I can’t recall the last time I received a personal letter from someone. By letter I mean one of those things that came via the U.S. postal service and landed in my mail box and waited patiently for me to arrive home. E-mail, I have plenty of.
So there is a real novelty to letters. As I mentioned in and earlier blog post I am reading Anne Sexton A Self Portrait in Letters. I’ve read the published letters of numerous poets over the last few years. Plath, Ginsberg to name a couple. Plath’s Letters Home are remarkable in that they provide a rather contrived communication with her mother. If you read any of her biographies (I’ve read countless) and or her published journals you will quickly see two Plaths. The one she wanted her mother to see and an altogether different one. It is against that strange paradox that I find Sexton’s letters refreshingly genuine. She seems to say what she wants and there is little evidence that she tries to control her message. In fact, it is not uncommon for her to follow up one letter with another one with an apology or some sort of disclaimer for something in an earlier note.
Many poets in the 50’s through at least the 70’s were quite prolific writers between friends and peers. One amazing thing I noted about Sexton is how quickly she managed to correspond with significant poets of her time. With barely a year of writing under her belt, Sexton was corresponding with W.D. Snodgrass, Carolyn Kizer, Nolan Miller, John Holmes, etc. With Snodgrass she corresponded quite frequently and her letters suggest he returned the favor. Sexton in fact used nick names in her communication with Snodgrass that suggest they developed a significant friendship. “Dearest Snodsy, Dearest De, My dear night clerk".”
With Snodgrass Sexton would discuss poems, things going on in a Masters Class with Robert Lowell, the progress of her manuscript, etc. I suppose it is not surprising that her work was well received so quickly because she was able to get it in front of people in position to help her very early on.
In her letters she refers numerous times to the fact that she in not a strong speller. Sometimes her letters meander around. “Christ. I’m off again.” Anne writes to Snodgrass, “Talking in circles. My darling, the peanut butter calls.” These early letters also detail the toll that the decline of the health of her parents is having on her and reference her therapy as well and Dr. Sidney Martin’s encouragement that she write for it’s therapeutic value.
I loved the bluntness with which she wrote Robert Lowell in September of 1958 about her efforts and desire to enroll in his Masters class and her assessment of how this was viewed by the registrar’s perception of this. “Today, with 90 dollars in my fist, I called the registrar’s office. However, it seems they are not bouncing with joy at the thought of a “special student” with no particular degrees. A Mr. Wilder said that I would have to wait until after registration and see if there are too many students in the class.”
As I plow onward though this book I will stop from time to time to share things I believe to be of particular significance.