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Anne Sexton: 'My husband hates the way I read poems'

August 2, 2010 |  2:45 pm

In March of 1966, a camera crew visited Anne Sexton's home. That year, the poet released her collection "Live or Die," which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1967. In two videos with Spanish subtitles, posted on YouTube in 2008, Sexton reads her work, scolds her dog, cajoles her husband, types at her typewriter and kids around with her daughter.

"What'd you do, tape me screaming at the dog?" she asks with a smile, cigarette between fingers of the hand in which she's holding the poem "Menstruation at 40."

While reading her poetry, she projects an intense persona. "My husband hates the way I read poems. He says, 'You sound like a minister,'" she says.  "But you give it kind of a royal touch, when you read a poem, I think. I think everyone does."

When not reading, Sexton, who committed suicide in 1974, slides into another mode. Her voice takes on another tone; she smiles and seems to be having a lot of fun. She answers questions candidly: No, she was never tied down during her mental hospital visits; yes, she still takes drugs, to get to sleep.

She tries to help the filmmakers get the material they need. "Want me to walk around, and start walking up and down the stairs, stuff like that?" she asks. When the filmmaker says yes, Sexton gets up and adjusts her tunic, then declares, "I'm going to take my Budweiser," and reaches for the bottle. 

In Part 2, after the jump, the raw 1960s footage has been edited and given a contemporary soundtrack. At its beginning, Sexton talks about death. "I can explain sex in a minute," she says, referencing a conversation she might have with her daughter. "But death -- I can't explain."

-- Carolyn Kellogg