Sexton, Transformations

Brutal. Unflinching. Caustic. Anne Sexton let loose on fairy tales.

This is another book in my Two-Thirds Book Challenge.

There isn’t a lot to say here unless one is a fan of Sexton. We read a few of these along with many other Sexton poems (and those of Sylvia Plath) in the Madwomen Poets class I took in fall of 2010. I found an excellent copy of this in a lovely used bookstore (Defunct Books) in Iowa City sometime after the class was over so I bought it.

There is a forward by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. but I honestly don’t know what role it is supposed to play. From a purely mercenary capitalistic perspective I guess it was even better than a blurb by a “name.” ::sigh::

These are not accessible poems to the uninitiated. Clearly, most adults brought up on the Disney-fied versions of fairy tales can appreciate some of what is going on here. But Sexton pulls no punches and, as she is a confessional poet, one needs to know her story.

Sex and death. The never-ending story. Incest. (Real or contrived.) Old aunt. Father. Mixed in with the typical fare of lust, greed, hate, pride, and all of the other human foibles.

The poems are:

  • The Gold Key
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  • The White Snake
  • Rumpelstiltskin
  • The Little Peasant
  • Godfather Death
  • Rapunzel
  • Iron Hans
  • Cinderella
  • One-Eye, Two-Eyes, Three-Eyes
  • The Wonderful Musician
  • Red Riding Hood
  • The Maiden Without Hands
  • The Twelve Dancing Princesses
  • The Frog Prince
  • Hansel and Gretel
  • Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty)

Some excerpts to whet your appetite (or not):

From “Iron Hans” p. 50

“Without Thorazine
or benefit of psychotherapy
Iron Hans was transformed.
no need for Master Medical;
no need for electroshock—
merely bewitched all along.
Just as the frog who was a prince.
Just as the madman his simple boyhood.”

Opening to “Cinderella” p. 53

“You always read about it:
the plumber with twelve children
who wins the Irish Sweepstakes.
From toilets to riches.
That story.

Or the nursemaid,
some luscious sweet from Denmark
who captures the oldest son’s heart.
From diapers to Dior.
That story.

…”

From “One-Eye, Two-Eyes, Three-Eyes” p. 60-61

“The unusual needs to be commented upon…

The idiot child,
a stuffed doll who can only masturbate.
The hunchback carrying his hump
like a bag of onions…
Oh how we treasure
their scenic value.”

One group I can recommend this book of transformed fairy tales to, besides Sexton fans who have yet to read this, is those interested in critiques of the “traditional” Disney-fied, male-centered fairy/folk tale.

Sexton, as usual, is quite powerful.

Beware.

2 thoughts on “Sexton, Transformations

  1. Damn, I will have to dig into my library and find my copy…last time I looked at it was in the 70′s. It fits in well with “grimm” and “once upon a time” and I had forgotten about it.

    Thanks.

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