10/27 To Bedlam and Part Way Back Response

October 27th, 2010

When reading To Bedlam and Part Way Back, I noticed that one of Sexton’s repeating theme was the imagery of children, which she often used to establish similitudes between adults and children. From the very first poem “You, Doctor Martin” she says “what large children we are”, clearly implying that adults are children at a larger scale; in “Torn down from Glory Daily” we read that: “now, like children, we climb down humps of rock”, again, adults are compared to children. However, many times we are made aware of the child, or children, that appear(s)in solitary, briefly in a verse or two, not to be seen again in the poem. This “children in the background effect” is present in “The Kite”, “The Road Back”, “The Portrait of an old Woman…”, “Funnel”, among others. Furthermore, Sexton’s imagery of children also goes beyond the ornamental background piece, she also uses children as protagonists in poems like “The Bells”, “For Johhny Pole On the Forgotten Beach”, and “Unknown Girl in the Maternity Ward”.

Why? I believe there is a good psychoanalytical explanation for this so I will leave that to the experts. As a reader, I think, this imagery of children calls for an awareness of life’s many stages; defends purity amidst the stains of addiction and mental illness; enforces the true beginning of life’s journey- and so on. By doing so, Sexton suggests that either we are never fully grown, or that growth is irreversible and the object of inner melancholy.

10/24 Prospectus and Annotated Bibliography

October 25th, 2010

Diana Sanchez

Prof. Pamela Burger

English 391W



In my research paper I will be looking into Anne Sexton’s Bedlam and Part Way Back poems, especially those who best evidence the fragmented an out-looking self. The criticism surrounding Anne Sexton’s work focuses on the exclusive nature of her secluded “I”- often repudiated for its grotesque content. I will argue to the contrary, that the fragmented self present in Anne Sexton’s poems is not grotesque- that it deals with the obscene but that it is not obscene. I will argue that through the process of revision Sexton’s poems were part of a careful craft- that there is no relationship between the fragmented self and a fragmented mind as many critics seem to believe. Furthermore, I will briefly cite other works of confessional poets like W.D. Snodgrass and Sylvia Plath in order to link the concept of the fragmented self to the stylistic preferences of the confessional poetry genre.

First, I will explain what the fragmented self is by using Linda Anderson’s Autobiography. In order to evidence the fragmented self in Anne Sexton’s Bedlam and Part Way Back, I will utilize the following three poems: Music Swims Back to Me, The Kite, and Her Kind. I will use the words of critics like James Dickey and Hayden Carruth, who judged Sexton more on content than on form. To counterpart their arguments, I will bring in critics like Beverly Fields and Mona Van Duyn, who argued that the “I” was a character separate from the author. Furthermore, I will use excerpts from W.D. Snodgrass’ Heart’s Needle and Sylvia Plath’s Ariel in order to expose the fragmented and out-looking self as a stylistic choice of confessional poets.

Annotated Bibliography

Anderson, Linda. Autobiography. New York: Routledge, 2001. Print.

Autobiography is a compilation of literary criticism surrounding the genre of autobiography. It looks at the works of several autobiographical authors  as well as the literary criticism produced by these works. This book will help me distinguish critical from psychoanalytical arguments by defining what constitutes literary criticism.

Ed. Carolyn Riley and Barbara Harte. “Contemporary Literary Criticism.” Gale Research 2 (1974): 390-392. Web. 24 Oct. 2010.

Ed. Jeffrey W. Hunter and Polly Vedder. “Contemporary Literary Criticism.” Gale Research 123 (2000): 400-454. Web. 24 Oct. 2010.

Ed. Joseph Mark Conte. “American Poets Since World War II, Fifth Series.” Dictionary of Literary Biography 169 (1996): 244-252. Web. 24 Oct. 2010.

Derived from Literary Criticism Online, an overview of selected literary genres and the critical reception of works. “Contemporary Literary Criticism”  and “ American Poets Since World War II, Fifth Series” provide well-researched information on the biography of Anne Sexton as well as the literary critics that revised her works. These sources will help me understand the critical debates surrounding Sexton’s work and render which one supports and/or rebuts my argument.

Plath, Sylvia. Ariel, the Restored Edition. New York:  HarperCollins Publishers, 2004. Print.

Book written by confessional poet Sylvia Plath. Critically linked to the works of Anne Sexton for its similar themes and motifs. Plath deals with depression and thoughts of suicide, as well as feminist topics such as female sexuality, empowerment, etc. This source will help me find stylistic similarities between Plath and Sexton, mainly focusing on the concept of the fragmented self and how it is preferred by confessional poets over the unified self.

Snodgrass, W.D. Heart’s Needle. Michigan: Knopf, 1959. Print.

Collection of poems by W.D. Snodgrass, first published in 1959. Known as one of the most influential collection of confessional poetry by critics and other confessional poets like Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath. Critically acclaimed as “revolutionary” for its abstractions and personal honesty. This source will help me determine whether the fragmented self was inherent of early confessional poetry or if it was later added by future proponents of the genre.

Sexton, Anne. To Bedlam and Part Way Back. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999. Print.

First book of poems written by Anne Sexton. To Bedlam and Part Way Back deals with mental illness, gender issues, and ultimately renders truths about Sexton through the concept of the fragmented self, which is abstract by nature as proposed by the early poetry of W.D. Snodgrass. This is the main source from which I will argue that there is no connection between the fragmented self and the author.

10/13 My Life Response

October 13th, 2010

” Steedman also helps us to perceive that the mother is not just the primordial subject but also a socially specific subject, who exists beyond the (psychoanalytic) narrative of her loss. The m(OTHER) is not just a metaphor, in other words; she is also a social subject whose difference and specificity needs to be recognized and found a place in our thinking “(Anderson, 114).

“What is the gender on paper. A fatigue in the cold, fear of finishing. And doesn’t it make a difference to me, reading this book now, to know that you are going to read the same book afterwards, in the same copy, these selfsame words-and would that difference made be different if you were reading your own copy of the book at the same time that I was reading mine. It seemed natural to her to confuse the romantic with the motherly” (Hejinian, 76).

The passage from Autobiography explains that the presence of “mother” in feminist autobiographies is not only a metaphorical representation embedded in the existence of the female “I”, but that “mother” is a social construct that serves a social purpose that helps place the author in a given life period. In other words, “mother” gives the author a platform to build social notions of herself as well as as a social perspective. For instance, to write on the death of the mother suggests social complications for the author, the arrangement of the funeral: the ceremonial is social; to lose a mother is to be fully-grown, etc. By  saying that “mother” is not just a metaphor but rather a social subject, Steedman may be suggesting that as any other social subject, ‘mother” has social attributes that the author wants to mirror in her autobiography.

Such is the case in the previously stated passage from My Life, where the anonymous “her” ( could be the author talking in third person, or the reader assumed to be a female) seems to “confuse the romantic with the motherly”. Here, Hejinian ties the “romantic”, which is socially a feminine concern, with the motherly, which, as argued by  Steedman, is a social subject. Thus, a social concern is advocated by a social subject, creating an almost perfect argument. Perhaps, the only way for “her” to not be indifferent to the selfsame words is by confusing the romantic with the motherly, meaning that, if “mother” is a social thus universal subject, anyone can care for the romantic, or the content of someone’s selfsame words, if you parallel it the “mother subject”, whom all readers have been socialized to in one way or another.

10/06 Dictee Post

October 13th, 2010

“You see the color the hue the same you see the shape the form the same you see the unchangeable and the unchanged the same you smell filtered edited through progress and westernization the same you see the numerals and innumerables bonding overlaid the same speech, the same” (Cha 57).

This passage has rhythm, and I found it to be a great example of Cha’s style. This is what grammatically would be called a run-on sentence, also notice that it lacks any punctuation. Reading it out loud for the first time, one becomes nervous about whether or not we’ll have enough breath to finish it, but the words she uses are short and easy to pronounce, allowing us to continue reading while taking small breaths  without even realizing it. This is due to what I would denominate as a rhythmic order, which is attained through repetition, particularly of “the same”, correlating substantives  (i.e.numerals) to its adjectives (i.e. innumerables), using synonyms that have the same amount of syllables (i.e. shape, form), all to convey  feeling.

I felt asphyxiated, bombarded by ideas, rushed to think quickly, to dismiss the past and accept the immediate… This passage is like being inside someone’s head, no, this book in general is like being inside someone’s head, and this passage evidences such theme. I personally enjoyed the poetic presence of this vastly non-prose text. I think that without the rhythm behind every word reading this book would have been tedious to read.


October 4th, 2010

I would like to research the main theme behind the works of the confessional poet. Even though I will be looking into the poetry of authors like Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, etc. I will talk about the confessional poet as a unanimous literary voice. Is there even a main theme present? If so, I will try to narrow it down by looking across several works of confessional poetry as well as the literary criticism these works produced. Wish me luck!