Literary Daybook, April 22

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.


the Salon Books Editors
April 22, 2002 11:00PM (UTC)

Today in fiction

On April 22, 1875, Mary Dodd and John Burke read Shakespeare aloud in Burke's tent.
-- "One Thousand White Women" (1998)
by Jim Fergus

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to fictiondays@yahoo.com.

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Today in Literary History
On this day in 1960, "confessional" American poet Anne Sexton published her first book of poems, "To Bedlam and Part Way Back." Sexton began to write poetry in 1957, after watching a half-hour show on educational television titled "How to Write a Sonnet." She was first encouraged by her psychiatrist -- Sexton had just made another of her many suicide attempts -- and then by Robert Lowell, in the same Boston University poetry workshop attended by Sylvia Plath. Sexton and Plath would discuss the ideal suicide -- "... like carpenters they want to know which tools/ They never ask why build" (from Sexton's "Wanting to Die") -- and when Plath committed suicide in 1963, Sexton complained to her psychiatrist, "That death was mine!" Her poetic talent would lead to a Pulitzer Prize in 1966 for "Live or Die"; her impulse to suicide would lead to death by carbon monoxide poisoning in 1974 on her 46th birthday. Sexton's other compulsions included alcohol, cigarettes, pills and men; they made life for her and her family a harrowing experience, if her daughter's memoir ("Searching for Mercy Street," by Linda Gray Sexton, 1994) is any measure. Though they could sometimes cause a laugh: Sexton once discovered that her purse was heavy because it contained 55 Bic lighters.

The last poem Sexton wrote for Bedlam was "Her Kind," a poem that eventually became something of a signature piece. She would usually begin her readings with it, and when those readings became poetry-musical performances accompanied by a chamber rock group, she was billed as "Anne Sexton and Her Kind":

I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.

I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.

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I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," e-mail Steve King.


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