Diane Wakoski Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Diane Wakoski (wah-KAH-skee) wrote three critical essays that were published by Black Sparrow Press: Form Is an Extension of Content (1972), Creating a Personal Mythology (1975), and Variations on a Theme (1976). These essays, with other essays that had originally appeared in American Poetry Review, where she was a regular columnist between 1972 and 1974, and in her books of poetry, were reprinted in Toward a New Poetry (1980).


(Poets and Poetry in America)

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.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Brown, David M. “Wakoski’s ’The Fear of Fat Children.’” Explicator 48, no. 4 (Summer, 1990): 292-294. Brown observes how the poem’s common diction and grotesque imagery work to create a successful postmodern confessional in which the speaker expresses not only guilt but also the urge for self-reformation.

Gannon, Catherine, and Clayton Lein. “Diane Wakoski and the Language of Self.” San Jose Studies 5 (Spring, 1979): 84-98. Focusing on The Motorcycle Betrayal Poems, Gannon and Lein discuss the betrayal motif in terms of the speaker’s struggle for identity. The poems’ speaker uses the moon image to consider possible alternative images for herself, and in the last poem of the book she achieves a “richer comprehension of her being.”

Hughes, Gertrude Reif. “Readers Digest.” Women’s Review of Books 18, no. 7 (April, 2001): 14-16. Treats The Butcher’s Apron along with collected works by Carolyn Kizer and Kathleen Raine. Gives high praise to “Greed, Part 14,” which is granted the status of a major long poem that redeems much else in the collection.

Lauter, Estella. Women as Mythmakers: Poetry and Visual Art by Twentieth-Century Women. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984. Lauter devotes one chapter to Wakoski’s handling of moon imagery in several...

(The entire section is 496 words.)