Ward, Diane (Lee)

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WARD, Diane (Lee)

Nationality: American. Born: Washington, D.C., 9 November 1956. Education: Corcoran School of Art, Washington, D.C., 1975–77. Family: Married Chris Hauty in 1988; two sons. Awards: National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, 1980; San Francisco State Poetry Center's Book of the Year award, 1984; California Arts Council fellowship in literature, 1988–89. Address: 1013B 21st Street, Santa Monica, California 90403, U.S.A.



On Duke Ellington's Birthday. Privately published, 1977.

Trop-i-dom. Washington, D.C., Jawbone, 1977.

The Light American. Washington, D.C., Jawbone, 1978.

Theory of Emotion. New York, Segue/O Press, 1978.

Never without One. New York, Roof Books, 1984.

Relation. New York, Roof Books, 1989.

Imaginary Movie. Elmwood, Connecticut, Potes and Poets Press, 1992.

Exhibition. Elmwood, Connecticut, Potes and Poets Press, 1995.

Human Ceiling. New York, Roof Books, 1995.


Diane Ward comments:

I was trained as a visual artist and approach my writing—imagery, form, process—informed by the tools and concerns I developed as a visual artist.

My early, and continuing, influences are the writings of a variety of visual artists, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, Francis Ponge, Gaston Bachelard, William Burroughs, the New York school poets (especially Bernadette Mayer, Alice Notley, Clark Coolidge). These are only a handful of the many writers/artists who have continued to be a presence in my writing/life.

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Diane Ward is often associated with the language poetry group. Her work possesses most of the external attributes of language-oriented poetry, including an attention to the material quality of words, a highly experimental and self-reflexive stance, and the use of an essentially abstract, quasi-expository rhetoric. Unlike many language poets, however, Ward does not focus primarily on the act of writing itself but instead conceives of poetry as a means of accounting for the complex dialectics of language and desire. "Absolution," from her 1989 collection Relation, begins,

My arms are given
clean away, heaven forgiven.
I live in arms, touched
by sentence, treble up, sentence.
Reaching out across the states,
statements, clear mess of states.

Perhaps the most pervasive influence on Ward's poetry is that of Gertrude Stein, whose cubist poetic prose in Tender Buttons prefigures Ward's abstract descriptions of private experience as well as her constant blurring of the distinction between the psychological and the physical world. More generally, Ward seeks to account for the complex verbal and gestural strategies used by people in relating to one another, or simply to themselves, in seemingly casual situations. Her explorations of the human consciousness, however, are far from being merely anecdotal, and her most particular talent lies in a cold-eyed investigation of basic patterns of behavior and of the multiple correspondences between inner and outer landscapes, private and public architectures. "Pronouncing," a prose poem contained in Never without One, is a typical example of Ward's antilyrical landscapes, in which her interest in the meanders of the human mind is often subordinated to an analysis of medium and perspective:

Arrested modesty fades once out on the town. An iced commodity a motion fanning out over every position a body could play. Order replaces disorder. A direction cuddles up to a slice of this magnet world. The chord continues climbing. Total elevators lay down to cherish the thought.

Ward's poems are characterized by a sense of what Jean Baudrillard has called "the loss of the real," a condition in which the old modernist tension between reality and illusion, the "authentic" original and the copy, has been dissipated. As a result they depict a world in which the self, confronted with "window oddities painted like painting," is liable to mistake "the forest for trees and tree-like devices." "Pronouncing" is also emblematic of Ward's rejection of narrative linearity. Like most of her poems, it consists of a series of discrete but interrelated moments forming a continuous verbal choreography much like the "on-call improvised emotional flow" described in "Immediate Content Recognition," which stands as both an illustration of and a commentary on Ward's poetic project:

an aura surrounds each phrase stumbled through
not like bubbles around words in comic strips
or even thought bubbles
or static on the radio
more of a disembodied mouth making perfect choreographed
  words without sounds and each twitch
twist and frown composed for the moment

The screen tests of Ward's collection Imaginary Movie suggest that the demise of traditional categories of representation, as well as the problem of artistic composition and its relationship to an increasingly elusive "real," have not ceased to occupy her mind. By putting the accent on the changing present of human consciousness, the instability of thought, and the impossibility of attending to a single representation of the same phenomenon, they further testify to Ward's desire to represent reality in a state of flux. Ultimately, they create a performative moment in which the process of perception itself is their subject matter:

noxious clouds on the horizon
same blue gray everyday
now war is like tv:
inversion presses down
the hills' perspective disappears
until you forget they were
what was ever there

—Michel Delville