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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Dead Poet Mentor Series Part 3 - Censoring Yourself

This week Anne seems to be reinforcing a notion that is not new to me but one that I still neglect (perhaps intentionally) to adhere to often enough in my writing.

In reading some of Sexton's poems from her book Transformations again, I see a poet (artist) stretching her work in what I must presume to be beyond a comfort level. Sexton is not at this point in her life new to taking her work into what would surely be uncomfortable zones for most people, but for example in Rapunzel she approaches the poem in what for 1970 must surely have been a most difficult light to offer to the general public to read. She writes:

"A woman / who loves a woman / is forever young...
they would play rummy / or lie on the couch / and touch and touch / old breast against young breast"

In a September 22, 1970 letter to her agent Claire Degener, Anne speaks of two of the Transformation poems (Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty) as her best. She tells Claire they have been turned down by the New Yorker. Of course I could only be surmising if I suggested the New Yorker found the poems to have pushed the envelope a little too far for the time.  There could have been any of a number of other reasons that they were not picked up by the magazine, but Sexton was no stranger to them. Sexton had no less they 21 poems published by them making her a bit of a New Yorker hog!

Transformations was published the following year - 1971.  Even a writer familiar with and critical of the work prior to publication came around and decided he had over reacted to it.  Transformations went on to become highly acclaimed in spite of taboo subjects.

Was Sexton brave or simply not at all concerned about public perception?  Did she truly have the discipline as a writer to not self censor?  Whatever the answer is, the fact remains that her body of work exhibits a willingness to take her writing to places that most would intentionally back away from.  And to her credit, Sexton has to be viewed as a significantly influential poet of her time.
Her lesson here... You've heard if form others coaching you.. don't let fear dictate what you might have written, move past your comfort zone.

Dead Poet Mentoring Series:

Part One - My Selection

Part Two - Anne Sexton From Beyond
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