Rewriting the Word: American Women Writers and the Bible

By Amy Benson Brown | Go to book overview

Chapter Two "Much Madness Is Divinest Sense": The Biblical Revision of Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath

A Rhetoric of Confession

In the fall of 1958, Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath met in a poetry workshop run by Robert Lowell at Boston University. Though Lowell 1959 collection, Life Studies, is credited with beginning the confessional movement, it is the work of his two women students that has become practically synonymous with confessionalism. The critical backlash against this American poetic movement that dared to place personal experience, particularly anguishing experience, at center stage has thus disproportionately targeted Sexton and Plath and has contributed to a general lack of appreciation of the range and cultural significance of their poetry. Though Sexton's later poetry is often understood as religious while Plath's is not, this chapter investigates how both poets undertake a larger project of cultural revision though their very different dialogues with the Bible. This generation's argument with the Word of the Father necessarily rises out of the confessional movement. Just as H. D.'s biblical imagination was rooted in modernism, so these later poets' biblical imagination was "born," as Sexton says, "doing reference work in sin / and born confessing it."1 Some of Sexton and Plath's confessions, like their male contemporaries', re

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