The poet Anne Sexton took her own life in 1974, but had she lived, this year would have marked her 83rd birthday. Reason enough, thought the actor Paul Hecht, to organize an elegant tribute to her at the Cornelia Street Café on Nov. 14.
Two strong women — Kathleen Chalfant and Jennifer Van Dyck — took turns mapping Sexton’s somewhat fragile life through the ley lines of her verse. Even without knowing how it ended, it was possible to glimpse a conflicted mind through the shifting surfaces of her words.
Pianist Liz Magnes provided deft transitions between sections of the program, which followed a loose arc from childhood to maturity. Cornelia Street Café co-owner and host Robin Hirsch provided the introduction.
Verses from "Rowing":
Then there was life
with its cruel houses
and people who seldom touched —
though touch is all —
Verse from "A Story for Rose":
Someday, I promised her, I'll be someone going somewhere.
Verses from "The Ambition Bird":
The business of words keeps me awake.
I am drinking cocoa,
that warm brown mama.
Verses from "The Black Art":
A woman who writes feels too much,
those trances and portents!
As if cycles and children and islands
weren't enough; as if mourners and gossips
and vegetables were never enough.
Use the player above to hear selections from the program.