Review and Reflection of Paula Salvio’s Anne Sexton: Teacher of Weird Abundance

  • Jim Burns
  • Michele Kuzmovich Lombard


To make meaning of our experiences, our lives, and our selves may intuitively appear to be a solitary endeavor, a journey through time, memory, emotion, and the spaces that we have, do, and will inhabit in our lives. Or so a society based on rugged individualism might have us believe. This is particularly ironic because as teachers we are confronted daily by young people who need someone, often us, to assist them in navigating their feelings, confusion, emotions, and experiences. Often we do this by obtusely revealing something of ourselves, being careful, of course, to leave much safely tucked away, out of sight, forgotten, for in meeting our students we also confront ourselves. How much and in what context is that sense of need reciprocated? In our efforts to understand our subjectivities, our selves in relation to the world, we often turn to the life text of Other in the hope of deriving some meaning, some insight into thestill unfolding text in which our stories are inscribed and reinscribed. Anne Sexton’s story represents one of those dissonant experiences in which we are forced to confront ourselves through exploring an often disturbingly familiar life, a life that may reveal so much about ourselves that we view the Other with disgust to repel the familiarity. A Stallybrass and White citation hauntingly rang through the psyche. “Disgust…always bears the imprint of desire” (p. 10). What is it that we find so desirous in that which we claim to find so disgusting? Anne Sexton the teacher represents for Salvio “a limit case of an exemplary teacher” which can “expose the insufficiency of viewing teaching and learning from normative standpoints” (p. 6). Yet we found Salvio’s portrayal of Sexton validating in a way because we now know, we understand that are not alone. Salvio writes that Anne Sexton serves “as a foil for educators to declare themselves ‘dissimilar’ to her excessive, tormented pedagogy” (p. 24). She represents the ordinary Other against whom normal teachers judge themselves to be normal, the Other they need to identify themselves as normal, whatever ‘normal’ may be.