What Anne Sexton told her therapist – Interview with Dawn Skorczewski in the Boston Globe

IDEAS: Did you feel conflicted about using tapes of a patient talking to her therapist?

SKORCZEWSKI: I heard Sexton say to Orne several times, “I hope that somebody can use this one day,” or “I hope this can be useful,” about the tapes. So she clearly had the idea that if her personal pain, as it was articulated on the tapes, and also her work with her therapist could be helpful to patients or clinicians, that would make her happy; that would feel good to her. And that conclusion corresponds exactly to what we know about Sexton, which is that her personal life was the raw material of her poetry.

IDEAS: The tapes were a huge controversy when Diane Middlebrook published her biography. Is the therapeutic community still upset?

SKORCZEWSKI: I was talking a little bit about my book in New York a few months ago, when there were some psychoanalysts in the room, and one of the analysts became really angry that we were talking about this case at all because she felt we shouldn’t have access to it. So it’s still quite raw for analysts.

IDEAS: Why did Orne suggest she start writing?

SKORCZEWSKI: Orne said to her, “One of the ways people get well is by having something to do. What is it you think you could do other than being a mother?” She said, “Well, the only thing I think I have a talent for is to be a prostitute, because I think I could make men feel sexually powerful.” And Orne said, “Well, I don’t think that’s the best use of your talents, so let’s think about other options. Have you ever tried writing? Maybe if you wrote about your experiences you’d be helpful to other people.”…Orne did not know then that Anne stopped writing poetry years before when her mother falsely accused her of plagiarism. He helped her emerge from that silence….He reminded her that she had been a writer.

IDEAS: How did the therapy affect her poetry?

SKORCZEWSKI: Most of the first poems that she wrote after she and Orne discussed her becoming a poet were about therapy….If you look at her very first poem in her very first book, “To Bedlam and Part Way Back,” it is “You, Doctor Martin.” The first line is: “You, Doctor Martin, walk from breakfast to madness.” That use of “I, you”–I am the poet, you are the doctor–is the speaker/listener relationship that shapes a lot of the poems in that first volume. Another poem is called, “Said the Poet to the Analyst.” In that poem, the speaker says, “My business is words” and “Your business is watching my words.” She makes the poet the more creative person.

For the full interview, visit: http://articles.boston.com/2012-03-25/ideas/31232748_1_martin-orne-tapes-of-anne-sexton-diane-wood-middlebrook