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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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Self-belief=Self-questioning.   If they are in balance, you can progress with some success in your personal life.

Poems have many functions, but one of them is problem-solving.   My process is to take some material, which generates a question and that interests me, and try to transform it. You ask what inspires me?   Books, movies, food, gambling; female objects of beauty such as butterflies, jewels, flowers, shoes; male objects of beauty such as motorcycles, carpentry & tools; hands; feet; mouths; the Garden Myth; the Orpheus Myth; gold and silver; sun and moon! Things inspire me, though beauty as an idea also can fill me with something to say.  

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You ask about keeping a "steady keel."   Simple:   poetry is my lifeline.   It is an essential way I connect with the world.   I must keep writing to survive.

GC:   As the music swells, and the lights fade, I'd like to get a little personal again" because, let's face it, the New Critics were fine in their time, but we're in a very different era now, and as you write in Angels' final poem, "nakedness, not invisibility, is one's best disguise."

That poem, "Meditation on Flowers," references Jean Cocteau's film, "The Blood of a Poet," and I see Cocteau's image of a man crashing through a mirror--from the inside out!--as a startling metaphor for your work.  The reader surveys the mirror, finds all in place, when, suddenly--kaboom!  A crashing through from the other side!

Given the richly considered perspective of 51 years--from your first book, Coins and Coffins in 1962 to Bay of Angels now--you've witnessed and participated in metamorphoses in the arts--from the "howl" of the Beat movement to the reined-in academicism starting in the 70s, to an amazingly pliable but viable, open form today, this ancient art of poetry transforms itself, crashes through mirrors, then puts itself together again.  You've been a professor, a woman of letters, and you dream of "rousing discussions."  Poets have been oracles since Homer's day, since Sappho's.  Can you tell us--Where do you see us heading now?

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 DW:   I don't think my concept of poetry or the poet's place in the world has ever changed.   Like Robinson Jeffers, I believe poets are Cassandras, prophets who have access to some small splinter of truth, which we feel compelled to utter and, like Cassandra, we have been cursed by the Gods to speak the truth--even if we are not believed.  

I believe, as Emerson says, that virtue is its own reward.   Speaking the truth may bring us nothing except the joy of speaking the truth, even if no one believes us. I believe my splinter of truth-seeing allows me to understand beauty and, even if no one believes, understands, or accepts my truth, that I am rewarded by that understanding.

Poetry, like any art or literature, should connect the present and past.   I am a safe oracle, since no one will believe me.   So, Diane, as Pythoness, says that those who pay more attention to beauty--not surface beauty, but to its secrets that underlie even the impure--will save the world. Poet and educator. British Book Centre, New York, NY, clerk, 1960-63; Junior High School 22, New York, NY, teacher, 1963-66; New School for Social Research, New York, NY, lecturer, 1969; writer-in-residence, California Institute of Technology, 1972, University of Virginia, 1972-73, Willamette University, 1974, University of California, Irvine, 1974, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1975, Michigan State University, 1975, Whitman College, 1976, University of Washington, 1977, University of Hawaii, 1978, and Emory University, 1980, 1981; member of faculty at Michigan State University, 1976--.

Diane Wakoski has published 21 books of poetry, and her work has appeared at numerous periodicals and websites, including Counterpunch.  Her most recent book is "Bay of Angels" (2013, Anhinga Press).  A pillar of the "Beat Movement," her life and work have inspired generations of American and international writers. 

Gary Corseri has published novels, books of poetry and a literary anthology (editor).   His dramas have been performed on PBS-Atlanta, and he has read his poems at the Carter Presidential Center.   His articles have appeared worldwide at The New York Times, Village Voice, Z-Net, OpEdNews, etc.

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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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