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View Full Version : Rate-a-Poem: Her Kind



William Haskins
12-06-2005, 01:02 AM
By Anne Sexton (http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/14)
1928-1974

Her Kind

I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.

I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.

I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.

Sarita
12-06-2005, 01:06 AM
This poem is amazing. Beyond words.

mommie4a
12-06-2005, 06:30 AM
There's a reason one of her books is always on my nighttable.

Perks
12-06-2005, 06:41 AM
Yeah, it's really wonderful. Never for a moment did I consider letting my eyes wander from the words. Love it.

Cassie88
12-06-2005, 06:55 AM
I used to have every poem of hers. How could I have let them vanish moving from place to place over the years? Now, I know one thing I want for Christmas.

JAlpha
12-06-2005, 06:55 AM
A poem like that is . . . a masterpiece!

brokenfingers
12-06-2005, 07:03 AM
Wow, I know poetry is subjective but this has got me flummoxed. Must be a woman thing.

I rated it a 3. It didn't really do much for me. While I thought it was an excellent poem, it definitely didn't cause me to voice all the things I've read in the posts before me.

Hmmm... just makes me wonder even more about the quirkiness of poetry...

P.H.Delarran
12-06-2005, 07:10 AM
I voted #4. I thought it was a great poem, well composed and structured, fairly easy to understand but enough of a riddle to make it interesting. There weren't really any elements I didn't like, its just that while I could relate to the idea of it, I couldn't really relate to the actuality of it. Does that make sense?


Ok, what's next? :D

William Haskins
12-06-2005, 07:12 AM
broken,

i think the point of view (and accompanying imagery) from the female perspective can account for the part of the enjoyment others have gotten out of it.

however, i think it would be an oversimplification to see its value as simply the poetic equivalent of chick-lit. it's quite a powerful statement, in my opinion.

Perks
12-06-2005, 07:18 AM
Yes, the defiant, F U, quality should cross gender lines quite well.

unthoughtknown
12-06-2005, 07:21 AM
I don't read much poetry. This is the best poem I have read in a long time...

brokenfingers
12-06-2005, 07:32 AM
Oh don't mistake me, my intention was not to diminish it in any way. I was just struck by the disparateness of perspective, seemingly along a gender line.

I agree it is a powerful poem and paints a vivid picture, but I didn't feel though as though it spoke to me. I felt that the poet had given me a glimpse into their mind, but not their heart.

I felt kind of excluded from this mystery. I was unable to fully realize what the poet was trying to say, but the female readers seemed to have grasped it almost instinctively (going by the universal acclaim)

It spoke to me of the mystery of being a woman, or to be more precise, a certain kind of woman (I'm guessing a witch.) But that's the key word - mystery. It answered no questions for me nor revealed any truths. Offered no insight nor gave any clues. In the end I was left as perplexed at what her kind truly is as I was at the beginning. I found no lines contained within that hit that note of acknowledgement, that crossed the gender barrier and said: This is what it's like. Can you feel it now? Can you feel who I am? Can you feel what it is to be that kind of woman?

Or maybe I'm just a dumb male animal after all.

brokenfingers
12-06-2005, 07:33 AM
Yes, the defiant, F U, quality should cross gender lines quite well.Hmmm, so is that what the poem is about?

I didn't get that at all. To me it seemed as if she was describing both her loneliness and her pride at being different.

William Haskins
12-06-2005, 07:34 AM
if you'd like to hear sexton reading this poem, you can do so here (http://poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15297).

brokenfingers
12-06-2005, 07:39 AM
ETA: A 3 star vote is not a "bad" vote (at least to me). It's only a reflection of the poem's impact upon me. And isn't that the only true way to judge a poem?

William Haskins
12-06-2005, 07:43 AM
you're absolutely correct. i wasn't being critical of your response to it at all; just weighing in, i suppose.

elisadasilva
12-06-2005, 07:47 AM
It spoke to me of the mystery of being a woman, or to be more precise, a certain kind of woman (I'm guessing a witch.)

A really pissed off woman.

brokenfingers
12-06-2005, 07:49 AM
A really pissed off woman.Well, there you go! No wonder I couldn't relate! :)

I try to steer clear of angry women...

P.H.Delarran
12-06-2005, 07:53 AM
Hmmm, what is she pissed off at? I don't really see her as angry per se.., more like she sees her life as a great burden she has to carry and that translates (transfers?) into this volatile energy..which in paradox is the very force that fuels her survival.

Perks
12-06-2005, 07:55 AM
Oh don't mistake me, my intention was not to diminish it in any way. I was just struck by the disparateness of perspective, seemingly along a gender line.

I agree it is a powerful poem and paints a vivid picture, but I didn't feel though as though it spoke to me. I felt that the poet had given me a glimpse into their mind, but not their heart.

I felt kind of excluded from this mystery. I was unable to fully realize what the poet was trying to say, but the female readers seemed to have grasped it almost instinctively (going by the universal acclaim)

It spoke to me of the mystery of being a woman, or to be more precise, a certain kind of woman (I'm guessing a witch.) But that's the key word - mystery. It answered no questions for me nor revealed any truths. Offered no insight nor gave any clues. In the end I was left as perplexed at what her kind truly is as I was at the beginning. I found no lines contained within that hit that note of acknowledgement, that crossed the gender barrier and said: This is what it's like. Can you feel it now? Can you feel who I am? Can you feel what it is to be that kind of woman?

Or maybe I'm just a dumb male animal after all.

I think there's a lot of clarity in that review. I'll buy that.

William Haskins
12-06-2005, 08:00 AM
interesting comments, guys and gals. keep them coming.

i would also suggest looking at what is different about the stanzas. i suspect the real meaning lies in the three facets (burdens?) of womanhood they represent.

P.H.Delarran
12-06-2005, 08:09 AM
i would also suggest looking at what is different about the stanzas. i suspect the real meaning lies in the three facets (burdens?) of womanhood they represent.
I was thinking about that..but couldn't quite articulate them. The last two seem more obvious, (keeping house, nurturing, mothering, sexual submission, pain of childbirth perhaps...) but that first stanza .. an almost hormonal angst..., maybe?

rhymegirl
12-06-2005, 08:16 AM
I thought it was about 3 different kinds of women. I thought the first one was a prostitute, the second one a housewife/mother, and the third one, I don't know maybe a prisoner????

It's not so clear-cut to me, but I think it's an interesting poem and it certainly makes you sit down and pull it apart to try to decipher the meaning.

brokenfingers
12-06-2005, 08:17 AM
I was thinking about that..but couldn't quite articulate them. The last two seem more obvious, (keeping house, nurturing, mothering, sexual submission, pain of childbirth perhaps...) but that first stanza .. an almost hormonal angst..., maybe? With the talk of flying about etc, I was guessing either childhood or the single life.

Hmmmm... "haunting the black air, braver at night; dreaming evil, I have done my hitch over the plain houses, light by light: lonely thing..."

I'm leaning towards a single woman. The evil part's got me convinced...

William Haskins
12-06-2005, 08:19 AM
p.h.:

i think you're spot on, though i would add that the third stanza also describes a sense of living in the shadow of a man, her glories (however meager) subjugated and eclipsed. but there is obviously sexual/childbirth imagery.

the first verse, to me, is a confession of engaging in the duplicity and subterfuge that is so often all that's left to the oppressed, in particular a woman in the first half of the 20th century, who felt a hunger for independence in a world unwilling to grant it. the "witch" during the witch hunts in europe was often the unconventional or adventurous woman.

to me, she is branding herself, perhaps ironically, for exercising her will, describing herself as she must have surely felt others viewed her.

brokenfingers
12-06-2005, 08:26 AM
Hmmm, thanks for that Haskins.

See, I took it as 3 stages:

1) her finding out her "power", glorying in the difference of it

2) her learning to live with it

3) her dying because of it - yet in the end, unrepentant with no regrets.

Yeah, I know - I'm whacked.

brokenfingers
12-06-2005, 10:38 AM
ETA: It seemed almost as if she was addressing this poem to other women, in essence saying:

this is us, we are this kind of woman

So naturally, after reading a poem from that kind of viewpoint (as opposed to a universal non-gender viewpoint,) I am, in the end, left on the outside looking in.

Nicholas S.H.J.M Woodhouse
12-06-2005, 03:36 PM
in the first stanza she is possessed, a ghost.

by the third one she is riding things.

i hope to have a more detailed look some time soon, but i think rhymegirl was right about in the third one she is a kind of prisoner.

i think that connects to WilliamHaskins' point about her seeing herself (?defining herself?) by how others may have seen her.

perhaps the birth imagery that is so present is an indication of not perhaps the burdens of women, but rather the limited space women have.

she is possessed in all the stanzas, even when she journeys from ghost to active person (riding things) she is still held captive in her own person and body.

amazing poem, and i really do intend to look at this properly later

aruna
12-06-2005, 04:26 PM
Hmmm... I am a woman (I think?) and though I recognise it as a good poem, it didn't touch me emotionally, nor could I relate to it in any way at all. So the gender thing is not quite universal; or else, I am a freak. (That's what my kids tell me....)

I just didn't "get" it...

aruna
12-06-2005, 08:48 PM
I killed this thread!:gone:

mommie4a
12-06-2005, 09:03 PM
Given the number of books and articles and blogs consumed with the idea that women are in constant conflict between the roles they try to fill, this particular Sexton poem, IMHO, should play to perhaps an even larger audience than when she wrote it, which was more at the dawn of women coming into focus as people trying to meet a variety of roles/demands at the same time, put upon them by themselves as well as society.

I only had to read this one once, and that's rare for me. I knew exactly what she was talking about. And I suspect there might have been several more stanzas she could have considered, and maybe even did.

Thanks, William for posting it and everyone else for their comments. Very enjoyable.

elisadasilva
12-06-2005, 09:12 PM
Hmm...I really thought the first stanza was relating to one of her nervous breakdowns, the emotions she felt. Seeing how as she suffered from severe post-partum depression, I see it relating to childbirth too, or becoming a mother.

rhymegirl
12-06-2005, 11:42 PM
First of all, thank you to William for posting this poem and others for our discussion purposes.

I think it's fine if we interpret this poem differently. Maybe we women see what our own lives tell us to see or our own experiences show us. I happened to see 3 different women just based on the descriptions. But if I went back and tried to see the poem the way some of you have seen it, yeah, maybe I can see that too. If men have difficulty understanding this poem or interpreting it or relating to it that's only because they're not women. They will only have a certain kind of appreciation for it. Now we need one of you guys to write a poem about the male experience.

Cassie88
12-06-2005, 11:56 PM
if you'd like to hear sexton reading this poem, you can do so here (http://poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15297).

Thanks for this.

William Haskins
12-07-2005, 12:15 AM
I happened to see 3 different women just based on the descriptions. But if I went back and tried to see the poem the way some of you have seen it, yeah, maybe I can see that too.

yes, i think the evidence for the "three facets of one woman" interpretation lies in the repeated line "i have been her kind". this, to me, indicates a retrospective look back at phases of a single life.

aruna
12-07-2005, 09:37 AM
If men have difficulty understanding this poem or interpreting it or relating to it that's only because they're not women. They will only have a certain kind of appreciation for it. Now we need one of you guys to write a poem about the male experience.

(My emphasis!)

But she does not speak for ALL women. Though I can listen and understand what she is saying, and empathise with her, I don't feel or experience that myself, and I don't see it as a "typical female" experience. Not that my own experience is typically female, either, but, being a woman, I don't feel at all that she is speaking for me; not in any of the stanzas.
I don't like the assinuation that she is somehow the voice of all women, and I don't want to be spoken for in this way. For me, it's ONE woman, or rather, one human being, speaking, for herself, and that's something I can relate to. I don't see it as a man-woman thing.

And I have not been her kind. Not at all.

mkcbunny
12-07-2005, 10:50 AM
I took it as a representation of women in different roles/ages. I rated it a 4 because I found it very powerful, rhythmic, and thought-provoking. However, I appreciate aruna's comments and felt that the repeated last line of each stanza, while important for emphatic and inter-stanza purposes, created a barrier between me and the poem. I can read that line from the writer's perspective, but I can't make the shift to saying those words in my voice.

Love the opening line.

Paint
12-08-2005, 12:58 AM
I related it to my own life, naturally. I agree that it is stages of a life, but I don't feel that it is just for women. First she/he is a wild thing and she/he knows who she/he is and it is good. Next she/he is trying to be what someone else wants her/him to be, and it is not good. Lastly she/he remembers and is true to the first wildness, goes back to it, is totally her/himself and will not give it up, even to die, being truely oneself. The first line is great and truely rebellious!

Paint

TemlynWriting
12-08-2005, 01:26 AM
I remember being introduced to this poem years ago. I loved it from the first time I read it. Very powerful in many ways; the imagery and word choice...wow. This woman's poetry is phenomenal.

aruna
12-08-2005, 09:40 AM
I related it to my own life, naturally. I agree that it is stages of a life, but I don't feel that it is just for women. First she/he is a wild thing and she/he knows who she/he is and it is good. Next she/he is trying to be what someone else wants her/him to be, and it is not good. Lastly she/he remembers and is true to the first wildness, goes back to it, is totally her/himself and will not give it up, even to die, being truely oneself. The first line is great and truely rebellious!

Paint

I agree with your interpretation, but her choice of image, especially in the first stanza, totally puts me off.

What I can't relate to, in this frst stanza, is the concept of "evil" that haunts it: "possessed witch", "dreaming evil" , "haunting the black air", twleve-fingered", "out of mind". I've no objection to wildness in itself; I myself was a totally wild thing, but it was the other way around - I saw society as evil, and I felt myself on a crusade for the good; I had to rise above the perceived greed, cruelty, egoism and so on of the masses. I was always very, very different - dropping out totally, running away to foreign countries, getting into the most dangerous of fixes. But it was in search of thre higher, not evil; and I would never, ever use such imagery as she has to describe my own rebellion.

The second stanza, I agree, is about conforming; playing the role expected; and

Lastly she/he remembers and is true to the first wildness, goes back to it, is totally her/himself and will not give it up, even to die, being truely oneself. The first line is great and truely rebellious!


yes, I feel you are right; but again, I don't feel any personal echo.

How far does our emotional reponse go into determining whether a poem is a masterpiece or not? There's a set of poems which have so affected me emotionaly I cried for days on end and couldn't forget them; they are masterpieces, in my eyes, because they touched the deepest part of myself. And yet, looked at objectively, they probably aren't masterpieces. Another person who did not have my emotional reaction would probably say they are adequate, or good, poems, and no more.

I gave this poem a 3; though it's good, I can't see it as absolutely stellar. But then again, I am not a poetry expert - I'm probably wrong!

mkcbunny
12-08-2005, 10:00 AM
I agree with your interpretation, but her choice of image, especially in the first stanza, totally puts me off.

What I can't relate to, in this first stanza, is the concept of "evil" that haunts it: "possessed witch", "dreaming evil" , "haunting the black air", twleve-fingered", "out of mind".
Funny, it's the first stanza that grabs me the most.

aruna
12-08-2005, 10:09 AM
Funny, it's the first stanza that grabs me the most.

Strong images, objectively speaking, yes; but they don't speak to me, personally; don't resonate, in that I can say, yes, yes YES!

scarletpeaches
12-08-2005, 09:00 PM
I thought it was about 3 different kinds of women. I thought the first one was a prostitute, the second one a housewife/mother, and the third one, I don't know maybe a prisoner????

It's not so clear-cut to me, but I think it's an interesting poem and it certainly makes you sit down and pull it apart to try to decipher the meaning.

I thought the speaker perhaps saw all three kinds of women in one.

William Haskins
12-08-2005, 09:03 PM
I thought the speaker perhaps saw all three kinds of women in one.

yes. herself.

scarletpeaches
12-08-2005, 09:11 PM
Presactly.

StoryG27
12-08-2005, 09:23 PM
Please understand I am not at all skilled in interpreting poetry and read it only on occasion.



To me, the first was not about a prostitute, but about a teenage or young woman. Driven to do things considered bad by lust and passion, by the desires so fierce they are difficult to battle at such a young age. She's on her way to becoming a woman...Her ways lead her to being a mom, a caretaker, yet her dreams and passions are not dead, but are forced aside for so long...then that phase of her life is over. Her kids are independent and she see looks back on her life, sees where she was imprisoned in her life. Where she did what she was expected, was simply along for the ride. Where she was walked on, and where she laid down and why. Now she is locked up in her own life, waving desperately at the opportunities past, maybe even urging others not to do the same. She's no longer afraid of repercussions for her speaking out, and no longer is she afraid of consequence of passion...passion never known, gone, and forever burning.



Thatís how it speaks to me, and I know for you knowledgeable poetry readers and writers my take on it is almost laughable, but thatís the great thing about poetry, you donít have to be an expert to take something from a great poem (even though Iím wrong).

William Haskins
12-08-2005, 09:34 PM
i'd say that's a very astute analysis. thank you for sharing it.

P.H.Delarran
12-08-2005, 09:58 PM
Storygirl, I thought you said you aren't "at all skilled in interpreting poetry".
Yeah right. I'm hitting you up next time I need a fresh perspective.

aruna
12-08-2005, 10:01 PM
Very good, storygirl! Well done indeed!

unthoughtknown
12-28-2005, 09:59 AM
Regarding this poem, a friend of mine asked: "do you know if itís a recognised form or if she invented it?"

I, of course, have no idea. Does anyone know? William?

kdnxdr
12-28-2005, 08:44 PM
it is a statment of the dynamic between good and evil, light and darkness; nothing really to do with gender; she just happens to be a woman who embraces the darkness and is a proponent of darkness. If in fact, there is a spiritual battle ensuing and we all have the opportunity to "pick sides", her poem is a declaration of her allegiance. And, we all, in turn have that same opportunity : pick your allegiance, light or dark.

I have gone out "a possessed witch" - declarative, embrased, experienced, embellished. An 'I am' statement.

"hitch""plain houses" - obligatory existence, disdain
"plain houses" "light by light" - sarcastic
"lonely thing" - condensending, incognito

"twelve fingered, out of mind" - declarative, personal identity, embellished, other than, more than, beyond, a distinct difference of being; other than, a different species. "not a woman, quite"

"found the warm caves" - sought out, home of isolation, hidden being

"filled them with" - self established, self-satisfied needs

"fixed the suppers" - nutured by choice

"worms and elves" - preferred companions, creatures of lesser being; a benefactor
"whining, rearranging the disaligned" - strength gained thru alliance with minions, empowered, omniopotence assumed

"a woman like that" - assumed uniqueness, thus, a greater being

"misunderstood" - not recognized for superiority, unable to relate because none have the ability to relate. self grandizement, presumptutous

"your cart, driver" - subordinated but under pretence (talking to God?)

"nude arms" - power diminished
"waving" - stating existence yet manifested, a hint at what is to come?
"villages going by" - prophesy of demise
"learning the last bright routes" - stating the passing of light, as it will cease to shine - prophetic voice of darkness - statement of challenge

"suvivor where your flames still bite my thigh" - acknowledgement of temporary subordination, suppression; recognizing the strength of the 'last ones'; statement of endured conflict that is only a battle.

"where your wheels wind" - the path of light keeps darkness subordinated
"crack my ribs" - ribs/symbol of being

Death is a price that each adherent of light/darkness pays to perpetuate light/darkness. A toll each pays by choice.