a field trip taken for En85, a poetry class
Our field trip took place in Tournament Park, located just below Caltech’s track and field. Clouds obscured the sun, making the sky dreary and gray. A good day to read Anne Sexton. When we got to the park, a single group was there, two parents and two kids. The kids were playing and screaming, running around in the sand and riding on a small bike. We sat down at a table and started to read.
The situation was funny, in an odd, contrasting sort of way. There we were, reading Anne’s depressing poetry about suicide and death and shunning religion, while right next to us carefree kids were making themselves tired with fun. I wonder what these people thought of us, if they inquired at all into what we were doing. It would have been fairly obvious that we were reading some sort of literature, and perhaps fairly certain that we were discussing it. But I highly doubt thoughts veering towards suicide entered the minds of our watchers.
We can flip this situation on its head, look at it the other way round. I have no idea what the parents were discussing. Maybe they were conversing about postpartum depression or extramarital affairs. Maybe they were wondering about us and what we were doing. Maybe they were talking about socks with dogs and frogs on them. This kind of conjecturing could go on forever. My point is that neither party could grasp the entirety of the situation - to do so would have involved going over to those strangers and talking to them, asking about their lives and their stories and "how's your week been?". From our point of view, the situation seemed strange, unusual, a bit humorous. From theirs, if they were even conscious of it, it most likely just seemed like any other day at the park.
Anne Sexton’s poetry is said to be largely confessional. In fact, she’s known to be one of the first confessional poets, alongside Sylvia Plath and Robert Lowell. There have, however, been claims that many of her poems have been misread, and that the supposed autobiographical elements they obtain do not exist. In other words, some support the notion that her poems are not memoirs; they are just poems. I haven’t read much arguing either for or against the confessional nature of Anne’s poems. However, it seems to me that it’s a little ambiguous. Poetry about one’s own personal life, or poetry that’s inspired by one’s perspective on human experiences, can be tricky to interpret. It’s easy to make quick connections between words on a page and known history: the past suicide attempts, a religious friend, etc. It’s harder to grasp the point of view of the poet, understand the state he or she was in at the time of writing. The same situation can be viewed in completely different ways, depending on whose eyes are doing the viewing.
Nonetheless, from the few poems I’ve read, I would say Anne’s style is fairly confessional. She talks about her life in diary detail, breaking down familial deaths and suicide attempts with a keen precision. However, at the risk of sounding obvious and cliche, we must remember Tournament Park, and all situations, and all poems, and realize that we never have the complete picture, that there is always something missing, and that a confessional poem may really be a complete and utter farce.