As I have mentioned before, while mentoring under another poet it was recommended to me that I select a dead poet mentor; a concept that seemed a bit odd at first but grew on me as I came to visualize the possible benefit. With so many dead poets (you know how most people think they all are dead) I had quite a field to choose from.
I’ve read (and own) an extensive collection of biographical martial, poetry and letters on Sylvia Plath a as well as Ted Hughes. I know Plath well enough already that I will sometimes read little things that I instantly know to be at odds with most biographical material and I therefore passed on Plath for the simple reason I have already become well acquainted with her and I want my dead poet mentor to be able to reveal new things to me.
In the end, it would be Anne Sexton that I would choose for a couple of reasons but the priority in this selection was placed upon the fact that Anne was not schooled in poetry in the traditional manner. No MFA or anything close to the academic equivalent for those times. Yes she took some classes and workshops from the likes of Lowell and other well known poets but her formal education was limited. She came to poetry initially as a form of therapy but in the end her work progressed to the point that she was able to carve out an acceptance among the academics of her time. Her reputation would ultimately earn her teaching positions at several universities. In a way I view Anne Sexton as the patron saint of the “self made” poets. She was able to elicit help from others, but she found her own way to the success she achieved as an enormously significant voice among 20th century poets.
So at least for the time being, Anne Sexton is my choice for a dead poet mentor. To learn as much as I can about her, about her work, to be able discern her particular voice. To turn to her at times for inspiration and to get past writing blocks and at moments of need, to ask the question, “What would Anne do?”
And the great thing is she can’t say no to me.
* Series continues.