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"Prologue: A Conversation with Diane Wakoski About 'Bay of Angels' and Crashing Through Mirrors" --with Gary Corseri

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A rebel against all corrupt gods,

yet like all submissives, she

is the one who can change the balance of power?"

This highlights two contrapuntal themes in your book: expansiveness that keeps testing limits (expansiveness encapsulated in ideas like a "parallel universe," "string theory," "quantum mechanics") and a proclivity for wanting to be held, "enslaved" even, "owned," utterly known and possessed.  Is this a modern female thing or is it your thing?  I don't think anyone would describe this as a "masculine" trait, but we've become so very sensitive about ascribing traits to gender" I confess to being a little perplexed about how to approach this. 

 I like the flow of language here because the words are straightforward, but suggestive of deeper mysteries.  I think the best of your work does that.  And, as I've said, this book can be quite personal--about your childhood diffidence, sense of abandonment by your "sailor-father," loneliness growing up on the edge of a California orange grove, in a shack of a farmhouse dominated by two lonely women; and then some difficult adult relationships, etc.  Coleridge defined poetry as the "reconcilement of opposites."  I wonder to what degree you are consciously working with opposites and striving towards "reconcilement"?  Could one have a "rousing discussion" with oneself" and  bottle the genie of poetry from that?

DW: I am always working with opposites, working towards their reconcilement.

I think if I were you--or any great conversationalist--I could have a "rousing discussion" with myself. However, as Diane, I am usually silent, tongue- tied, or a speaker of platitudes.   I am busy in poetry trying to choose my words so that they include everything.   I think that poetry should be more than just a conversation with oneself, no matter how rousing.   That's probably what our dreams are.  

Art?   Maybe art is that Zen idea of one hand clapping.   I think art is a way of reaching out--to have a dialogue, discussion, conversation with the reader--who, for better or worse, can never be simply a mirror image of the poet.   The reader has to want to respond.    By the moment of transformation at the end of a poem, a reader should grasp that the poet is different from what he first thought.   Therefore, with the genie out of the bottle, there's a new wholeness.   How can the reader not identify with that?   But, it's not a mirror-image of poet-reader.   It is, rather, Cocteau's poet bursting through the mirror--bloodless--to the place of imagination, taking the reader with him.

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GC: My favorite poem from the first half of your fairly long collection is "'The Spiral Staircase': Apples vs. Oranges."  Much of Angels is about a gamble, a noir image in shadow; an imagined lover, re-imagined lovers; a merging of celluloid and the scent of gardenias.  This flitting between shadows is actually more effective because in certain poems there is a pause, as herein, and we can catch the real figure--toying, flirting, elusive, allusive, frightened, daring.  Film noir has particular appeal to you, and is used  metaphorically--as in "Some Beauty Needs a Dimness" ("the alchemical chisel of black and white")-- because its stark contrasts actually sharpen, define and clarify.

 The mystery revealed in "The Spiral Staircase"," the unfolding, takes the form of a daily eaten orange plucked from a grove next to your childhood home.  The surprise here is that the mythic world, symbolized by the literary "golden apples of Hesperides" is too vulnerable to smudge-pot soot, harsh rays of California sun", but the real, globed fruit of orange is protected by a sturdy rind, and the fruit "held destiny" for "this little sorceress" poet, this "little witch-child" who learns to conjure from her life experiences.

Many of the poems in Angels are wholly or partly meditations on poetry--the evolution and development of the poet.  You train an unrelenting eye on yourself, mistakes made along the way, while reflecting, with a sense of wonder, on how you got to be 75, with a successful career as a writer and teacher:

 "Had I been less superficial,

I'd have cleaved to the man with the hands

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I never found handsome."


"While the others tour ancient churches,

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Gary Corseri has published & posted his work at hundreds of venues worldwide, including Op Ed News, The New York Times, CounterPunch, CommonDreams, DissidentVoice, L.A. (and Hollywood--) Progressive. He has been a professor in the US & Japan, has (more...)

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