'The cracked mirror' : Anne Sexton's poetics of self representation
This thesis re-evaluates the work of the poet Anne Sexton (1928-1974), concentrating, in particular, on the indeterminacies, contradictions and aporia which it finds to be characteristic of her ostensibly frank and self-revelatory writing. The study is based on a close textual analysis of Sexton's writing, is informed by oststructuralist theories, and is sustained by an examination and discussion of archive collections of her previously unpublished papers. In seeking an understanding of Sexton's poetics, the thesis identifies and interrogates the strategies of denial and obfuscation apparent in her own explication of her work - principally, by scrutiny of the unpublished, and previously unresearched, drafts of a series of lectures which she delivered in 1972. Chapters One and Two consider the origins of 'confessional' or - Sexton's preferred term - 'personal' poetry and reassess her place within contemporary poetry. They suggest that Sexton's writing is engaged in a process of negotiation and contestation, both with the boundaries and expectations of confessionalism, and with the strictures of T. S. Eliot's theory of 'impersonality'. In support of these arguments, Chapter Two offer a reading of Sexton's little-known poem, 'Hurry Up Please It's Time', alongside its intertext, Eliot's The Waste Land. Chapter Three reassesses received views of the supposedly beneficial interrelationship between confessional speaker and reader. It examines Sexton's appropriation of dramatic masks and personae and her use of metaphors of striptease and prostitution, and suggests that these are employed simultaneously to appease and to repel an intrusive audience. Similarly, Chapters Four and Five trace Sexton's problematisation of two previously-accepted tenets of confessional poetry: its status as autobiography and its truthfulness, drawing attention to the techniques employed in order to give the impression of both. Chapter Six considers Sexton's problematic engagement with a language which is not malleable, transparent, and referential but, rather, is experienced as uncooperative and occlusive. Finally, the thesis recuperates Sexton from the common charge of narcissism, arguing that it is the writing, rather than the poet, which is self-reflexive and self-conscious. In this respect, it concludes that her work - perhaps unexpectedly - anticipates many of the tendencies of postmodernist writing.