May 05 Written by 

Anne Sexton Told Erica Jong

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In the '70s Erica Jong, about to publish her second book of poetry, told Anne Sexton she feared that the critics would hammer it. Sexton wrote back:

Don't dwell on the book's reception. The point is to get on with it--you have a life's work ahead of you--no point in dallying around waiting for approval. We all want it, I know, but the point is to reach out honestly--that's the whole point. I keep feeling that there isn't one poem being written by any of us--or a book or anything like that. The whole life of us writers, the whole product I guess I mean, is the one long poem--a community effort if you will. It's all the same poem. It doesn't belong to any one writer--it's God's poem perhaps. Or God's people's poem. You have the gift--and with it comes responsibility--you mustn't neglect or be mean to that gift--you must let it do its work. It has more rights than the ego wants approval.

I'm wondering whether Sexton was right, or if it's "Writer, Keep the Faith While Society Flays You" feel-good wishful thinking that Sexton herself did not believe -- which would explain why she wrote this using so many qualifiers -- and that she herself could not use.

Quoted from: Seducing the Demon: Writing for My Life, by Erica Jong. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2006.
Catherine Rankovic

Writer, with 30+ years' writing and publishing experience, 20+ years' teaching experience. Last book read: Mrs. Lincoln by Catherine Clinton.