a de-valuing of Sexton’s later poetry, for its lack of form and precision mainly, as if to say her psychiatric illness had finally eroded her poetic abilities.

    I think of the depression / mental illness as powerful, but only in the sense that her poetry then explores that suffering, a very human, not divine, experience.

    And that’s why I like this quote of Jong’s. Writing as therapy, writing as temporary sanity, as temporary clarity — I’ve been there! :}

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