Last Updated on January 19, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 869
Wakoski, Diane 1937–
American poet. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 15-16.)
[To Diane Wakoski] must go the prize—the plum, the bay leaf, I wish I had something worth giving—for the [bold] conception…. In her George Washington Poems she has revived the figure of the Father of Our Country as a genuine living fictional personage, but in totally unexpected ways—at least to me. He becomes neither the hero one would not expect, nor the anti-hero one would; neither the historical figure, nor a mythological one; but instead a changeable person, variably George, the General, Mr. President, a father figure, an enlightened aristocrat, and ultimately a projection of the poet herself, slipping back and forth in time, with whom she converses, or to whom she declaims, in the cheerfullest terms imaginable, about her own life, her actual father and husband, her sense of relationship to her country, and many other themes. The ramifications are endless. Her body becomes a map, for instance; her personal being, the history of the nation. If Miss Wakoski's scheme has a flaw, it is the playfulness that pervades it, but perhaps this is essential, perhaps the scheme would collapse without it. Readers who insist that poetry cannot be poetry which does not rise from and return to a sense of conviction, will be dissatisfied with the George Washington Poems, as will those who prefer a stronger, more complex language than the post-Beat idiom used by Miss Wakoski (as I generally do myself). But poetry or not, this book delights me. It is exactly the sort of book I should like to find, but never do, at my bedside when I go visiting in somebody else's house.
Hayden Carruth, in Hudson Review, Summer, 1968, p. 408.
Stylistically, [Diane Wakoski] has a marvelous and distinctive voice. It lingers in one's mind after one has read her or listened to her read. Her timing is excellent, so excellent that she can convert prose into poetry at times. And most of what she writes is really prose, only slightly transformed, not only because of its arrangement on the page, but because of this music she injects into it. The only trouble is that the melody tends to repeat itself, as do the words, and if one reads through this volume [The Motorcycle Betrayal Poems] at one sitting it gets to be just too much—a not-bad sad song played over and over again. And yet, it's a little hypnotic, a little fascinating, like listening to those North African radio stations that wind out hours and hours of Arabian laments.
That Diane Wakoski has talent few people can deny. Sometimes that talent produces a startling image, a great passage, or even a near-great poem. But at other times that talent is ruined by speed, ambition, and self-pity.
Robert DeMaria, in Mediterranean Review, Spring, 1972, pp. 54-5.
[Diane Wakoski's] facility is particularly apt for describing desires, pleasure, and wishful thinking. When she writes about pain she is less convincing; there is much violence in her book [The Magellanic Clouds]—blood, bruises, scars, "that sweet pine chip that distorted, finally gouged out his eye"; the violence is perhaps symbolic, but it is inflationary. And if the eye was really gouged out?…
Her desires are open, liberal, attractive, and spendthrift; she has a marvellous desire to encompass everything.
John R. Carpenter, "Revalues," in Poetry (© 1972 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), June, 1972, pp. 164-69.
With this her sixth book of poems [The Motorcycle Betrayal Poems], Diane Wakoski makes even stronger her place among the best of contemporary poets. Her incredible breath of imagination seeks out the light, the word, from the dark chill depth of the mind-cave and brings it to surface; she is the "restless moon" wrenching the "tolerant" and "blind" bind to earth. In her poems she manages to circuit her voice at one and the same time to dream, to stream-of-consciousness, and to life. As passionate love poems, they reveal the struggle of the free spirit: "I do not want to possess anything. Or to be possessed;/Yes, I need the illusion of both in my life,/don't we all?" Diane Wakoski's poetry reveals the poet's contract of life, a continual struggle to articulate the meeting of inner world with outer world.
Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 48, No. 4 (Autumn, 1972), p. cxxiv.
[Diane Wakoski's] poems [in Smudging], remarkably garrulous and obnoxiously confessional, have the nearly saving grace of a brackish humor and once in a while they take refreshing detours into the kind of fantasy that dispels the greedy self ("Her Throat," "Portrait of a Lady," "Vulture," "Sun Poem"), indicating that she might profitably infuse nature with vision if she can manage for longer than one day to see herself as a poet first, an injured female last, if not least. She can't now see an object in itself, a poet's first obligation; she's a salvationist, forever pointing a moral, gilding the lily, underlining the italics. "Without Desolation" and "Feet on the Ground" are poised performances all too rare in her work, analytical and restrained; they are epitomes she might paste on her mirror.
Vernon Young, "Nature and Vision: or Dubious Antithesis," in Hudson Review, Winter, 1972–73, pp. 659-74.
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