Anne Sexton’s public persona was not unlike that of Sylvia Plath’s. Both were women who seemed to be transfixed by 1950’s mores. Both had histories of mental instability. Both were poets. Both ultimately took their own lives. The final writings of both might well have foretold their suicides.
Plath’s mother saw to it that Sylvia had an academic background. This is where the two differ. Anne was not interested in pursuing an academic path, she did attend finishing school and for a short period of time was a fashion model.
Sexton married at the age of 19 and following the birth of her first daughter required hospitalization for postpartum depression. The birth of her second daughter heightened her depression and it was at the nudging of her therapist that she began to write.
What I find particularly impressive about Anne Sexton is that in 1956 Anne saw a program on educational television, “How to Write a Sonnet.” After Christmas Anne unveiled her first sonnet to her mother, knowing her mother had suffered an unfulfilled literary dream and would likely be a fierce critic.
In September of 1957, she enrolled in a poetry workshop at a Boston adult education center. She met the poet Maxine Kumin there. She would forge a lifelong relationship with Kumin that resulted in routine workshopping of poems by both as well as a deeply personal friendship.
By Christmas of 1957 Anne presented he mother with a stack of poems written and rewritten over the previous year. During 1959 she submitted poems with tremendous success to top flight lit magazines. Poems were taken by The Hudson Review, The New Yorker, The Christian Science Monitor, and in April of 1959, signed a contract to publish her first book, To Bedlam and Part Way Back.
According to Anne Sexton a Self-Portrait in Letters, I learned that on her 1960 Joint Income Tax forms with her husband, she listed herself as “Poet” and it would clearly seem that she had earned the right do so, taking an incredible and unconventional path to success as a poet.