The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Anne Sexton (1928-1974) once confided to a priest that she was unable to go to church, let alone pray.
After the priest read her work, he replied that her poems were her prayers, her typewriter was her altar. “As he left me he said…‘Come on back to the typewriter.'”
This anecdote appears in Kathleen Norris’s most recent book, Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and A Writer’s Life (2008), about a depression-like condition that afflicts monks, causing them to become detached from daily praying and haunted by a sense of futility.
The subject matter is difficult but not intimidating, as Norris wrestles with many of acedia’s complexities. From all the ideas and philosophies I took away from the book, that one thought especially remains with me of the priest encouraging this famously depressed, confessional poet that her poems were her prayers.
Today, I bought the following – three first editions of Sexton’s poetry. As I drove home with my treasures, I remembered the anecdote, and it occurred to me that what was sitting in the sack on the passenger seat beside me was neither a mere stack of books nor a mere collection of poetry.
Love Poems (1969) paperback first/Houghton Mifflin
From the back of the book: “There are twenty-five love poems. They can be read as the story of a single lover, or a single romance which [sic] begins with a joyous rebirth described in the opening poem, ‘The Touch.’ But there is in each poem a confrontation with humanity by a woman who cannot train her eye off the real face of that humanity…”
The Death Notebooks (1974) hardbound first/Houghton Mifflin
From the dust jacket: “She speaks here with great power as a woman who has looked at despair and death up close, and has come to terms with them…”
The Awful Rowing Toward God (1975) paperback first/Houghton Mifflin
From inside the front cover: “In this powerful new collection, one of our most dazzlingly inventive and prolific poets tackles a universal theme: the agonizing search for God that is part and parcel of the lives of all of us.”