“Who the Hell Cares About Anne Sexton’s Grandmother?”


When we read a piece of fiction, we don’t assume—or at least we know we’re not supposed to assume—it’s a faithful recreation of an event in the author’s life. But what about when we read a poem?

For Poetry, Kathleen Rooney writes about realizing Brian Russell’s poems about a wife’s terminal illness were not actually about the real-life Mrs. Russell, and what effect that had on the way she understood the work.

She uses that experience as a springboard to question her assumptions about the emotional and imaginative value of truth in poetry by all kinds of writers, from Wilfred Owen to Anne Sexton.

Lauren O'Neal is an MFA student at San Francisco State University. Her writing has appeared in publications like Slate, The New Inquiry, and The Hairpin. You can follow her on Twitter at @laureneoneal. More from this author →