Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Anne Sexton on Letting Out 'Some Extraordinary Animals'

Patricia Marx asks Anne Sexton what she means when she says, "The form is always important."

PM: Do you mean by form just the physical look of the poem?

Anne Sexton: Yes, sometimes, but also the sound. But I think of it as something you can hold. I think of it with my hands to begin with. I don’t know what the poem will be and I start out writing and it looks wrong. I start a long line and that looks wrong, and a short line, and I play around with rhyme, and then I sometimes make a kind of impossible syllabic count, and if I can get the first verse and it’s right, then I might keep on with that for four more verses, and then I might change it because I felt that it needed a new rhythm. It has as much to do with speech as it does with the way it will look on the page, because it will change speech—it’s a kind of compression. I used to describe it this way; that if you used form it was like letting a lot of wild animals out in the arena, but enclosing them in a cage, and you could let some extraordinary animals out if you had the right cage, and that cage would be form.

from “Interview with Anne Sexton” (1965)by Patricia Marx in Anne Sexton: The Artist and Her Critics edited by J.D. McClatchy (1978)

Anne Sexton seems to be saying that by using formal structure in poetry, the poet is liberated in terms of content. Sexton, at least, found form to be freeing instead of limiting. One way this might be characterized is that the form occupied the logical part of the brain, allowing the creative side to sneak out and go wild. --Keith Badowski

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