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.

Anne Sexton stands as one of American poetry’s ghostly madams, a victim of those wicked hunters—hunters of female obsessives, spiritualists, and healers— inside the mind.  “Her Kind” (which appeared in To Bedlam and Partway Back, 1960) was written in a time and place of WASPy sub-urbanity and the rigid sexual roles of wife and mother. Here, Sexton’s subversive artistic expression resists that dominant ideology, and thus scores the boundaries of the ‘feminine normal.’ It still has strong resonance.

I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night

Sexton immediately presents her character as unearthly and dark, yet not invulnerable.  This outsider may be wicked and nocturnal, but is also subject to fears, even the simple fear of being exposed in the light of day; it is further subject to the desire to ‘go out,’ to pass its purview:

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.

Does our speaker truly only ‘dream’ about her evil desires? ‘Dreaming’ and ‘done’ seem to be conflicting terms of passivity and activity; similarly, the precise meaning of her ‘hitch’ remains obscured.  Is it an obstacle? quick jerk? fastener? a ride on a broomstick? In a post-1939 consciousness, it is difficult to avoid the inevitability of the campy Wizard of Oz allusion tossed out by rhyming ‘witch’ and ‘hitch.’ Such mania, and the methodical, cataloguing journey over what sounds like a basic sub-urban landscape, gives off, again, a sense of the tension between what is expected and ordinary—and what is cursed.

Our lady calls herself a beast: six fingers on each hand, in the Biblical sense, suggests one who is descended from a race of giants—inhuman, warlike, and perhaps evil (Samuel 21:20). Is she a giant? is she a witch? Sexton allies herself with these ‘inhuman’ women in our human mythos.

The ‘warm caves’ that follow are what one might pass on a flight toward Dante’s Inner Circle—or, conversely, do they offer a sort of escape reminiscent of the womb? More principally, readers could consider the crevices of the brain—the cobwebs and overheated corners of an ill mind.  Sexton’s ‘skillets’ and ‘silks’ exemplify the juxtaposition of the ordinary and the exotic in her cache, calling to mind the clutter of Gubar’s ‘mad woman in the attic.’ Any hopes for fairy-tale ambits are further interrogated by the speaker ‘fix[ing]’

[. . .] the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.

This is the type of crone one might find in Hansel and Gretel’s forest, filling the role of the perpetual homemaker—only now she is mother of underground beasts and pixies.  The ‘whining’ might be that of the nineteenth-century hysteric, and the ‘rearranging’ might be symptomatic of the familiar obsessions of mental illness, a state associated then and now with weakness or frailty. Such outsider association is within Sexton’s ken.

A drive with the devil is next; a brazen display of the body (the Self) in the face of those provincial village citizens. This nudity seems to exist more in the artistic sense than the sexual one, but the ‘flames’ that still ‘bite [her] thigh’ are fierce in their flaunting sexuality.  By staying alive throughout these hauntings of illness and interior difficulty, she seems to taunt the ghosts inside and out:

[. . .] my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.

Sexton envisions herself crushed—an image which recalls the cruel and strange verdicts carried out in Salem circa 1692, or in fifteenth-century Spain.  But this type of ‘victim’ has a power of her own.  She may be vulnerable to the trappings of her time and place in society, as well as her personal poisons, but she conquers her eschatological fears in this verse. Note how the poem only plays at a standard rhyme scheme (ABABCBC forming each stanza’s odd seven lines), and skirts the boundaries of traditional verse by falling just askew from a regular, tetrameter form—some lines dissembling a dubious ninth syllable.

Even Sexton’s seemingly regular—yet finally atypical—form and rhyme scheme highlight her motions of existing at the edge of normality, not perfectly on either side of the WASPs or the wicked.  Knowing, as we do, Sexton’s suicidal attempts and eventual success, her self-comparison to the wild and to the misunderstood—to the rebels of historical and mythological society—remind us that her success as a poet is less about ‘confession’ than reappropriation and repurposing. Ultimately, Sexton embraces the alterity that comes with psychic illness, and a charged, oblique (and shimmering) poetic is the result.