ANNE SEXTON, “THE TYPO”
Who me? Sailing around like crazy in
LANGUAGE whatever it is and then brought up
short by reality (what is it, really?)
I'm everything!!! Hysteric, manic, depressed,
schitz (spellomg spelling) etc.
ANNE SEXTON WROTE “confessional” poems about “well, this human being [who] lived from 1928 to whenever, and … what she had to say about her life” (1985, 135). The relationship between the historically specific “human being,” the maker of the poems, and the “I” in the poems is the question she keeps raising, and it is the question I want to pick up: who exactly is the “I” in the poem and how is it produced? This difficult question is additionally complicated in her case, for her psychological disorder, which was diagnosed as hysteria,1 affects not only the life of the “human being” but the poetic configuration of the autobiographical subject, the subject in language, and the formally generated “I” of the lyric.
“When I was first sick I was thrilled (a language word translate, relieved) to get into the Nut House,” Sexton writes about her initial hospitalization: “At first, of course, I was just scared and crying and very quiet (who me!) but then I found this girl (very crazy of course) (like me I guess) who talked language. What a relief! I mean, well … someone!” Then she finds that Doctor Orne, her psychiatrist, “talked language.” Her husband, she writes, “has never once understood one word of language. … I don't know who else does. I don't use it with everyone” (1977, 244–45). “I think a different language than I must practice speaking” to the family and the children.2 The mentally ill and the therapist “talk language.” And, she later finds out, so did the poets in the workshop: in the writing class, as in the hospital, “I felt I belonged somewhere,” Sexton says, felt “more real, sane” (1976, 403). Diane Middlebrook suggests that therapy and poetry are “language” because they work with metaphoric substitutions. The “talking cure” taught her, she writes, that “the symptoms of her mental illness were like metaphors” (DM, 64).