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Sexton's Confessional Poetry
There is no doubt in my mind that all of Sexton's "Transformations" poems are inherently confessional. Not only is this because the poet's most common style is present in nearly all of the example poems that we have read so far, but also because of the uniquely twisted take that Sexton takes on the popular fairytales that she examines and the tone and ideas which she so brilliantly puts onto the page. The main ways in which the "Briar Rose" poem mimics a pivotal point in Sexton's life is with its opening lines. Contrary to many of the other poems, this version stays relatively close to the original version of the Sleeping Beauty Fairytale. The opening hints at a father taking things too far with his daughter: "Little doll child, / come here to Papa. / Sit on my knee. / I have kisses for the back of your neck. / A penny for your thoughts, Princess. / I will hunt them like an emerald. / Come be my snooky / and I will give you a root." That is an act a lover gives, not a father, and the image of giving a root seems to be an image of a father giving her something much different. At first I thought that I was perhaps misinterpreting this version of the story (haunted by our Freudian studies, yet again!) until I reached the end of the poem, which suggests some form of sexual abuse having taken place during Briar Roses' unusually long slumber. Sexton writes: "Daddy? / That's another kind of prison. / It's not the prince at all, / but my father / drunkenly bent over my bed, / circling the abyss like a shark, / my father thick upon me / like some sleeping jellyfish." It is a known fact from Sexton's biography that we read that she struggled with sexual abuse as a child. Therefore, it's almost as if this fairy-tale is a way of dealing with the sexual abuse Sexton was succumbed to. It could have been a way of blocking out the emotional effect the abuse had on her. Making this haunting nightmare into a fairy-tale makes it fake, as if it never happened. Therefore it is impossible to believe that many of the fairy tale poems in "Transformations" are not inherently confessional and telling of Sexton's tumultuous life.
I agree that Sexton seems to hide meaning through other symbols within her poetry. I've noticed that in other poetry written by authors who've been subjected to childhood abuse, they often write about it using symbolism from their childhood. While this may seem obvious as a way to bring the reader back into the mindset they were in as an abused child, I find that it can have additional meanings as well. Kids who were subjected to abuse often have to leave their childhood quickly, and grow into more mature mindsets much quicker than their peers. At the same time, they can seek solace the only way they know how to, which is in traditional childhood imagery like toys and stories. A child coping with terrible things happening to them will end up thinking about it in the only terms they understand. When an adult goes back to write about the trauma they experienced as a child, they'll end up combining their childhood experience with what they know now, which creates a powerful mix of innocence and grotesque imagery all at once, seen prominently in some of Sexton's poetry.
Grace and Hannah- you hit the nail on the head. Sexton, from reading her biography and several of the poems provided for us, did have childhood trauma caused by her abusive father and possibly others. We see this clearly revealed in her poetry years later, originally written as a means to cope with her mental disorders, which, correct me if I'm wrong, was bipolar disorder. Sexton vividly portrays the hopelessness and dreariness in life that she experiences seemingly too often from the amount of her dark poetry. Her writing is childishly mournful, yet complex in it's length and underlying meaning. One of my favorites that we read was "All my Pretty Ones." What I especially enjoyed was the paired poem response to her's, I kept racing to scroll back and forth and read along myself while listening. I think the call and response poem was a great piece to the missing puzzle that Sexton leaves us with in that poem. When Sexton read the poem herself, you could feel the vibration of her voice creating life within the words; her tonation of her vocals demanded to be heard, and they were. These confessional poems are truly moving.
Upon reading through Sexton's poetry, I was taken aback slightly by the darkness present in the "Transformations" poems. When I read that they were based on common fairytales, I expected a binary transformation perhaps, but with the same underlying themes present, and while that was partially the case (as it is for any rewritten fariytale) it was far more complex than that. I read her poems first without reading the biography, which is what I generally like to do, so I can read them without any prior knowledge to get a first impression that's based on my own thoughts only. When I read through some of her poems, I was immediately curious though, and read the Moodle section that was a biography about her right away, as well as doing some of my own research, because I was very interested in her poetry. This confessional style is unlike others we've read in class, because normally we'd try to completely separate the speaker and the author when reading. However, in confessional poetry, it's interesting to me that the author's emotions and background are assumed to be present in the poem, just because it's so different from the way we read in the past. The fact that these poems are confessional makes them all the more moving, because we're able to connect real events and a real person to the sometimes horrifying imagery in the poems.
One thing I find very interesting about confessional poetry is that the author doesn’t have to be confessing something that happened to them as the narrator. The author could choose to take the narrator as another person involved in their story and share what they think that person's point of view would be about the situation. This is more powerful to me, because it has the ability to show how a victim sees their abuser, describing their personality and thoughts, as well as what they may have been conditioned to think about themselves as a result of the behavior of the abuser.
I agree with Anja- it's certainly harder to top Grace and Hannah's comments, as I think they summed up a majority of the whole argument very well. In another forum, I spoke about how it may be interesting to hear what a Froidian would have to say about Sexton's coping mechanisms. The way she writes, as well as how we can assume she writes herself in is of complete innocence- I chose to write about Snow White, in which she would repeat the description of Snow White as a "virgin", "untouched", "pure", but when the other moves into the picture, they are entirely corrupt: the dwarfs, like dogs circling her bed, the evil queen trying nonstop to kill her... This causes for her writing to be very startling in it's power, and extremely difficult to read at times.
One of the poems on Moodle that caught my eye was "Wanting To Die" and I think it really captured Sexton's skill in confessional poetry. In “Wanting To Die” one of the first things I noticed was the use of personification. Sexton personifies suicide saying things such as “suicides have a special language” (7) and “suicides sometimes meet” (31) Perhaps she did this to express the overwhelming emotions with being suicidal, emotions so strong that they feel like a physical thing taking you over. Something outside of yourself that you cannot control but instead controls you. Emotions that make you feel not like yourself, and therefore is something completely different and an outside source. Sexton compares the desire for death to an “almost unnameable lust” (3). This could imply that the want for death is an id like desire. Something one knows they should hold back on, or one’s Superego has told them to not do because it is illogical and immoral, but there is still a desire to go through with the action. This again compares suicide to a force that is so strong that it takes away one’s sense of reason. Overall I thought this poem was very powerful in how it describes suicide.
I didn't realize Sexton was abused as a child. This brings her Rapunzel confessional to a whole other meaning. In this poem, Rapunzel is essentially sexually abused by Mother Gothel while she raises her. After learning this tidbit about Sexton, it makes the confessional part of the poem make even more sense. The Rapunzel poem is incapsulating and draws you in quickly. Of course, I already knew the story of Rapunzel before reading this, but the twists Sexton added made it so much better. She kept the main roots, Rapunzel is abducted and kept away, the prince finds her and becomes blind due to Gothel. However, the added layer of sexual abuse makes her story that much more heartbreaking and the tone even darker than before.
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