Sunday, August 3, 2008

Dancing on the Grave of a Son of a Bitch

This morning I was reminded via The Writer's Almanac that today is the birthday of Diane Wakoski. The book pictured above is directly responsible for pushing me over the precipice into a life of poetry writing and appreciation.

And it all started with the title.

Throughout my teen years, I always had a passing affinity with poetry but up to then strictly as a curiosity and nothing much more. 60's rock lyrics with their lofty aspirations encouraged in the attentive listener the symbiotic relationship of song and poem; pot helped, too. It was, ahem, a tumultuous time.

One day back in the early 70's, I remember strolling through a bookstore and seeing, face out, the above title and I thought, "what the hell?" Keats and Wordsworth didn't quite seem to put things this way; even the much overheated Byron wasn't quite that, well, succinct. So I picked up the book and read the title poem:

Dancing on the Grave of a Son of a Bitch

And I was bagged, hook, line and sinker.

Wakoski grew out of the sixties and was first published by LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) in the Corinth/Totem Press publication, Four Young Lady Poets, along with Carol Bergé, Rochelle Owens, and Barbara Mosoff. She was influenced by the Beats and had her own brand of feminism but was never truly accepted by either group because, first and foremost, she was an individual, she was Diane Wakoski. There are lots of volumes by her I could recommend but The Motorcycle Betrayal Poems is a fine place to start. Her influence on Lyn Lifshin, the queen of the small press, is beyond measure. She has her own eclectic (perhaps that should be eccentric) mythology, which was another thing that opened my mind up to poetry's limitless possibilities. The woman has a jones for George Washington (careful with those wooden teeth, friend). Go figure. But, the bottom line is that it all works and it's all good.

So, in the spirit of thanks and giving back, happy birthday, Diane Wakoski, and here is one of her own poems, from Dancing on the Grave of a Son of a Bitch, to help commemorate the day:


guards us
from introspection.

What guards us
from vanity?

To think of ourselves
like the moon,
dead and beautiful,
and of an origin no one
can be sure of?
Diane Wakoski


Note: If you would like to receive the two current issues of Lilliput 
Review free (or have your current subscription extended two issues),
just make a suggestion of a title or titles for the Near Perfect Books
of Poetry
page, either in a comment to this post, in email to lilliput
review at gmail dot com, or in snail mail to the address on the


Anonymous said...

Dear Don:

Congratulations on "59 Near Perfect Books Of Poetry"! I just printed the list and have been perusing it over Sunday morning coffee. Incredible.

I noted four particularly interesting additions from my perspective, which to keep in the proper spirit of things is VERY SUBJECTIVE! They were "The Wasteland" by Eliot, "Birthday Letters" by Hughes and the two Merwin books, "The Vixen" and "Asian Figures". The first book new to me to go on my short reading list will be "Asian Figures". A thank you to whoever made the suggestion; "The Vixen" is one of Merwin's books I've gone back to a number of times . . . I think he is an extremely interesting poet.

I am tempted to add two books to the list. The poets are Robert Lowell and Ted Hughes. To me, they are "Near Perfect", but I can't decide whether they are "Near Perfect Enough". So I shall spend the rest of my day splitting hairs. Perhaps I can come to a final decision this evening while trout fishing in America.

Best Regards!


Greg Schwartz said...

nice poem! never read any Diane Wakoski before -- thanks!

Charles Gramlich said...

That title would have pulled me in too. I'm sorry I didn't see it. I've not read her poetry. This one was certainly interesting.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Thanks for the kind words. I would certainly be interested in the Lowell and Hughes books you are thinking of. And near perfect isn't perfect.

Greg, lots of of folks don't know about her. She had her moments in the 70's but because she isn't easily categorized or affiliated with one group or another, she doesn't always hit the radar. There is a neat article with comic adaptation of one of her poems at the Poetry Foundation:

Charles, glad you liked it. She's definitely someone who follows her own muse.


Greg said...

I nominate "Littlefoot," by Charles Wright. I think he's one of the best 2 or 3 living American poets, and the book in question, a book-length poem, displays his power extremely well.

Also, thanks for the Wakoski notice. It's been awhile, but I well remember discovering her when I first got to college in 1972.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Glad you remembered Wakoski. She really has done some great stuff.

Thanks very much for the Charles Wright nomination. I've put it up on the webpage this morning.

In appreciation I'd like to send you the two new issue of Lilliput Review. You can send me an email with your snail mail address to

lilliput review at google dot com


Ed Baker said...

seems like Greg Luce lives down the street from me..

who'd uve thunk?

maybe he will appreciate seeing my "stash" of


and he (seems to be) another Eric Hoffer phan...

and, I betcha has "inhaled' everything Henry Miller ever produced..

among them:

-From My Capricorn Friend ((Irv Stettner STROKER (
Stroker Anthology 1974-1994 may yet be 'out there'))

-First Impressions of Greece

-Quiet Days in Clichy

-Henry Miller on Writing

-Stand Still Like The Humming Bird

-The Cosmological Eye

anyway more "near perfect books"