About Anne Sexton

John Holmes with Maxine Kumin, Harold Melvin, and Anne Sexton (1955), Tufts University, Digital Collections and Archives, Medford, MA

John Holmes with Maxine Kumin, Harold Melvin, and Anne Sexton (1955), Tufts University, Digital Collections and Archives, Medford, MA

Anne Sexton’s suicide lingered in the mind of Maxine until her own death. Their seventeen year friendship and poetic collaboration (Maxine called them “professional allies”) was dwarfed by the 40 year survival period during which Maxine wrote and published eleven poems and many essays about her friend.

All of the poems and two of the essays are included in this section, along with a link to an article by Jesse D. Mann, Theological Librarian at Drew University entitled “Anne Sexton at Drew,” which sprung from the donation of Maxine’s personal library to the Library at Drew.

  • Splitting Wood at Six Above

    I open a tree.
    In the stupefying cold
    —ice on bare flesh a scald—
    I seat the metal wedge
    with a few left-handed swipes,
    then with a change of grips
    lean into the eight-pound sledge.

    It’s muslin overhead.
    Snow falls as heavy as salt.
    You are four months dead.
    The beech log comes apart
    like a chocolate nougat.
    The wood speaks
    first in the tiny voice
    of a bird cry, a puppet-squeek,
    and then all in a rush,
    all in a passionate stammer.
    The papery soul of the beech
    released by wedge and hammer
    flies back into air.

    Time will do this as fair
    to hickory, birch, black oak,
    easing the insects in
    till rot and freeze combine
    to raise out of wormwood cracks,
    blue and dainty, the souls.
    They are thin as an eyelash.
    They flap once, going up.

    The air rings like a bell.
    I breathe out drops—
    cold morning ghost puffs
    like your old cigarette cough.
    See you tomorrow, you said.
    You lied.

    first published in The New Yorker on February 2, 1976, p. 34 and then in The Retrieval System, Viking/Penguin, 1978

  • How It Is

    Shall I say how it is in your clothes?
    A month after your death I wear your blue jacket.
    The dog at the center of my life recognizes
    you’ve come to visit, he’s ecstatic.
    In the left pocket, a hole.
    In the right, a parking ticket
    delivered up last August on Bay State Road.
    In my heart, a scatter like milkweed,
    a flinging from the pods of the soul.
    My skin presses your old outline.
    It is hot and dry inside.

    I think of the last day of your life,
    old friend, how I would unwind it, paste
    it together in a different collage,
    back from the death car idling in the garage,
    back up the stairs, your praying hands unlaced,
    reassembling the bits of bread and tuna fish
    into a ceremony of sandwich,
    running the home movie backward to a space
    we could be easy in, a kitchen place
    with vodka and ice, our words like living meat.

    Dear friend, you have excited crowds
    with your example. They swell
    like wine bags, straining at your seams.
    I will be years gathering up our words,
    fishing out letters, snapshots, stains,
    leaning my ribs against this durable cloth
    to put on the dumb blue blazer of your death.

    from The Retrieval System, Viking/Penguin, 1978

  • Itinerary of an Obsession

    Just remember that everything east of you has already happened.
                  —Advice on a time-zone chart

    I ascend over Paris with a planeload of pilgrims,
    none under seventy, all clutching
    their illustrated texts of the Holy Land
    in which clouds shaped like sheep float
    through the Patriarch’s sky. Next to me
    a little leathery woman takes out her teeth
    and mines their crevices with a handkerchief.
    Two nuns across the way wrap up
    the dear little salt and pepper as memento.
    Pas loin, one tells me, fingering her rosary
    and pointing up, when
    lulled by motion or distance here you come
    leaping out of the coffin again,
    flapping around the funeral home
    crying Surprise! I was only fooling!
    while your lovesick dog chases a car
    the twin of yours and lies dead
    years back in a clump of goldenrod.

    Later, in Rome, in St. Peter’s Square
    when the pope comes to the window
    leaning out over his faded prayer rug
    to bless the multitude, cannons are fired.
    Many fall to their knees.
    I have seen this before, in the rotogravure,
    but not how weary the Holy Father looks
    nor how frail he is, crackling into the microphone.
    I am eating an orange in the static shower
    of Latin when, as coolly as Pascal,
    you turn up arranging to receive
    extreme unction from an obliging priest
    to keep from inhaling his germs. Pigeons
    swoop past, altering the light.
    I put my hand in your death
    as into the carcass of a stripped turkey.

    Next, on the lip of the Red Sea
    in a settlement as raw as any frontier town
    I meet a man from Omaha who has been detained
    for nine hours at the border. They tore
    the linings out of his suitcases,
    they shredded his toilet kit. Tell me, he asks
    from under his immense melancholy mustache,
    Do I look like a terrorist? We set
    out for Solomon’s mines together.
    In the ancient desert I stumble through mirages.
    The rough red hills arouse armies of slaves,
    men wasting away digging and lifting,
    dying of thirst in their loincloths.
    My feet weep blisters, sand enters the sores,
    I bit on sand. On the floor of your closet
    smolder a jumble of shoes, stiletto heels,
    fleece-lined slippers, your favorite sneakers
    gritty from Cape Cod, all my size.

    Year pass, as they say in storybooks.
    It is true that I dream of you less.
    Still, when the phone rings in my sleep
    and I answer, a dream-cigarette in my hand,
    it is always the same. We are back at our posts,
    hanging around the boxers in
    our old flannel bathrobes. You haven’t changed.
    I, on the other hand, am forced to grow older.
    Now I am almost your mother’s age.
    Imagine it! Did you think you could escape?
    Eventually I’ll arrive in her
    abhorrent marabou negligee
    trailing her scarves like broken promises
    crying you-hoo! Anybody home?

    from Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief,, Viking/Penguin, 1982

  • Apostrophe to a Dead Friend

         (on being interviewed by her biographer)

    Little by little my gender drifts away
    leaving the bones of this person
    whose shoe size was your size
    who traded dresses in our pool
    of public-occasion costumes:
    yours the formal-length jersey
    mine the cocktail wool
    and your dead mother’s mink coat that
    I always said looked like a muskrat.

    It fades, the glint of those afternoons
    we lay in the sun by the pond.
    Paler, the intimate confidences.
    Even the distances we leapt in poems
    have shrunk. No more parapets.
    The men have grown smaller, drier,
    easier to refuse.
    Passion subsides like a sunset.
    Urgency has been wrung from the rendezvous.

    Now that the children have changed
    into exacting adults, the warmth
    we felt for each other’s young
    takes on the skin tone of plain daylight.
    However well-fed and rosy
    they are no kinder or wiser then we.

    Soon I will be sixty.
    How it was with you now
    hardly more vivid than how
    it is without you, I carry
    the sheer weight of the telling
    like a large infant, on one hip.
    I who am remaindered in the conspiracy
    doom, doom on my lips.

    from Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief,, Viking/Penguin, 1982

  • October, Yellowstone Park

    How happy the animals seem just now,
    all reading the sweetgrass text, heads down
    in the great yellow-green sea of the high plains—
    antelope, bison, the bull elk and his cows

    moving commingled in little clumps, the bull
    elk bugling from time to time his rusty screech
    but not yet in rut, the females not yet in heat,
    peacefully inattentive—the late fall

    asters still blooming, the glacial creeks running clear.
    What awaits them this winter—which calves will starve
    to death or driven by hunger stray from the park
    to be shot on the cattle range—they are unaware.

    It is said that dumb beasts cannot anticipate
    though for terror of fire or wolves some deep
    historical memory clangs out of sleep
    pricking them to take flight. As flight pricked the poet

    dead seventeen years today, who for seventeen
    years before that was a better sister
    than any I, who had none, could have conjured.
    Dead by her own hand, who so doggedly whined

    at Daddy Death’s elbow that the old Squatter
    at last relented and took her in. Of sane mind
    and body aged but whole I stand by the sign
    that says we are halfway between the equator

    and the North Pole. Sad but celebratory
    I stand in full sun on the 45th parallel
    bemused by what’s to come, by what befell,
    by how our friendship flared into history.

    Fair warning, Annie, there will be no more
    elegies, no more direct-address songs
    conferring the tang of loss, its bitter flavor
    as palpable as alum on the tongue.

    Climbing up switchbacks all this afternoon,
    sending loose shale clattering below,
    grimly, gradually ascending to a view
    of snowcaps and geysers, the balloon

    of Old Faithful spewing, I hear your voice
    beside me (you, who hated so to sweat!)
    cheerfully cursing at eight thousand feet
    the killers of the dream, the small-time advice-

    laden editors and hangers-on. I’ve come
    this whole hard way alone to an upthrust slate
    above a brace of eagles launched in flight
    only to teeter, my equilibrium

    undone by memory. I want to fling your cigarette-and whiskey-hoarse chuckle that hangs on inside me down the back wall over Biscuit Basin. I want the painting

    below to take me in. My world that threatened
    to stop the day you stopped, faltered
    and then resumed, unutterably altered.
    Where wildfires crisped its hide and blackened

    whole vistas, new life inched in. My map
    blooms with low growth, sturdier than before.
    Thus I abstain. I will not sing, except
    of the elk and his harem who lie down in grandeur

    on the church lawn at Mammon Hot Springs,
    his hat rack wreathed in mist. This year’s offspring
    graze in the town’s backyards, to the dismay
    of tenants who burst out to broom them away.

    May the car doors of tourists slam, may cameras go wild
    staying the scene, may the occasional
    antelope slip into the herd, shy as a child.
    May people be ravished by this processional.

    May reverence for what lopes off to the hills
    at dusk be imprinted on their brain pans
    forever, as on mine. As you are, Anne.
    All of you hammered golden against the anvil.

    first published in Ploughshares, Vol. 18, No. 1, West Real (Spring, 1992), pp. 215-217 and then in Connecting the Dots, W.W. Norton, 1996

  • On Being Asked to Write a Poem in Memory of Anne Sexton

    The elk discards his antlers every spring.
    They rebud, they grow, they are growing

    an inch a day to form a rococo rack
    with a five-foot spread even as we speak:

    cartilage at first, covered with velvet;
    bendable, tender gristle, yet

    destined to ossify, the velvet sloughed off,
    hanging in tatters from alders and scrub growth.

    No matter how hardened it seems there was pain.
    Blood on the snow from rubbing, rubbing, rubbing.

    What a heavy candelabrum to be borne
    forth, each year more elaborately turned:

    the special issues, the prizes in her name.
    Above the mantel the late elk’s antlers gleam.

    from Nuture, Viking/Penguin, 1989

  • New Year’s Eve 1959

         remembering Anne Sexton and Jack Geiger

    This was the way we used to party:
    lamps unplugged, shoved in the closet
    rugs rolled up, furniture pushed back
    Glenn Miller singles on the spindle.

    There was the poet kicking off her shoes
    to jitterbug with the Physician
    for Social Responsibility
    the only time they ever met

    and he pecking his head to the beat
    swinging her out on the stalk of his arm
    setting all eight gores of her skirt
    twirling, then hauling her in for a Fred

    Astaire session of deep dips
    and both of them cutting out to strut
    humming along with the riffs
    that punctuated “Chattanooga Choo Choo.”

    This was after Seoul and before Saigon.
    Coke was sitll a carbonated drink
    we added rum to.  There was French wine
    but someone had mispalced the curlicue

    and a not-yet famous novelist
    magicked the cork out on the hinge
    of the back door to “Sunrise Serenade”
    and dance was the dark enabler.

    Lights off a long minute at midnight
    (squeals and false moans) madcap Anne
    long dead now and Jack snowily
    balding who led the drive to halt the bomb

    and I alone am saved to tell you
    how they could jive.

    from Connecting the Dots, W.W. Norton, 1996

  • Three Dreams After a Suicide

         — Anne Sexton, 1974

    We’re gathered in the funeral home, your friends
    who are not themselves especially friends,
    with you laid out on view in the approved fashion
    wearing the bright-red reading dress with cut-glass buttons
    that wink at the ceiling, when you spring
    like a jack-in-the-box from the coffin
    crying Boo! I was only fooling!

    After the terrible whipping you are
    oddly please with yourself,
    an impenitent child, the winner.
    It’s Daddy Death who’s quit.
    Once more you’ve worn him out
    from all his lifting and striking.
    His belt lies shredded in his meaty fist.

    We are standing together in a sunless garden
    in Rockport, Mass. I’m wearing the hat
    The artist painted you in
    and suddenly swarms of wasps
    fly up under the downturned brim.

    O death, where is thy sting?
    Tar baby, it is stickered to me; you
    were my wasp and I your jew.

    first published in The New Yorker, April 12, 2001, p. 50 then in The Long Marriage, W.W. Norton, 2002.

  • Oblivion

    The dozen ways they did it—
    off a bridge, the back of a boat,
    pills, head in the oven, or
    wrapped in her mother’s old mink coat in the garage, a brick on the accelerator,
    the Cougar’s motor thrumming
    while she crossed over.

    What they left behind—
    the outline of a stalled novel, diaries,
    their best poems, the note that ends
    now will you believe me,
    offspring of various ages, spouses
    who cared and weep and yet
    admit relief now that it’s over.

    How they fester, the old details
    held to the light like a stained-glass icon
    —the shotgun in the mouth, the string
    from tow to trigger; the tongue
    a blue plum forced between his lips
    when he hanged himself in her closet—
    for us it is never over

                . . .

    who raced to the scene, cut the noose,
    pulled the bathtub plug on pink water,
    broke windows, turned off the gas,
    rode in the ambulance, only minutes later
    to take the body blow of bad news.
    We are trapped in the plot, every one.
    Left behind, there is no oblivion.

    first published in The Atlantic, Oct. 1, 2000 and then in The Long Marriage, W.W. Norton, 2002.

  • The Ancient Lady Poets

    I, who alone survived, move through
    my old age like a camera
    in the hands of a hard-core realist
    bending over knucklebones on the lawn
    or the rot of a long-dead red squirrel
    after the snow has melted.

    The landscape of my body up close
    is one of snags and glaciations.
    You can see the path of a forest fire
    that devoured one breast leaving
    the other shyly hanging in space,
    my still abundant hair whitening,
    my almost bald pubis still useful.

    We had planned to age elegantly.
    The Japanese twins who lived to
    one hundred and seven could not have
    outdone us cruising Fifth Avenue in
    our custom-made shoes, our handsome
    obedient Dalmatians heeling beside us.

    Hatless, earringed, no sign of scoliosis
    we’d planned to stride forth block
    after block, well-published, polished.

    Bad girls of the New England Poetry Club
    our wit and fame up ahead
    leading a procession of disciples.

    from The Long Marriage, W.W. Norton, 2002.

  • The Revisionist Dream

    Well, she didn’t kill herself that afternoon.
    It was a mild day in October, we sat outside
    over sandwiches. She said she had begun

    to practice yoga, take piano lessons,
    rewrite her drama rife with lust and pride
    and so she didn’t kill herself that afternoon,

    hugged me, went home, cranked the garage doors open,
    scuffed through the garish leaves, orange and red,
    that brought on grief. She said she had begun

    to translate Akhmatova, her handsome Russian
    piano teacher rendering the word-for-word
    so she didn’t kill herself that afternoon.

    She cooked for him, made quiche and coq au vin.
    He stood the Czerny method on its head
    while her fingers flew. She said she had begun

    accelerandos, Julia Child, and some
    expand-a-lung deep breaths to do in bed
    so she didn’t kill herself that afternoon.
    We ate our sandwiches. The dream blew up at dawn.

    from Still to Mow, W.W. Norton, 2007

  • Reminiscence Delivered at Memorial Service for Anne Sexton in Marsh Chapel, Boston University

    October 15, 1974

    Yesterday at my desk, trying to sort out a few things to say here, I spent hours going through folders of old letters, work sheets, scraps of poems. For one thing, I was trying to pinpoint what year it was-1956? 1957? – that Anne and I met, two shy housewives, a pair of closet poets, in John Holmes’s class at the Boston Center for Adult Education. For another, I was trying to sort out people’s names, who and where we were, how Sam Albert was in that class, and Ruth Soter, the friend to whom “With Mercy for the Greedy” is dedicated, and how we first met George Starbuck when he read at the New England Poetry Club in 1958.

    Most of this I gleaned from Holmes’s letters, traveling from Medford to Newton, from 1957 to a month before his death in 1962, letters written between our workshop meetings, or because of them, or even in spite of them. George’s name comes up frequently, and Sam Albert’s name, and specific poems we are working on get mentioned. The group came down hard on Anne’s poem, “Housewife,” and she revised it well. Anne read the poem “For Eleanor Boylan Talking with God” at a workshop and it was enthusiastically received, except for some pruning needed at the end. There was no more determined reviser than Anne. She worried and snipped and pounded the ending into its final, poignant form.

    Remembering this, the whole complex rich interplay of workshop comes back, of Holmes and Starbuck and Albert and Sexton and Kumin during the three years we held forth on our own over coffee and whiskey and carbon copies of our poems, and before that, around the long oak table at 5 Commonwealth Avenue in a second-story room that smelled of chalk and wet overshoes. There, Anne and I, in a funny mixture of timidity and bravado, prayed that our poems would rise to the top of the pile under Professor Holmes’s fingers as he alternately fussed with his pipe and shuffled pages, and one of us would thus be divinely elected for scrutiny.

    Later, for one semester, there were Ted and Renee Weiss, Ted a visiting professor at MIT. Anne had just written “Woman with Girdle.” The poem’s mischief roused Ted to such heights of ribaldry that night and we were all so raucous that the couple overhead-this was at Weiss’s borrowed apartment somewhere in Cambridge-thumped on the floor and threatened us with the police and we were, to our shame, even noisier. That same winter John Crowe Ransom came to Tufts at Holmes’s invitation and Anne and I drove to Medford in a blizzard to hear him. Somehow we drove back again too, at three o’clock in the morning, straddling the yellow line that divided a deserted and snow-clogged highway. We were sleepy and exalted and a little drunk on bourbon and fish chowder and the marvelous voice of the poet saying his own best lines.

    I found an old poem of John’s about another, earlier workshop that lasted through three winters in the forties, a workshop consisting of Ciardi, Wilbur, Eberhart, May Sarton, and John Holmes. It says what we were, too, and why, and now I’d like to close with these few lines from it:

              Good God bless all such big long bickering nights
              Among the cheeses and bottles, coffee and carbon copies,
              In Medford or Cambridge-or Nashville or Chicago!
              The fact is that everything we read is in our books,
              Our best poems. If those confrontations were painful,
              Rowdy, sometimes the bloom of fire and absolute,
              We couldn’t hear a clank of armor some of us wore,
              Or see which came naked and afraid, but it was so.

              Look at us now, in the long story’s foreseeable ending,
              Such a yardage of books on shelves …
              We remind one another, when we meet now, of those nights,
              How we had what we remember, the warmth of the poems.

    from To Make a Prairie, Essays on Poets, Poetry, and Country Living, The University of Michigan Press, 1979

  • Sexton's The Awful Rowing Toward God

    The poems in The Awful Rowing Toward God were written during a crisis time in Anne Sexton’s life, a period of great personal anguish and at the same time of intense, even manic creativity. There is no psychic distance between the poet and the poem; on the contrary, the poem is an almost tangible physical extension of the psyche, a kind of third hand or eye. Robert Motherwell said, in an essay on art, “there is a certain point on the curve of anguish where one encounters the comic.” So it is in these poems. They are all signed with her vivid imagery. Again and again we are tossed on the curve, saved, refreshed, by the satire, the self-mock, the comic inner lining of the macabre. Reticence forms no part of Sexton’s style, nor economy, nor brusque reason. The poem is a defense against isolation, against memories so terrible that they erode the senses to the edge of hallucination.

    We were for eighteen years warm personal friends. During the late winter of 1973, while these poems were being constructed out of blood and sorrow and fury, I was living in Kentucky as writer-in-residence at Centre College. We had agreed before I left Boston to divide the long-distance telephone bill; further, we had agreed to talk on the reduced-rate side of the ledger, after five P.M. or before eight A.M. My rooms in Danville abutted a Baptist church with a dependable clock that pinged on the quarters and tolled the hours. And every afternoon at five, a concert of Baptist hymns. But just as the carillons embarked on their opening measure, the ringing of my phone would float up through those other bells, and we would talk across the early dark of a Boston winter into the twilight of a bluegrass one. For the most part, we dispensed with amenities of time and place quickly and got down to the professional business of the poems-mostly hers, for she was writing with the urgency of a fugitive one length ahead of the posse. As indeed she was.

    One other fact. As is evident from her poetry, Anne Sexton was strongly attracted to, indeed sought vigorously a kind of absolutism in religion that was missing from the Protestantism of her inheritance. She wanted God as a sure thing, an Old Testament avenger admonishing his Chosen People, an authoritarian yet forgiving God decked out in sacrament and ceremony. Judaism and Catholicism each exerted a strong gravitational pull. Divine election, confession and absolution, the last rites, these were her longings. And then an elderly, sympathetic priest, one of many priests she encountered-accosted might be a better word-along the way, said a saving thing to her, said the magic and simple fact that kept her alive at least a year beyond her time, and made the awful rowing a possibility. “God is in your typewriter,” he told her. Thus she went to her typewriter and thus, according to your lights, she found, or invented Him.

    First appeared in the American Poetry Review 4, no. 3 (May- June, 1975). Reprinted in To Make a Prairie, Essays on Poets, Poetry, and Country Living, The University of Michigan Press, 1979

  • "Anne Sexton at Drew” by Jesse D. Mann, Theological Librarian

    This article originally appeared in Visions, the Library Newsletter, Spring 2015.

    As readers of Visions know, in the spring of 2014, Drew acquired the personal library of Pulitzer-prize winning poet Maxine Kumin.[1] Not surprisingly, this library includes numerous works by Kumin’s longtime friend and fellow poet, Anne Sexton. Like Kumin, Sexton also won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, and she remains one of the more highly regarded, if controversial, American poets of the twentieth century. Unlike Kumin, Sexton suffered from mental illness much of her life, a life that ended in suicide on 4 October 1974.[2]

    According to Diane Wood Middlebrook, Sexton’s biographer, the relationship between the two women was “an extraordinary bond that lasted to the day of her [i.e., Sexton’s] death.”[3] Maxine herself recalled that she and Sexton were “intimate friends and professional allies.’[4] From the outset of their friendship in 1957, they famously discussed their poems for hours on the telephone, despite Maxine’s concerns about the phone bills. When Sexton’s Complete Poems came out in 1981, Kumin wrote a moving and illuminating foreword.[5]

    Many of the Sexton items in Maxine Kumin’s personal library testify to the emotional and literary ties between these two women. Perhaps the most striking illustration of this point is Maxine’s inscribed copy of Anne’s first book, To Bedlam and Part Way Back (1960). The witty and heart-felt inscription reads as follows:

    For Maxine, who encouraged
    me with all of these
    poems, even “half way”
    wrote some and who
    is all the way, my friend,
    my friend.

    April, 1960

    Readers of Anne Sexton’s poetry will recognize a reference here to an early poem dedicated to Kumin entitled “My Friend, My Friend” in which Sexton seemingly displays a certain envy toward Kumin’s Jewishness.[6] While this reference is in itself an interesting example of intertextuality within Sexton’s oeuvre, the inscription bears valuable witness to the well-known collaborative method that guided these poets in their creative process.

    A second inscribed Sexton item in the Kumin collection is as unique as the preceding one but for much different reasons. This item, a copy of The Awful Rowing toward God, Sexton’s last book of poems published posthumously in 1975, is inscribed to Maxine by Barbara Schwartz. The inscription reads:

    Dear Maxine,
    I miss her too.
    Most Sincerely,
    Barbara Schwartz

    Barbara Schwartz was the last of Anne Sexton’s many therapists. What makes this volume especially unique is that Maxine Kumin and Barbara Schwartz were probably the last two people to have seen Sexton alive. The day of her suicide, Sexton had a session with Schwartz in the morning, then met Kumin for lunch during which the two women discussed the galley proofs of The Awful Rowing. After that lunch, Anne went home, closed her garage door, turned on her automobile, and died of carbon monoxide poisoning.[7]

    The final item from the Kumin collection that I wish to mention is not a book by Anne Sexton. Rather, it is a book that seemingly belonged to Sexton but that ended up in Maxine Kumin’s library. It is Nancy Milford’s well-known Zelda: A Biography, a life of Zelda Fitzgerald published in 1970.[8] This biography was among the first to treat Zelda as a significant figure with legitimate literary talent in her own right and to suggest that she had been stifled by her oppressive, alcoholic husband. We do not know for sure that Sexton ever read Milford’s work. The book bears her signature in pencil on the front free endpaper, but there are no notes, no under-linings, no marginalia. Still, it is intriguing to imagine Anne Sexton reading this depiction of Zelda Fitzgerald as a proto-feminist who, like Sexton herself, struggled with her marriage and with her emotional and mental health. And we can only speculate about Anne’s reaction as she read about Zelda’s death in 1948 in a fire at Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina where she was being treated with insulin for serious mental illness.[9]

    These three items, certainly among the most interesting in the Kumin collection, underscore the significance of this recent addition to the Drew Library. Scholars interested in the lives and poetry of Maxine Kumin and of Anne Sexton will no doubt want to consult these and other items in the collection. Thanks to her friend’s donation, Anne Sexton has now established a unique presence at Drew.


    [1] See Visions: Newsletter of the Drew University Library, no. 35 (Spring 2014): 1, 3.

    [2] The standard biography is Diane Wood Middlebrook, Anne Sexton: A Biography (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991). For two thoughtful contemporary statements about Sexton’s life and death, see Denise Levertov, “Anne Sexton: Light Up the Cave,” in Denise Levertov, Light Up the Cave (New York: New Directions, 1981), 80-92 (originally published in 1974); and Kathleen Spivak, “In Memory of Anne Sexton,” in Critical Essays on Anne Sexton, ed. Linda Wagner-Martin (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1989), 231-233 (originally published in 1975).

    [3] Middlebrook, Anne Sexton, 69.

    [4] Maxine Kumin, “A Friendship Remembered,” in Critical Essays on Anne Sexton, 233 (originally published in 1979).

    [5] See Anne Sexton, The Complete Poems (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981), xix-xxxiv. For an insightful investigation of the relationship (personal and poetical) between Kumin and Sexton, see Diana Hume George, “Itinerary of an Obsession: Maxine Kumin’s Poems to Anne Sexton,” in Original Essays on the Poetry of Anne Sexton, ed. Francis Bixler (Conway: AK: University of Central Arkansas Press, 1988), 243-66.

    [6] See Anne Sexton, “My Friend, My Friend” in Selected Poems of Anne Sexton, eds. Diane Wood Middlebrook and Diana Hume George (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1988), 5. This poem is dedicated to “M.W.K. who hesitates each time she sees a young girl wearing The Cross.” Kumin apparently shared this very same inscribed copy of Sexton’s work with Middlebrook who cites the inscription in her biography (p. 143).

    [7] For an eloquent and moving description of Sexton’s final day, see Middlebrook, Anne Sexton, 395-97.

    [8] Nancy Milford, Zelda: A Biography (New York: Harper & Row, 1970).

    [9] Milford, Zelda, 398-99. It is interesting that the Wikipedia article on Zelda Fitzgerald suggests that she was undergoing electroshock therapy at Highland Hospital at the time of her death. The article might be seen to imply that Milford’s biography says as much. See “Zelda Fitzgerald,” Wikipedia, last modified September 18, 2014, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zelda_Fitzgerald. By her own admission, Anne Sexton had a notable fear of electroshock therapy; see Middlebrook, Anne Sexton, 402. Hence, such a connection could have had particular resonance for Sexton. However, the Wikipedia reference (n. 84) is inaccurate and anyway Milford’s book does not mention this treatment in connection with Zelda’s death. Still, subsequent biographers have shown that Zelda was indeed being treated with electroshock as well as insulin in the final months of her life; see Sally Cline, Zelda Fitzgerald: Her Voice in Paradise (New York: Arcade, 2003), 400-401. Sexton might have known this, but not from reading Milford’s account of Zelda’s death.