Diane Wakoski Wakoski, Diane (Vol. 11) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Wakoski, Diane 1937–

Wakoski is an American poet often linked with the confessional school. In her work she explores highly personal experiences, predominant themes being pain, loneliness, and lost love. Her alternating tones of humor and anger, however, save her work from maudlin sentimentality. (See also CLC, Vols. 2, 4, 7, 9, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-16, rev. ed.)

Gerald Burns

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The byplay in Wakoski's [The Man Who Shook Hands], getting around to the story of the man who shook hands, is bad Ponge. But the story is wonderfully moving, not from the digressions ("motion which suspends motion") but from the good Wakoski knack of taking the time to get it right. In writing time usually means space; while she mentions the "bourgeois" fear that one will be misprised or laughed at, she doesn't mention the equally bourgeois fear that one taxes a reader with too many words. She takes the time, and that is a fraction how she can write good long-line poems. (p. 303)

Her trouble in art used to be the brutality or too merely literary embarrassment (not to mention a kind of betrayal) of conducting her life in public…. Reading her is a mixture of the pity she really seems to want and the admiration she extorts….

Lovely poems follow, a few of the line-ends more interesting for her interest in Olson … yet Olson comes upon a good thing, tricks himself into an insight, while dancing it (maybe in a digression), and Wakoski is like a novelist, talking until enough is said….

[She] practices spontaneous and get-yourself-out-of-this-mess poems and is busily self-renewing, that Sexton domesticity turned healthy. So the danger for her as a writer is that one feels warmly toward her for being such an entertainer, and how is she to take that? (p. 304)

Gerald Burns, in Southwest Review (© 1978 by Southern Methodist University Press), Summer, 1978.

Peter Schjeldahl

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Miss Wakoski's] poems are professionally supple and clear and often feature a kind of sardonic humor, but their pervasive unpleasantness makes her popularity rather surprising. One can only conclude that a number of people are angry enough at life to enjoy the sentimental and desolating resentment with which she writes about it. Notable among her themes is an anti-male rage that seems the opposite of liberating: Miss Wakoski isn't mad at men who oppress her, she's mad at men who fail to fulfil her exacting romantic fantasies. "I could no more give up my idea of finding the perfect man than I could give up poetry," she writes in an oddly defiant introductory essay. "Are they not the same concept, the same spirit, the same holy quest, for beauty…?"

The eponymous subject of ["The Man Who Shook Hands"] is a fellow who took leave of the poet after a night together by shaking hands, a lapse in erotic etiquette brooded on so obsessively that one keeps expecting it to hatch something, but it never does….

Nor does Miss Wakoski show the least inclination to sisterly feeling. All her many heroes are male. Her hatred of her mother is expressed with hair-raising harshness. Her repeated railings against fate for making her (in her own eyes) physically plain suggest a crude sexual competitiveness assumed to be in the nature of things. The last line in the book is "How I hate my destiny," and ultimately irritating is the level of consciousness Miss Wakoski brings to her troubles, a level high enough, one would think, to trigger some growth or extension, or at least some rueful laughter. But perhaps she would regard any such transcendence as a betrayal of her "holy quest," which, as a result, goes nowhere. (p. 15)

Peter Schjeldahl, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1978 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), August 13, 1978.