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On Anne Sexton’s Not-So-Great Short Stories

By Harriet Staff

Liz Langemak wrote a post for ABOUTAWORD that explores Anne Sexton‘s struggles to publish short stories. Her piece centers on a story called “Vampire,” that while, according to Lagemak is wholly unsuccessful, did demonstrate Sexton’s determination. The piece includes scanned images of letters from publishers and her editors.

Even as I sorted through these warnings I wanted to read the stories for myself, and so I sought out “Vampire.” At first I thought part of it was missing: it was only a few pages long. I read it quickly, and then again in case I’d missed anything. The main character is a wealthy man who sells insurance to people whom he considers weak. One evening, a doctor refuses to buy insurance from him. On his way out of the doctor’s driveway, the salesman runs over the doctor’s dog. The next day a pair of white-coated men stop the insurance agent on the street, carry him off, and when he wakes up he is in a dark room with an address book full of hookers and dancers, a baguette and – this, for me, was the kicker – a wetsuit. The man puts the wetsuit on every night and chooses the address of a woman. When he gets there, he sucks her blood through her bellybutton, eats a baguette and then leaves, tucking her back into bed as he goes.

My mind was blown, and not by the wetsuit, the baguette or the hooker’s bellybutton. The story is bad – a rushed, easy-metaphor, plot-driven kind of bad – and yet Sexton dedicated years to writing and marketing it, doggedly maneuvering her way through a minefield of rejections. Maybe her ego drove her forward; probably she understood that prose’s grip on money has always exceeded poetry’s. But whatever motivated her, the correspondence seems to indicate that as the rejections came in Sexton became increasingly insistent that the problem wasn’t her stories, but lack of faith on the part of her agents.

Check out the rest. It’s pretty fascinating.


Posted in Poetry News on Thursday, October 20th, 2011 by Harriet Staff.