John is out of town again, and so I taught his class today. At the outset, I felt the need to 'come clean' to the class and to say that I don't "do" poetry, but it's also the case that reading poetry draws on a lot of the skills we rhetorical critics develop, especially those of us interested in materiality and language. And since today was Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton day, I found myself drawing on my background in feminist theory and even Roman history in the case of one Sylvia Plath poem.
But one of the Sexton poems really got me, especially for its attention to the energy of stuff, or what Jane Bennett calls "the force of things." Even more than that, though, the account of writing here is eerily lovely, like when the typewriter gets monstrified with all those unblinking eyes, and even more pointedly (particularly at the end), the way words reside in hands, working to make things, well, come alive. So things attain their force through the liveliness of words themselves, with all their "dreams" and "costumes."
"The Room of My Life"
by Anne Sexton
in the room of my life
the objects keep changing.
Ashtrays to cry into,
the suffering brother of the wood walls,
the forty-eight keys of the typewriter
each an eyeball that is never shut,
the books, each a contestant in a beauty contest,
the black chair, a dog coffin made of Naugahyde,
the sockets on the wall
waiting like a cave of bees,
the gold rug
a conversation of heels and toes,
a knife waiting for someone to pick it up,
the sofa, exhausted with the exertion of a whore,
two flowers taking root in its crotch,
opening and closing like sea clams,
poking at me,
lighting up both the soil and the laugh.
the starving windows
that drive the trees like nails into my heart.
Each day I feed the world out there
although birds explode
right and left.
I feed the world in here too,
offering the desk puppy biscuits.
However, nothing is just what it seems to be.
My objects dream and wear new costumes,
compelled to, it seems, by all the words in my hands
and the sea that bangs in my throat.