An Interview with Dawn Skorczewski on ArtsFuse

“An Accident of Hope” is a fascinating read for anyone interested in writers, writing, psychotherapy, women, medical ethics and American society just before the great upheaval of the 1960s.” –Arts Fuse   Excerpt from the Interview…   “AF: When did you get interested in psychoanalysis?   Skorczewski: In the mid-nineties, when a close friend described its benefits for her. It had changed her life to be in analysis, and she told me because I was looking to change mine. I ended up starting a 12-year analysis with a wonderful woman who helped me address my basic lack of self worth. But she also indirectly stimulated an interest in learning more about contemporary relational analytic theory and infant research. I learned that contemporary theory had moved far beyond the model of analysis that is still deeply entrenched in our cultural myths about the process. In fact, contemporary analysis, with its feminist, post-structuralist tenets, is much more complementary to my thinking about life and literature than I might have imagined when I was working on Sexton and psychiatry way back in 1991. I was an Affiliate Scholar at the Boston Psychoanalytic Institute for three years and especially enjoyed the clinical classes, in which I learned to think about the clinical situation from a less literary perspective.   AF: After the Middlebrook biography was published and both the literary and therapy communities condemned Orne (see Michiko Kakutani’s review in the Times), did you have any second thoughts about using them?   Skorczewski: None whatsoever. I am confident that Sexton wanted to help people by sharing her struggles to get well. I heard...

Psychoanalysis and Creativity

You don’t need to have any expert background in psychoanalysis, or in psychology, to appreciate the way Skorczewski puts together an intriguing narrative out of Anne Sexton’s therapy tapes. Sexton hadn’t been writing for a decade when she began therapy with Dr. Martin T. Orne, and he encouraged her to start again. She was 28 and he was 29 when she began seeing him two or three times a week for eight years. We learn from the tapes that Orne refused to engage with Sexton over the specifics of her work, yet she wrote a lot about him and their therapy sessions. In some poems, she seemed to be writing FOR him, but he tried to keep her focus on her mental illness, her family, and her life, not on seeking his approval for her poetic output. Skorczewski writes, Orne remained committed to the idea that Sexton should learn to feel special just for being herself. Neither her poetry nor her fame could be owned as aspects of her real self. But her children might be, as Orne’s question about them suggested. It’s hard not to wonder whether that approach was precisely the best one for Sexton. Full article at PsychologyToday.com...

Caroline Leavitt interviews Dawn Skorczewski about Anne Sexton’s therapy tapes, psychotherapy yesterday and today, much more…

Excerpt: What first drew you to Anne Sexton? I was first interested in Anne Sexton because I was certain, from reading her poems, that she was an incest survivor. My mother’s own history dovetailed with hers, and so my first journey to Sexton was to find my own history and to connect with my mother’s story (which she remained silent about). I found Diane Middlebrook’s assessment of this issue in the biography unconvincing. Later, having discovered the value of psychotherapy, I began to listen to her therapy tapes. Then I learned that there was much more to this poet than I’d even imagined. Sexton was treated by a very particular type of psychotherapy. Do you think that if she had been treated today, with more modern forms of psychotherapy and medication available, that the outcome for her might have been different? Yes, I do think that Sexton might have had a very different story had she been in treatment today. We need only look at Linda Sexton’s recent memoir to see how bipolar disorder and suicidality are being treated today. Linda writes a moving story of attempting to repeat her mother’s suicidal example only to find herself alive, and, most surprisingly, choosing life, with the help of an excellent therapist who values the relationship more than the symptom. How do you think, given this book, that Sexton might be reappraised? Sexton’s poetry looks very different when seen from the vantage point of her therapy. The multiple voices in her poems resonate with awareness of the ways in which person, culture, neurosis and the creative imagination exist in dialogue with...