Nov. 9, 1999


by Anne Sexton


by Anne Sexton

Broadcast Date: TUESDAY: November 9, 1999

Poem: "Hog" and "Lobster" by Anne Sexton from The Complete Poems published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

It's the birthday of poet Anne Sexton, born in Newton, Massachusetts (1928)—an intensely ‘confessional' poet obsessed with voices that urged her, most of her adult life, to kill herself. The first of many suicide attempts came on her 28th birthday. Her psychiatrist gave her a series of diagnostic tests which—contrary to what family and teachers had said—proclaimed she was highly intelligent. He also suggested she resume writing poetry, which she had enjoyed but abandoned during high school. She enrolled at a poetry workshop taught by poet John Holmes and also attended by Maxine Kumin, who would become her lifelong peer and ally; they frequently spent hours a day on the phone, reading and critiquing each other's work. Four years after joining the Holmes workshop, Sexton's first published collection, To Bedlam and Part Way Back (1960), described her mental breakdown and recovery. Live or Die (1966) won a Pulitzer Prize; The Awful Rowing Toward God (1975) came out a year after her suicide.

It's the birthday of novelist and playwright Ivan Turgenev [turr-GYAY-nyif], born in Oryel, Russia (1818). In the aristocracy of Central Russia he was brought up speaking French, German and English. (As Russian was thought beneath the dignity of true nobles, he was forced to learn it from family servants.) His father, an impoverished nobleman, had married for money; Turgenev's autocratic mother, who ruled the estate, relished having both servants and sons whipped in her presence. Turgenev described such mistreatment—especially of the serfs—in his book Sportsman's Sketches (1852). The gulf between generations (his own struck him as futile and weak) resulted in his novel Fathers and Sons (1862), in which he introduced the term nihilist to describe a person disgusted with the old order, which he sees as meaningless. Turgenev was a master at describing the sort of 19th-century Russian who no longer had a place in society—the lish-nee chyel-oh-vyek, the ‘not-needed' or, as western critics took to saying, the ‘Superfluous Man.'

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