Wakoski, Diane 1937–
Ms Wakoski is an imaginative American poet whose work, often "confessional," is characterized by dark and violent imagery. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 15-16.)
Diane Wakoski is another young poet(ess) of turned-on imagination. This is what the young seem to be doing these days. And, really, isn't it much more demanding than the fashion of an older generation, when everybody was struggling to turn the corpses of run-over squirrels into lugubrious meditations on the nature of original sin? Except in spots, [Inside the Blood Factory] lacks high seriousness—but so did Chaucer. The poems tend to be long, long-lined, surrealistic monologues, and "Filling the Boxes of Joseph Cornell" is certainly one of the best. It is an entertaining book—strange thing to say about a book of poems.
Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 45, No. 3 (Summer, 1969), pp. xciii-xciv.
When "Inside the Blood Factory" was published in 1968, it was clear that in the poetry of Diane Wakoski a new sort of energy had been tapped. A fierce impulse toward confession and autobiography moved through her poems, but it took unexpected detours into an imagery of elusive beasts, colors and bizarre precious stones. The "me" she confessed to was not contained by situations; it was not an object of complaint. Although her poems were stirred by angers and fears, they did not include gestures toward suicide, the madhouse or the pill bottle. Instead, she confessed to the hippogriff in her soul, which carried her like an exulting spirit among the men who loved her, or betrayed her. The blend of exotic shapes and swift spoken language was often startling….
Diane Wakoski wrote poems of loss. The loss of childhood; the loss of lovers and family; the perpetual loss a woman lives with when she thinks she is not beautiful. These losses created a scorched earth of isolation around her, which she described harshly and precisely….
But "Inside the Blood Factory" was also an erratic book. Many of the longer poems rambled inconclusively. Miss Wakoski's very exuberance tended to play tricks on her by allowing the intensely personal core of the poems to become stifled in a mesh of images that moved far away from any recognizable center. In a sense, the failures of the book were very much in the image of its power; the best and the worst belonged to each other, for both resulted from the poet's defiant commitment to her freedom. It might have been better if we'd been spared the bad poems, but their rambling may have formed the only ground from which Diane Wakoski's imposing inwardness could spring. There is, after all, a bravery that artists may need more than most people: a willingness to risk being ridiculous, in order to expose the reluctant figures in their lives….
"The Motorcycle Betrayal Poems" are more open than much of Miss Wakoski's earlier work….
The directness of [her] lines describing the combat that art enables the poet to wage against the bitterness of her life is one of the very best qualities in the book. In much of it, Miss Wakoski achieves an intensity of simple speech that is rare in contemporary poetry….
These poems are not declarations of feminine independence. Their rage is not ideological, as in many Women's Liberation tracts. Miss Wakoski's tactic is different. She digs her teeth into the slaveries of woman, she cries them aloud with such fulminating energy that the chains begin to melt of themselves. The rage is that of a prisoner whose bitterness is her bondage but also her freedom.
In many poems, however, the anger becomes thin, repetitious, and this is perhaps the book's most serious weakness. All too often, the stridency does not turn into poetry; the words are flattened almost into helplessness by the very anger they express….
But this is far from general in the book. Many poems survive, and they are like nothing I know in contemporary poetry. Often enough, the vindictive rage is rounded into whimsy and self-knowledge, or into asides of sheer fantasy that charm the reader while they are chilling him with insight….
Yes, there are failures in "The Motorcycle Betrayal Poems." But they are the sort of failures that lesser poets could have avoided without improving themselves. At her best—and the best is frequent enough—Diane Wakoski is an important and moving poet.
Paul Zweig, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1971 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), December 12, 1971, pp. 5, 18, 20.
Miss Wakoski's poetry [here, Greed, Parts 5-7], if intense, is immediate. Still, one cannot help being much impressed with the singular precision and scope of her work. Thus, what seems "sheer confession" at first, never degenerates into clever self-analysis. Her poetry is never self-centered or purely self-directed: "I wonder," she asks, "if it is a story everyone knows?"
Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 48, No. 1 (Winter, 1972), p. xxiii.
Diane Wakoski is expansive—her poems need space to conquer, and she is certainly out to conquer. These are part of an endless autobiography to establish character in a largely male-dominated world, instanced as the bike scene—not so much speed as engineering made into the central male fascination….
Her work has a baroque effect; it is not a book to be read too much at a time, since there is little variety of voice or theme ("Conversations with Jan" contains more invention, especially the sixth). Her poems are letters never sent: "this letter writer,/this passionate piece of paper/you will all/someday/read." The threatening tone here and in the murderous epigraph continues throughout, and fools no one, let alone Diane Wakoski; but the desperation is substantial. She operates in a world of women as adjuncts to men and the erotics of bikes; the poems are survival gestures…. They are dense with information used as defensive attack: a passionately alert sense of the uselessness of self-regard…. Diane Wakoski's love poems care for facts rather than psychological convention and those orgasmic obsessions brandished by the mob who discovered Reich last month…. She takes over the trite masculine imagery of guns, bullets, bikes, the Angels, mustaches, and male Beethoven-playing maestros, for her own usage and dumps them for the man who relaxes as a man with his own kind of body and life, exercising his ability to live as the necessary other coupling of sexual love. The rest is, broadly, perversion and its main image, games and women as adjuncts to sport….
Diane Wakoski has a radically metaphorical imagination, rare in contemporary American poetry, and nearly old-fashioned. Her conception of female vulnerability in the male-dominated world, with all its nagging obsessiveness, maps its region conclusively. What is missing is family and babies, and the endless sense of vulnerability felt in the working classes…. [It] is essentially poetry for the leisured and intellectually trained, who wish to follow their own processes in representative forms.
Eric Mottram, in Parnassus, Fall/Winter, 1972, pp. 160-62.
All that is real or invention about the several surfaces of [the] poems [in "Smudging"] seem but incredible facets of this woman's imagination and a child's urge towards warmth and a mythic life. There is throughout a sure note in the poet's voice of one who knows oneself and moves out into multiple relationships, that these too will reflect the self. There is, however, continually the problem that the other somehow is not a smooth nor a clear reflecting surface. The imagination can create its own relationship with another, as in "The George Washington Poems," but the image projected is not as finely etched as that of the poet in "Smudging."
Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 49, No. 1 (Winter, 1973), p. xiii.
Diane Wakoski knows how to make words into poems. Her precise and straightforward style organizes not-quite-reality, and pushes it into the right contact. At all times in these two books [The Motorcycle Betrayal Poems and Smudging] Wakoski is in control, she is the craftsman. Although her poems are not traditional structures, she builds them solidly with words which feel chosen, with repetition of images throughout a poem (as in the carefully woven Motorcycle Betrayal poem, "The Catalogue of Charms"), and with exact observation, as in "To A Friend Who Cannot Accept My Judgment Of Him": "his former/black worm self,/fringed with delicate green spires,/crawling along branch,/angling and curving under leaves," from Smudging.
When I first read The Motorcycle Betrayal Poems, I thought, help, here is a neurotic woman whose mind can't get untracked from the loss of her man. Who wants to read all this? And then I read "Thanking My Mother For Piano Lessons." In this poem Wakoski tells us of "the relief/of putting your fingers on the keyboard,/played my way/on the old upright piano/obtained for $10,/played my way through fear." The other poems in the book are now seen as variations on a theme, as in music. Because the one continuous theme beats beneath all the poems, we see beauty in the variations of language, images, and approach. A single subject, the man-woman relationship, serves as the light source for a flowering of imagination….
Her latest book, Smudging, is equally well-crafted and the subject matter encompasses a wider range. Among other things, she examines poetry, her parents, pain, and "That Abomination In The By-Now 20th Century Aesthetic Tradition: Meditation On A Wet Snowy Afternoon." The book's title poem refers to the process of putting smoke pots in orchards to protect the fruit from frost, and hints that poetry can be a protective structure, too…. These two books are remarkable because Diane Wakoski has successfully balanced the life of emotion against the life of intelligent reflection, through the medium of poetry. The poems sound true in your heart, true in your mind, and true in your ear.
Debra Hulbert, "True Poems," in Prairie Schooner (© 1973 by University of Nebraska Press; reprinted by permission from Prairie Schooner), Spring, 1973, pp. 81-3.
[Diane Wakoski's] poems create a persona who is not heroic but who is demanding nonetheless; the apotheosis of all our own plainness to a level where its other, presumably more basic, virtues must begin, mercifully, to be searched for…. Wakoski has had the good sense to make her whole style out of this ordinariness, which she expresses in plain talk, no shit, an unadorned, "straight," anti-poetic voice—in skillful alternation with its opposite. For all her unfeigned simplicity and the accommodation to reality her lack of conventional, hence easy, beauty demands (as metaphor for all the other good reasons for being open and honest), it is hard to think of a poet who writes more lyrically: invoking jewels and flowing hair, exotic animals, landscapes as stylized and exaggerated as fairy tales—in these she is Diana of the moon. So, she has hit her readers, especially the young ones on the college circuits, twice: first precisely where they live and then where they go to dream. In this her poetry is more like Brautigan's prose than even his own poetry: cool, syntactically innocent, damn hard sometimes, fresh with the insights given only to the undeceived—while underneath beats a heart as sentimental as old gold….
With Wakoski's long wordy books, one can reach in anywhere for an illustration of flaccid writing…. Granted she achieves her effects by building somewhat crudely with big blocky statements. If one were to see Wakoski's poems as whole languages, they would be synthetic, rather than analytic—structures that heap up and join words rather than build long and complex and precise single words which enclose meaning…. [Although] Wakoski … chats and ambles and declaims in full voice, unashamed, raunchy, idealizing,… I find myself, ungratefully, looking at this her twelfth book [Smudging] and wondering, if there were less, would more of it be strong and shapely? She is a marvelously abundant woman who sounds, in her non-goddess moments (which predominate), like some friend of yours who's flung herself down in your kitchen to tell you something urgent and makes you laugh and respect her good old-fashioned guts at the same time ("So then I told him …"). Would that flow itself be curtailed if less of it were to see the light of print?
She can write poems with extreme and immaculate care. See the disciplined tone, no less "realistic" and conversational than in the lesser poems, of "Steely Silence," of "Sour Milk." See the tour de force "Screw, A Technical Love Poem," which manages in spite of its ostensible subject, to be a poem about love, with all the other implications of its title held quite miraculously at bay. See "The Joyful Black Demon of Sister Clara Flies Through the Midnight Woods on Her Snowmobile," whose title is a joyous catalog of the remarkable contents of Wakoski's mind when it is really engaged; whose lines are a richly orchestrated music which feels like a vastly extended sestina because of the tolling recurrence of words and images.
Smudging contains so much that is good that I resent being worn into satiety and inattention by its length, and by all that is easy and disheveled and nagging in it. What she is trying to do is well-served by her two kinds of voices, the broad and profane and the more precise and intellectualizing, and she deserves a lot of latitude in return for that versatility. ("Building up/in any way/a structure that will permit you to say/no,/a structure that will permit you to say/yes.") There is little this poet says that is uninteresting per se; but she can and should be more than interesting…. But if, by design or default, she can't become a more consistent poet, then let her have a harsher editor. A fine poet three-quarters disciplined does not have to apologize.
Rosellen Brown, in Parnassus, Spring/Summer, 1973, pp. 52-9.
The speaker of [Greed: Parts 8, 9, 11] is a bully to people who are not her kind. Awesomely disingenuous while giving advice, she slaps with one hand and fondles with another, so that the victim of her lecture (one supposes), convinced of his worthlessness, will go away placidly accepting her wisdom. Her language, tepid here, lumpy with sugar there, is loud with self-justification. Yet this poem, the confessional, is not weepy and often opens out in an admirable way. The trouble is that the vanity of the speaker, who is pragmatic and sophomoric by turns, sucks the air out of the room.
Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 49, No. 4 (Autumn, 1973), p. cx1.
There is a plague. "Ever since we began to see death as an absolute end, everybody writes" (E. M. Cioran). If anything on earth could, this might justify the presence on the printed page of Diane Wakoski, a type that never flourished before the New World invented the spoiled child. Her sticky fingers are into everything, tearing pistils and stamens out of the calyx, prying open every oyster, unscrewing the back of every clock, fumbling at the tripes of the poor, carrying torches for negroes and dead women, permanently in a lather about men—which she spells with four letters. Her manifesto, introducing her so-called Part 9 [in Greed, Parts 8, 9, 11] might have been distinguished as unbelievable if anything else she had said were believable; an example—"to make the male chauvinists of the world [of the world, no less!] stop comparing me with Sylvia Plath—as if all women of the world who write well must be similar." (They're not?) At random, I pluck a line from her writing-well, on the subject of Sylvia Plath's husband: "I know how his gravity pulled on you like a diesel truck attached to yr lip …" (the ou is silent as in your). In every "slim volume" she becomes more fatuous, more immodest, more importunate, as if she could repair the absence of talent by screaming it into life. There is not an educated thought in this pamphlet. Yet it's not entirely devoid of uneasy recognitions. "For a woman/there is only one thing which makes sense:/a man who loves her faithfully and keeps her warm at night…." I thought she'd never say it.
Vernon Young, in The Hudson Review (copyright © 1974 by The Hudson Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXVI, No. 4, Winter, 1973–74, pp. 724-25.
Diane Wakoski's poems come close to being terrible; some are almost soap operas, others the grotesque fantasies of some overly imaginative and under-experienced little girl. They're self-indulgent almost to the point of obsession, over-blown almost to the point of being naive and foolish. At times she is as prosey as garden manuals and as inviolate as sophomore philosophy exams. She can be indiscreet and voluble, excessively symbolic and annoyingly hung-up on being a poet. Constantly she is the essayist discoursing on relationships. She is probably the first candidate to be hung on her own theorem that a poet's poetry is only as interesting as his life, judging by what she lets on about herself in these poems [in Smudging]. I happen to disagree with her theorem. To me, a poet is only valuable or interesting to the extent he has developed his power of penetration, his vision, substance.
Many of her poems sound as if they're constantly in trouble, falling into triteness, clumsiness, or indirection. She is constantly jumping into deep water to save a drowning stanza or into a burning building to recover disintegrating meaning, always managing to pull these rescues off, sometimes with what appears to be a superhuman determination, drawing gasps from witnesses who never lose that initial impression of diaster. Perhaps she too much loves to write. It is hardly a fault, yet it is possibly what is responsible for poems that haven't found their natural skins, positioned before a mirror trying on Macy's complete offering in ladies' fashions, flirting with marshmallow fictions. I am sure that writing can also be painful for her, but when she launches a poem so sweeping in implication, sparked by that love for the process of writing and can't fulfill its potential because she really wasn't ready, I'm not at all sure that this is the sort of pain conducive to the solid vision of genius.
This is the price paid when a poet throws his entire self into his poetry, when the poem becomes a veritable extension of his inch-by-inch living and thinking throughout a day. The poem suffers because it is too much the poet—almost the persona of the poet; or, at least, an oxydized image of his personality. But "suffers" isn't the correct term because the poem is actually divinized by having the poet in it, only with all the human drawbacks added it appears heterogeneous, askew, vulnerable. One has to revel in human contact and possess a love, not mere tolerance, for fallibility to benefit from such poems. Then too, the poet must be good, damned good, dynamic, unrelenting, and blessed with a gut-intuitive wisdom.
Wakoski has these attributes. She is saved. Her poems are saved. This inordinate degree of intelligence, both in what she says and how she handles her poems, not only saves but is the guiding force that makes her best poems more total, more liveable, more penetrable, with more results than those written by so very many of our more dichotomized poets. Her poems are always working. They are constantly going in the right direction for all of us.
If she isn't explaining herself, describing what she does, recapturing clipped instances from her past, then she is focusing upon her relationships with whatever enters her life. In fact, she spends most of her psychic energy examining how she relates to objects, events, feelings, people; always seeking the gold that is their essence, always sending herself into their plasma to steal it for her poems….
Wakoski's imaginative excursions and side-journeys (she can get strung-out in just about any poem over a page long) are well-founded in her life—they're not just facile language cyclone-spinning itself to naught. They are doors into her psyche. Veritable adventures-in-image to the Land of True Sight and Knowledge. Virtually everything in her poems is a clue to what she is. Jung wrote an autobiography of the evolution of his mind as a consequence of his life experiences, while Diane Wakoski writes the autobiography of her imagination as a consequence of her life experiences. She doesn't evade, fortunately, I believe, because her unconscious mind is the driveshaft that propels her imagination, with a conspicuously rational and perceptive mind doing the steering. This is a first rate combination and supplies her poems with the substance necessary to qualify them notches above the works of creative "geniuses", "stylists", and "cultural avatars" who have little to say.
Douglas Blazek, in Poetry (© 1974 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by the permission of the Editor of Poetry), June, 1974, pp. 170-72.
Diane Wakoski has seemed to me one of the most interesting poets of the past decade. Her language usually leaves me cold—perhaps because I have never heard her read her poems aloud…. Her new book, Dancing on the Grave of a Son of a Bitch—and what a title! magnificent, though the book is by no means as triumphant as this might suggest—is a somewhat random collection, perhaps not up to the level of previous work, but it contains good poems. Wakoski has a way of beginning her poems with the most unpromising materials imaginable, then carrying them on, often on and on and on, talkily, until at the end they come into surprising focus, unified works. With her it is a question of thematic and imagistic control, I think; her poems are deeply, rather than verbally, structured.
Hayden Carruth, in The Hudson Review (copyright © 1974 by The Hudson Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXVII, No. 2, Summer, 1974, pp. 311-12.
“Marcel, that soufflé is a poem!” This example, given in a Webster’s dictionary of the idiomatic use of the word “poem,” illustrates how far we have come from the traditional definition of poetry, often using the words “poem” or “poetry” to refer to anything exquisite or refined. We sometimes forget that Western poetry until the 20th century was defined by metrical patterns. However, while Poets, like myself, who began writing at mid-century, still write sonnets and other formal poetry, nearly all of us have centered ourselves in free verse, hoping to discover what Ezra Pound called “a new measure.” This is a sampling of my quest to pattern new measures in poetry.
I started in Berkeley in the nineteen-fifties as an undergraduate trying to invent forms that were visible, but not specifically metrical. My first successful poem was designed by anagram. I took the words of my first line and spelled them out as the first letters beginning each line of the poem, which I’ll read now.
Justice Is Reason Enough
He, who once was my brother, is dead by his own hand.
Even now, years later, I see his thin form lying on the sand
where the sheltered sea washes against those cliffs
he chose to die from. Mother took me back there every day for
over a year and asked me, in her whining way, why it had to happen.
over and over again — until I wanted
never to hear of David any more. How
could I tell her of his dream about the gull beating its wings
effortlessly together until they drew blood?
Would it explain anything, and how can I tell
anyone here about the great form and its beating wings. How it
swoops down and covers me, and the dark tension leaves
me with blood on my mouth and thighs. But it was that dream,
you must know, that brought my tight, sullen little
brother to my room that night and pushed his whole taut body
right over mine until I yielded, and together we yielded to the dark tension.
Over a thousand passing years, I will never forget
him, David, who was my brother, who is dead. Mother asked me why
every day for a year; and I told her justice. Justice is
reason enough for anything ugly. It balances the beauty in the world.
c. 1958, reprinted in EMERALD ICE
If you had the poem in front of you, while looking for the anagram, you would notice two failures of pattern. I considered this a flaw because at that time, I did not yet realize the heart of what has become Wakoski poetics – that the pattern, which is important in this poem is not the anagram but the multiple use of trope – especially, that of the gull which is a substitute for a swan in the rape-myth of Leda and the swan – and the beginning of my own personal mythology, the on-going search for beauty, and the mythic twin brother, a part of myself who is lost or has to be destroyed.
When I was living in New York City in the sixties, I discovered a traditional form called the sestina, which had originally been an iambic form. But co-opted by many contemporary poets, it became simply a six-stanza poem, each stanza containing six lines, with a 3-line envoi. All the lines of all the stanzas ended with the same six words, in permutation, until they came back to the same order in the envoi and were then repeated. I loved the fact that I could make long or short lines, with my own rhythms, but the pattern was commandingly there, defined by the repeating words, which did not have to rhyme. Listen for the six repeating words.
Sestina From The Home Gardener
These dried-out paint brushes which fell from my lips have been removed
with your departure; they are such minute losses
compared with the light bulb gone from my brain, the sections
of chicken wire from my liver, the precise
silver hammers in my ankles, which delicately banged and pointed
magnetically to you. Love has become unfamiliar
and plenty of time to tend the paint brushes now. Once unfamiliar
with my processes. Once removed
from that sizzling sun, the ego, to burn my poet shadow to the wall, I pointed,
I suppose, only to your own losses,
which made you hate that 200 pound fish called marriage. Precise-
ly, I hate my life, hate its freedom, hate the sections
of fence stripped away, hate the time for endless painting, hate the sections
of my darkened brain that wait for children to snap on the light, the unfamiliar
corridors of my heart with strangers running in them, shouting. The precise
incisions in my hip to extract an image, a dripping pickaxe or palm tree removed,
and each day my paint brushes get softer and cleaner – better tools, and losses
cease to mean loss. Beauty, to each eye, differently pointed.
I admire sign painters and carpenters. I like that black hand pointed
up a drive-way whispering to me, “The Washingtons live in these sections,”
and I explain autobiographically that George Washington is sympathetic to my losses;
His face or name is everywhere. No one is unfamiliar
with the American dollar, and since you’ve been removed
from my life, I can think of nothing else. A precise
replacement for love can’t be found. But art and money are precise-
ly for distraction. The stars popping out of my blood are pointed
nowhere. I have removed
my ankles so that I cannot travel. There are sections
of my brain growing teeth and unfamiliar
hands tie strings through my eyes. But there are losses
of the spirit like vanished bicycle tires and losses
of the body, like the whole bike, every precise
bearing, spoke, gear, even the unfamiliar
handbrakes, vanished. I have pointed
myself in every direction, tried sections
of every map. It’s no use. The real body has been removed.
Removed by the ice tongs. If a puddle remains, what losses
can those sections of glacier be? Perhaps a precise
count of drops will substitute the pointed mountain, far away, unfamiliar?
INSIDE THE BLOOD FACTORY, Doubleday, 1968; reprinted in EMERALD
ICE, Black Sparrow Press, 1988
This poem was written after I had read an article in the NEW YORK TIMES called “George Washington the Home Gardener,” (thus, “Sestina from the Home Gardener”) and because I had started writing what would be the second series of my poems of personal mythology, The George Washington Poems, I had actually engaged in what was to become my primary act of patterning in my poems: creating structures whose tropes were images, metaphors and ideas from traditional mythology that I had co-opted into my own versions of mythic figures. Not only was I using the American myth of Washington as the father of our country but also, in this poem, I was alluding to the largest of all myths in Western civilization, The Garden Myth, the story of our removal from Paradise, which is also for me an archetypal story about the power of women, thus love or the loss of it – that being the theme of the poem.
During that decade of the sixties when I lived in New York, I found myself longing for a device or structure, other than traditional metrics, that would make my poetry more obviously musical. Narrative is in the origins of my poetry, but after writing 100 sonnets in high school and deciding that I was not a lyric poet, I still longed for that lyric intensity I found in Robinson Jeffers and Garcia Lorca; that much later, I found in Walt Whitman.
I have always used repetition, a traditional musical device, but when I stumbled on chant and incantation, I knew that this technique was going to be part of my “new measure.” Over the years I have written a number of chant-poems, the most infamous being “Dancing On The Grave of a Son of a Bitch,” and my favorites are “Sun” and “Blue Monday.” However, this poem is an homage to Jerome Rothenberg’s chanting.
Silver Coyote Song
(In the spirit of Jerry Rothenberg)
Well and what were you doing in the woodshed?
Well and what does a fox need with wood?
Well and no, I see you are not a fox.
Well and maybe you are related to a fox.
There is a voice which I heard
in the Southern California hills, when
the gopher snake stretched itself like a branch
across the road, when I ate oranges whose thin skins
were smudged with soot from the earlier cool nights.
not like wolves, or dogs. Not my father’s voice
when he returned across the front yard from his battleship.
The moon has a voice like a silver charm bracelet
and though California is the Golden State, the trail I left
there is silver, slippery like the sled marks of mollusks, and I
heard the moon every night whispering twisted foil
messages. Coyotes in the hills
everyone said, but the voice I heard
had nothing to do with tricks or lobo smiles.
Well and what was he doing
riding his silver motorcycle to your door?
Well and who spoke your name, since you spoke his
with your silver charm bracelet voice?
Well and I don’t believe that coyote
whatever he tells me, Well and I don’t
believe in your Silver Surfer either.
There is a voice, that’s all I can say.
Silver baby shoes, the only charm. Silver
when you open your eyes. Silver
when the coyote slips behind the pepper tree
and runs ashy, grey-eyed, or invisible
away from your yard.
Well and who follows the motorcycle
leaving a vapor of silver feathers in the night?
Silver feathers, silver feathers, silver feathers,
in the night.
From JASON THE SAILOR, 1993
George Washington, the King of Spain, The Motorcycle Betrayer, Jason & Medea, The Diamond Dog, my patterns, my tropes. I’d like to finish this reading of poems that illustrate my lifetime meander to find a new measure through word patterning, through repetition, including chant and incantation, and through creating personal mythologies that function using trope that leads to revelation with two poems that will be included in my new collection, BAY OF ANGELS that will be published in October. This first poem is also one that brings me a bit of pleasure because after all these years of writing, publishing, and being nominated for Pushcart Prizes (for small press publications) but never winning one – this poem got selected and was published in their anthology this year.
“Oysters with Lemon in Monmartre”
I found this line jotted on a scrap of paper, thin as
Dover Sole, written in black fountain pen ink
that made the words seem as if they
had been torn from a letter.
And all this autumn afternoon, with the deciduous
trees glowing like glasses of freshly poured Meursault or
Nouveau Beaujolais, I have smelled the lemon,
picked once in California, then cut into wedges and squeezed over
the oyster, itself bathed in a liqueur
of thick brine,
I, who don’t eat oysters,
yet remembering Brittany, not Monmartre,
and Wilton telling me, as my husband just smiled – knowing me so
well – “Diane, you can’t leave here without tasting
It was a shower of meteors. Summer Perseids.
Eating an oyster
is like standing in front of a mirror
wearing the Helmet of Darkness
while swallowing your pride – you, a California girl who
got a tan over her oyster-white skin,
but could not swim, who wanted to
change the rules of beauty but could not accept
In any mirror, you always face the loss
of memory; mirrors retain
nothing of what they have seen.
That loss is not only the taste of the oysters in my mouth in Brittany.
It is always imagining the oysters’ textures,
not as old cobwebs, but as
Wilton’s or Robert’s salty slurp,
each mouthful, embellished with the liquid wink of a California lemon.
Those numinous words,
“oysters with lemon in Monmartre,”
like David’s footprints on Pavese’s lawn
are a scrap of the missing
from my un-oystered world,
on an errant fragment of paper, chalky as the Cliffs of Dover.
My final piece was written after I performed in a poetry festival, hosted at UC, Riverside. While there, I had wandered for a while along the corridors of the English Department building and found them hung with striking, large black and white photos of writers. I was surprised to find one, featuring my long-haired, young-girl-self at some now-forgotten California poetry reading. The experience was enhanced later when going to a reception and emerging suddenly from a dark elevator onto a sunset-flooded lanai along the building because, I guess, I had also forgotten how spectacular a Southern California setting sun can be. The poem — exploring, of course, one of my patterns: William Carlos Williams’ Modernist gift to me, the trope of ascent and descent from Dionysian myth. This is
Persephone Steps Off the Elevator
At the 4th Floor
and emerges again onto the adobe walled landing,
the Southern California horizon wide as an avalanche
exposing parrot-wing cerulean, and cobalt
streaking into the molten crown of evening’s still golden
Returning to light,
even twilight, makes her shadow gasp with
recognition. Here on the 4th floor she seems still
long-haired and trusting, the speckled-blue egg of her
gaze is open to any invitation, as it was before
she became the Queen of Night,
If only she had not returned,
ascended to this balcony that obscures the long
corridor, on the walls of which hang photos
showing a girl
holding a blue flower; if
only she didn’t have to look
at the radiant sky, its
beauty reminding her of everything she’s either
lost or never had.
In the moment of stepping into light
she does not know,
for the first time,
if beauty is,
or ever can be