Anne Sexton’s poetics of the suburbs

Gill, J. (2007) Anne Sexton’s poetics of the suburbs. In: Jackson, M. (ed.) Health and the Modern Home. Series: Routledge studies in the social history of medicine (31). Routledge: New York ; London, pp. 63-83. ISBN 9780415956109

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Her poetry shows us a historically specifi c suburban world of open-plan lounges and modern kitchen appliances, of picture windows, backyards, and barbecues. Against this backdrop, Sexton presents a world of intense neighbourliness, high-pressure childrearing, carefully demarcated gender roles, and highly vulnerable marriages. The 1972 poem ‘The Risk’ presents us, in just twelve lines, with a picture of suburban domesticity in crisis where ‘a daughter tries suicide,’ ‘the kitchen blows up its shiny kettle / and the vacuum cleaner swallows its bag.’3 The mother in this poem-stereotypically the dominant figure in the feminised suburbs-collapses onto the ‘marriage bed’ in an abject state of self-destruction. The 1973 sequence ‘The Divorce Papers,’ written while Sexton was preparing to divorce her husband Kayo, paints a similar picture. The accoutrements of the average suburban life-of wedding rings and children, vacations and kitchens, of televisions, aprons, washers and driers-are juxtaposed in surreal and disturbing ways.4 Marsha Bryant has noted the same strategy in the work of Sexton’s contemporary, Sylvia Plath. In both cases, the effect is to illuminate the ‘unstable boundaries of postwar domesticity.’

Item Type:Book Sections
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Gill, Professor Jo
Authors: Gill, J.
College/School:College of Arts & Humanities
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