Throughout my high school days and as recent as this last year, poetry was never something I could get in to nor was it something I could write. Then, all of a sudden, it started to grow on me. While I am still not fond of writing poetry, reading good poetry and interpreting the thoughts in the writers heads and what they were thinking became quite a task and there was some poetry that was just so mesmerizing. I would say that there are two sources to thank for somewhat of a cheeky soft side for poetry. The first is the American Literature I and II classes I took that were filled with some meaningful poetry. I read about Michael Wigglesworth and his fascination with Judgment Day, the strange and revealing poetry of Walt Whitman, the descriptive Robert Frost, the blunt T.S. Eliot, e.e. cummings, who paid good attention to every detail, the dirtiest, wide open Allen Ginsberg, and the perpetually dramatic Sylvia Plath, and this list keeps going on... and on... and on. The second source is a girl named Colleen that I have been discussing writing with. Her poetry is just excellent and has raw emotion, something that's required when writing good poetry. It got me hooked to the point that anytime new poetry came about, I had to read it.
One of the poems that really stuck in my mind was by Anne Sexton, who was an active figure in confessional poetry. The other key figure was Sylvia Plath and both Plath and Sexton had a drive that came from depressing backgrounds, much of this depression was brought up in their own minds. Sexton was actively writing poetry from the late 1950s to her death from suicide through carbon monoxide poisoning. One of her greatest pieces has to do with her response to Vincent van Gogh's famous painting, "Starry Night," which is one of my favorite paintings, so the two are sure to make a good combination.
Due to the interference of written copyright infringements, I will not post the actual poem on my blog, but I will instead post a link to the poem on here, so you can read the poem and read this blog and make sense of what I'm talking about.
"The Starry Night" is a simple little poem that takes on a Naturalist kind of notion, even though Naturalism was in the spotlight much clearer in the second half of the nineteenth century. Works like Stephen Crane's "The Open Boat," which I reviewed recently, took on the notion that it's nature that makes decisions in an unbiased way and not a higher being or God. Before beginning her poem, Sexton points to van Gogh and his resistance of converting to a religion by painting the stars, which make up a beauty of nature. He made mention to this in a letter to his brother. Some may argue that the stars are part of God's beauty, just like John McCain argued during a debate that while he believes in the theory of evolution, he also believes that when walking the Grand Canyon, he sees the sunset as the hands of God. Sexton is taking a notion that's different.
After the quote from van Gogh, Sexton starts her poem by saying "the town does not exist" (1), which could mean plenty of things, whether it be a naturalistic setting or a thought of denial. As we read along, we realize that the only occasion in which the reader (perhaps, Sexton as well) seeks happiness is on a beautiful, starry night as she describes in the poem. Not once, but twice, does she mention "oh starry starry night, this is how I want to die" (5-6), which is the key line in the poem, one that I find to be a favorite, with the raw honesty that confessional poetry brings with it. The speaker in the poem cherishes starry nights to the point that it is in that fashion that they wish to be taken away, in that beautiful moment.
She then goes on to describe the moon and how it begins to interfere with the stars. Again, whether or not its an act of God or an act of Naturalism is for the literary enthusiast (either driven by religion or not) to decide. "The old unseen serpent" (mention in line 10) begins to interfere with the stars, interfering with the meaning of the speaker's life. By the end of the poem, it has made a complete split from the speaker. One could think that this is the transition from night to day. In a more psychological way of thinking, it could mean the separation from sanity, which could only be found on a starry night like this. We would later learn that something like this would take Anne Sexton's very own life.
What Sexton did was take a painting and make comparisons between her own life and that painting. I happen to be a fan of both van Gogh's paintings and Anne Sexton's poetry, so putting the two together was indeed fascinating. I was initially introduced to her during the women's rights unit in Postmodernism class, before realizing she was part of the original American Literature II unit. Sexton's poetry will definitely be something I look deeper into as I go about my literary expeditions.
Since I did mention actual lines from her poem, credit is due where credit is due. I bought Anne Sexton: The Complete Poems, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company in New York, originally in 1981, though this First Mariner Books version was published in 1999. It has everything written by Anne Sexton, so I encourage you to pick it up and read it. I got this off of Amazon, so you should definitely find it there. The source I'm going to leave you with is a link to the poem that you can read online, if for some reason you don't want to buy a complete poet's collection and instead just want to read the poem to make sense of what I am saying.