The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Father of My Country” is a long poem of more than 170 lines in which an adult woman looks back and tries to come to terms with what she feels was her father’s desertion. The poem is in the confessional mode—it deals with a private subject (in this case, family problems) in a public way. There is a feeling of taboo about the subject, and though the poem is not necessarily true in a literal sense, it does give the impression of being drawn from life.

Although the poem is quite long, many of the lines are short, some of them consisting of a single word. The others are of irregular length, in free verse, and give the poem a free-swinging emotional feeling. The length of the poem allows space for Diane Wakoski to weave variations on her subject and to build to a climactic ending in which her feelings are somewhat resolved.

The poem deals with memories of the speaker’s father evoked in objects associated with him, such as telegrams and presents from faraway places. George Washington appears throughout the poem as a symbolic father figure the poet can use to talk about her own father and his frequent absences in her childhood. When she tells the reader that her father was an officer in the Navy and that fatherhood has “a military origin” (related to being authoritarian), the reader sees the connection she is making between General George Washington, first president and symbolic father of the United States, and her own father. When she says that George Washington “won the hearts/ of his country,” it...

(The entire section is 629 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Wakoski is frequently referred to as a confessional poet. Taboo material can be used for powerful effect, and Wakoski is one of the outstanding practitioners of the confessional mode. By violating the reader’s sense of decorum and boundaries, she taps into deep feelings both in herself and in her reader.

The confessional aspects of her poem intensify the feeling that the poem is important because the writer feels strongly enough about the material to break taboos. Using and shaping personal material, she develops a personal mythology that is both a re-creation of the self in a new identity and a coherent interpretation of the chaotic old self. Like other mythologies, the personal mythology is a story of origins peopled by heroes and villains and dealing with elemental emotions.

The mythic world of Wakoski’s imagination is inhabited by many created or adapted characters, such as George Washington in this poem; in fact, Washington appears in a whole series of her poems. Sometimes her characters seem to be masks for real people in her life, while at other times they seem to be simply types filling some symbolic role. That is, George Washington may be a name she uses to depict a real person who has filled the need for a father figure in her life, or he may be a symbol used to express and resolve conflicts in her own psyche. In either case, this personal mythology becomes a means of interpreting and re-creating the self.


(The entire section is 514 words.)