Following her first attempted suicide, Sexton was admitted to a
psychiatric hospital. It was here, under the advice of her psychiatrist Dr Martin
Orne, that she began writing poetry.
In 1958 she was accepted onto Robert Lowell's graduate writing
seminar at Boston University. While on the course she met, and became
friendly with, fellow poet Sylvia Plath. Sexton's poetry
like Plath's frequently uses the confessional "I" form. It also deals,
in a disturbing manner, with similar themes to Plath such as hospitalisation,
childbirth and mental illness.
Sexton's early work employed traditional poetic forms. However,
from 1966 onwards she
started to use free verse as evidenced in her Pulitzer Prize winning collection Live or Die.
In 1969 Sexton was editorial consultant
to the New York Poetry Quarterly and was awarded a Guggenheim
Fellowship. In 1972 she was made a full professor at
On October 4th 1974 Sexton, who had a long history of mental illness,
herself in her own garage with carbon monoxide poisoning.