Friday, November 03, 2006

Top Ten Time Travel Destinations # 4

"Balanced there, suicides sometimes meet,
raging at the fruit, a pumped-up moon,
leaving the bread they mistook for a kiss,

leaving the page of the book carelessly open,
something unsaid, the phone off the hook
and the love, whatever it was, an infection."

- Anne Sexton, 'Wanting to Die' [1]
Boston University, Spring 1959. Robert Lowell is teaching poetry. In his class are Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath. Nervous Breakdown hovers outside like an anxious nanny. The gods of confessional poetry rain down suicides.

Can you imagine having to mark participation for that class?

If I sound like a gawking fanboy, the blame belongs to David Trinidad, whose article about the relationship between Plath and Sexton in the latest issue of the American Poetry Review (not available online unfortunately) is an exercise in breathless and contagious hero-worship. A sample line reads:

"On February 1 she [Anne Sexton] writes Snodgrass: "Lowell is really helping me...he likes the look of my 'book', with some critical reservations, and has shown it to Stanley Kunitz...who...agree[s] with his enthusiasm...in total he likes my work a lot...." Enough to also share it with Randall Jarrell, among others."
That's a serious amount of name dropping for a half paragraph, but you can't help being at least a little caught up in Trinidad's enthusiasm - you can almost feel the poetry sloshing about in the air. And to his credit Trinidad does eventually get to the poetry Plath and Sexton wrote, after he's spent some three pages salivating over the vision of them drinking martinis together in a Boston bar.

Besides, who are we kidding? Our admiration for poetry is not a sterile thing, chaste and intellectual. Our love for poetry is a form of worship, every bit as headlong and visceral and starstruck as the gossip columnist's devotion or the groupie's offered surrender. These are not simply names off our bookshelves, they are the spirits we conjure with, the voices we keep at our command to summon the darkness when we need it.

Lowell writes:

"sixty thousand American infants a year,
U.I.D., Unexplained Infant Deaths,
born physically whole and hearty, refuse to live,
Sylvia...the expanding torrent of your attack."

- Robert Lowell 'Sylvia Plath'
Notes

[1] One of my all time favourite poems about suicide, by Sexton or anyone else.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

A really uneasy one!

~N.

Anonymous said...

P.S.
That was about the Anne Sexton poem you linked to in your post.

~N.

Anonymous said...

I've said this before, but I'm going to say it again. I love your writing. It communicates.

Sashi said...

If you like the Suicide School (I don't like the poems but do like the lives/ poetic dramas), be sure to check out the latest biography on Assia Wevill/Gutman, "A Lover of Unreason.

Anonymous said...

.. This might be an interesting statistic: the number of people who have "all-time favorite poems about suicide" :-)

k