While recouping some of the energy expended in getting the essay/memoir on heroes finished, I thought that I would, if only to keep the ball rolling, just post a brief recommendation for the benefit of anybody who might be looking for something worthwhile to read. The book I am going promote is a book of interrelated poems, published in 1975. The poet is Anne Sexton.
I read this book last when it was new. It occurred to me to read it again now because Rebecca Goldstein quoted Anne Sexton at the beginning of a chapter in one of the two novels by her that I just read. The fact that Rebecca Goldstein quotes Anne Sexton recommends Rebecca Goldstein’s novels. That’s how it works. That’s how I find most of the books that I read.
It was still possible for a poet to be really famous in 1975. A poet, a novelist, could be a “hot” cultural item. Anne Sexton was such a poet. Everybody that I knew then, it seemed, was reading Anne Sexton. Now, more than 30 years later, I am suggesting that everybody begin reading her again, because -- to state it in the vernacular -- her poems kick ass.
Even the title of the book that I am pitching here kicks ass. The title is: The Awful Rowing Toward God. That may be the single best title ever chosen. It harbors an image which describes to perfection the existential project of every spiritual pilgrim who ever aspired to make it to the Other Shore.
Anne Sexton’s imagery is most often jagged, and hard-hitting; a series of mini-Claymores in a field already strewn with sacrificial victims. But she also has her tender moments, as in this poem , entitled Courage:
If your buddy saved you
and died himself in so doing,
then his courage was not courage,
it was love; love as simple as shaving soap.
Here is another extended image that particularly grabbed me:
When you knock on wood,
and you do,
you knock on the Cross
and Jesus gives you a fragment of His body
and breaks an egg in your toilet,
giving up one life
for one life.
Sha-zam! That was from The Evil Eye.
One more bit of verse, from The Wall, and then you can go out and get the book:
For all you who are going,
and there are many who are climbing their pain,
many who will be painted out with a black ink
suddenly and before it is time,
for those many I say,
take off your life like trousers,
your shoes, your underwear,
then take off your flesh,
unpick the lock of your bones.
In other words
take off the wall
that separates you from God.