I loved the dark and speculative tone of this collection. Sexton keenly questions the meaning of God's existence (and ours), while introspectively coming to grips with her own failures and regrets. The fact that she (allegedly) planned her suicide, and the posthumous publication of this book, adds intrigue and validity.
In the poem, "Is It True," Sexton ruminates-"Occasionally the devil has crawled in and out of me through my cigarettes I suppose." While "Rowing," the collection's opening poem, mesmerizes and sets the pace. I found the majority of these poems to be compellingly and powerful; yet, a few had the tendency to keep rambling long after the point... sort of like a great pop song that is six minutes, when it should be three minutes. Nevertheless, The Awful Rowing Towards God really resonated with me. I can't believe I found this treasure for only $2 at the used book store.
Here's an excerpt from the poem "Rowing"
Then there was life
with its cruel houses
and people who seldom touched-
though touch is all-
but I grew,
like a pig in a trenchcoat I grew,
and then there were many strange apparitions,
the nagging rain, the sun turning into poison
and all of that, saws working through my heart,
but I grew, I grew,
and God was there like an island I had not rowed to,
still ignorant of Him, my arms, and my legs worked,
and I grew, I grew,
I wore rubies and bought tomatoes
and now, in my middle age,
about nineteen in the head I'd say,
I am rowing, I am rowing
though the oarlocks stick and are rusty
and the sea blinks and rolls
like a worried eyeball,
but I am rowing, I am rowing,
though the wind pushes me back
and I know that that island will not be perfect,
it will have the flaws of life,
the absurdities of the dinner table,
but there will be a door
and I will open it
and I will get rid of the rat inside me,
the gnawing pestilential rat.
God will take it with his two hands
and embrace it.