Jamie's Reviews > Anne Sexton: Teacher of Weird Abundance

Anne Sexton by Paula M. Salvio
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Feb 04, 10

bookshelves: life-writing-biographies, read-in-2010, lit-crit
Read from January 29 to February 04, 2010

Despite my minor quibbles, Salvio's book is not only a wonderful addition to Anne Sexton scholarship, but also a great example of an alternative approach to conducting 'academic' scholarship more generally. Though you might think: for chris'sakes I already know damn well enough about Anne Sexton's life, reconsider. This is an exercise both in illuminating what I think is a fairly 'undiscovered' facet of AS's history--her pedagogical practices (in fact, I'd nearly forgotten that she taught on and off from 1967 until her death in 1974)--and in revising pedagogical approaches for all sorts of educators. Though two chapters, I think, were perhaps unnecessary (the first being the one on AS's relationship with John Holmes, which is great, very well done, but is a fairly well-researched and written-on topic already; the second, the final chapter on AS's "racial innocence," which I'll return to), the portions of the book dedicated to AS's positioning as an educator brimming over with bodily, psychic, and emotional excess, and the one with an eye to her 'pedagogy of reparation' (in Salvio's terms) are engaging and beautifully done.

The chapter on 'racial innocence' is to my mind a bit of a stretch--which is not to say I don't think a worthy question, inasmuch as AS's life corresponded with the civil rights movement and, as Salvio notes, there are hardly any references to race at all in Sexton's work, teaching journals, or letters. However, Salvio seems to construct her entire argument on something that, quite frankly, just isn't there. To devote a chapter to the fact that a person never mentioned civil rights seems to me a somewhat unnecessary act of imaginative stretching. She cites Morrison's "Playing in the Dark"--which is a far better meditation on the constructions of whiteness *against* a sort of 'invisible black presence.' It seems to me that for Sexton, it was just not on the radar--as we're well aware, she was far more caught up in her personal struggles. Rarely do we see her eye traverse more political ground. A failing, perhaps, but not one that requires 20 pages of an argument built on air.

There were also numerous typos, which was a minor irritation--but it did make me take pause and think--how did these glaring mistakes get past the numerous eyes it must have passed on the way to publication. But then, that was simply a petty moment of frustration for me.

On the whole, however, the writing is beautiful, the approach is fresh, the territory at hand is mostly unmarked, and it's a really fascinating meditation on AS, pedagogy, and writing in general. Highly recommended, though perhaps only for diehard Sexton fans--or perhaps for teachers (or soon-to-be-teachers like myself) interested in a sort of innovative understanding of pedagogical practice.
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Reading Progress

02/02/2010 page 80
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell OMG HOWW did I miss this. Wow! It looks great! as does your review. I really agree Sexton was sort of politically innocent - Middlebrook talks about that some in the bio, how Sexton would read 'String Bean' at antiwar rallies (which must have had an interesting effect) and so on.


Jamie I think that Sexton was probably more politically-minded than we might think--I know, for instance, that Max Kumin said that Sexton read Betty Friedan and was interested in women's lib, even though she never affiliated with it or made this interest explicit (I think I remember her daughter, Linda, saying that AS gave her a copy of the Friedan or possibly de Beauvoir). And the funny thing is--you'd have to read the chapter I think--that Salvio goes on at length about this *one* instance where Sexton tells one of her students that she (the girl) writes a black character in a stereotypical way. Salvio claims this is an instance where Sexton chooses to propagate ignorance, rather than paying mind to the fact that Sexton seems to have some sort of sensitivity or frustration with stereotypical depictions of people. I don't know-I don't mean to harp on about it, and perhaps I'm just incredibly biased and resistant to the idea that Sexton might have harbored ignorant views, but I just found Salvio's chapter to be really sort of nasty and intellectually irritating.

THAT SAID, it really was otherwise wonderful. Really made me reflect upon my own position as a future-scholar, and inspired me to consider what it is that draws me so 'inexplicably' to Sexton, what my own tactics might be when I'm teaching next year, and so forth. I'm sure you'd love it--and I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on the aforementioned irritating chapter, not to mention this question of whether or not we might consider Sexton an 'ethical' educator (which is Salvio's argument, and one I find really fascinating and challenging). So yeah, definitely pick it up. :)


message 3: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell I think I remember her daughter, Linda, saying that AS gave her a copy of the Friedan or possibly de Beauvoir).

Oh yeah, now I remember - I definitely think it was Friedan, and Middlebrook talks about Sexton reading Friedan in the bio too (apparently Kumin was into Freud for a while!).



OMG how annoying....I hate it in academic books where one incident is held out and scrutinized and deemed typical, because sometimes that's all the recorded instances we have, or whatever. Also prejudice or even insensitivity just seems very uncharacteristic of Sexton, at least to me.

Really made me reflect upon my own position as a future-scholar, and inspired me to consider what it is that draws me so 'inexplicably' to Sexton, what my own tactics might be when I'm teaching next year, and so forth

Ohh wow -- very cool! //wishlists it


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