Anne Sexton was an extremely prolific poet, especially considering that she started writing in the middle of her life. Once she got started, Sexton published books of poems every two years and sometimes as often as every year. All of the books share Sexton’s enthusiasm for confession, but many of the books present different types of poems: long poems, elegies, lyrics, narratives, reworked fairy tales, poems for children.
Even three years after her death, books of original verse continued to be published, as Sexton had arranged before her suicide. Afterward, one of her daughters, Linda Gray Sexton, wrestled with the difficult task of assembling poems from books (including books published in Great Britain but not in the United States), poems in myriad draft forms, and poems that appeared complete but were unpublished. The result was The Complete Poems.
In Searching for Mercy Street (1994), Linda Gray Sexton mentions that almost all of her mother’s literary papers and poems are stored in the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas in Austin and have been there for some time. The collection includes drafts and revisions that are not in The Complete Poems. The Complete Poems includes some poems not present in Anne Sexton’s many books.
Sexton strove in her poetry to understand her identity; she also wished to present herself as the witty, urbane woman of the suburbs who controls her madness, her abortions, her affairs, even her suicide attempts. One cannot believe that she controlled these things; Searching for Mercy Street makes clear how desperate Anne Sexton truly was.