Words for Dr. Y. (Magill's Literary Annual 1979)
Anne Sexton’s first book To Bedlam and Part Way Back, which described her struggle with mental illness, was published in 1960 and received much critical acclaim. Seven years later she received the Pulitzer Prize for Live or Die, but the poetry collections which she published from then until her death in 1974 often did not receive the enthusiastic praise from critics which these early books engendered. This fourteen-year writing career which included great success and some failure is spanned in Words for Dr. Y., a collection of previously unpublished poems (two did appear in Mademoiselle) and short stories.
The best poems in this collection exhibit the characteristics which led to Sexton’s rather meteoric success. They explore intense emotions in personal terms using images which are unusual, vivid, and memorable. They portray real terror, madness, or hope because they share with the reader the actual experiences and feelings of their author. At their best they communicate these emotions through the discipline of form. However, too many of these poems are not of this high caliber; most of them flare into self-dramatization or wallow without control in unrestrained emotion. They lack discipline of form and settle for deliberately shocking imagery which is not always relevant. Similarly, a lack of craftsmanship...
(The entire section is 3189 words.)
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