Echoes is a digital reading series featuring writers from around the country reciting their favorite poems, along with a recording of the poet themselves reading their work.
This week, Bayou‘s Associate Poetry Editor Kia Groom reads Anne Sexton’s poem “Wanting to Die”.
“I’ve heard it said that poets like Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath are appropriate only for teenagers – teenage girls, specifically – and that one ought to ‘get over them’ if one wishes to have ones tastes taken seriously. Arielle Greenberg and Becca Klaver talk about this in their article ‘Mad Girls’ Love Songs,‘ deconstructing the myth of the romantic female suicide, that Ophelia-esque archetype that makes dead female bodies into something beautiful and whimsical, something to be gawked at and mythologized. When Lowell or Berryman write about suicide, they are taken seriously. There is a sense of gravity there, amongst critics – these poets are upheld for their technical skill, but also for their ability to render their struggles so bravely into art. When Sexton writes about suicide, it’s denounced as tacky, inappropriate, or else jostled to the sidelines of literature, written off as juvenile and unrefined.
“Wanting to Die” interests me because it is so frank. For a poem about suicide, it is remarkably bloodless – even casual. When Sexton reads it, she sounds almost off-hand; her tone is conversational, relaxed. There is no melodrama here. The poem is blunt, observational. The emotional impact, for me, comes from the dissonance between the gravity of the subject and the voice of the speaker. The speaker is nostalgic for death; her diction is familiar and warm. There’s a definite yearning there, but there’s also a tiredness. A sense of exhaustion. Does it romanticize suicide? I think not in the end. The body is not perfectly arranged, is not floating listless and demure down a river. The speaker ‘[rests], drooling at the mouth-hole.’ There is an undercurrent of ugliness. To me, it’s not at all a juvenile poem. On the contrary, I think it’s very powerful.”
Listen to Kia Groom read “Wanting to Die”
Kia is a British-Australian transplant currently completing her MFA at the University of New Orleans, where she writes poems and acts as Associate Poetry Editor for Bayou Magazine. She is founding editor of Quaint Magazine, a literary quarterly devoted to writing by female-identified authors. She tweets @whodreamedit, and blogs very sporadically at kiagroom.com.
Listen to Anne Sexton read “Wanting to Die”
Anne Sexton (November 9, 1928 – October 4, 1974) was an American poet, known for her highly personal, confessional verse. She won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1967 for her book Live or Die. Themes of her poetry include her long battle against depression and mania, suicidal tendencies, and various intimate details from her private life, including her relationships with her husband and children.