Review: Diane Wood Middlebrook’s “Anne Sexton: A Biography”

by writereaderly

diane wood middlebrook anne sextonA confronting read: it sets out the ambition and the craziness of Anne Sexton, tracing her life as she strives to cure her multiple mental illnesses and become a renowned poet. Yes to the latter achievement, no the former. This superstar suicidal female poet, who was able to perform and write her poetry but not care for herself, her home or her family, is one of those who gives artists a bad name. Confronting, as I say, because AS is part of writers’ history, and because she was a driven, successful, technically skilled poet – but she’s no model of how to be a good human. But then, neither was Rilke, or Berryman, or any of those pill-popping drunk New England confessional poets, or or or … I must say it is intimidating and downright impressive to read of her rates of “production” and publication (40 poems in her second year as a published poet!), and one can only hope that those levels of professional writing don’t require her levels of screwed-up-ness.

PS I am reminded that I am reviewing the book, not AS’s life. Well researched, unprecedented access to primary sources — including tapes of psychiatric therapy sessions, not salacious or sensationalist despite the abundant material AS provided in terms of bisexual adultery, incest, drugs and mental illness. A fine biography, commended.

PPS I just listened to this complementary audio:

Where it came from: Opshop
Time and manner of reading:
Trainy, bay-ey, recuperatory reads
Where it went: Left on a train to Bondi Junction
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to: Poets who want inside info
Also reading: Rabbit #4; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Seven Sisters of the Pleiades by Munya Andrews; Rainbow Pie by Joe Bageant; The Polished Hoe by Austin Clarke