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on January 13, 2004
You can like, or dislike, Anne Sexton. I won't describe her work (other reviewers have, and if you're here you're at least familiar), but say that if you've loved any poetry by Sexton, I highly recommend this book.
It's organized, chronologically, by her books (and hence her life): each poem from each book is within this one, plus some previously unpublished poems. Each of her books--in this case, chapters--is thematically consistent: fairy tales (Sexton-style "homages"), "love poems," time in the institution, etc.
You may not love every book/chapter, but the volume is a must-own. I don't see a need to buy "Love Poems," for example, or all or some of the rest of her books, when they're all in here - and each one not priced all that differently from this entirety. (It's also not oppressively long and hard to hold like some "complete" collections.)
Within this book, if you don't connect to one, two, or any of her other books, you've got them at hand and while enjoying the material you do--be it institution or masturbation--you'll be familiar with the rest.
Anne Sexton is my favorite poet, I admit, but when I reread a poem I far more often pick up this volume than the individual books.
As well, the chronological organization of "Complete Poems" tells a story itself - Sexton's life through her confessional poetry. It becomes a memoir, of sorts. While reading, you can easily see the year of each book's/chapter's publication. And in this way, the volume becomes a story and a biography.
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on April 9, 2001
What first drew me to the poet Anne Sexton was a fragment I read from an essay in which she discussed the death of fellow American poet Sylvia Plath. What struck me was not just the disarming honesty of Sexton's remorse, but also the glimmer of a slightly less generous sentiment that belied her sadness. The precise nature of this sentiment became evident to me once I read Sexton's poem "Sylvia's Death," which revealed that Sexton's grief stemmed more from a profound sense of being left behind than from a sense of losing someone dear. In the poem, which is heartrending in its sincerity, Sexton mournfully addresses Plath: "Thief -- / how did you crawl into, / crawl down alone / into the death I wanted so badly and for so long, / the death we said we both outgrew, / the one we wore on our skinny breasts." What this passage and the entirety of her poem "Wanting to Die" reveal is just how clearly Sexton was aware of this death wish, this "suicide," as not only a disease of the mind, but a hunger -- an inexplicable and ever-present craving for permanent closure to consciousness. The overwhelming tone of "Sylvia's Death" is one of a woman who feels cheated out of something rightfully hers. Indeed, for Sexton, suicide was an inevitability -- she lived out her existence always with the awareness that she would end it by her own hand -- and many of the poems that made her name were a reflection of this very way of being. For those who deal with clinical depression as a way of life, the truth of the pain that rings from Sexton's verse is almost refreshing, and, in a sad sort of way, therapeutic.
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on April 29, 2000
I decided to write a review after reading the comments of another reviewer here, who stated in essence that Sexton really is For Women Only. On the contrary! Sexton, Plath (and just who is the better poet? Rosemary and I could argue that one for aeons and Still Not Decide), Whitman, Dickinson and Frank O'Hara are constants with me, each for different reasons. Certainly, Sexton's subject matter resonated deeply with me: depression, madness, memory, spirtuality, the body, sex, children. And each time I read her, I deepen in an appreciation for her true gift of stepping beyond the niceties, however unpleasant they may be. But now after reading and rereading her for more than twenty years, I am most amazed by her intertwining of deep, complicated emotion with incredibly rich and suggestive images and craft that is awe-inspiring. Just rip into one of these poems, particularly the early ones, and see just how tightly controlled they are, how perfect the rhyme schemes and rhythms, how just plain *right* and exact her images can be. Then read the "Transformations" poems--based on her beloved Grimms' Fairy Tales--for a deliciously black and wicked sense of humor. Or delve into the later poems for their bluntness ("Gods" is one of my favorites, but 45 Mercy Street and The Awful Rowing are just marvelous and bitter/sweet) and verve. Sexton just inspires me to try to write something that is just a fraction as rich and wonderful as "Some Foreign Letters" or "All My Pretty Ones." For Women Only? I DON'T *THINK* SO.
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on December 21, 1999
To read the poetry of Anne Sexton is to drown in the moment between sleeping and waking. Although Sexton's poems range in tone from gritty to incandescent, her content is consistently sharp, insightful, and stinging. She's one of those rare talents who manages to write with a purpose AND a passion. The first time I read her work, the thought that sprang to mind was: "Wow. She's writing what everyone else is only thinking." Sexton has a great capacity to verbalize the unspeakable, and she does it in such a way that it scars you and heals you simultaneously. Take, for example, her "Transformations" series (the re-written fairy tales.) Here we have incest, beauty, fear, love, repression, magic...all tangled between translucent words with spines of steel. To say I am in awe of this book is to only scratch the surface.
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VINE VOICEon December 29, 2014
I listened to an interview in which Madonna mentioned that Anne Sexton's poetry influenced her. I was intrigued enough to research Anne Sexton because I'd never heard of her. Once I read a little about Sexton, I knew I needed to read her poetry, if for no other reason than to see if I could learn anything from her work that would help my own poetry writing. So I decided to buy The Complete Poems Anne Sexton. I opted to take my time and only read a few poems a day when I started The Complete Poems Anne Sexton. I wanted to think about the poems, to really internalize them, to study style, to learn from them. Some days it was tempting to read several. Other days I found it a struggle to read even one. Sexton played with words and social norms in ways that I can only imagine upset people when they were published. Her poems ripped into fairy tales and religion with the same irreverence in a way I found refreshing at times and uncomfortable at others, but those poems always made me think as good poetry should. She tackled life head-on in some poems and wrote all around topics in others. I found myself relating to her need to both expose and hide. Certain poems resonated with me on a deep level. Others had me scrambling for meaning. Still others inspired me to try new ideas in my own poetry. As I consciously and slowly worked my way through the over 600 pages of poems, I discovered some limits I didn't know I had. I thought how I'd never feel comfortable writing about some of the topics Sexton covered, but I also discovered a desire to push my work in different directions. The thing that's always interesting about a complete work is its range. There are poems in this book that will appeal to many as well as poems people will find offensive. And, while it shows a great deal of insight into the human condition, there are times when it feels incredibly, personally voyeuristic. I love poems that go to the depths of human experience, so this appealed to me.
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on April 26, 2004
Anne Sexton takes amazing views in her poetry. I don't think I have read many poems that present subjects in such blunt and obscure ways. The one section of this book that I found most enjoyment in was the transformation poems. I had never before thought in that particular view, seeing my beloved characters take on different and unusual personalities. The collection of transformation poems allows the reader to look at our everyday fairytales in new, exciting, and bizarre ways. Her poems like "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and "Sleeping Beauty" bring the happily ever after versions to a sudden halt or she steers them into a completely skewed scheme of thought. These poems caused me to think of all my favorite tales and catch the small details that remain hidden or to see the hidden story below the main plot. Her poetry has inspired some of my own writings and I do encourage anyone who is interested in poetry to look into Sexton. Her unique styles and images can bring forth new ideas and perspectives that many readers can over look. This book presents her blunt voice and unique imagery as well as one could hope for. I enjoy reading poets who can be direct and tell it like it is, not beat around the bush with fancy language. Sexton's voice is beautifully written in her poems; she has many strong words to say and share. Its easy to hear her passions and her stories of life, living in reality rather than in a land far, far away. There are many sections of poetry in this book, my favorite of course being the transformations. Her language is easy to understand, sometimes harsh, yet necessary. She also tells many narratives, depicting the lives of those around her and of ones far away. I admire Sexton's poems more than I do most others. I myself wish that I had her ability to write with such a creative and direct style. She conveys so much emotion and power through a few lines. I can only imagine what it was like to live with such vigor! Her confessional poems make truth-telling an art. She holds back nothing, provoking the conservativeness out of us and making us look at our own naked selves in ways we have feared to before so we couldn't see the consequences or find out the darkest truths about ourselves. Her images are vivid and bring the poems to life inside our minds. It would be a shame to study poetry and not pick up this book. Sexton gives so much to the poetic world through her honest creativity and imagination that its hard to try to write confessional poems without knowing her. I recommend this book of brilliant poems for anyone's repertoire.
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on April 14, 2016
Meandering and obscure. I picked this up because of a powerful, meaningful poem I heard on The Writers Almanac. After a few dozen pages though, I found myself wanting personal backstory to help decipher the meaning of the words. Not fun simply wondering what the hell is going on, no dots to connect other than, what exactly happened that inspired these words?". Awkward phrasing at times, even clumsy. What's the point if the primary aesthetic being evoked is despair wrapped in mystery.
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on October 23, 1999
I first heard of Anne Sexton when I was 14 and I had asked my aunt's boyfriend (a writer) to recommend a "good" poet. He hesitantly mentioned Anne Sexton and got a swift kick under the table from my aunt. I bought the book, and I loved it. I love the way she plays with language and explores the taboo and even the way she goes a little bit overboard. It's this fun communal voice, which is desperate and funny and beautiful and I love it. I would highly recommend this collection, which contains some of my favourite poetry.
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on February 6, 2016
the forward to this excellent book of poetry mentions all the taboos Anne Sexton wrote of, the psychiatric problems, but also encourages us to set all such things aside...she is a very good poet. I wish I had found her fifty years ago...
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on September 1, 1998
This book is truly wonderful, so rich, the imagry so acurate, the poems are funny, sad, powerful, angry, satirical - her best lines - "A Writer IS Esentially a Spy" - are as was Anais Nin's works- a spy in the house of life, not just love. Her fairy tales, especially Briar Rose, are worth the price of the book itself. From a possessed witch, to an 8 year old sitting quietly watching unsure Protestants try to sing at Easter, to a year of being insane, or to a woman searching endlessly for Mercy Street (one of my favorites) and never finding it - this is one of the best books of confessional or any other kind of poetry I have ever read. Thank you so much, Anne!!
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