The Anne Sexton Primer
Our next production, My Own Stranger, is composed entirely from the words of controversial and celebrated poet Anne Sexton. Therefore, for those of you unfamiliar with her life and work, we offer this as a little background on Sexton and a taste for why we were drawn to the language of such a unique literary figure.
Poems of the inner life can reach the inner lives of readers in a way that anti-war poems can never stop a war. ~ Anne Sexton
To penetrate the invisible veil between us all was Anne Sexton’s literary calling. Biographer Diane Middlebrook remarked that, to Sexton, “language” was what people speak when they are free of the censor’s invisible veil of ordinary intercourse; “language” is intimacy, authenticity, love in a loveless world. Having grown up during the 1930s-40s in a family and society that resisted reading her and each other, among “people who seldom touched–/ though touch is all,” Sexton places the issue of human intimacy at the center of her writing, both thematically and as the source of poetic language itself.
I found I belonged to the poets, that I was real there. ~ Anne Sexton
The youngest of three sisters, Sexton was the baby of the family, always craving attention and loving to be held. She went on to marry and have children of her own, two girls; however, shortly after her first daughter’s birth, Sexton began struggling with recurring depression and mental instability. After hospitilizations and suicide attempts, her psychiatrist urged her to write for therapeutic value. She enrolled in poetry workshops and writing seminars, meeting with and being taught by some of the most famous poets of the time – John Holmes, W.D. Snodgrass, Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath and George Starbuck, to name a few. Within twelve years of writing her first sonnet, she was one of the most honored poets in America: a Pulitzer Prize winner, a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the first female member of the Harvard chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. But her mental illness continued to plague her and Sexton took her own life at the age of 45.
This then is a phenomenon … to remind us, when we have forgotten in the weariness of literature, that poetry can happen. ~ Louis Simpson on Anne Sexton’s first book of poetry, To Bedlam and Part Way Back
Sexton’s themes include the meanings of gender, family legacy, and identity; and her work also dealt with issues like abortion, drug addiction, sex, religion, suicidal tendencies and mental illness, before such subjects were commonly addressed in poetric discourse. Although classified as a “confessional” poet and frequently compared to Sylvia Plath, Sexton’s poetry is the poetry of life; whereas Plath embraced and mythologized death, Sexton speaks longingly and lovingly of a world of health, of childlike wholeness — a world toward which she struggles valiantly and against insuperable odds. Sexton is a Primitive, an extraordinarily intense artist who confronts her experience with unsettling directness and largely innocent of “tradition”.
She is an important poet not only because of her courage in dealing with previously forbidden subjects, but because she can make the language sing…. When Anne Sexton is at the top of her form, she writes a poem which no one else could have written. ~ Erica Jong
While many of Sexton’s readers are women or people who have experienced emotional illness or depression, Sexton’s appeal is wider than a specialist audience. She is exceptionally accessible, writing in a deliberately colloquial style, and her diversity and range are such that she appeals to people from different backgrounds and walks of life. It was these traits that drew us to this unique adaptation of her work. Using three actresses to portray the conflicting and complimentary inner life voices of this celebrated poet, adaptors Linda Laundra and Marilyn Campbell have given us a refreshingly creative way of exploring the life and work of one of America’s most misunderstood geniuses.
We have in this presentation of a poet’s works a highly charged, electrifying rendering that may in fact be a new form or approach to presenting poetry. The three actresses, each portraying different facets of the poet’s personality, engaged in a seemingly interactive exchange that becomes a tightly woven tableau of selected works that reveal the heart of the poet. They are personalities in constant motion that create a new dimension to the recital of poetry. ~ Rudy Raisen, Poetry Magazine
Please join us for this unique theatrical experience. My Own Stranger runs from October 3 – 24 at various art galleries, the Sacramento Poetry Center and the Crocker Art Museum. Visit our website for more information or to purchase tickets!