Diane Wakoski Biography


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Diane Wakoski was born in Whittier, California, in 1937 to parents who shaped not only her life but also her poetry. Shortly after her birth, her father, John Joseph Wakoski, reenlisted in the U.S. Navy and made it his career. Her contact with the “Prince Charming” figure, as she describes him in an autobiographical account, was infrequent and unfulfilling, leaving her with a sense of loss she later explored in her poetry. Her relations with her mother were equally unsatisfying and stressful; by the time she left high school, Wakoski says, she found her mother, whom her father had divorced, a “burden.” Speaking of her childhood, Wakoski claims that she was born into a “world of silence,” that she was “surrounded by silent people.” She was poor, emotionally isolated (she also had few friends), and—from her own point of view—physically unattractive. These factors surely relate to the fixation with male figures and subsequent betrayal in her poems and explain, to some extent, the compulsive need to analyze, to dissect, and to communicate at length in a prolific body of work.

The only positive reinforcement she received in high school was from sympathetic teachers who encouraged the development of her academic talents. She also discovered that she enjoyed performing for an audience. (This “exhibitionistic” tendency, as she has described it, is reflected in her poetry readings, which are very much “performances.”) After graduation from high school, she passed up a scholarship to the University of California, Berkeley, and attended Fullerton Junior College because she expected her high school sweetheart to enroll there as well. When he attended a different college and responded dutifully, not supportively, to the news of her pregnancy, she experienced a “betrayal,” rejected his marriage proposal, and subsequently gave up her baby for adoption....

(The entire section is 770 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Diane Wakoski has become well known for the “personal mythology” she has woven by imaginatively reworking her own history into mythic poem-stories. Born in the small California town of Whittier, Wakoski endured a childhood marked by poverty, separation from her father, and feelings of disassociation from her family and community. When she was fifteen months old, her father joined the Navy, and from then on she saw him only on his brief visits home, while his marriage to her mother came apart. Wakoski’s feelings of abandonment from this early experience played a large role in her later life and influenced her writing. She began writing poems when she was seven years old. Later, attending Fullerton High School, she was encouraged in her writing by her teachers. She also belonged to a poetry club that met after school, and she haunted the school library.

Wakoski attended the University of California at Berkeley, where her teachers included poets Thomas Parkinson, Thom Gunn, and Josephine Miles. Writers who strongly influenced her at this stage of her career included Wallace Stevens, Federico García Lorca, and Gertrude Stein. After earning a bachelor’s degree in English in 1960, she moved to New York City with composer La Monte Young; there she worked in a bookstore, acquired a temporary teaching credential, and taught in a junior high school. Throughout this time she wrote prolifically. Her first book, Coins and Coffins, which contains a number of dramatic narrative poems, was published in 1962. In 1965 she married a photographer, S. Shepard Sherbell; they were later divorced, and she married Michael Watterland in 1973.

Although Wakoski has been given the label “confessional poet,” she has several times stated her dislike for the term, which to her implies that using one’s personal experience in writing is wrong, that the...

(The entire section is 766 words.)