Books: Living with the Excitable Gift

ANNE SEXTON: A SELF-PORTRAIT IN LETTERS Edited by Linda Gray Sexton and Lois Ames Houghton Mifflin; 433 pages; $15

A poem is a one-of-a-kind, heart-made object. To make one right takes a great deal of silence: also hearing nothing but one's own voice. Poetry exacts its measure of pain, but that is not to be confused with anguish. Anguish is what has obsessed many of our best-known "confessional poets," including Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. They also expressed some joys, but in the end depression always tipped the balance. Lowell...

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