Did Anne Sexton Hate Me?

As an undergraduate, I went to many poetry readings. I learned how to listen, with a rapt (sincere or insincere) expression on my face. I learned to avoid drunken poets and would-be poets at receptions, and to not snicker when Beat street poets rose from the audience to spontaneously declaim about “the silver butterfly of life.”
I heard many famous poets read, but the big rock and roll event was Anne Sexton, at Harvard’s Saunders Theater, shortly before her death. She was dressed in a slinky black and white Mod outfit, sipping a highball. She looked–and felt–like one of those wicked queens in a Disney cartoon. The work was amazing, but somewhat lost on me, until years later. I was mesmerized by the feeling that she might crack. Right there. On stage.
Which she did not do. But instead received a standing ovation, like the prima donna she was. But I wasn’t standing up, nor was the friend I’d come with. Instead, two scruffy students, we sat, clapping, but seated.
Anne Sexton glared at us, and glared. Finally, intimidated, we stood up.
About a year later, she killed herself. One of her daughters was in my women’s history class and I was struck dumb by her look of pure suffering. I wish I’d been more of an adult then and known to have said something, anything, like “I’m sorry.” Instead, I sneaked a glance, and then looked away.

4 thoughts on “Did Anne Sexton Hate Me?

  1. What an amazing story!! WOW!!! I did read her daughter’s book and it was heartbreaking, but there was also a lot of love for her mom. Anne Sexton was an icon! Would not want to be in that shadow. God, I LOVE your stories!!!

  2. Just to be able to look back and realize what a “child” you were at this very adult experience must be both painful and insightful. Perhaps the shock of Sexton’s material and her “highball mod” image — just totally not what a college student would expect of a “poet” at that time — influenced your response. Sexton’s work is dangerous like a loaded gun and some college students of poetry are not always ready for it. Maybe you weren’t quite ready. Still, you have this marvelous memory now and in retrospect realize what a show it was! And how fortunate you were to have seen Sexton in person!

  3. I love your stories too and this one is so honest and young with the current mature compassion and kindness. Love the way your memories are balanced with today’s insight/wisdom.

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