More popular with poetry readers than with poetry critics, Diane Wakoski has nevertheless carved a niche for herself in American poetry. A prolific writer (she has published some fifty books of poetry) and indefatigable reader of her own poetry, she has gained a following of readers who appreciate her intensely personal subject matter, her personal mythology, her structural use of digression and repetition, and her long narrative forms. Throughout her work, the subject is herself, and the themes of loss, betrayal, and identity recur as she probes her relationships with others, most often father figures and lovers. Though her poems are read sympathetically by feminists, she is herself not political and rejects the notion that she can be identified with a particular ideology or school of poetry. Her work has brought her several awards, among them the Bread Loaf Robert Frost Fellowship and the Cassandra Foundation Award, as well as grants from such sources as the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Emerald Ice won the Poetry Society of America’s William Carlos Williams Award in 1989.
Her work, sometimes criticized for its perceived self-pity, actually uses loss or betrayal as the impetus for the speaker to work through different self-images and gender reversals to celebrate—usually with a trace of ironic self-awareness—beauty or the self and, in effect, to solve the problem posed at the beginning of the poem.