Category Archives: Confessionalist

A celebration, this is: Sylvia Plath


Sylvia Plath was born on October 27, 1932.  As we all know, she is no longer with us, but her writing and passion live on.  For me, personally, I have yet to find another writer who touches me in the same way that her words touch me.  Her fiction, poetry, letters, and personal journals are treasures that will all continue to live on as  classics forever.

In celebration of the memory of her life, here are a few videos of Sylvia Plath reading some of her work:

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Her Kind by Anne Sexton

I’ve already put up some Anne Sexton on here in the past, but today I wanted to share a recording of her reading one of her most famous poems – Her Kind.  Sexton felt her poetry, her words, on a whole other level.  She turned them into performance pieces, often accompanying the recited words with background music.  While this version doesn’t include music, you can hear how haunting and intense her voice is.

 

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Kim Addonizio – Tell Me poems


In college, I dedicated a fair amount of time in an attempt to find more writers coined as “confessionalist”.  This was, however, after a brief period of time where I presumed that all poets and songwriters were, technically, confessionalist.  Ah, the delusions of a young, uneducated enthusiast.  Somewhere along the way I came across the name Kim Addonizio.

At this point, I cannot remember where I first heard of her, but the article identified her as being like a modern-day confesionalist, possibly likening her to one of my already established favorite poets.  This was incredibly exciting to me since I really enjoy getting a glimpse into the inner chambers of a writer’s experience of the world.  After reading her work, though, even if these poems are all based off complete fictions pulled out of her head, it really doesn’t matter.  The poems are all excellent; they’re teeming with emotion and an honesty that is simultaneously jarring and comforting.  And, if you’ve been following this blog, by now you probably know that I love writing that will really rattle one’s cage.

The Divorcee and Gin

I love the frosted pints you come in,
and the tall bottles with their uniformed men;
the bars where you’re poured chilled
into shallow glasses, the taste of drowned olives,
and the scrawled benches where I see you
passed impatiently from one mouth
to another, the bag twisted tight around
your neck, the hand that holds you
shaking a little from its need
which if the true source of desire; God, I love
what you do to me at night when we’re alone,
how you wait for me to take you into me
until I’m so confused with you I can’t
stand up anymore. I know you want me
helpless, each cell whimpering, and I give
you that, letting you have me just the way
you like it. And when you’re finished
you turn your face to the wall while I curl
around you again, and enter another morning
with aspirin and the useless ache
that  comes from loving, too well,
those who, under the guise of pleasure,
destroy everything they touch.

Affair

God it’s sexual, opening a beer when you swore you wouldn’t
drink tonight,
taking the first deep gulp, the foam backing up in the long amber
neck

of the Pacifico bottle as you set it on the counter, the head spilling
over
so you bend to fit your mouth against the cold lip

and drink, because what you are, aren’t you, is a drinker — maybe
not a lush,
not an alcoholic, not yet anyway, but don’t you want

a glass of something most nights, don’t you need the gesture
of reaching for it, raising it high and swallowing down and
savoring

the sweetness, or the scalding, knowing you’re going to give
yourself to it
like a lover, whether or not he fills up the leaky balloon of your
heart —

don’t you believe in trying to fill it, no matter what the odds,
don’t you believe it still might happen, aren’t you that kind of
woman?

Buy Tell Me on Amazon.

Photo Source:  Kim Addonizio’s website, photo by Elizabeth Sanderson.

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More Confessionalism: Robert Lowell

Source: New York Times

It is time to pay homage to the father of confessionalist poetry.  From Massachusetts, Lowell taught a class at Boston University, which brought together some of the greatest confessional writers ever, and frequently mentioned in this blog, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton.

Surprisingly, I didn’t really read him until I took an Intro to Poetry course in college.  We read all of Life Studies and For the Union Dead.  These two collections left me wanting to devour much more of his work.  So, I hope that you enjoy the below poems and that they inspire you to seek out more of his work.  You will not be disappointed.

Man and Wife

Tamed by Miltown, we lie on Mother’s bed;
the rising sun in war paint dyes us red;
in broad daylight her gilded bed-posts shine,
abandoned, almost Dionysian.
At last the trees are green on Marlborough Street,
blossoms on our magnolia ignite
the morning with their murderous five days’ white.
All night I’ve held your hand,
as if you had
a fourth time faced the kingdom of the mad-
its hackneyed speech, its homicidal eye-
and dragged me home alive… Oh my Petite,
clearest of all God’s creatures, still all air and nerve:
you were in your twenties and I,
once hand on glass
and heart in mouth,
outdrank the Rahvs in the head
of Greenwich Village, fainting at your feet-
too boiled and shy
and poker-faced to make a pass,
while the shrill verve
of your invective scorched the traditional South.

Now twelve years later, you turn your back.
Sleepless, you hold
your pillow to your hollows like a child;
your old-fashioned tirade-
loving, rapid, merciless-
breaks like the Atlantic Ocean on my head.

From:  Life Studies

 

The Old Flame

My old flame, my wife!
Remember our lists of birds?
One morning last summer, I drove
by our house in Maine. It was still
on top of its hill-

Now a red ear of Indian maize
was splashed on the door.
Old Glory with thirteen stars
hung on a pole. The clapboard
was old-red schoolhouse red.

Inside, a new landlord,
a new wife, a new broom!
Atlantic seaboard antique shop
pewter and plunder
shone in each room.

A new frontier!
No running next door
now to phone the sheriff
for his taxi to Bath
and the State Liquor Store!

No one saw your ghostly
imaginary lover
stare through the window,
and tighten
the scarf at his throat.

Health to the new people,
health to their flag, to their old
restored house on the hill!
Everything had been swept bare,
furnished, garnished and aired.

Everything’s changed for the best-
how quivering and fierce we were,
there snowbound together,
simmering like wasps
in our tent of books!

Poor ghost, old love, speak
with your old voice
of flaming insight
that kept us awake all night.
In one bed and apart,

we heard the plow
groaning up hill-
a red light, then a blue,
as it tossed off the snow
to the side of the road.

From: For the Union Dead

The Public Garden in his own voice:

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A little Sylvia Plath for a stormy day

 

A few weeks into my blog and I haven’t posted a poem by Sylvia Plath yet?  This is tragic and must be remedied immediately.  So, for this day of extreme weather (thank you, Irene), please enjoy a few poems written by a woman who I love enough to get her signature tattooed on my back (see above).

Black Rook in Rainy Weather

On the stiff twig up there
Hunches a wet black rook
Arranging and rearranging its feathers in the rain.
I do not expect a miracle
Or an accident.

To set the sight on fire
In my eye, nor seek
Any more in the desultory weather some design,
But let spotted leaves fall as they fall,
Without ceremony, or portent.

Although, I admit, I desire,
Occasionally, some backtalk
From the mute sky, I can’t honestly complain:
A certain minor light may still
Lean incandescent

Out of kitchen table or chair
As if a celestial burning took
Possession of the most obtuse objects now and then –
Thus hallowing an interval
Otherwise inconsequent

By bestowing largesse, honor,
One might say love.  At any rate, I now walk
Wary (for it could happen
Even in this dull, ruinous landscape); skeptical,
Yet politic; ignorant

Of whatever angel may choose to flare
Suddenly at my elbow.  I only know that a rook
Ordering its black feathers can so shine
As to seize my sense, haul
My eyelids up, and grant

A brief respite from fear
Of total neutrality.  With luck,
Trekking stubborn through this season
Of fatigue, I shall
Patch together a content

Of sorts.  Miracles occur,
If you care to call those spasmodic
Tricks of radiance miracles.  The wait’s begun again,
The long wait for the angel,
For that rare, random descent.

From:  The Collected Poems, 1992
Poem written – 1956

 

Fever 103

Pure?  What does it mean?
The tongues of hell
Are dull, dull as the triple

Tongues of dull, fat Cerberus
Who wheezes at the gate.  Incapable
Of licking clean

The aguey tendon, the sin, the sin.
The tinder cries.
The indelible smell

Of a snuffed candle!
Love, love, the low smokes roll
From me like Isadora’s scarves, I’m in a fright

One scarf will catch and anchor in the wheel.
Such yellow sullen smokes
Make their own element.  They will not rise,

But trundle round the globe
Choking the aged and the meek,
The weak

Hothouse baby in its crib,
The ghastly orchid
Hanging its hanging garden in the air,

Devilish leopard!
Radiation turned it white
And killed it in an hour.

Greasing the bodies of adulterers
Like Hiroshima ash and eating in.
The sin.  The sin.

Darling, all night
I have been flickering, off, on, off, on.
The sheets grow heavy as a lecher’s kiss.

Three days.  Three nights.
Lemon water, chicken
Water, water make me retch.

I am too pure for you or anyone.
Your body
Hurts me as the world hurts God.  I am a lantern –

My head a mood
Of Japanese paper, my gold beaten skin
Infinitely delicate and infinitely expensive.

Does not my heat astound you.  And my light.
All by myself I am a huge camellia
Glowing and coming and going, flush on flush .

I think I am going up,
I think I may rise –
The beads of hot metal fly, and I, love, I

Am a pure acetylene
Virgin
Attended by roses,

By kisses, by cherubim,
By whatever these pink things mean.
Not you, nor him

Not him, nor him
(My selves dissolving, old whore petticoats)-
To paradise.

From Ariel.
October 20, 1962

It is always the most satisfying, however, to actually hear a poet reading their own work. For only then, can one honestly appreciate the depth of emotion and overall meaning of the work:

 

 

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Lessons in Hunger

As someone who adores Confessionalist poetry and always lists Sylvia Plath as a favorite writer, it seems like a given that Anne Sexton would show up in this blog sooner rather than later.  I discovered Sexton’s poetry in the same high school American Literature class that I stumbled across Plath’s Daddy and Lady Lazarus.  At the time, I was probably more impressed by Sexton’s connection to Plath than by the poetry itself (Plath really floored me), but the more that I read and researched Sexton, the more my love of her work grew.

Her writing is raw, emotional, and will sometimes leave you a little uncomfortable.  Other times, you’re just left sitting there, staring at the words, emotionally gasping over the experience, because she understands

I would like to share my favorite Anne Sexton poem. I leave you to guess which of the above reactions it evoked from me when I first read it a few years ago.

LESSONS IN HUNGER

“Do you like me?”
I asked the blazer.
No answer.
Silence bounced out of his books.
Silence fell off his tongue
and sat between us
and clogged my throat.
It slaughtered my trust.
It tore cigarettes out of my mouth.
We exchanged blind words,
and I did not cry,
and I did not beg,
but blackness filled my ears,
blackness lunged in my heart,
and something that had been good,
a sort of kindly oxygen,
turned into a gas oven.

Do you like me?
How absurd!
What’s a question like that?
What’s a silence like that?
And what am I hanging around for,
riddled with what his silence said?

August 7, 1974

 Photo Source:  http://www.glastonberrygrove.net/reference/annesexton/

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