Tuesday Poem - Her Kind by Anne Sexton

I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.

I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.

I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.

Anne Sexton


from The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton,
© Linda Gray Sexton

I like this poem because it connects with Virginia Woolf’s observation that women who wrote, in the past, would have been classified as mad, or witches, or both because it was not appropriate for a woman to be a writer. "Any woman born with a great gift in the sixteenth century would certainly have gone crazed, shot herself, or ended her days in some lonely cottage outside the village, half witch, half wizard, feared and mocked at."*  When I wrote the biography of an early woman writer, Margaret Cavendish, who dared to publish her work in the 17th century, I was disturbed to discover that she was known (according to Samuel Pepys) as ‘Mad Madge’.  Contemporary thinking was that if you weren’t mad before you wrote anything, the very act of writing would send a fragile woman’s mind and body out of kilter.  You risked madness and sterility.

1451 - Le Champion des Dames
 Poetry is a little like witchcraft, whether practised by men or women - the alchemy of words. This was Anne Sexton's 'signature poem' - the one she opened her readings with, so it is a powerful statement of how she saw herself.  Anne Sexton is one of the USA’s best known poets, usually classified with the ‘confessional’ poets. It was very controversial at the time to write so frankly about personal experience, particularly about mental health problems and sex.  Her first collection ‘To Bedlam and Halfway Back’ was published in 1960, attracting a great deal of attention.  Anne Sexton suffered from post-natal depression after the births of both her children and never completely recovered. She was sectioned more than once.  Her fragile mental health has been described by her daughter, Linda Gray Sexton, in ‘Searching for Mercy Street’ and also in her biography by Diane Wood Middlebrook.  Anne Sexton committed suicide in 1974.

Anne Sexton:  The Complete Poems, Houghton Mifflin, 1999

* Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own, Ch.3. 


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