Saturday, September 20, 2014

September 2014 Books

Anne Sexton: A Self-Portrait in Letters edited by Linda Gray Sexton and Lois Ames
Published: 1977
Rating: 5

Anne Sexton was a Pulitzer-winning poet who died by suicide at 45.  She was survived by her ex-husband and two girls.   Anne named her oldest, Linda as literary executor which was an extraordinary burden for a 21-year old.

The reading of all her mom's letters was a massive undertaking as Anne was a prolific correspondent who kept carbon copies of everything - how strange it must have been to be reading the thoughts from her vibrant, brilliant, mentally unstable deceased mother.  

Anne's letters were often like streams of consciousness - effusive, open, honest - complete with spelling and grammar errors.  To more accomplished poets, she would send her poems and ask for critiques, favors and references.  She gave few tidbits about her family, rather wishing for more time and less distraction to devote to her art.  Her letters sound as if she were talking on the phone - informal, conversational, almost child-like and immature.

She had a long correspondence with W.D Snodgrass who won the 1960 Pulitzer Prize for Heart's Needle, a poem that had a profound impact on her.  
...that when I read your poem, that first walked out at me, and grew like a bone inside my heart.
People are afraid of people, especially poets...I read "Heart's Needle" and I changed.  It made me see myself new. In seeing you, in feeling your marvelous restrained sense of immediate loss, I saw my own loss in a new color.
Poetry and poetry alone has saved me.
This type of impact was what she looked for and what she wanted to write:
 I rather like being slugged, to walk away from the poem with old wounds reopened...let the poem bruise me.
Creative people must not avoid the pain they get dealt....hurt must be examined like a plague.
Poetry need not be dull...
About her poetry:
Only in a poem is the emotion intensified, sharpened, made acute and sometimes more than I knew I knew...
You see, I am given to excess.  That's all there is to it.  I have found that I can control it best in a poem....if the poem is good then it will have the excess under is the core of the poem...there, like stunted fruit, but actual.
Words bother me. I think it is why I am a poet. I keep trying to force myself to speak of the things that remain mute inside.  My poems have only come when I have almost lost the ability to utter a word. To speak, in a way, of the unspeakable. To make an object out of the say what?  A final cry into the void.
It wasn't until I learned to work my guts out that a true poem came into being...fight for the poem. Put your energy into it. Force discipline upon madness....Push for the stars, or at least go back and push one poem all the way up there.
Inside I feel like a cooked broccoli...the heads that fall apart when you cut them. The only time I'm tough in my own mind is when I'm seized by a poem and then determined to conquer it and let it live it's own peculiar life. All my toughness goes into my writing. 
She does write openly about her depression - this quote was particularly poignant:
...not been able to write, been lonely, been sadder that sad toads would be if they are as sad as their blinking eyes seem to be.
 Four months before she committed suicide, she wrote the following to Erica Jong:
I keep feeling that there isn't one poem being written by any one of us - or a book, or anything like that. The whole life of us writers, the whole product I guess I mean, is the one long poem - a community effort if you will. It's all the same poem. It doesn't belong to any one writer - it's God's poem perhaps. Or God's people's poem....
...and if you can feel you are in touch with experience, if you've (so to speak) stuck your finger into experience and have got it right and can put it down so that others (even other experience tellers) can comprehend their own lives better, can crawl in closer to the truth of it, then you must get on with it! And keep right on.
After finishing, I wrote in by book journal:

WOW - what a woman - complicated.
What a life - tortured.
What an artist - ambitious, driven, obsessed. 

Next I plan to resume reading Anne Sexton: A Biography by Diane Middlebrook and Linda Gray Sexton's second memoir, Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide.

 The Merlin Trilogy by Mary Stewart
Published as trilogy: 1980
The Crystal Cave (1970)
The Hollow Hills (1973)
The Last Enchantment (1979)


 The Wicked Day (Merlin #4) by Mary Stewart
Published: 1983

While on vacation this week, I've been transported back in time to the magical and heroic days of Merlin the sorcerer and Arthur, bastard son of King Uther Pendragon who succeeded him as High King when he took the sword in the stone, the subsequent battles whereby the new King and his Companions subdued the factions and brought peace to his kingdom, his own bastard son Mordred by half-sister Morgause, the barren but much loved Queen Guinevere - the cast of characters are larger-than-life and believable.

I found this YouTube interview with Mary Stewart who passed away earlier this year. It is interesting that she did not intend to write a series but ended up doing so based on the request of her publishers and fans. I am glad she did. 

In the interview, she is talks about the TV series done by BBC and how she was pleased with the adaptation. I plan to watch as it is available via streaming Netflix. This is good as I found myself wishing that someone like Peter Jackson would make movies out of the books.

For anyone who is interested in the Arthurian legend, I would highly recommend.

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