Friday, April 12, 2013

Anne Sexton on Rejection

More tidbits from Kathleen Spivack’s wonderful memoir, With Robert Lowell and His Circle (truly, reading this book is like sitting next to the best conversationalist possible at Bread Loaf!):

It was commonly thought that Anne Sexton had rushed into print, experiencing no difficulty in getting published once her first brilliant poems had been created.  This was untrue.  In fact, Anne had tried to publish consistently for several years before the acceptance of her first manuscript.  The first time I went to see her, she pulled out masses of rejection slips from her file drawers and waved them in front of me, laughing.  She had two file cabinets full of magazine rejections.  Some were printed rejection forms; others, nasty letters. It was somehow comforting to see her fling them about, to know that the struggle to publish was a common one and that everyone got rejected.

Anne actually seemed to enjoy the process of sending out material.  She had envelopes addressed to the magazines she favored, and when her poems came back in the mail, she immediately transferred them to new envelopes and sent them right out again.  She insisted I do this too. She never condescended to me, or acted as if my poems were not worth being published.  We were conspirators together against a harsh anti-poetic world, she seemed to imply.  Our poems would prevail.  “Don’t let the bastards get you!”

She liked to read me her rejection mail.  She’d have it out on her desk, ready to read, when I walked into her house for lunch.  “Oh Kathy,” she would exclaim.  “Listen to this!” She’d roll her eyes heavenward, recite the note dramatically, and then stuff it away in a file drawer, only to find another one to read.  “You see,” she would say to me throatily, “You just have to keep trying.”  Then she’d pause.  “The bastards…,” she added.  A dramatic sigh.  She’d stub out her cigarette, light another, lean her head back, exhale.  “Don’t let the bastards win, Kathy! Don’t ever forget it.  Promise me.”
In other interesting news, apparently Anne Sexton spent grant money putting in a swimming pool at her house, but this is where she wrote/entertained/lived her whole life, poolside, and there is something just so forgivably glamorous about that image of her hanging out at the pool surrounded by pages of poems.  And maybe everyone else knew this, but I didn’t:  Elizabeth Bishop regualarly wore tight leather pants around the house and loved to play Ping-Pong.

Ah, poets…the life of every worthwhile party!


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.