Ok, so to start, yes, I realize this whole effort could be considered along the lines of confessional. As I endeavored this outline and the writing thereafter, the only promise I made to myself is to try and speak my truth. Not that the truth is a constant, but to channel my inner John Leguizamo in Moulin Rouge – “I only speak the truth.”
Back to the confessionals. I’ll stick with 2 decidedly associated with the movement/moment as such, and one other poet influenced by a friend to my favorite of the 2. Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and Maxine Kumin. Sylvia, best known for The Bell Jar. And for offing herself in her oven. We read The Bell Jar in high school – 11th grade, I think. Boston-born, poet married to a poet, depressed in a way that was documented to be super deep in a time when it was far harder to find willing help. She was a game changer, though, as a writer whose style compelled people to look and listen. A writer not loved enough until well after she was lost. A love and a friend. A fellow warrior. A woman of great magnitude. A leader before her time, in a sense nobody could understand until years later. Typical. Sad. But the gifts she left for us.
Anne. Oh Anne. “Just once, in Boston, I knew what life was for” Anne. “Suicides have a special language” Anne. “Live or die, just don’t ruin everything” Anne. Boston-born. Friend of Sylvia Plath. Poet. Lioness. Suicide. There’s been a lot of post-death talk, about abuses she committed. It’s complicated, certainly. But what I do know is the impact of her words on my life. Live or Die won the Pulitzer. I convinced my then boss, the Executive Director of the non-profit I worked for, to recite “Her Kind” to a room full of poor and homeless women. It killed. Her words wend and warp their way through my world and my mind. So many things she said. For the uninitiated, she killed herself. She’s buried in Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston. My pal Jay and I once visited, left her some smokes. And some love. No way to undo what’s done, but always a way to show some love.
Not a noted confessional poet, Maxine Kumin was an astute observer and best friend to Anne Sexton. Her words are about details. She’s not telling how she feels. She’s telling what she sees. I empathize with that. I usually end up spilling how I feel, but the impact of that is mostly coming from what I observed.
Anyway, so Maxine wasn’t by definition one of the confessional poets. But she was one of Anne Sexton’s dear friends. And after Anne donned her mother’s fur coat, had a drink and sat in her garage with the car running until the carbon monoxide killed her, Maxine wrote a poem I will never forget. She also is most likely the last person to have seen Anne alive, because they had lunch the day Anne killed herself.
“How it is” is a heart-rending poem. It’s a poem of the survivor – the one who still lives on after the one who couldn’t and doesn’t. “Shall I say how it is in your clothes?” Or – more to the point – “I think of the last day of your life, old friend, how I would unwind it, paste it together in a different collage.”
Her words encapsulate the toughness of being the one who is left behind. Part of why I am determined to keep on keeping on is because I read her words. It’s because nobody should have to feel that bereft because somebody gave up. Although I don’t ever blame anyone who cannot anymore.
Sometimes it’s just too much. Sometimes we cannot with things. I have lost friends. I have lost my sense of being at times. I persist because that is what I do. But that doesn’t make things reasonable or less painful. I do not know how to explain or deal with the ones who leave us behind. I don’t know. It sucks to lose people we love. It sucks to live in pain. In the end, it is what it is. We live. We love. We lose. We latch onto what we can. We shed a tear. For every Anne, there is a Maxine. Some of us can’t cope. Some of us can’t not cope. The rest of us exist. Coping how we may.