Sunday, December 16, 2007

Anne's Famous Black And White Dress

One of my favorite biographies of all time is of the poet Anne Sexton. I read it years ago in graduate school when it came out to a lot of controversy. The biographer, Diane Middlebrook, had complete access to Sexton's recorded psychiatric sessions, something that gave a lot of people pause. This wasn't someone's journals or letters; it was something so private that perhaps even one as wonderful and glorious and gaudy as Anne was might not want known. The decision, made by her oldest daughter, Linda, created a brilliant book. Haunting and provocative, Anne was as complex as one of her poems. I've always been a Sexton fan -- the drama of her life seems wonderful to me. Multiple lovers, many gin and tonics, pills for days, an end in the car wrapped in a fur coat, a suicide that had been telegraphed for a long time. But the book did not glamorize. It gave her depth, faults, beauty, and tragedy. This was the woman who had written about her uterus, about masturbation, about abortion long before other people felt they could. She wouldn't have wanted a coat of sugar poured on her life. The biography documented those she had loved and harmed. It did not make her into a saint of poetry or anything else. The cover picture alone tells a complicated story -- the black and white reading dress, drink in one hand, cigarette in the other, smiling through the pain.

I know many people who deify the dead. Such is our impulse. The dead hold their pull, their lure. We forget their imperfections, how many fights we got into, the faults of character that made us cringe. A framed airbrushed picture of someone you loved in the prime of his or her life cannot piss you off. To Anne Sexton's daughter's immense credit, she supported the biography. More often a family gives access to a biographer only to hate the final result, particularly if it's true. That's why telling the truth (when you're not using it to be an asshole -- one of my favorite lines from people after they say something hideously cutting, I was just being honest!) is such a revolutionary act. It can make the dead live again, if only from the pages. And there's nothing better for a writer than that.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I don't think there is anything wrong with white space. I don't think it's a problem to have a blank wall." Annie Leibovitz

Cocktail Hour
Drinking biography suggestion: Anne Sexton by Diane Middlebrook

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday! Rest in peace to Diane Middlebrook!


Brian in Mpls said...

I have a nasty habit as a writer of burying the living which is kind of the opposite

Jethro Bowdeen said...

A READING dress. My, my, my. I'm goin' out an' getttin' me a brand new pair of levi's to read in!!!

Granny Clampett said...

Not until you shovel the durn snow offin that durn drivesway, Jethro!!

Jed said...

You do what Granny says, young feller. The'll be plenty of time for puttin' your nose in a book after the work is done. There's a time and place for everything.

Charles Gramlich said...

Sexton is definetely one of those poets I've been meaning to read but haven't yet gotten too. Much like Bukowski, though, I will eventually.

the walking man said...

Charles if you haven't read Bukowski yet I suggest you burn your degree's, get drunk, start a bar fight and, re-enroll as a freshman.