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:
MEETING AN ASTRONOMER ON
THE BUDDHA'S BIRTHDAYVanity
What guards us
To think of ourselves
like the moon,
dead and beautiful,
and of an origin no one
can be sure of?Diane Wakoski
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