Friday, January 21, 2011
Live or Die: Review
Just finished the first book for this year's Birth Year Challenge. With a quick roll of the virtual dice I found myself reading books from my husband's birth year: 1966. First up: Live or Die, a collection of poetry by Anne Sexton. I have always found it much harder to write about poetry than I do fiction. I like poetry. I have written poetry. But writing about or reviewing it seems difficult to me. I feel rather like the proverbial philistine of the arts who "just knows what she likes."
Poets.org has this to say about Sexton's collection: Her most celebrated collection, Live or Die, is a fictionalized memoir of her recovery from mental illness. Each poem is dated as she moves from the opening lines of "And One for My Dame," to the closing lines of "Live." In the author’s note, she says that the poems were written chronologically, "despite the fact that they read like a fever chart for a bad case of melancholy." Although the recovery mapped within the volume was not complete, the poems do not portend her suicide in 1974, just eight years later. While there is cause for sadness in these poems, there is celebration as well.
It is true that there seems to be a definite progress through these poems as she makes her way through the turbulent waters of mental illness. And the last poem holds a bit of triumph and hope as she decides to live. My favorite poems are "Little Girl, My String Bean, My Lovely Woman" and "A Little Uncomplicated Hymn"--both written for her daughters. I particularly like the last line part of the second one:
I look for uncomplicated hymns
but love has none.
A painful, emotional, and touching collection of poetry. Four stars out of five.