A Poetry Hunter On Discovering Lost Poems Of Anne Sexton
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Anne Sexton's poetry is like blood on the page, the most intimate kind of writing about depression and death, motherhood and sex, religion and family. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1967 and had a prolific but tragically short career. She took her own life at the age of 46. Now two poetry hunters - that's right, that's a thing - have discovered more of her works, previously unknown works that show how she became one of the pioneers of confessional poetry. Two colleagues, Zachary Turpin of the University of Idaho and Erin Singer from Louisiana Tech, are the scholars who found the four poems, along with an essay. And Erin Singer joins me now. She's an assistant professor of English at Louisiana Tech University. Welcome.
ERIN SINGER: Thanks for having me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So you found these works along with your colleague, Zachary Turpin. And when was the moment that you realized, oh, no one's seen these before?
SINGER: Well, Zach looked at them and said, you know, these look like Sexton. But they don't look like the Sexton I've read. So even from the beginning, we had a very clear idea that we might have found something special here. So the next step was to reach out to other more-established Sexton scholars who hadn't seen them. And that was when we got really excited. They put us in touch with her daughter and literary executor Linda Gray Sexton, who also said, I have never seen these, either.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So Anne Sexton, as we've said, is one of the poets that really introduced the idea of confessional poetry, poetry that's personal - so much about the I. How do these poems fit into that emerging style?
SINGER: Well, I think one of my favorite things about Sexton is how she kind of emerges almost fully formed, right? So she wasn't a childhood poetry writer. You know, before she even started taking a poetry class where she's writing for therapy, 12 years after that, she's winning the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. So what these poems show is, yes, her development but also very much her initial poetic power. In 1957, she presents her mother with a sort of homemade book of poems. And she says this was the first year of Anne Sexton, you know, poet - and that's before she even starts publishing - and then very shortly after has a meteoric rise to fame.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I guess I'd like to know what these poems are about and something that really moved you. Can you give us an example?
SINGER: In some ways, they're almost a young person's poem - some of them. The thing that I really like is her gestures towards image and metaphor that really shape her whole career. So there's this line that particularly moves me.
Say I am the air - I break - or say I am a spool unwinding. I am the spool that unwound while riding the sky down.
And I just think that's incredibly beautiful and evocative.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Erin Singer - she's an assistant professor of English at Louisiana Tech. You can see those poems in the next issue of the Fugue Literary Journal of the University of Idaho. Thank you so much.
SINGER: Thanks for having me.
(SOUNDBITE OF MEMORYHOUSE SONG, "TO THE LIGHTHOUSE")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.