Wakoski, Diane 1937-

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WAKOSKI, Diane 1937-

PERSONAL: Born August 3, 1937, in Whittier, CA; daughter of John Joseph and Marie (Mengel) Wakoski; married S. Shepard Sherbell (a magazine editor), October 22, 1965 (divorced); married Michael Watterlond, February 22, 1973 (divorced, 1975); married Robert J. Turney, February 14, 1982. Education: University of California, Berkeley, B.A., 1960. Hobbies and other interests: Astrology, detective fiction, cooking, collecting American art pottery, growing orchids.

ADDRESSES: Home—607 Division, East Lansing, MI 48823. Office—Michigan State University, 207 Morrill Hall, East Lansing, MI 48824-1036. E-mail—[email protected].

CAREER: 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; writerin-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—.

MEMBER: PEN, Authors Guild, Authors League of America, Poetry Society of America.

AWARDS, HONORS: Robert Frost fellowship, Bread Loaf Writers Conference, 1966; Cassandra Foundation award, 1970; New York State Council on the Arts grant, 1971; Guggenheim Foundation grant, 1972; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1973; Ful-bright grant, 1984; Michigan Arts Council grant, 1988; Michigan Arts Foundation award recipient, 1989; distinguished faculty award, Michigan State University, 1989, William Carlos Williams Prize, 1989, for Emerald Ice: Selected Poems, 1962-1987; university distinguished professor award, Michigan State University, 1990; Author of the Year award, Michigan Library Association, 2003.



Coins and Coffins (also see below), Hawk's Well Press (New York, NY), 1962.

(With Rochelle Owens, Barbara Moraff, and Carol Berge) Four Young Lady Poets, edited by LeRoi Jones, Totem-Corinth (New York, NY), 1962.

Dream Sheet, Software Press (New York, NY), 1965.

Discrepancies and Apparitions (also see below), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1966.

The George Washington Poems (also see below), Riverrun Press (New York, NY), 1967.

The Diamond Merchant, Sans Souci Press (Cambridge, MA), 1968.

Inside the Blood Factory, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1968.

(With Robert Kelly and Ron Loewinsohn) The Well Wherein a Deer's Head Bleeds: A Play for Winter Solstice, Black Sparrow Press (Los Angeles, CA), 1968.

Greed, Black Sparrow Press (Los Angeles, CA), Parts 1 and 2, 1968, Parts 3 and 4, 1969, Parts 5, 6, 7, 1971, Parts 8, 9, 11, 1973.

The Lament of the Lady Bank Dick, Sans Souci Press (Cambridge, MA), 1969.

The Moon Has a Complicated Geography, Odda Tala Press (Palo Alto, CA), 1969.

Poems, Key Printing Co., 1969.

Some Black Poems for the Buddha's Birthday, Pierripont Press, 1969.

Thanking My Mother for Piano Lessons, Perishable Press (Mount Horeb, WI), 1969.

Love, You Big Fat Snail, Tenth Muse (San Francisco, CA), 1970.

Black Dream Ditty for Billy "the Kid" M Seen in Dr. Generosity's Bar Recruiting for Hell's Angels and Black Mafia, Black Sparrow Press (Los Angeles, CA), 1970.

The Wise Men Drawn to Kneel in Wonder at the Fact So of Itself, Black Sparrow Press (Los Angeles, CA), 1970.

The Magellanic Clouds, Black Sparrow Press (Los Angeles, CA), 1970.

On Barbara's Shore, Black Sparrow Press (Los Angeles, CA), 1971.

(Contributor) The Nest, Black Sparrow Press (Los Angeles, CA), 1971.

The Motorcycle Betrayal Poems, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1971.

This Water Baby: For Tony, Unicorn Press (Santa Barbara, CA), 1971.

Exorcism, My Dukes (Boston, MA), 1971.

The Purple Finch Song, Perishable Press (Mount Horeb, WI), 1972.

Sometimes a Poet Will Hijack the Moon, Burning Deck (Providence, RI), 1972.

Smudging, Black Sparrow Press (Los Angeles, CA), 1972.

The Pumpkin Pie: or, Reassurances Are Always False, Tho We Love Them, Only Physics Counts, Black Sparrow Press (Los Angeles, CA), 1972.

Winter Sequences, Black Sparrow Press (Los Angeles, CA), 1973.

Dancing on the Grave of a Son of a Bitch, Black Sparrow Press (Los Angeles, CA), 1973.

Stilllife: Michael, Silver Flute, and Violets, University of Connecticut Library (Storrs, CT), 1973.

The Owl and the Snake: A Fable, Perishable Press (Mount Horeb, WI), 1973.

(Contributor) Karl Malkoff, editor, Crowell's Handbook of Contemporary American Poetry, Crowell (New York, NY), 1973.

The Wandering Tatler, Perishable Press (Mount Horeb, WI), 1974.

Trilogy (includes Coins and Coffins, Discrepancies and Apparitions, and The George Washington Poems), Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1974.

Looking for the King of Spain (also see below), Black Sparrow Press (Los Angeles, CA), 1974.

Abalone, Black Sparrow Press (Los Angeles, CA), 1974.

Virtuoso Literature for Two and Four Hands, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1975.

The Fable of the Lion and the Scorpion, Pentagram Press (Milwaukee, WI), 1975.

The Laguna Contract of Diane Wakoski, Crepuscular Press (Madison, WI), 1976.

George Washington's Camp Cups, Red Ozier Press (Madison, WI), 1976.

Waiting for the King of Spain, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Barbara, CA), 1976.

The Last Poem, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Barbara, CA), 1976.

The Ring, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Barbara, CA), 1977.

Spending Christmas with the Man from Receiving at Sears, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Barbara, CA), 1977.

Overnight Projects with Wood, Red Ozier Press (Madison, WI), 1977.

Pachelbel's Canon (also see below), Black Sparrow Press (Santa Barbara, CA) 1978.

The Man Who Shook Hands, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1978.

Trophies, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Barbara, CA), 1979.

Cap of Darkness (includes Looking for the King of Spain and Pachelbel's Canon), Black Sparrow Press (Santa Barbara, CA), 1980.

(With Ellen Lanyon) Making a Sacher Torte: Nine Poems, Twelve Illustrations, Perishable Press (Mount Horeb, WI), 1981.

Saturn's Rings, Targ Editions, (New York, NY), 1982.

Divers, Barbarian Press, 1982.

The Lady Who Drove Me to the Airport, Metacom Press (Worcester, MA), 1982.

The Magician's Feastletters, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Barbara, CA), 1982.

The Collected Greed, Parts 1-13, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Barbara, CA), 1984.

The Managed World, Red Ozier Press (New York, NY), 1985.

Why My Mother Likes Liberace: A Musical Selection, SUN/Gemini Press (Tucson, AZ), 1985.

Celebration of the Rose: For Norman on Christmas Day, Caliban Press (Montclair, NJ), 1987.

Roses, Caliban Press (Montclair, NJ), 1987.

Husks of Wheat, California State University, Northridge Library (Northridge, CA), 1987.

Emerald Ice: Selected Poems 1962-1987, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1988.

Medea the Sorceress ("Archaeology of Movies and Books" series), Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1991.

Jason the Sailor ("Archaeology of Movies and Books" series), Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1993.

The Emerald City of Las Vegas ("Archaeology of Movies and Books" series), Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1995.

Argonaut Rose ("Archaeology of Movies and Books" series), Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1998.

The Butcher's Apron: New and Selected Poems, Including "Greed: Part 14," Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 2000.


Form Is an Extension of Content (essay), Black Sparrow Press (Los Angeles, CA), 1972.

Creating a Personal Mythology (essays), Black Sparrow Press (Los Angeles, CA), 1975.

Variations on a Theme (essay), Black Sparrow Press (Santa Barbara, CA), 1976.

(Author of introduction) Barbara Drake, Love at the Egyptian Theatre, Red Cedar Press (East Lansing, MI), 1978.

(Author of introduction) Lynne Savitt, Lust in Twenty-eight Flavors, Second Coming Press (San Francisco, CA), 1979.

Toward a New Poetry (essays), University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1980.

Unveilings, photographs by Lynn Stern, Hudson Hill Press (New York, NY), 1989.

Contributor to "Burning Deck Post Cards: The Third Ten," Burning Deck Press, and to periodicals. American Poetry Review, columnist, 1972-74.

WORK IN PROGRESS: A sequence of poems titled Noir.

SIDELIGHTS: Diane Wakoski, described as an "important and moving poet" by Paul Zweig in the New York Times Book Review, is frequently named among the foremost contemporary American poets by virtue of her experiential vision and her unique voice. Wakoski's poems focus on intensely personal experiences—on her unhappy childhood, on the painful relationships she has had with men and, perhaps most frequently, on the subject of being Diane Wakoski. This is not to say, however, that her work is explicitly autobiographical. She has invented and incorporated personae from mythology and archetype as a liberation from what she has called the "obsessive muse," that spurs writers to face their personal terrors and turn them into art.

Occasionally some critics have found Wakoski's thematic concerns difficult to appreciate, especially the recurring "anti-male rage" theme noted by Peter Schjeldahl in the New York Times Book Review. Wakoski's poems, according to Schjeldahl, "are professionally supple and clear … but their pervasive unpleasantness makes her popularity rather surprising. One can only conclude that a number of people are angry enough at life to enjoy the sentimental and desolating resentment with which she writes about it."

Many other critics, however, believed that it is through this very rage and resentment that Wakoski makes a significant statement in her work. James F. Mersmann, for example, commented in Margins that Wakoski's poetry "gives us a moving vision of the terrible last stages of a disintegrating personality and a disintegrating society, and it painfully embodies the schizophrenia, alienation, and lovelessness of our time." Douglas Blazek concluded in Poetry that Wakoski's poems have the "substance necessary to qualify them notches above the works of creative 'geniuses,' 'stylists,' and 'cultural avatars' who have little to say."

The stylistic and structural aspects of Wakoski's poetry are as unique as her poetic statement. Often described as prosy, her poems are usually written in the first person. Rosellen Brown wrote in Parnassus that Wakoski "is a marvelously abundant woman" who sounds in her poetry "like some friend of yours who's flung herself down in your kitchen to tell you something urgent and makes you laugh and respect her good oldfashioned guts at the same time."

"Diane's style of writing," said David Ignatow in Margins, "reminds me of the baroque style of dress … the huge flounces, furbelows, puffed sleeves, trailing skirts, tight waist, heaving bosoms and stylishly protruding buttocks, all carried off with great elegance of movement and poise." In Mediterranean Review, critic Robert DeMaria found that, "stylistically, [Wakoski] has a marvelous and distinctive voice. It lingers in one's mind after one has read her. … Her timing is excellent, so excellent that she can convert prose into poetry at times. And most of what she writes is really prose, only slightly transformed, not only because of its arrangement on the page, but because of this music she injects into it."

While the structure of Wakoski's poems appears to be informal and casually built, her artistic control is tight. As Hayden Carruth suggested in the Hudson Review, "Wakoski has a way of beginning her poems with the most unpromising materials imaginable, then carrying them on, often on and on and on, talkily, until at the end they come into surprising focus, unified works. With her it is a question of thematic and imagistic control; I think her poems are deeply, rather than verbally, structured." In Contemporary Literature, Marjorie G. Perloff spoke of Wakoski's purpose in writing nontraditionally structured poems, saying that Wakoski "strives for a voice that is wholly natural, spontaneous, and direct. Accordingly, she avoids all fixed forms, definite rhythms, or organized image patterns in the drive to tell us the Whole Truth about herself, to be sincere."

"Although Wakoski's poems are not traditional structures," said Debra Hulbert in Prairie Schooner, "she builds them solidly with words which feel chosen, with repetition of images throughout a poem." This repetition, an element that critics mention often, makes its own statement apart from the individual themes of the poems. "Repetition," remarked Gloria Bowles in Margins, "has become Wakoski's basic stylistic mode. And since form is an extension of content (et vice versa) Wakoski's poetic themes have become obsessive. Repetition is a formal fact of her poetry and, so she suggests, the basic structure of our lives."

Wakoski's poems often rely on digressions, on tangential wanderings through imagery and fantasy, to present ideas and themes. Blazek observed that "many of her poems sound as if they're constantly in trouble, falling into triteness, clumsiness, or indirection. She is constantly jumping into deep water to save a drowning stanza or into burning buildings to recover disintegrating meaning, always managing to pull these rescues off, sometimes with what appears to be a superhuman determination, drawing gasps from witnesses who never lose that initial impression of disaster." But, he said, these "imaginative excursions and side-journeys (she can get strung-out in just about any poem over a page long) are well-founded in her life—they're not just facile language cyclone-spinning itself to naught. They are doors into her psyche."

Toby Olson, writing in Margins, believed that "one of the central forces of … [Wakoski's] poems proceeds from a fundamentally serious playfulness, an evident desire to spin out and open the image rather than to close the structure. … Oneof their most compelling qualities is their obsessiveness: the need at every turn to digress, to let the magic of the words take her where they will, because they are so beautiful, because the ability to speak out is not to be taken for granted, is to be wondered at in its foreignness, is to be followed." Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor Mark Harris observed: "In many of Wakoski's poems the obsessive muse focuses on the idea of beauty. Taken as a whole, her work may be regarded as a linguistic/poetic quest for beauty."

The "magic" of Wakoski's words is also wrought through her use of imagery and through her creation of a consistent personal mythology. Commenting on two of the poet's earliest works, Coins and Coffins and Discrepancies and Apparitions, Sheila Weller wrote in Ms. that the books "established [Wakoski] as a poet of fierce imagination. She was at once an eerie imagist (always the swooping gulls, deciduating hands, the hawk that 'pecks out my eyes like two cherries'); and a rapt parablist, reworking Wild West legend and cosmological symbols, transmuting fairy-tale scenes ('three children dancing around an orange tree') into macaberie ('Do you see the round orange tree? … glinting through the leaves, / the hanged man'). These poems are vivid landscapes—as diabolic as Dali, as gauzy as Monet."

In Poetry, Sandra M. Gilbert described Wakoski as "a fabulist, a weaver of gorgeous webs of imagery and a teller of archetypically glamorous tales [who has] always attempted self-definition through self-mythologizing. 'The poems were a way of inventing myself into a new life,' she has said." "The myth of herself," said H. Zinnes in World Literature Today, is of "one 'clothed in fat,' with an ugly face, without wit, brilliance or elegance, but having some 'obsession for truth and history.' This plain seeker after love … is of course a poet with a great deal of wit. … a poet who in her work and life is not merely searching for a lover," although many of her poems touch on this theme.

Harris wrote: "Wakoski's preference for single words and rhythms that mirror the patterns of speech can mislead the reader into reading her poems too literally. This mistake in turn leads the reader to consider her themes trivial, for by reading on only the literal level, one misses the substance and complexity provided by the emblematic level. … The strength of the poetry … is that both sides of a paradox can be presented together, equally and simultaneously, a situation that life cannot duplicate. At its best, Wakoski believes, poetry employs the objects, events and experiences of life in a way that allows the reader to experience their emotional substance. Her emblematic use of language is one of her methods for obtaining this result."

Wakoski's personal mythology embraces many archetypal figures as well, including George Washington, the king of Spain, the motorcycle mechanic, the "man in Receiving at Sears," Beethoven, the "man with the gold tooth," and the "man who shook hands." These characters, most of whom appear more than once in Wakoski's canon, serve as symbols, emblematic of emotional states, past experiences, fantasies, and, sometimes, of real people in the poet's life.

George Washington, for example, appears in The George Washington Poems, a collection Weller called "witty, caustic takes on the male mystique. In a voice by turns consciously absurdist and tremulously earnest, she takes the first President as her 'mythical father-lover,' romanticizes and barbs 'the militaristic, penalizing, fact-over-feeling male mind that I've always been afraid of and fascinated by.'" Wakoski speaks to George Washington in the poems with various voices—as Martha Washington, as a bitter child whose father has left home, as a lover left behind in the Revolutionary War. As Norman Martien explained in Partisan Review, "the George Washington myths serve to express the failure of a woman's relations to her men, but the myths also give her a means of talking about it. Partly because 'George' is so distant, he can be a safe listener. … [and] he can allow her a voice that can reaffirm human connection, impossible at closer ranges." This theme of the failure of relationships, of betrayal by others (especially men), is a central concern of Wakoski's, and many of her mythological figures embody one or more of the facets of human relations in which she sees the possibility of betrayal or loss.

The figure of the motorcycle mechanic in The Motorcycle Betrayal Poems symbolizes, as Wakoski says in her dedicatory statement, "all those men who betrayed me at one time or another." According to Zweig, the book is "haunted by a curious mythology composed of mustached lovers, 'mechanics' who do not understand the engine humming under [the narrator's] skin, the great-grandfatherly warmth of Beethoven and George Washington, to whom she turns with humor but also with a sort of desperation." In this book, said Eric Mottram in Parnassus, Wakoski "operates in a world of women as adjuncts to men and the erotics of bikes; the poems are survival gestures." According to Weller, the book "made … women start at [Wakoski's] power to personalize the paradox" of male-female relationships—"their anger at the rejecting male archetype … yet their willing glorification of it … The book's theme is the mythology and confusions of … love, and the fury at betrayal by symbols, envy, lovers, and self."

The theme of betrayal, and its resulting pain, also appears in Inside the Blood Factory. Here, as Zweig observed, Wakoski writes "poems of loss. The loss of childhood; the loss of lovers and family; the perpetual loss a woman lives with when she thinks she is not beautiful. These losses [create] a scorched earth of isolation around her, which she [describes] harshly and precisely. … From this vulnerable retreat, a stream of liberating images [emerges] to grapple with the world and mythify it." Peter D. Zivkovic, writing in Southwest Review, believed that Inside the Blood Factory is "significantly more than a memorable reading experience. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about … [the book] is the consistent strength of the individual poems. There is not," Zivkovic concluded, "a single weak poem in the volume—an achievement worthy of Frost and other American giants." Fourteen years after Inside the Blood Factory, Wakoski produced Saturn's Rings and The Magician's Feastletters. Saturn's Rings is a collection of surrealist poems loosely connected by the metaphorical theme of self-banishment and characteristic self-scrutiny. Holly Prado noted in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, "Fearing decay, ignorance, and the inevitability of death, Wakoski writes with the intensity of someone fiercely alive, who still wants to unscramble failures, loneliness, the image of herself as the homely girl who was never acceptable." Noting the limitations of her shorter pieces in the collection, Paul Oppenheimer commented in American Book Review on the concluding series of eleven poems from which the title of the collection derives: "Saturn's Rings … is an often captivating, often self-pitying cry from the depths. … Thecryis especially moving when uttered in the bright, chromic voice of Wakoski's most surrealistic lines. She is fine at depicting the possibility that 'the world / is flying out of control,' and that we may be living in 'a disintegrating time.'" In The Magician's Feastletters, arranged in four sections that parallel the four seasons, Wakoski uses food as a metaphor for love and deprivation. Though tending toward abstraction, Clayton Eshleman noted the concreteness of Wakoski's imagery and description of everyday items. He wrote in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, "Wakoski [begins] to reverse a whole system of frozen values geared to affirm youth/sexuality/summer/product and to denigrate aging/impotence/winter/soul. Especially in the light of current fashions in American poetry (where empty description is as touted as pretentious nonsense), Wakoski's poetry is extremely valuable."

The Collected Greed, Parts 1-13 and Emerald Ice: Selected Poems 1962-1987 bring together examples of Wakoski's finest writing over a twenty-five-year period. The Collected Greed is an assemblage of poetry from previous installments of Greed published between 1968 and 1973, with the addition of two previously unpublished parts. In the Los Angeles Times Book Review Kenneth Funsten offered high praise for "The Greed to Be Fulfilled," one of the new sections. Here Wakoski traces her personal quest for purpose and completion in a surreal glass house where she revisits George Washington and representations of Charles Bukowski and the king of Spain. Funsten wrote, "The confessional voice of the self-centered ego reaches a new plane of maturity when it decides that intellectual things, not emotional ones, are what matter." Throughout the collection Wakoski explores various manifestations of greed, defined by her as "an unwillingness to give up one thing / for another," as quoted in Funsten's review.

In the 1990s Wakoski produced Jason the Sailor and The Emerald City of Las Vegas, both belonging to the "Archaeology of Movies and Books" series that began with Medea the Sorceress in 1991. In Jason the Sailor, consisting of poems, letters, and excerpted texts by Camille Paglia, Nick Herbert, and Jeremy Bernstein, Wakoski explores archetypal love, betrayal, and the dynamics of male-female relationships, concluding, as quoted in a Kliatt review of the work, "Women need men, the other halves of ourselves." The Emerald City of Las Vegas similarly examines the mythology of modern America in casinos and through excerpts from L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz. A Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded that the book represents Wakoski's "inner conversation about what it means to be a woman, to be no longer young, to be a poet." The fourth book in the series is Argonaut Rose, in which Wakoski writes of her own history and popular culture.Library Journal reviewer Graham Christian said that she "remains an interesting poet to watch."

The Butcher's Apron: New and Selected Poems, Including "Greed: Part 14" focuses on the purchase, preparation, and enjoyment of food. Some of the poems read as recipes, as in "Braised Short Ribs." Wakoski writes of food failures, such as a pumpkin pie that won't set, and food she ate as a child. Library Journal contributor Judy Clarence wrote that the volume is pervaded by Wakoski's "feminine gentility," and felt that it should not be read in one sitting, but should "be dipped into now and then, as if one were sticking a finger into a pot of honey." A Publishers Weekly reviewer commended the work for its "plainly spoken, autobiographically grounded line."

Wakoski lives and works in East Lansing, Michigan. She is planning another extensive sequence of poems, possibly running to multiple volumes. In her work "The Blue Swan: An Essay on Music in Poetry" she summed up the process of poetry writing: "first comes the story. Then comes the reaction to the story. Then comes the telling and retelling of the story. And finally … comes boredom with the story, so that finally we invent music, and the nature of music is that you must hear all the digressions."


Diane Wakoski contributed the following autobiographical essay to CA:

I wrote the bulk of this essay in 1983 when I was forty-six. We are now in the new millennium, 2003, and I will be sixty-six this summer. In the twenty years that have passed I've become something I never thought possible during the first half of my life: middle class! That is, I've been married to a kind and generous man, a photographer who appreciates my poetry while living his own artistic life in an inspiring way, for twenty years. I have been a member of the English Department at Michigan State University for more than twenty-five years, earning myself an actual retirement pension fund and a vast array of stimulating friendships with colleagues and former students. And while I used to be on-the-road as a vagabond poet, now I mainly travel on vacations and in contrast to the sixty to eighty poetry readings I used to give in a year, I now perhaps give a dozen or less. Not because I don't want to, but because I am seldom invited, and I no longer feel like hustling and selling myself as a poet. We own a small house, and live a very sedate life. I have even come to have eyes for the possible beauties of the Midwest, which I have never quite accepted as my landscape. Probably the most risky thing I do these days is to play slot machines on our yearly trip to Las Vegas, or my occasional visits to Michigan's Soaring Eagle Casino. But our stories unfold, even when we are not actively aware of generating new ones.

Of course I have continued to write and publish my poetry. In fact, when I wrote most of this essay, I had just embarked on a project which is now fulfilled: a four-volume "epic of the West" that I call the "Archaeology of Movies and Books." Then, on the heels of those four books, in the millennium year I put together a collection of new and selected poems that is organized around the theme of the aesthetics of eating and drinking. It's called The Butcher's Apron and marked my first writing, in about twenty years, of a new part of my ongoing long poem, Greed, which was included in the book as "Greed Part 14: The Greed for Purity." Despite my high expectations for the success of this book, it was pretty much ignored aside from one perfunctory notice in the New York Times, which trashed it in a one-paragraph review concluding, "Growing old has [finally] given her something worth complaining about." Wow. I suppose one aspect of being middle class is that such things seem less devastating and simply inspire one to get on with another book. Since the spring of 2001, I have been working on this new project, a three (perhaps?) volume of new and selected poems to comprise a kind of autobiography called Noir, referring to both my interest in film and the dark or melodramatic black and whites of my personal history. But let me talk of these things and other events before and after 1983 chronologically. This is how I introduced myself then, and I think the only change in this vision of myself is to feel that these things are perhaps more like balances than contradictions:


At this writing, I am forty-six, overweight, and dissatisfied with myself. Aging has seemed a monstrosity to me when others hardly seem to consider it. But this summer, when my husband and I went to the Ingham County Fair, the ticket seller said, looking at me, "One senior-citizen ticket and one regular?" I was mortified and overwhelmingly depressed. Not great to be forty-six and look it in America, 1983, but to be thought to look at least sixty-five—twenty years older than you are—how humiliating.

This clashed with a letter received this week from a California friend, upon my sending her some photos of the two of us walking on the beach in November when we visited,

Robert's snapshots show me the same physical Diane I've always known. I thought of that when you were here and especially seeing you in this outrageously romantic yellow gathered top you've either had for years or duplicate from time to time—this is a convoluted way to say that you look young and that the thing you perhaps most feared turned out not to be a real problem, after all. It must be the fantastic amount of vitamins I will always remember you ingesting. (Annette Smith)

The contrast of two views of me, both by outsiders, gives some idea of the confusing messages the world has given me throughout my life, and I think that I have turned to poetry, very early, to find some kind of clear-eyed way of seeing those contrasts and confusions. I do believe poetry is an art of self-discovery, and while I have practiced it now for nearly forty years (I wrote my first poem when I was seven), I continue to need to find some kind of continuity between my ambivalent feelings about myself and the widely divergent views of me the world has.

Shall I start at the beginning? I was born August 3, 1937, in Whittier, California, to Marie Elvira Cora Mengel and John Joseph Wakoski, who had been married on August 2, 1936. I was born just after midnight, about 12:30 a.m., and my mother remembers saying to Dr. Starbuck, the osteopath who delivered me, that it was too bad I was not born on her wedding anniversary, and he replied, "Sorry I didn't know, or I could have done it." For astrology students, let it be known that my moon and Venus are conjunct in Gemini which is my rising sign. If I'd been born a little earlier, that conjunction would not be quite so close as it is (within minutes, I believe), and surely that conjunction somewhat explains my overwhelming need to be seen by the world as a love-object, the epitome of women, my desire always to be thought of as a maid (young), never a mother. And I believe if I had been born on August 2nd, I would share that birth-date with Shelley, one of my least favorite poets. Too narcissistic. Are we all condemned to become what we despise most?

At any rate, I was born in that Quaker town in Southern California named after the poet John Green-leaf Whittier, sharing residence with infamous former President Nixon, who went to that town's little college and played on their football team which was and is called The Poets. Early, however, we moved to East Whittier, to 2919 Russell Street, on the edge of an orange grove and just up the road from the Nixon family grocery, where I bought my popsicles from old Mr. and Mrs. Nixon, and later remember the store expanding and a butcher shop opening up with Don Nixon wearing the blood-stained apron of the trade. By then we had moved to the little town of La Habra, in Orange County, buying our house at 704 West Erna Street on my father's GI bill-of-rights loan privileges.

At the time of my birth, my father, who had been in the Navy when my mother met him at Long Beach Pier dance hall and married him, had ended his three years in the Navy and was living as a civilian. He and my mother shared a tiny house with my Aunt Eva, my mother's much older sister (my mother was the youngest of eight children), and her husband, Uncle Elmer. It must have been a terrible time for all. My aunt was a maid in a hotel. My uncle worked as a short-order cook in a diner, and my father was digging ditches or doing day labor when he could get work. My mother was a bookkeeper for a new car agency (Chevrolet?), and my birth must have been hard on them all. I had colic for the first year of my life, crying night and day I am told, and mainly rocked and soothed by my Uncle Elmer, who in recent years I realized looked quite a bit like George Washington. He was very silent, calm and gentle too, as I imagine Washington being. Taciturnity was a quality I grew up with, soothing, a needed life-giving trait.

Soon after my birth, my father reenlisted in the Navy, where he was to spend the rest of his life as a career man, ending up as a chief petty officer—jovial, popular with men and women alike, a very hard-working boilermaker who loved to gamble, drink, smoke, and "shoot the breeze." He was a kind of Prince Charming to me as a child: rarely home, not a good correspondent, and during World War II in many exotic places we could not be told about because of war-effort secrecy. His colored portrait in his navy uniform hovered over my life, and I have frozen one remembered moment of his coming home in my poem "Father of My Country." (Inside the Blood Factory and The George Washington Poems and Trilogy)

My sister, Marilyn, was born fifteen months after I was. She was a hated rival for the little attention which could be spared to infants in that crowded, impoverished household. Around that time, my mother must have moved somewhere to live apart from my aunt and uncle who had two young sons. I remember none of this, but feel sure that my Uncle Elmer must have left a deep impression of strong, kind, dumb arms of a man around me that I have always turned to, for my entire life, trying to marry it with a vision of the handsome bon vivant Prince Charming who was my occasionally visiting father. No amount of difficulty with men in my adult life could ever invalidate those two rich experiences of maleness from my childhood. One day after my sister was born, my mother slipped and fell on the highly polished car-showroom floor and broke her back. She was in the hospital for some time, and must have taken more than a year to heal and be finally able to go back to work. We must again have been thrown on the mercy of our relatives for care, and my mother never really recovered from this experience, nor let us ever forget it.


The first school I attended was Lowell School in East Whittier. It was a small school, on a very rural road, amid orange groves, avocado orchards, and on the border of an area rich in oil wells. Most of the students at the school were the children of quite prosperous parents, living in an area known as La Habra Heights. We all rode the bus to school—one of the great excitements of my childhood was the daily ride on the school bus—and I remember begging the bus driver, Mrs. Purdy, a quite dowdy lady with a face like a prune, if she would let me ride on the second bus route after we were dropped off at school, so that I could see the big and beautiful houses in the "Heights" where the other children lived. I was probably the poorest child in my class, except for one Mexican migrant worker child, but oddly enough it didn't seem to matter, because I was one of the smartest and best students. I was also a very rule-conscious, quiet child (except for occasional volcanic rebellions when I felt something was unfair), and thus a favorite of the teachers as well. It was somewhat heartbreaking to me when, after third grade, I had to leave Lowell School, as we moved to La Habra and our new house. The house was virtually palatial as far as I could tell, but we had almost no furniture, no rugs, and not much which really made it seem that much better than our shack on Russell Street, except large closets and a wonderful bathroom and kitchen. At that point in my life, fourth grade, age nine, I knew I would for the rest of my life sell my soul for good plumbing, beautiful bathrooms and kitchens, and larger closets. I haven't for one moment ever changed that resolution. Before that, I didn't know such things were possible for me. Now I did.

Our new school was called Lincoln School. It only went through the fifth grade. I attended fourth and fifth grades there, and found out at that time, or my mother did, from gossip given to her by the La Habra postmistress, that my IQ score was the highest one they had ever had in that district. I was beginning to get very conceited about my brains, because they were almost all I had. I got along with other children, and even had friends and a social life at parties and such, but in one sense I was a loner. I never had a best friend, and I never really got much satisfaction out of the social friendships I had. I knew somehow that one had to have other people, but somehow they did not give much satisfaction. I would rather read, practice the piano, and recite in school, where I could show off what I knew in front of an audience.

Going to sixth grade was like entering junior high school today. I went along with the rest of my fifth grade class into sixth grade at Washington School on the other side of town. Even though La Habra had only a population of about 1,900 people at that time, and it was known as the Avocado Capitol, being rancherish and rural in nature, it was several miles long, and so this meant that once again I had the daily excitement of taking a bus to school, if I wanted. Sixth, seventh, and eighth grades turned me totally into a bookworm. For one brief four months, during sixth grade, my mother took us to Bremerton, Washington, to live with my father while his ship was being put in mothballs. I went to Olympic View School and pretty much hated not being the well-known star of my class. I was a "brain" there too, but in California everyone knew me and many of the students still had a kind of childish social relationship with me. Here, I was isolated and in no way part of any sense of a group. I was relieved when we returned to La Habra in the summer. During the eighth grade my father asked my mother to come to Pennsylvania to be with him—he was on recruiting duty there—(I didn't know it, but they were at the end of their marriage, trying to make one last go at staying together). I refused to leave Washington School, where I was set to be the valedictorian and graduate with my class in June. In all my clashes with my mother, I have ultimately won. She simply couldn't bring herself to try to force me to leave. My stubbornness was legend, and she even bragged about it when I was little. So she arranged for an elderly next-door neighbor couple, Mr. and Mrs. Vandenbrock, to live with us. When she returned that year, months later, she was obviously in the worst period of her life. My father had divorced her to marry another woman. She had an automobile accident on the drive back home. She was having health problems, including a need to have all of her teeth removed and dentures to replace them. I scarcely noticed any of these things, for by then she had become a burden to me. Someone who knew, it seemed, nothing about the mysteries of any kind of success in the world—intellectual, financial, womanly. When I went into high school, I think I left her behind me, as surely as if I had moved to another house. Perhaps living in our house without her for those six months had reinforced that reality.

High school might have been the four best years of my life. As others often look back on college, I look back on high school. I went to school in Fullerton, as La Habra did not have its own high school. Fullerton Union High School had about 2,000 students drawn from seven small grammar school districts, including Brea, Buena Park, Fullerton, and La Habra. The school bus was now a big bus that looked like a city bus, only painted yellow. One of my difficulties during those years was coping with terrible fears. We had to cross the highway a block from our house in order to catch the high school bus. But I had been taught by my mother to fear traffic, so much that I could not cross the boulevard alone. This meant I always had to wait for my sister or our friend up the street, Valerie Twadell, to cross the highway with me. I tried to pretend that I was simply waiting for them out of friendship, but it was humiliating and terrible. I don't know how I finally learned to cross the boulevard alone, but somehow I did. I also could not bring myself to light a match, as my mother had ingrained it in me (with punishment, I suppose) that I must not play with fire. All through my childhood we had a gas stove, and I loved to cook and bake. But when I wanted to bake cookies, I had to go next door to get the neighbor, Blanche Sheets, to come over and light the oven for me. In high school I had to take chemistry as a senior, and I still could not bring myself to light a match. Getting someone to light my bunsen burner became very humiliating after a time or two, and others knew I was afraid of fire. Somehow, again, I don't know how, I made myself light matches by the end of class. I still hate lighting gas pilots or gas ovens. I am still afraid of water and cannot swim, am terrified of heights, snakes, a sudden loud noise. What a basket case.

I got over my fear of dogs in fourth grade, when I had to walk home every day from Lincoln School past a ferocious barking dog. I had a choice of going home by a much longer route—five or six blocks—or passing the dog. Since Valerie Twadell and my sister walked past the dog, I knew I had to make myself do it. I still remember holding my hands to my side the first time I passed by the dog alone. And I still hold my hands stiffly down to my side when I have to pass even a friendly barking dog on a street.


Now, comes the hardest, most difficult part of my life to write about. I would like to skip it, but cannot, as it shapes everything else. Even now, almost thirty years later, it makes me tense to think about it, and it makes me feel pain and inexorable failure. If, in fact, there was such an event in Whitman's life, as he constantly implied to his biographer, I understand why finally he never talked about it. It means everything and yet nothing. One is silent for so long that there is finally nothing left to say. And yet it is a shaping, a structure for everything else. But how to make anyone else see its importance? Perhaps a woman has to talk about such things, finally. Not a man.

When I was in high school, I finally found a way to use my exhibitionist urges. I took a speech class and found that in spite of my nervousness to the point of a shaking voice, I loved being in front of an audience and finally of impressing them with my ideas and my speech. I had fine teachers who encouraged me, Arla Dell Smith, an art teacher, and Duane Johnson, a very professional public speaker and teacher. I joined the newly formed Forensics Club and along with my speech activities which included oral interp and original oratory (the latter was what I excelled in), I got involved with a fellow student named Jon Harmon. I guess Jon and I were twins, astrologically, because his birthday was August 4, 1937, but two more different people you couldn't find. He was a physics student, a photographer, a rich kid and, while a reader, not a "brain" as I was in literature classes or writing. I usually won the speech contests; he placed last. But we were both eccentrics and enjoyed playing the role of original genius, and after almost a year of rebuffing his romantic advances, I finally, to my own surprise, fell in love with him. We were inseparable in our junior and senior years. Like most Californians we were precocious sexually, and even though really very daring, we still were not prepared for the consequences of total sexual involvement. I knew nothing about birth control, and of course in 1953, there wasn't too much a girl could do anyway. During my senior year I made lots of decisions based on doing things that I wanted to do, being my usual competitive self, but also deflecting those activities away from Jon's so that we wouldn't be in competition. Even though I was an excellent math student and should have taken fourth-year math following the advanced algebra course, I did not enroll for calculus or solid geometry because Jon was going to be in the class and wasn't as good a student as I. He dropped out of forensic activities more or less, so that I was free to compete there, and when I found that I was going to be chosen valedictorian, I asked that another student be given the honor of giving the valedictory speech, so that I wouldn't somehow be showing up Jon too much. I had been accepted into Berkeley with a scholarship. Jon's parents were going to send him to a rich kids' junior college on the peninsula to improve his grades so that he could get into a real college. For some reason, I thought that if I went to the local junior college instead of Berkeley, Jon would go there too, and we could be together another year, so I turned down my Berkeley scholarship. But Jon's parents were getting worried about us, and sent him off to Menlo Park. There I was, stuck at Fullerton Junior College in the fall of 1955, Jon away, but writing me passionate letters, and I found out that I was pregnant. I was very naive and also didn't want to face the truth, so I didn't do anything about it until my mother noticed and asked me if I wanted an appointment with Dr. Starbuck. I will never forget—perhaps this illustrates the fifties as well as anything I know—the doctor manipulating my stomach and saying to me, "It feels like a tumor. Do you have any idea what it could be?"

I, saying, of course, "No," wishing it were a tumor, knowing he knew it was not, and wondering that neither of us could say anything real. He let me get dressed and leave, taking a urine sample, and never even confronted me with the pregnancy. When I went back for the test results, he finally said, "You're pregnant." But the whole thing was done with averted eyes, a sense of shame, and hardly wanting even to articulate the words. I felt trapped, trapped, miserable. Jon was coming home for a visit, and I knew I would have to tell him. Telling him was mortifying and provoked what I now see as a typical "manly" reaction from him. We were driving (everything happened in cars in Southern California) and he said, "Of course we'll get married. I wish we didn't have to, but we will, but we will make sure that you get your education." Before all this, my mother had told Jon's mother, and they had more or less agreed, that since Jon and I were inseparable we ought to get married. But hearing Jon say this, in this almost parental tone, I felt so condescended to, so mortified at having so little control over my own life, that having sexual desires had led to having to have a baby, that I rebelled. I said, "No, I won't marry you. I don't want to marry you." At this moment I wanted it more than I have ever wanted anything in my life. I have always held it against him that he could not propose to me then, say loving and romantic things to me, rather than those stern parental words. I would have married him the next day and embarked on a life of trying to struggle with a baby and a young husband and trying to get an education. I also would have had an abortion without any qualms at all, even an illegal one, in the tackiest of circumstances, if I had had ANY money, or what's most true, had ANY idea of how to go about getting an illegal abortion. I couldn't have done it, if my life depended on it. I simply didn't know anything about the world. I was still afraid to cross the boulevard alone and to light a match. But I was not afraid to say no to Jon's half-hearted marriage proposal. No, I said, and adamant I remained. I would not.

One of Mrs. Harmon's charities was the Florence Crittenden Home for Unwed Mothers. And so I was boarded out there, my $150-a-month fee paid by Jon's family. I don't know if I can bring myself to write anything about my time there. I have never done so, nor even talked about it to anyone with the exception of David R. Smith.

David R. Smith was the one good thing that happened to me at Fullerton Junior College. What if I had gone to Berkeley and found out I was pregnant there? Perhaps a different story? Perhaps someone there would have known about abortions? Perhaps someone there would have convinced me to marry Jon? Perhaps, perhaps. Probably none of those things, as the future would reveal. I didn't go to Berkeley that year because something held me back. Maybe there is a destiny, and it was to keep me at Fullerton the year that a young Ph.D. candidate from Pomona College was taking his first teaching job while finishing his dissertation, and I enrolled in his eighteenth-century novel class, and I found a friend for life. He is probably the best teacher I ever had, and I have had many, including Thomas Parkinson at Berkeley. It must have been like a soap opera for him to see me on the street one day, stop to talk briefly, and find me telling him that I was pregnant and at the end of the term was going to be living at a place called a home for unwed mothers. Right out of a Victorian novel. We had moved a century. Or were we still in the eighteenth? Unlike Pamela I had never wanted to preserve my "virtue" though I valued marriage as much as she did. But like her I wanted it on my own terms: No grudging man was going to grudgingly live with me.

David was the only person other than my mother who saw me during the time I was pregnant. The home was a very strange place. I dieted rigorously so that I would not gain too much weight. I got terrible stretch marks, the worst case one doctor said he had ever seen, probably from having no fat in my diet, and my salvation was working in the hospital part of the home. I took care of newborn babies and helped do practical nursing chores for the new mothers. It prepared me for my own experience of childbirth, made me feel useful and even for a time wanting to work in medicine—though I have had a lifelong hatred of doctors starting with Dr. Starbuck's cold comment, "It feels like a tumor," and his averted eyes when he finally had to tell me and my mother that I was pregnant. I was eighteen.

One other aspect of being at the home that I found important was that it was like being in a novel or a play. Everyone there had a story. There was the girl who had been raped by her father and was having the baby because abortion was illegal even in such cases. There was the girl who had been gang raped, held down and raped by seven or eight guys and who was pregnant now. There was the surgical nurse who in spite of being a nurse would not use her connections to get an abortion. She loved the married doctor she was having an affair with, hoped he would leave his wife and marry her. She was terrified of the scandal and was there under a pseudonym, as were many of the girls. The fifties were devastating to women who got pregnant without a husband. This was before amniotic tests for birth defects, and the nurse had a hydrocephalic baby. She should have had a medical abortion and would have had today, knowing that the child would be deformed. There were many girls somewhat like me who had had serious affairs with their boyfriends, but couldn't get married yet, and who could not let the world know that they had gotten pregnant. There was the thirteen-year-old black girl whose boyfriend was a thief and so her parents wouldn't let her marry him. But he had enough money to pay for her staying at the home. One hundred fifty dollars a month was not cheap in 1955, even though it did not really cover the costs of the institution.

I continued my feeling of being a special person there. I was almost the only serious intellectual. I was headed for college and knew that my life was important in some way. I lived for Jon's letters, but was constantly angered that he cared so little about me, and since I had refused to marry him, was obviously now seeing other girls on a casual basis. This wounded me so much that eventually I could not even try to make the relationship work. He failed me over and over again by simply not understanding my idealism, my sense of love and its priority, wanting love, sex, and romance to be linked truly as I knew they should be.

My child, a boy weighing some eight pounds, I named Reginald on the birth certificate, after a high school boy whom I had a fascination with, wanting in some way to declare severance with Jon. He was born on June 11, 1956, and as with most adoption agreements, the one I signed with the Children's Home Society stated that I would never know the name of the parents he went to. State law has changed so that children can now find out the name of their blood parents. I have always wondered if mine will search me out and what accusations will be leveled at me. In my own life, a constant childhood fantasy was that I was not my parents' child, for I could not believe that I had come out of them. I longed to be either an orphan or a single adopted child. Still, I know that what we long for is what we do not have. Each thing we do for ourselves will cause someone else grief, I suppose. One learns to live with that reality.

The one thing I will never forget about this experience, and the Florence Crittenden Home for Unwed Mothers, is the last day I was there and the social worker came to see me to "round things up." I was told that my baby was going to middle-class parents, young, the father an engineer (as Jon wanted to become), the mother interested in books. Then this young social worker, who surely must have been one of the most inept in the world, decided that she would "talk" to me about the experience to make sure I could handle it. I don't remember specifically the questions she asked me. Perhaps they were something like this:

What have you learned from this experience?

I don't know.

How is it going to change your actions in the future?

I don't know.

Well, surely, this must mean something to you?

(Oh, how dumb she was, how little she understood, how utterly and completely was I unwilling to tell this vapid, middle-class, well-dressed fool who had never suffered anything in her life what I was feeling and thinking. Of course, this meant my whole life to me, and here she was asking me about it as if it were a true-false test. So, I simply became silent and would not even say "I don't know," any longer.)

(She waits for me in what she thinks is a dramatic pause. I say nothing, and she triumphantly concludes, "You have failed. You have made nothing out of this experience, and you have failed." She leaves.)

And so I left the Florence Crittenden Home for Unwed Mothers the next day. The doctor who had delivered my baby was, I think, slightly drunk when he did so. Or simply incompetent. He had been called away from a dinner party, as my baby came around 10 p.m. The incision, episiotomy, he made in me was bigger than it needed to be. The stitches were sewn in such a way that I could hardly move without pain for the next six months. I could not walk in comfort for well over a year, and I still have pains down there when I walk a lot. So much for medical care and social work for those who are not approved of by society. The favorite motto of the director of the home at that time, which we girls joked about, was "Keep your legs crossed at all times." She meant we should do it for the rest of our lives, and it almost seems as if my doctor was under instructions to sew me up so that I wouldn't have an opening down there any more. My stretch marks were like the mark of Cain on my belly, so red that even fifteen years after delivery it looked as if I had been burned. Yes, I knew I had failed all right, but at what?


I went back to my mother's house in Whittier for the summer. I attended a poetry class at Whittier College summer session, 1956, and that gave me something to hang on to. I had, on the walks around the yard at the home in the evening, mainly recited Shakespeare's sonnets to myself; especially, "When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes, / I behold my outcast state." Poetry, I knew, did not fail, and did give the real answers. I hoped that Jon would come back for the summer, and that he would see what I had sacrificed for him, and romantically ask me to marry him. But he stayed up north, and I realized that he really only intended to be as involved with me as was convenient. To him, love obviously did not mean the same things it did to me. I still thought of him as the only man in my life, and I needed someone badly. I wrote him letters, many, and he wrote a few back. I went up to Menlo Park to visit him once, but he had a roommate who obviously knew my story and thought I was some kind of whore. That's what middle-class boys thought of girls who had babies when they were not married. I began to know that Jon was deserting me, though it was not said. What I realized was that he had deserted me the minute he let his parents send him away to school while letting me turn down my scholarship and go to the junior college. My lack of experience with men had never taught me that, culturally, at least, men think differently from women. They may not need to biologically. But they certainly do, in reality. How true to cultural form both of us were running.

In the fall of 1956, I entered the University of California, Berkeley. I had reapplied for my scholarship, but they said there was no provision for reawarding it. I would have to attend the school for a year before I would become eligible again. I had about four hundred dollars saved up from my high school job playing the piano for the La Habra Christian Science Church, and tuition was fifty-five dollars a semester then. I wanted to live in a dorm, but found I could not afford even the Co-op. So my mother drove me to Berkeley, helped me find a room to rent, and left me. I immediately started looking for student jobs, but there wasn't much available. I had a job helping sort some kind of IBM cards that was tedious and in the kind of office I was determined not to spend the rest of my life, no matter what I had to do to avoid office work. I found that many students worked for their room and board, so I decided to do that. The job I got was with Mr. and Mrs. Charles Mel, who lived in a sprawling modern house up in the Berkeley Hills. He was the owner and founder of the Calo Dogfood Co., and they wanted somebody to help with the meals and do a little housework. They had a grand piano which I could use to practice on when they were gone, but the contrast of living as Cinderella in this palatial house, being far away from campus and the library where I liked to spend all my evenings, the fact that it only gave me two dollars pocket money a week for busfare, and I still had almost no money as my little hoard was gradually being used for tuition and books and paper, made me realize I was going to have to do something else. At this time, I practiced the piano about three or four hours a day. This cost money too, as the practice rooms were run by the University Extension and cost (I can't remember, perhaps twenty-five cents an hour?) enough so that I spent several dollars a week practicing the piano. However, a new music building was being built on the campus, and when it was completed, because I was such a constant attendant in the rooms, and everyone knew how poor I was, and probably my teacher, Tanya Ury, also said something about it, they asked me if I wanted to work twenty hours a week in the new (free) practice rooms, handing out keys, keeping records, etc. This seemed like the most wonderful offer in the world. Better than a scholarship. I worked there, earning about two dollars an hour for two and a half years, until I graduated in June 1960. Before that, I had washed test tubes in a biology lab, where one of the biologists pronounced Beethoven, "bee-thove-an," and got all my clothes peppered full of little acid holes from the solution used to wash the test tubes. How I hated that. I worked briefly in the school cafeteria but was glad to give that up—it wasn't bad but didn't pay as much—for the pleasant job of sitting at the desk of the practice rooms, being able to talk to all the pianists and composers and students who used the rooms. It was a job, but it was also a social life for me. A very important one, as it was harder and harder for me to make contact with other students after my experiences of childbirth and pregnancy. What young and easy lives they all seemed to have in comparison.

When I got the job in the practice rooms, I moved from my job up in the hills down to the campus area again. I found a roommate, Joan Morton, whom I thought was one of the most interesting people in the world. She and her brother had joined the staff of the Occident, the school literary magazine, where I spent much of my time, and impressed me as sophisticated and wonderful. That ended when Joan stole my boyfriend, the then editor of the magazine, Robert Chrisman, and I later found told everyone I was a witch, and she stole my mail too, which led to my first publication in a literary magazine occurring without my knowledge. I was browsing through magazines in Campus Corners one day and found my poem in Coastlines, where I had sent it, with the biographical note, "We know nothing about Diane Wakoski, as she has not answered our letter."

I had begun to hate everything about the little house Joan and I rented, especially its distance from campus and Bob and Joan always being there together. It was obviously time to move, so I went briefly to a rooming house closer to campus. There I made friends with a music student, Adele Bertaud, who wanted to move away from her mother in Oakland and together we moved to the what was to become infamous apartment, in the magnetic building near Cody's Bookstore and across from the Espresso Cafe at 2478 Telegraph Avenue. Adele was a wonderful cook, very serious about her music and her French, but also not a great student. She had a terrible ongoing relationship with a black man who treated her so badly that it was hard to understand her attraction for him. We had a very rich friendship for a while, and, it was under her influence that I grew my hair long, and have never changed back to the short hair of my early youth. However, I began to collect people and bring them to the apartment in my loneliness, night and day, and Adele finally felt that she had to leave because she couldn't study, and in fact she simply couldn't take the chaos. I nearly couldn't either, but it met some need for love, for sex, for involvement, for meaning. Chaos was better than emptiness. A younger student, working on the Occident, Susan Sherman, was unhappy with her living situation, so she moved in when Adele moved out. And others. Even more chaos was added.


I could, of course, spend an entire chapter of a book, or maybe two, talking about my life those four years at Berkeley. Thomas Parkinson became my mentor. My life soon revolved around writing poetry, giving poetry readings, working on the Occident, and trying to find a lover, a man to replace Jon, who was now going to Brigham Young University in Utah and had gotten together with a girl from Fullerton High School, whom I later found out he had been seeing all along at the end of our relationship. Pretty shattering to me, who had given everything I felt for this man, including refusing to marry him when he was only going to do it for form's sake. Oddly enough, I never ever asked myself why I didn't marry him, have my baby, let his parents support us, try to make things work, go to school, and probably like most wives of very young marriages, get a divorce, taking my child with me. I know why I did not do that, and possibly today would still make the same choice. I hated being the child of a one-parent family, with a working mother who made almost no money, and who had no education. I hated it so much that I would not even remotely create that situation for a child. Better, adoptive parents who were financially solvent when the infant arrived, who were educated, and probably happy together, as social workers tested them for that. (Though if it were the same social worker who questioned me, it is doubtful that she would have been able to tell anything about any relationship if it were more complex than the stereotype.)

For a while, at the beginning of my life in Berkeley, I joined the Methodist choir, as I liked to sing, and had sung in the Methodist choir and been very active in the Methodist Youth Fellowship, even going to officer's camp one summer, during my high school years. The importance of this experience was meeting a wonderful musician, the soprano soloist, Helen Olivier. She was married to Barry Olivier, and they were very involved with the folk music movement in Berkeley. Through their auspices, I got up enough courage to occasionally visit KPFA for the live folk music program at midnight on Saturdays, called "The Midnight Special," and this introduced me to popular music which for the first time in my life I felt I did not have to scorn as coming from that lowbrow world of my mother.

At the practice rooms during my junior year, a grad student in composition from UCLA, La Monte Young, who was small, about 5'7", weighed about ninety pounds, and dressed like a cross between a troubadour and a pachuko, spent much time talking to me. We were a most unlikely combination, except that we were both oddballs, and artists, or beginning artists, with strange ideas about the world and a desire to be noticed by being different. He moved in with me at chaotic 2478 Telegraph Avenue. During that year, a group of students chosen by Thom Gunn, our poetry teacher, was asked to read at the newly formed San Francisco Poetry Center. This was when the readings were held on Chestnut Street, and before they had affiliated totally with San Francisco State. Ruth Witt Diamant, a kind of Perle Mesta, impressario-style woman, was running the center. Readings were small but often attended by people who seemed important in the San Francisco literary scene. The reading was on January 11, 1959. The poets were Michael Rossman, Richard Albert, Robert Shelby, and Diane Wakoski. I will never know how much the results of this reading had to do with perversity, my being the only woman, my own merit, the other poets' lack of showmanship, etc., but what happened is that Jack Spicer came to the reading with a group of his cronies, and more or less dismissed (I don't remember that they actually booed, but the effect was the same with Spicer) the other poets but gave me much applause and attention. The result was that Ruth Witt asked me to return the following year on a program with a "real" poet, not just a student night. I felt my career had been launched in the real world. That academia had prepared and put me there, but now I must survive out there, making audiences and readers pay attention to my poetry, not because I was a bright student, but because the work itself was exciting.

At the end of my junior year I won first prize in one of the two poetry contests the university sponsored. I badly needed the hundred dollars, but was happiest about an additional bonus it carried with it, stack privileges to the library. From then on, I spent most of my free time in the stacks of the library, wandering, reading, and writing many poems on those library book-order cards. In my senior year I won first prize in the other one of the contests. I graduated, applied for a graduate grant for writers that the department had, but did not get it. I believe it was given to someone whose writing has never been heard of since. La Monte, having gone to Darmstadt for a music festival and met electronic composer Stockhausen during the summer of 1959, was anxious to go to either New York or Germany to continue his work in composition, where there might be some avant-garde audience. He got his M.A. and a traveling fellowship which allowed enough money for us to get to New York.

My last semester at Berkeley was another nightmare, in spite of various satisfactions in connection with writing and studying. I found that I was pregnant again. I had such a horrible relationship with the medical profession by that time that I was afraid to go to a doctor and ask for a diaphragm for fear of the moral lecture I KNEW he would give me and, in fact, the probability as I saw it that he wouldn't help me at all. Certainly all of my experiences with doctors and social workers had been that they considered sex without marriage a virtual crime and would lock you up if they could rather than help out. I went to a lab and had a rabbit test and when it came out positive, the only thing I could think of to do was to try to keep it a secret—I knew La Monte would help me—and go through the experience again, give up the baby for adoption and then continue my life.

La Monte and I found a little house near the ocean in San Francisco which cost almost nothing. Ironically, it was owned by a young doctor and his wife, but they kept their privacy even though they must have guessed that La Monte and I were not married and that my pregnancy was not an occasion of joy. La Monte was the kindest man I can believe possible in those circumstances. He too would have married me, would have kept the child. But he came from another Mormon family, this one with many children, great poverty, a cruel father, and a mother who only knew the burdens of children. Neither of us had a means of earning money and were dedicated to our own art, music and poetry, in such a way that we knew that we would never be able to support children well. There really was no choice, to us. I went to Pierre DeLatre, a poet-priest in San Francisco who ran the Bread and Wine Mission where we had good poetry readings, and asked him what to do, thinking he might find a way for me to have an abortion, but of course he had nothing to offer. I didn't even try after that. I went to the Children's Home Society because they had handled the other adoption, and I knew they would take care of the medical expense of the birth. I had hoped they might help us out financially till the baby was born, but the social worker told me indignantly that they didn't "pay" for babies. Only for their care. You can see what my opinion of the social and medical professions is founded on. People who believe they are morally superior because they have control over their bodies and lives. How I hate them, to this day. Every time I go in for a routine pap smear and my birth control prescription, at age forty-six, when I think nothing can bother me, the gynecologist's nurse, who knows I have had two children, but also knows (scandalously, still in 1983) that I gave them up at birth and have no knowledge of them whatsoever, asks me sweetly, "And how are your children?" And then asks about their medical history. Of course, they would be twenty-three and twenty-seven, which means they would have their own doctors, now, even if I knew where they were. This is a form of bitchiness she practices on me, sitting duck, woman who has had illegitimate children. I still feel like crying every time this happens, and even now as I write this.

My second child, a daughter, whom I named Elizabeth for the records, was born on September 5, 1960. She must have lots of good genes for music, and I was told that she was going to a professional family also. Two weeks after she was born, La Monte and I took the first installment of his fellowship check, three hundred dollars, and bought two one-way tickets to New York City, leaving in our pockets about five dollars. We were headed for a world where we could try to make it as artists. I would get a job to pay the rent and buy the food, and we would have three more installments of his fellowship check for the equipment he needed for his music.

During that summer of 1960 in San Francisco, La Monte and his long-time friend and colleague, Terry Riley, started going out to Marin County and working with dancer Ann Halprin and her company of experimental dancers. Their music was unusual and Ann Halprin was challenged and excited by its possibilities for her dancers. Through the work, La Monte met Robert and Simone Morris (nee Forti) who were the most experimental dancers there. Bob was actually a painter, and they had both just graduated from Reed College. We found that they were planning to go to New York in the fall too, and another friend of La Monte's, painter Walter DeMaria, was making the pilgrimage to the city to find an audience and develop his unusual ideas. La Monte also knew another composer, Joseph Byrd, who was already living in New York.

Besides our five dollars, the knowledge that I would walk the streets until I found a job even if it was an office job, and the promise of La Monte's fellowship money, we had two floors to sleep on, for at least a week apiece. This would get us started, and it did. I took the first job I was offered, as a clerk at the British Book Centre, where I worked six days a week from nine to six, for fifty-five dollars a week. We found an apartment to sublet on Bank Street in the Village for sixty-nine dollars a month. It was illegal for us to live there, as it was a professional apartment and neither of us qualified as professionals by city law. Saul Gottlieb, who rented it to us, was pulling a kind of scam on us, as we soon found out that he owed about three hundred dollars in back rent, and the landlord was going to make us pay it in order to overlook the sublet. Typical New York reality, and La Monte and I were such babes in the woods. Also, once located, we simply could not bear the idea of apartment hunting. So, with La Monte's second fellowship check, we paid Saul's back rent, and stayed at Bank Street until our lives began to get complicated in other ways.

I have often said this, but will say it again. The very first day I was in New York City, in spite of having just come from a terrible experience personally, in spite of being in a totally new and different (and to many, intimidating) place, in spite of not having any money at all, or any idea of what the future held, I felt as if I was in the most wonderful place in the world. I loved walking on the streets of New York. I loved the shops, the people, the sense of a city. I loved the Village which still looked like a place where artists lived. I loved the coffeehouses, and all the exotic restaurants. The possibilities of poetry readings, concerts, so many free things. And on that first day of walking, I ran into someone on the street whom I knew from Berkeley. It was as if this was not a new place, but finally the place I had always longed for. I was never to feel otherwise in New York, in spite of having to deal with scams like the rent-gouge or the poverty I lived with. The thing about New York that seemed so different from California to me was that it was not just middle-class comfort. All the people I knew were struggling with jobs, crummy apartments, and trying to make lives as artists. This was a community, where the long-term goal was not a car, a house, children, or comfort in that suburban way. Yes, I longed for beauty, comfort, wealth, as I always have. But I was not confronted with it in petty ways, and did not have to feel left out of what the whole world was about. For the first time. What a good world it was. With everything ahead, for I had only memories of misery and pain from Berkeley, where good grades were more often given to the middle-class sorority girls who parroted what their professor wanted to hear than original students like myself. And where it was just as scandalous to have an illegitimate child as it was at home. Berkeley gave me much, but not comfort, reassurance, or any pleasure, except in occasional classes and with a few very wonderful professors. Perhaps that is typical of any university experience. It was very unhappy compared to my high school days where I had continuously been a star in the classroom.

One of the first things I did in New York was read the Village Voice in order to find out what was going on. I found that there was a little coffeehouse on East 10th Street that was sponsoring poetry readings, and immediately went there. The owner, Mickey Ruskin, was a young lawyer who wanted to do something more interesting with his life than just practice law. He and his partner, Bill, were not particularly interested in poetry, but when Howard Ant and Ree Dragonette, two New York poets, approached them about using the coffeehouse for readings, they decided it might be a means of getting a steady clientele. Again, one could write a book on the 10th Street coffeehouse days, and their evolution. Bill and Mickey bought a larger coffeehouse on East 7th Street, called it, as a spin-off on the Paris coffeehouse for artists, Les Deux Megots. By then there was a fairly strong program of readings. Monday nights: open readings. Wednesday nights: one or two poets scheduled to read. Mickey eventually sold out and went into the serious restaurant business, creating restaurants and bars, the most famous of which was Max's Kansas City where the Andy Warholgang hung out, which catered to visual artists. We moved the readings briefly to a coffeehouse on MacDougal Street called The Third Rail, then to a coffeehouse on 2nd Avenue called the Second Avenue Coffee House, I think, owned by a couple named Cindy and Moe, and finally the readings ended up at St. Mark's Church, when some government funding made it possible to found the St. Mark's Poetry Project.

One thing which I had come to New York with was a scheduled reading in the spring of 1961 at the YMYWHA Poetry Center at 92nd and Lexington in their new poets' series. This was the one connection with the establishment which my education had sent me out into the world with. During my senior year at Berkeley, Louis Simpson had come to teach. I liked and admired him very much, though I did not have an opportunity to study with him, and he was on the committee at the Poetry Center to select poets for what has evolved into their Discovery Series. It wasn't called that then, and I may have been in the program the first year they had it, 1960-61. In retrospect, I realize how lucky I was, because the other two poets whom I was on the program with, still considered "new," were David Ignatow, twenty-five years my senior, and Robert Hazel, about fifteen years my senior. Ignatow, at least, already well published.

I suppose it was the beginning of my attempt to unite my career into both an uptown and a downtown reality. The world of coffeehouses and poetry readings was the world of little magazines, small presses, and poets who didn't have any academic connections. The uptown world was the world of "polite" poetry, academic connections (David didn't have any at that time, which explains his status as "new" poet), and traditional writing. The fact that I hadn't published a book yet, but had read at the San Francisco Poetry Center (with some success) and was now scheduled to read at the New York Poetry Center meant that I must have something special. And to look at me, to talk to me, was to know that it wasn't connections. I was too painfully shy to make connections or to talk my way into anything.

While I was working at the British Book Centre and looking for poet friends, reading my work at the 10th Street Coffee House, and getting to know New York City, La Monte was beginning his career as an avantgarde composer. He met Richard Maxfield, the electronic composer (now dead) who taught at the New School, and looked for places to perform his very difficult and strange compositions. He met Toshi Ishiangi, a Japanese composer who was married to a part-time model named Yoko Ono who was interested in writing poetry. Even then, Yoko had more entrepreneurial talents than most. She and La Monte decided that they would start a series of concerts of avantgarde work and use her loft at 112 Chambers Street. This undertaking was ambitious because they sought no financial support from anyone, simply went ahead with young artists and composers whom they knew, making it possible for performances to occur in the loft with a small charge at the door. I took tickets for them, invited poets to come and be part of the audience, and in general was their audience. One memory from this time is of taking money at the door from Max Ernst—how impressed I was to see the old artist there—and being accused of cheating him, not giving the right change back. I was more stubborn, self-righteous, and feisty than awed by the celebrity, however. I argued staunchly that I had given him the correct change and would not budge. I probably lost lots of opportunities in life by doing such things, but I could not ever be forced to admit I was wrong when I knew I was not.

Simone Morris (nee Forti) had gotten involved with other young avant-garde dancers and performers, including a nouveau dancer named Yvonne Rainer. Simone was excited by the Happenings that Robert Whitman and Allen Kaprow had created. Robert Morris was making the decision that he was not a painter, that he did not want to be a dancer-performer, but that he wanted to make plastic art of some kind. This was obviously the formative period, 1960 through 1962, for the Judson Dance Theater to which Simone working with Bob Dunn, then the husband of Merce Cunningham dancer Judith Dunn, was to be the major fire-bringer, idea monger. Bob Morris made occasional experiments with dance, but was really interested in moving away from the figure in art, including the humanness of performance. When he and Simone split up, she going to live with Robert Whitman, somehow the time was right for Morris and me to get together. I had been deeply upset when I found that La Monte was having an affair with Yoko Ono, but did not feel that I could leave him, being bound by our having had a child. But when I found that Bob Morris was interested in me, and La Monte wandering, I began an affair with Bob that led to our living together for about two years, most of that time at his loft at 277 Church Street. About the time I went to live with Morris, in the winter of 1963, I lost my job at the British Book Centre, and found I was able to draw unemployment insurance. That was the first time in my life when I had six months (or any time) free with money coming in and did not have to go to a job. It was the artist's dream, even though I knew I had to find something else to do. Six months of freedom.

It was in the days of teacher shortages, as hard as they are to conceive of now in 1983. However in 1963, all one needed to get a teaching certificate in New York was ten credits of education, as well as passing a test and a physical. I went to summer session at Hunter College and got my ten credits. My greatest difficulty was passing the physical without having to admit on paper that I was unmarried and had been pregnant. In those days, it would have kept me from becoming a schoolteacher, or getting most jobs. Obviously, the doctor who examined me knew the situation, but I said that I was divorced and my child had died in infancy. Somehow, this didn't necessarily get processed with my other forms which said I was unmarried. Oh, the lying one had to do in order to survive in those days! Even in the sixties, which we think of as so liberated, I had to lie to my employers at the British Book Centre and say that I lived alone, because if they knew I was not married and lived with a man, they probably would not have hired me. Again, when I went to work for Junior High School 22, in Manhattan, where I was employed from fall 1963 to February 1966, I had to pretend that I lived alone so that I would be considered employable.

Morris left me and asked me to move out of his loft in the spring of 1964. It was perhaps a more painful experience for me than losing my first lover, Jon, and certainly more painful than losing my children—those decisions had been mine, and thus I could accept the pain and loss differently. When someone leaves you, especially for another lover, the pain is probably worse than loss through death. It means rejection. And total failure. Real failure. Bob left me for Yvonne Ranier, a woman I have never stopped hating, as oddly we do not hate the lovers who reject us, but rather the men and women who take them away. For many years, I thought Morris would come back to me. It always seemed like we belonged together. But he never did. We do not even have a speaking acquaintance any longer.


In the summer of 1964 I went to Buffalo at the suggestion of Robert and Joby Kelly. I had met the Kellys, along with most of the real poetry friends I had in New York, at a New Year's Eve party on the eve of 1961. I had gone to LeRoi Jones's New Year's Eve party on 14th Street with San Francisco poet George Stanley. La Monte worked nights on his music at the loft with Yoko and slept days, so our lives weren't even coordinated for New Year's Eve. Thus, I went to the party with George, who I supposed realized I had a kind of crush on him and spent the evening showing me how bitchily homosexual he could be, flaunting it with his lover. I felt so unhappy, in general, that when Diane DiPrima saw me she asked me if I wanted a pill. In this world of drug takers, I was an innocent. Not only not a drug taker, but I hardly even drank alcohol. I had no idea what kind of drug she was offering me, but I assumed it was probably some kind of amphetamine, and recklessly I said yes and swallowed whatever it was. Whatever it was made me perk up, throw off the personality of the drab, quiet poet, and feel a little rebellious. When Howard Ant, the poet who ran the readings at the coffeehouse saw me, he said he was going to another party and asked me if I'd like to go along. I was very ready to leave this party and the miseries it represented. He took me to Armand Schwerner's apartment, where I met for the first time David Antin, Jerry and Diane Rothenberg, George Economu, Rochelle Owens, and quite a few others, along with the Kellys. I was at the top of my form. Everyone wanted to know what Berkeley was like, the poetry scene in San Francisco, etc. Probably had I not had Diane DiPrima's pill in me I would have quietly said a few sentences and blended back into the wall. But I was on stage, and somehow made friends with everyone at the party. Jerry told me he had a small press and would be interested in seeing my poetry. The Kellys and I arranged to meet the next week for supper in a Chinese restaurant called Hong' Fat's that was cheap and stayed open very late at night.

In 1962 LeRoi Jones published a small collection of my poems in a book (Totem-Corinth Press) called Four Young Lady Poets. The fourth "young lady" (LeRoi's idea of a joke, that term) was supposed to be Diane DiPrima. But he was on the outs with her. She had had an affair with him and used it to get pregnant and to have a child. He was (I guess) happily married to Hetty Jones at this time and found the whole thing a betrayal (sic). So I guess his sense of humor extended to thinking that probably one Diane was as good as another. So, the book contained the poems of Rochelle Owens, Carol Berge, Barbara Moraff, and Diane Wakoski. In 1962 also my first book, Coins & Coffins, was published by Jerry Rothenberg's Hawk's Well Press. Interestingly enough one of the previous books they had published was by my Berkeley teacher, Thom Gunn. Fighting Terms was published in a tiny edition, printed in Ireland, I think, where they could get several hundred copies of a book done for several hundred dollars.

By this time, my avant-garde friends and my poetry friends were pretty much separate, except for Jackson MacLow whom I had originally met through La Monte and who really became more friendly and involved with the deep image poets than the neo-John Cage world. When Jerry was designing my book, I asked Bob Morris if he would do a cover design. He did one of his minimalist designs, black rectangles on white ground, but Jerry thought it wasn't artistic enough, so he scrapped it (I'm sure the thought of this must chagrin him now) and made a more "artistic" design himself for the cover. Thus, friendship (I didn't protest) kept me from having my first book jacket designed by the father of minimalism.

So, during the summer of 1964 I spent six weeks in Buffalo, living in the house that the Kellys had rented, with them. The State University of New York, Buffalo, was just building its literary program then. They had hired Creeley and Olson a few years earlier. For the summer session, they decided they would have some young American poets on their faculty, and they chose Ed Dorn, LeRoi Jones, and Robert Kelly. I had to take a few more education courses anyway to keep my teaching license, and figured I might as well take them in Buffalo and then hang around the poetry readings and such which I knew would be part of the summer session. There was much, and much of it went on at Ed Budowski's (now dead) bookstore. It was during this summer that LeRoi turned into a black militant. He and his family were to share a house with Ed Dorn and his (first) family.

However, this was still a neighborhood where blacks didn't fit in. So the university was pressured into trying to make him leave, the grounds being that the owner of the house had not known two families would live in it. Bullshit, of course. Only a reason to get rid of a black family in a white racist neighborhood. I think I heard the first poetry reading that LeRoi gave (at the end of that summer) when he read poems which departed from his tight academic style and were loud and clear political statements of anger against whites. Since the whole audience was made up of whites, it was a peculiar occasion. We all liked LeRoi's poetry, and him, and none of us were involved in this conspiracy to get him out of a white neighborhood, but we were the ones who accepted the revilement he heaped upon us and all whites. When we went back to New York, he left his wife and family and became a Black Muslim. Ed within a few years had left his wife and family too, to marry a young English girl and embark on a new life. I will always believe, whether it is true or not, that Dorn's exposure to my very, very strong and (I think) much admired poem, "Follow That Stagecoach," and with my overt interest in declaring myself a westerner, along with his exposure to Mac Hammond's long poem "Horse Opera" gave Dorn ideas for his masterpiece, Gunslinger. At least insidiously, those things must have affected him, if not overtly.

About that time I decided to put together another book manuscript and to start sending it out to trade publishers. My life as a poet was active. I was published in many little magazines, gave readings constantly, and spent all my free time either reading, writing, or going to poetry readings. I put together a manuscript, but divided it into four small parts, so that I could send out different parts of the book to publishers and ask them if they wanted to see the whole thing. This was before multiple submission was considered ethical, and it was an ethical way of shortening the time a manuscript would sit on editors' desks. I was fortunate. I immediately received a call from Naomi Burton, a senior editor at Doubleday who had pulled my manuscript out of the slush pile and thought the twenty pages were interesting and wanted to see more. She did, and bought it. Just as this was happening with Doubleday, I got a letter from Wesleyan, saying they wanted to see the whole manuscript and send it around to a group of editors for consideration, I was sorry, and have often wondered if my fate would have been better with Wesleyan (after all, they have published some of my favorite poets at early stages in their careers, such as David Ignatow), but I was able to tell them that they book was already under serious consideration by Doubleday. Doubleday published it in 1966. The title I made up from the titles of two different parts, "Discrepancies" and "Apparitions."


In the summer of 1965 I met S. Shepard Sherbell, the character who was to become my first legal husband. He was seven years younger than I, very sexy, and very crazy. He was trying to start a magazine called the East Side Review, and probably if he'd had any money and a managing editor to keep things straight, it could have turned into a successful magazine. We married in the fall of 1965. I was later to find out that he continued his affair with the English woman he was involved with when I met him, throughout even the first week of our marriage. He was the most amazing liar I have ever met, inventive and probably totally unaware half the time that he was making things up. In February of 1966, the culmination of my junior high school principal's war with the newly formed United Federation of Teachers affected my life. During that month, he fired twelve union teachers from our school. I gave them an easy cause because I refused to write any more lesson plans. I had written the best lesson plans in the school, and enough to last a lifetime, but there was a rule that all teachers had to turn them in each Monday morning, even if they were regular lessons they used that they had to copy over. It was, of course, a farce of good teaching, but it was one of those busywork rules you could use to get rid of people you didn't like. I also made the mistake of saying in public that I thought it was wrong to make all students try to achieve a certain reading level, as some were simply not able to. This was translated into a charge of "bigotry." The UFT wanted to fight my case, as it was an obvious example of how the administration was making rules that prevented highly qualified and even gifted teachers from keeping their jobs. They liked the dull bureaucratic ones best. But I had had enough. I wanted to try something different. I hated the drudgery of punching the time clock at 7:30 every morning and the hatred for language and literature one had to face daily in the classroom. I wanted out, and was only sorry that I could not draw unemployment insurance from this firing. Now, I could. But in 1965, teachers were not eligible, even when they had been summarily fired, as I had been.

I found a part-time job with the Brooklyn Public Library in a new program they had sending storytellers to day-care centers. It was interesting and different, but didn't pay much. Then, Shep, who had gotten a job with an advertising company, got sent to England. He charged us (to the company; he didn't last long) two tickets on the S.S. France, sailing to South Hampton in February 1967. What a rough trip! I was seasick most of the way, so didn't really experience the wonderful cuisine the chefs turned out of those kitchens. In addition, Shep had immediately made friends with a girl, Anna, in second class, and spent most of his time with her. I now know that they were already having an affair, as they did for the whole month I was in England. Ironically, she was the only person there to befriend me, really, and it was she who found a friendly shrink for me to pay one visit to and pour out my soul's miseries to. We stayed in an expensive bed and breakfast place near the marble arch, paid for by Shep's company. I tried to find poetry readings and meet poets at first, but Shep was insanely jealous and kept me locked in the room most of the time. He also gave me no money to go anyplace, so I was a virtual prisoner that month in London. I corresponded with a woman who was to become one of my best friends, Alison Gold, who had been a classmate of Shep's at the Rhodes School in New York. She had just married a very rich man whom she subsequently divorced, but had money then, and when she found out what my situation was said she was sending me money. I should pack up and sneak out as soon as I got it, travel around Europe a bit, as I had never been there before, and then return to the United States. Shep opened all my mail, of course, so he intercepted this letter, and in a fit of jealousy decided that he would thwart Alison's plans. He bought me a one-way ticket, or rather charged it to his company, on Icelandic Air, not the most luxurious, kept guard on me for the day until the plane left, put me on it (in tears, for some crazy reason, as I still thought I loved him), and sent me to his parents who lived in Queens. I had ten dollars in my pocket for a cab to their house. That was it.

I went there and stayed with them for several months. They were kind to me. I looked for a job in New York in publishing. My second book was about to come out from Doubleday, Inside the Blood Factory, and I was very happy to be back in a world of poetry and people I knew and liked. Alison became the staunchest of friends, listening to me weep at length and finally get Shep out of my system. And it was Alison also who introduced me to the next man in my life, perhaps the one who should have been my lifelong husband, Tony Weinberger. He and Alison were both in the experimental B.A. program in the liberal arts at the New School. In the fall of 1967 I went to live with Tony Weinberger in his apartment at 578 East Fifth Street. Way over on the lower, lower east side of Manhattan, where even with the fashion of the sixties one would be hard pressed to call the area the East Village. I got a divorce from Shep and hoped that Tony would marry me, but that didn't happen. He had been a motorcycle mechanic, coming from a well-to-do lawyer's family, and had grown up in Great Neck, Long Island, but never found a niche for himself in that middle-class world. He wanted to be a writer, and deeply admired the work of William Carlos Williams. He had raced motorcycles for a while, but found that he was a better mechanic than racer. He had renovated the building on Fifth Street, buying it with some help from his father for very little and doing all the work himself. He was living on his rents while going to school. I will never be able to thank Tony enough, in spite of his betrayals, for that first year of generosity when I was living with him and not working, and in fact being totally supported by him. What it enabled me to do was gather my resources and figure out what I could do with my life. I wrote at that time about a thousand letters to colleges asking for poetry readings. I had decided that I would try to support myself giving readings, and this has evolved into my profession of writer, lecturer, teacher of poetry.

I still don't really know and probably will never understand why Tony threw me out after about a year and a half. I thought we had a very good relationship. I wanted to marry him. I thought he cared for me. I suppose it had something to do with the life he was leading, hanging out at Max's Kansas City, building lofts for artists, wanting to be a more bohemian part of that world. So, I moved into the loft that La Monte and his new wife (the best thing in La Monte's life was my leaving, as he then met and married his now longtime collaborator, companion, and muse Marian Zazeela; they have remained my fast friends over the years, are my real family in the sense of people I turn to when I am in trouble or need help) had on Church Street, right next to where I had lived with Robert Morris (oh, ironies, of fate). I was actually out of town most of the time, on reading trips, so it meant a place to keep my clothes, store my books, etc. I didn't really have many possessions. Had lost most of them in the marriage with Shep, but I had enough that I needed some spot to put them. I remember those days as exciting ones, buzzing in and out of New York, living on the edge of things, with no money except what I earned from each reading, but with no rent to pay, and no obligations in the world. I saved enough money during the school year, knowing there are almost no readings to be had in the summer, to go out to Southern California and rent a small house at Solano Beach, which was where David and Eleanor Antin, my New York friends, were living, and stay there for the summer of 1969. That summer I learned to drive a car, went to Las Vegas for the first time, saw my father for the first time in fourteen years and the last time before he died, and began to think of myself as a kind of mythic Western spirit of the sand ocean.

In the fall of 1969 I had a nice little job as visiting writer to a junior-year-abroad program for students interested in the arts, which was sponsored by Dowling College of Long Island, and located in Deya, Majorca. There I met, for the first time, the man who some years later was to become my third legal husband, Robert Turney. In that same fall I found that for the first time in my life something I thought might be too good to be true had happened. The man who left me, Tony, was getting interested in me again. We got back together in 1970, and I guess I thought this was for life. I was happy and jubilant. It proved to me that sometimes unexplained things righted themselves. However, this lasted little more than a year. Again, I do not know all of what happened, but Tony had bought property in Vermont, he was thinking of moving there, he even took me with him on one trip to his little cabin, but I guess in his mind I did not fit into any of this. So, once again, I was told I would have to leave. He was still living and enjoying the stud-life of Max's Kansas City, though I do not believe that while I was living with him he was unfaithful to me until the very end. He was an honorable man, even though I have always seen him as my betrayer, for the simple reason that I felt that the second time round, calling me back when I was doing so well alone was a commitment that he ought to have honored for many more years. I came back to Tony because I loved him, not because at that time I needed him. He should never have called me back if he did not intend to marry me and stay with me. Of course, he probably did intend those things. Something, and I will never know what, changed him.

In the fall of 1971 Simon & Schuster published my most publicized book, The Motorcycle Betrayal Poems. Tony had moved to Vermont and left me to live in his apartment, with talk of my buying the building encouraged by his father. That fall was a rich one for me, even though I was very unhappy about losing Tony. Still, I was beginning to have some force in the literary world. I was a small-time celebrity. In the spring of 1972, I won a Guggenheim grant, the most prestigious thing which has ever happened to me as a poet. And I was invited to my first visiting writer job at Cal Tech through the auspices of my old friend and patron David R. Smith. I used the Guggenheim to make a down payment on the building, but the whole situation was a fiasco, and I later dumped it back on Tony's poor father, who carried the brunt of the entire business, knowing neither of us had really been responsible.

That spring at Cal Tech renewed my friendship with the Smiths, as I lived with them in the large Master's House on campus. I bought my first car, a used Pontiac, which I named Green Greed, and got my first vanity plate which had GREED on it. Since then, all my cars carry the license plate GREED. Greed, of course, was the long poem which I had begun in 1964 in response to John Martin of Black Sparrow Press writing to me and asking if I had anything he might publish. Since then, Black Sparrow has been one of my two publishers, now is my sole publisher for big collections. They will publish The Collected Greeds, Parts I-XIII in 1984.

In 1969, on my first trip to California in nine years, I met John and Barbara Martin and formed a lasting friendship with them. John, a Christian Scientist who wanted to do something meaningful with his life, was the manager of an office supplies store, a good businessman, and a book collector. Because of his interest in valuable books, he had started to read and see much esoteric literature, including poetry, and had begun to realize that it was this avant garde of writing, often published in limited or unusual editions by special presses, that really shaped the world of literature. He decided he would dedicate his life to adding to this meaningful work, and started Black Sparrow Press in 1968. With the help of Robert Kelly, he contacted a number of poets like myself who were young, experimental, and might be interested in a new press.


In the fall of 1972, I went to the University of Virginia to be their visiting writer for the fall semester. My career as a visiting writer was begun. I found I was a natural critic, willing to spend time with student's poems, unlike many other good critics and teachers, and so I reentered the academic world I had left with a certain amount of bitterness in 1960, feeling that Berkeley as an institution had not served me very well, though individual professors like Thomas Parkinson had been wonderful. That fall, at UVa, one of my grad students, Bonnie Gordon, turned out to be the old friend of a poetry student, Michael Watterlond, whom I had met in 1969 when I came for a poetry reading. Michael had made a strong impression on me, and I had also remembered him because he was from Fullerton, California, where I went to high school. Michael was nine years younger than I, but at this point I had no prejudices against younger men. I really did not, and still do not, think that what was wrong with my relationship with Shep Sherbell was his junior age. It was his psychopathic lying, and his jealousy, along with his lack of devotion to me, that made the relationship so hellish. Perhaps there is a family tradition also, for me to marry younger men. My father (I don't know exactly when he was born) must have been at least five years and perhaps was ten years younger than my mother. Michael and I began a correspondence which was so good that I wanted to consummate it. I sent him a plane ticket (he was living back in California) to Charlottesville, and he accepted it. That began our romance. It continued that Christmas when I drove out to California and stayed with my friends Clayton and Caryl Eshleman. In February, we decided to get married. and did so on George Washington's birthday.

Shep and I had gotten married in the upper west side Buddhist temple in Manhattan, in addition to our city-hall legal marriage. Michael and I simply had the city-hall ceremony, then went to eat dim sum at the Nom Woh Tea Parlour in Chinatown, also in Manhattan. We were both very happy, and I think idealistic about our future. Alas, Michael had many problems which I had no idea about at the time, and finally they were to push him into a position where he simply had to leave the marriage. He was in the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of California, Irvine. I got a job as visiting writer there for the fall term of 1974, having gone back to Virginia against Michael's wishes for the fall term of 1973.

In the spring of 1974 I had a visiting job at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. Michael hated it there, and it was during the gas crisis, so he couldn't drive back and forth to Los Angeles where he wanted to be. He went down to Southern California and found a house in Laguna Beach and lived there alone until spring term was over. Then I joined him and we found a nice little house near the ocean on Cypress Street; he went back to Irvine, and I taught there the fall term. I had a visiting job for the January term of 1975 in Minneapolis, for a consortium of colleges, and Michael refused to accompany me. I was to return at the beginning of February and, then, at the end of March he was to accompany me to East Lansing, where I had a visiting job at Michigan State University. However, he met me at the L.A. airport and was very silent. We drove the whole long trip to Laguna Beach without much talking. I knew something dreadful was coming but couldn't bear to think about it. As he was carrying my luggage into the house, he said, "I have filed for a dissolution of the marriage and have moved out." He wouldn't talk any more, though I begged him to. He said he only told me that because his mother made him. He wanted her to tell me. That was, more or less, the last I ever saw of Michael.

In the spring I went to East Lansing, though I kept the house in Laguna Beach. I liked it very much at MSU. They invited me to join the faculty on a permanent basis, as their writer-in-residence. I knew the spring job had been a trial run, but at that point I had not really cared if I had a regular job or not, and I was in such a state of confusion about Michael's abandonment and rejection of me that I really didn't care. Because MSU did not have in the English department budget at that time enough money to fund my job as I insisted on being paid, they agreed to give me the job on the basis of a higher salary, with my agreement to take one term off each year. This fit my needs, at the time, for I still felt that traveling was good for me. It was. However, by 1980 my desire to travel had worn off, and at that time I asked that my appointment be fully funded, and thanks to Dean Hollingsworth of the College of Arts and Letters, it was.

In 1977, I got a letter from the past. It was from Robert Turney, in New Jersey, who reminded me that he had been in Majorca, and said he was writing poetry now and asked if I would be willing to look at it. I remembered him well, for he was very handsome, kind, and rather interesting character who always seemed to be carrying a secret sophistication with him. Our correspondence grew. He was living with his parents in the country near Princeton, working at the Trenton Sears, where he loaded boxes. He had wanted to be a fiction writer, but apparently now poetry was more interesting to him. On one of my reading trips that spring, I was to be in New Jersey and told him. He came to the reading, and thus our romance began. That spring and summer I taught as a visiting writer at the University of Washington, where I met one of my most talented students, now the avant-garde playwright, Eric Schmidt.

I invited Robert to come out for a visit. He did, and things seemed so interesting with us that he began to think of quitting his job in New Jersey and moving to East Lansing. Which he did in the fall of 1977. We lived together with much difficulty for both of us. He had a drinking problem that I didn't quite understand, and while I had decided that this was my last chance to make a marriage, still his being eleven years younger than I contributed to a considerable gap in experiences. But for some reason, perhaps both of us being determined Leonine personalities, we stuck it out, and have at this writing worked out a marriage that to me seems to be a very good and happy one. We married legally on February 14 (what sentimentalists we are) of 1982 so that Robert could benefit by my health and dental insurance from the university. In December of 1982, he went on the wagon and was quite successful in stopping his drinking, which was slowly undermining his physical and emotional health. It also lifted a burden from me, that of living with someone you love very much and seeing him go under, destroying himself in a way which can only destroy you too. For the past year, we have lived peacefully in East Lansing, with me struggling to cope with middle age, to decide if I really want to spend the rest of my life in the Midwest, and trying to figure out how to write the book-length poem I want to about the West, using a city such as Las Vegas or Los Angeles, or San Diego, as its focus. With the publication of my Collected Creeds in April 1984, I will feel free to start that new book.


Thus ends my chronicle from 1983. I began work on the poems that were to appear in the first volume of the "Archaeology of Movies and Books," as I said, after the big Greed book was published. I need to mention at this point how enchanted I have felt to have a publisher like John Martin of Black Sparrow Press to be my friend, mentor, and constant supporter of most everything I write. Given my "Diane-ysian" immersion in trying to transform my life into poetry, my passion to make whole books not just of anthology-piece poems, but work that carried a continuity and personal narrative in the way that a series of letters or a diary might, John was the perfect publisher. Granted, Black Sparrow Press books didn't receive the mainstream critical attention that my earlier books published by Doubleday and then Simon & Schuster had, but the aegis of Black Sparrow conferred an interest from a slightly avant-garde readership, one more willing to suspend their disbelief about poetry and read my "stories" (as Robinson Jeffers called his long poems) as the creation of a personal mythology. In 1984 Black Sparrow published my Rings of Saturn and then in 1988 my first volume of selected poems, Emerald Ice: Selected Poems 1962-1987. This book won the only book prize I've ever received—despite my years of longing for Pulitzer prizes and other elusive honors. Anne Waldman, judging the Poetry Society of America's annual William Carlos Williams book contest, chose Emerald Ice for the prize.

This time was also a good time for me in my university career. I won a Distinguished Faculty Award from MSU in 1989 about the same time my book was chosen for the William Carlos Williams prize. And in 1990, the university established a new kind of award, described as a "soft chair" in that it confers an internally funded honor on a professor similar to that of an externally funded and named chair. The title is University Distinguished Professor, and I became one of the first dozen professors throughout the university chosen for this award. It is a permanent title, though the money that came with it was only for five years. Still, for someone who came into a university professorship via a non-academic route, this has always seemed a measure of my big midwestern university's open-mindedness about merit, as much as an accolade for me.

In contrast to the good things that were happening to me in poetry and my university career, I heard about the tragedy of one of the men in my past. Michael Watterlond, who had been my second legal husband, and who had left me in 1975 because he wanted to live the life of a gay man, died of AIDS in Southern California in 1988. Though I had been so hurt by his abrupt departure, I was now more shaken with my sense of luck than by his death. How fortunate I was that we had had such a sparse sex life, and that he had left me early in his explorations before he could infect me with HIV as well. My anger, in fact, multiplied. But then I just shook with relief. He had not betrayed me in the worst way a twentieth-century lover could betray a man or a woman by infecting me. Should I be grateful, or just angry that he ever put me in that jeopardy? Sometimes, indeed, I do feel like the Fool depicted on a tarot card, a slender figure in motley, blithely walking off a cliff, somehow knowing that charm or grace will protect his fall.

Since my wonderful high school teacher, Dale Rulison, introduced our sophomore English class to Robinson Jeffers' translation of Euripdes' "Medea," I had been drawn to the story of that enchantress as if it were my own. However, only a few of my poems before the late eighties had made reference to the myth. But as I was thinking about writing my so-called epic of the West, with a female heroine—Diane, moon goddess—I began to think of myself as having a double identity. I was both the human, fierce, angry Medea, sacrificing everything for love, and the Moon Diane, who was cool and aloof, and like Diana of the Hunt and Chase, a woman who independently followed her quest. Both mythic figures elude men in the end, and I suppose I longed for that possibility. So, I began working on Medea the Sorceress, which Black Sparrow Press published in 1991. I wanted to create a new structure for myself, one that emphasized the way the poems were related to each other, though they were written as discrete poems, not one long poem. I also had been thinking a great deal about the varied aspects of William Carlos Williams' accomplishment in his long poem "Paterson." I wondered if I could use some collaged material in my book, in the way he used entries from American history and the letters of the woman he called Cresseda. This was my inspiration for surrounding my poems, in Medea, with the prose text of letters ostensibly written to two of my close friends and actual correspondents, the poet Craig Cotter and the novelist Jonathan Carroll. As I was working on this, I became drawn into the ideas of quantum theory that captivated all literary intellectuals in the nineties, and I found a simple book for laymen called Quantum Reality: Beyond the New Physics, by Nick Herbert. Thus, the format for the texts of The Archaology of Movies and Books was created: poems interspersed with letters to Craig and Jonathan, along with quotations about physics.

An interesting shift in my life began in the eighties and was manifest in these books. I had always liked to write prose, but until the advent of the word processor, it seemed like a task not suited to my messy ways. I liked to type, and could type fast, but was hopelessly inaccurate and very messy about making corrections. So, getting a computer at the end of the eighties allowed me to comfortably write prose now, as well as poetry. I have always said I am a novelist manqué, but what I really mean, since I have none of the skills of a fiction writer, is that I love the personal narrative. And I love the epistolary art, which is also a narrative one. If you seriously think about my poetry, you will realize that it is simply an attempt to tell my own story (her-story) and thus its limitations if you look to poetry for its lyric functions. People who like to read my poetry like to read the ongoing story of the mythic Diane. One of the limitations of this art is that you have to be interested in Diane's story, and while I try to seduce everyone into it, I certainly fail as much as I have failed with the many men I've tried to seduce into my personal life.

After I published Medea the Sorceress and was working on the second book of the series, which I decided to call Jason the Betrayer, Craig Cotter registered a protest with me. "How come," he said, "the woman gets to be a magician, a skilled person, and the man only gets to be known by his treachery, not what he can do?" I thought a lot about that, for of course I wanted the word "betrayer" in my title. But I knew he was right, and so the book's actual title became Jason the Sailor. I liked this the more I thought about it, because my father was a career Navy man, and I liked thinking of myself as the sailor's daughter. Jason the Sailor was published in 1993 and The Emerald City of Las Vegas, the third in the series, in 1995. Its final book, Argonaut Rose, was published in 1998.

During the late eighties and into the nineties I began to develop my epistolary art, writing long letters that usually included a first draft of a new poem to Craig or Jonathan. As these letters became more like essays, I started making versions of the basic text adjusted to send to various people and thus my mailing list grew from one or two friends to about seventy friends and acquaintances. This all seemed like a natural progression from some earlier long letters to my friend, the novelist Valerie Martin, in the early eighties. Then came the letters to Craig and Jonathan that evolved into the text of Medea. Finally this turned into what I have come to call my "big letters," sent out four or five times a year to friends and acquaintances.


For decades I had written in biographical notes, "everything that is important about me is in my poems." This became a manifesto for keeping secrets while following a poetics I encapsulated with the phrase "walking naked is the best disguise." Yet there was really only one story I never spoke about in either my professional or my everyday domestic life, the secret of my illegitimate children given up for adoption in 1956 and 1960. In fact those stories had become almost the opposite of secrets: they had become icons, symbols, not events, not even subject matter for poems except through the most oblique references. I suppose the breakthrough personally, though certainly not poetically, of writing Medea the Sorceress, came when I wrote the title poem, for the first time making a poem out of literal history, painful memory. Taking my sense of Jeffers' translation of Euripides' "Medea" to represent my myth so literally, I took courage in writing my own story. Not as a play, of course, but certainly using theatrical or rhetorical devices, and certainly invoking the iconic images with realistic details from the late fifties.

In my own mind, I was finally including this story into the implications of "everything that is important about my life is in my poems." Yet, I would not ever include this information in any interviews or critical investigations of my poetics and life. The one exception was this "author's autobiography" that I wrote in 1983. However, if I were asked, "do you have children?" my answer would always be "No." In my life, I did not have children. It had been my purpose to give these biological children a life that would be better than the one I could provide. I hoped they had comfortable middle class lives, the opportunities for education, sophistication, stability, and professional futures, not the poor ragged bohemian and deprived childhood that I would have been able to provide. I had been driven by my own early Christian ideology of sacrifice, given up the satisfactions of family so that these children could have the best version of it. For better or worse, I still believe that I did the right thing, though it left me with the secrets that replaced the wholeness of nuclear family.

I think a number of factors in my 1990s life contributed to this gradual shift. I had, as I said, become middle class in an odd time. It almost wasn't necessary! My sixties generation of sexual revolutionaries, myself included, really had changed things for women. The incredible shame of having a child out of wedlock had virtually disappeared. I could "confess" it, perhaps generating surprise but not revilement, not shock or disgust. Not even rejection. In a way, this was a letdown. It meant that no one would understand what I had sacrificed. No one would understand the weight of this taboo, committed and carried around for more than thirty years. No one would understand the great art of disguise, the actual power of my creation of a personal mythology, the devastation that had caused me to descend, Persephone-like, to the underground and the miraculous possibility of return, though it would always be shadowed by the cyclical descent back into the hell of this loss and violation. "Winter, winter, winter," I have written, "there is winter in my heart." One wants her sacrifices acknowledged. Ironic. The new generation, like my young, mean-spirited reviewer in the New York Times book review, had no understanding that there had ever been anything "to complain about."

Irrelevant of history or my past, now my comfortable, stable life with my generous supportive husband, Robert Turney, finally gave me a sense of security. He would not leave me because my past was dark. And my comfortable job at the university with so many interesting students, many of them excited actually by the magical sixties and the associated defiant cultural images, inspired me to tell my own stories of what had once been taboo, of the risks so many of us had taken to try to live our lives without sexual repression, and perhaps even a little excitement on my part, remembering my sexually charged youth, now that I was such a quiet little neutered person.

Once I had given myself permission overtly to tell my Medea story, I began to understand what it was like to write a book. In the past I had always written poems. All my life I wrote poems passionately, grabbing every moment that seemed charged to me, neglecting nothing, yet always skirting around the big story, always allowing it to have only the power of allusion. I couldn't, didn't want to, change that over night. In fact, I have never changed that process of writing, though my recent poems have abandoned some of the surrealism I earlier practiced, surrealism being the writer's gesture of disguise. But now there were more possibilities, and I began to see the importance of acknowledging my autobiography, not just my mythic story. Thus, after Jason the Sailor, which also included a poem about the great primal scene in my life, my stay at the Florence Crittenden Home for Unwed Mothers in 1956, and the birth of my biological son, I began to see that many chunks of this archaeological dig into the city of my past were missing. Had they been looted, as sites of ancient cities had been looted of the gold, the artwork, and even the intact furniture? Was this a city or a tomb?

In the late eighties, Robert and I began to take at least one trip a year to the West, in particular to Las Vegas, as I discovered that I love gambling. I am a rather pathetic gambler, by any poetic standards. I really like to play games and want to be able to go to the casinos early in the morning and play games until midnight, and not spend more than a hundred dollars or so. I like to be able to do this for a week at a time or even longer. Thus, high stakes for me is $5 blackjack. Dollar craps or roulette. Dollar slot machines. I love the games like progressive slot machines where you have a chance to win a thousand dollars for a five-nickel play, or $5,000 for three quarters. I like low-stakes blackjack where I could sit at a table when I am lucky and play the lowest bet for five or six hours at a stretch and never spend more than $100. I am not a winner, in life or at the tables or machines. But I play for those few moments of winning when I can believe in the harmony of the spheres. To me, the interesting aspect of my gambling, psychologically, is that I am unlucky. And it's not that I like losing, because despite the fact that some people think I'm a masochist, I don't really enjoy loss, pain, or rejection. But I do want to understand that many, if not most, of our failures in life come from chance, or destiny if you choose to believe in it, not from our own mistakes or failures. The result of course is failure, but the blame is not so acute. Because I am judgmental, I am a blamer. The one most guilty of blame in my life has always been me. But when you gamble—isn't all of life a gamble?—most of the time, no matter how well you play, you will lose. It's not your fault; it's the nature of the game. Being a perfectionist, I have spent my life blaming myself, yes rejecting myself, and feeling constantly that if I had just done the correct thing, I would have won, succeeded, not lost anything: the men I loved, my children, money, fame, prizes, all the things that have seemed to slip through my grasp.

Because these annual driving trips to the West became a part of our ritual, and we became very familiar with that city in the desert, I decided to make the third of the archaeologies, though a continuation of the Medea/Jason story, one that focused on a central metaphor of my poetry: the desert. For this book I also took another story, one that because of a film has attained the quality of an American myth, "The Wizard of Oz." And because the image of emeralds has also figured in my iconography, I loved the idea of "the emerald city," and to me it became a perfect metaphor for that city in the desert. Thus was born The Emerald City of Las Vegas, published in 1995.

The last book of the series, Argonaut Rose, takes its name from the group of sailor/heroes who manned the Argos with Jason on his quest for the Golden Fleece and carried Medea, after aiding Jason in the theft, away into her own sad drama with their children. Of course, the rose contains all its usual allusion from references to female beauty and sexuality to the mystic image of Christian sacrificial love. In 1998 when this book was published I had already begun to think about writing a new part of Greed, for I had reached the age of sixty-one and, though not any longer obsessed with fame and importance in the poetry world, I still longed for worldly aspects of it like Pulitzer prizes, major reviews in the New York Times, perhaps an honorary doctorate at some university. But, if anything, my reputation was diminishing not growing. I began to examine myself, not in new ways, but in less-scourging ones, thinking of my failures, my mistakes, the aspects of my personality that had made me into a person so easily dismissed, or perhaps even deliberately omitted from the big rewards. I started thinking about my childhood desire for purity, for perfections, and this meditation led to "Greed: Part 14, The Greed for Purity," which uses the metaphor of polishing gold, then transformed into light. In this poem, I am trying to understand why I have failed in the context of my own false sense of propriety over the gold of love and poetry. Published in 2000 along with the new and selected poems of The Butcher's Apron, I felt a kind of catharsis, ready finally to embrace the diurnal comprehension of light and dark. The title poem of this book, "The Butcher's Apron," was first published in the late nineties and had been included in The Emerald City of Las Vegas. It has a distinction I've never before or since earned, to be selected by the 1996 judge, Adrienne Rich, for the volume Best American Poetry of 1996.


An event that catapulted me into my next project was giving a poetry reading in New York City in March of 2001. We frequently visit Manhattan, which I still regard as my city. MSU's spring break is always at the beginning of March, a dreary time, though walking the city streets, meeting old friends, eating at interesting restaurants, and seeing all the new independent and foreign films that never come to East Lansing render me oblivious to the weather. However, in March of 2001 the East Coast had a record breaking blizzard and such continual predictions of snow in New Jersey and the New York City area that people were buying out grocery store supplies in anticipation of being snowed in. I was scheduled to read on one of these blizzard evenings at a place on the Lower East Side called The KGB. It's a dark bar, upstairs, very reminiscent of sixties coffeehouses where I began my poetry-reading career. It's only opened for scheduled events, usually poetry readings, and this series has enough cachet, run by New York literary sophisticate David Lehman, that it has even been written up in the Sunday New York Times magazine.

The poet sharing the program with me that night lives in Vermont, and I couldn't believe he'd actually drive down through this snow. Nor did I actually believe there'd be anyone at the reading except Robert and me. But not only was the Vermont poet there, and the organizers, but a full-house audience, many of them my old New York friends—La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela, Jackson MacLow—and many of them former students, now writers or editors currently living or working or going to school in the New York area. My novelist friend Neil Gordon, who uses my poem "Justice Is Reason Enough" as the clue to the mystery of his protagonist in his novel The Gun Runner's Daughter, was there, hidden in the dark so that I never saw him. Because I'd been involved with a young couple, Neil Holstein and his wife Maria Carola, who were making a documentary about Mickey Ruskin, the restauranteur who owned some of the coffeehouses that were the site of sixties poetry readings, Neil suggested that he do the individual interview with me at the KGB, as it presented a retro image of the coffeehouse world. And he offered to come with his small camera crew and videotape the event that evening. Alas, the light was pretty low, so we don't really have a very successful video, but for better or worse there is some documentary footage.

There are many reasons that the reading at the KGB was exciting and special for me, but the lasting significance of it is that I made connection with a part of my past that I'd never forgotten. At the end of the reading, a short portly man wearing a yellow slicker came up to me and said in a very deep voice, one I could indeed never forget, "Do you remember me? Reg D—from Fullerton High School?" How could I forget him? He was the thespian football player in my high school creative writing class on whom I had had a crush. We exchanged address information and agreed to be in touch, but it wasn't until October of 2001, a few weeks after 9-11, when Robert and I planned another trip to Manhattan, that I got in touch with him by e-mail and asked if we could meet. "Even better than that," he said. "I'm a cab driver, and I'll take you on my personal night tour of the city." He picked me up on the evening we arranged, at the Angelika Film Forum after a day of movie-going for me. And we took a three-hour cab ride during which he pummeled me with witty, interesting talk. We exchanged lots of biographical information about our lives, and he showed me a scrapbook of the most important part of his life, which was when he lived on Long Island and built from scratch a sailboat on which he lived and sailed for a decade.

That's when I began to conceive of how I could make my memoir/poetry project, Noir, work. I would continue my epistolary format, but all the letters would be to Reg (whose name I would change to Alex, as in Alexander the Great, always a hero of mine) and because telling him my story was something I felt drawn to do. There would be a raison d'etre to tell my poetry story, since he and I had been first poetry colleagues in our little class, and while he had won a poetry prize, I was the one to go on and become a working poet. I was inspired, after meeting Reg, and began work on what I thought of then as only a book. As I continued with it, I began to see that it was either too big a book or should in fact be in several volumes. I worked furiously for about six months and then some events in my life slowed me down, halted me in fact.

One of the reasons I was working so furiously was that I had had a tentative deadline with my publisher, John Martin of Black Sparrow Press, for the book manuscript in February 2002. At that point, I called and told him I wouldn't have it until September, but I really didn't even see how I could have it in the form that I imagined by then. So, when in April of 2002 John Martin called to tell me that after thirty-six years of publishing, he was retiring Black Sparrow Press, I felt many things, but one of them was being freed from a time constraint on the new book. I also felt as if my whole poetry world was coming to an end, and while I rejoiced for John being able to retire at seventy-plus with a good bit of money from the sale of his rights to authors Bukowski, Fante, and Bowles to HarperCollins, I realized that I was going to have to enter into life with unknown editors and perhaps even publishers whose values I didn't share. I felt liberated in a way. Did my work still have the power to attract other publishers? The thought of this test was intriguing. And though poetry itself is pretty much invisible in our culture just now, memoirs seem to be in fashion.

As long as John Martin had published Black Sparrow Press books, I would never have sought another publisher. However, with John retired, I could try to sell my new project to a trade press. Perhaps such a move might bring more attention and reviews to my work? John told me that he was going to sell the Black Sparrow inventory of about sixty thousand books for $1 to some publisher whom he felt would be the right home for his authors. Whatever contracts he had already signed would be honored by that publisher and presumably the press would consider, besides keeping our books in print, publishing further work. But I had no contract. A relief, because now I could work on Noir at my own pace and then think about trying to market it with a press that might give me some visibility.

However, since this has all happened, I realize how much a Black Sparrow Press poet I am, and how unlikely that my work would ever get better treatment than it did from John Martin. At this writing, I am immersed in my project. The publisher finally chosen by John was David Godine of Boston, who has hired an excellent editor, Chris Carduff, for the Black Sparrow Press books and authors. The new books will be published as Black Sparrow Books for David Godine. Anyone reading this, interested in how my excellent association with John Martin began, can read both sides of a several years' correspondence we shared when Black Sparrow was just starting up in the sixties, and I was living in New York City with the Motorcycle Betrayer. That correspondence is archived at the University of Arizona library.

It seems like spring and summer of 2002 were a fraught time for me. Among other minor difficulties I developed a serious asthma, fell and nearly broke my ankle, and had my second cataract surgery. Not an auspicious time. I was also beginning to wonder if since I turned sixty-five that summer I ought to retire from the university. My plan had been to retire in 2005 and then a later plan to go until I am sixty-nine in 2007. But this job, which I've always said I would do even if I didn't have a good salary, has changed with the new attitude of universities in general, that they are voc-tech institutions. Most students don't really want an education; they want job skills or entree into the professional world without necessarily having a profession. I have continued to find exceptional students, but going into a classroom and professing serious poetry, not rap, not doggerel, not greeting-card, new-age blather, has seemed often like adversarial action rather than the intensity of encounter I used to feel. In recent years I have drawn students who want the flame I choose to pass on into groups outside the classroom.

This began in the eighties with a group I called the Troubadours and was reinvented in the nineties with a group I named, because they were all women, the Sapphos. My most recent group from the new millennium I've called the Alchemists. But the life of each group is about five years before young poets take their faith with them and scatter to other places in the world. Usually they remain my friends, sometimes they continue to write and publish poetry, and often they take with them a way of life, a survival of the mind based on poetry and ideas about purity, yes my old punishing subject. My only regret is that I did not begin this shamanistic act of naming my special groups of students earlier. However, like almost everything in my life this act of creating and naming came into existence even before I understood it or knew what I was doing.


I often think about how poor a parent I would have been—perhaps sour grapes or just my old Platonic rationalizations about the choices I made in my life, and of course my failures. However, I think I have been a very successful mentor for many many college students, and that I like the relationship between student and teacher, professor and listener, because it establishes a future reciprocity that is unequal to anything except sexual love. Thus, I hope in my old age to be surrounded by these Troubadours, Alchemists, and Sapphos, these younger-generation intellectuals, artists, and writers. My Jonathans and Craigs, my Lindas and Barbaras. It's mostly these people who are on the long list of my epistolary recipients. This is a portion of a letter they all received, in the fall of 2002, from me:

Diane Wakoski at the
Café d'Autumne

I have a story to tell that begins on Labor Day weekend 2002. The story is a new chapter in the ongoing myth of Diane/Medea, and it is because of the Internet and e-mail that this new chapter can be written. Or so I think, for electronic letters make it possible for people who might be reluctant to contact each other to be in touch through particles and waves, abstractions that allow us the freedom to refigure them, to escape the bars of presence. And of course Diane's story would have an epistolary tapestry!

Though it came to me on September 2nd, I did not click it on it until September 3rd, and this is what I read:

Dear Diane,

This is a difficult letter for me to write (and perhaps for you to receive). I am quite sure you are the right person based upon the background information I received from the agency so I hope that this will be the beginning of a completion for both of us.

My name is Leann, and I believe you to be my biological mother. I was born at the University of California Hospitals in San Francisco, California on September 4th, 1960. I would like to know more about you, but only if you are willing. This contact is pretty scary for me. I was afraid to write this letter for fear of rejection.

Here is some of my background in case you are interested. I have never been married but took my last name when my adoptive mother divorced and remarried at age seven. I have never had any children, as the right opportunity never came about. Finding out about you is important to my medical history as I have suffered from some strange illnesses (Ebstein Barr and Fibromyalgia) over the years and received some helpful information from the adoption agency several years ago but am curious to find out more should any of these problems arise again. I have been in counseling over the last fifteen years and am a much happier person now because of this. I have known about being adopted since I was five years old and you have always been in the back of my mind. I am hoping that you are a decent, caring human being who would be willing to help another person be complete. I would appreciate knowing something about you and my heritage to fill this emptiness inside me. Your web page and biography have helped explain some but would like to know more such as how to find my half brother you gave up for adoption four years before me.

She gave more information about herself here and concluded with this:

More than anything else, I would like to thank you for giving me life. If you don't want to share me with your family that is your choice, and I will understand, but I am hoping you will at least write or call me once and share some information with me, which only you can provide me with. I have put a lot of thought into how I would approach you once I found you. I felt that this approach would cause the least discomfort for you. I hope that my dream of finding you will soon become a reality.

She then gave her phone number, e-mail address, postal address, and her name.

Many of you reading this letter will worry, as Robert did, that my response to this forty-two-year-old secret would be troubled. Yet, I cannot tell you what a huge sigh of relief I felt—I know that's a cliché—when I read Leann's words. The excitement of a story beginning to unfold was my first response. For years, I myself have thought of writing to the adoption agency and asking them to open the files both from 1956 and 1960 to any legitimate inquirers about their birth parents. Yet, something held me back. Fear of seeming foolish? I do know, from Wilton Barnhardt and other adopted children, that many adoptees do not wish ever to know anything about their biological or birth parents. I suppose I was also afraid too that my children might turn out to be junkies or convicts or stalkers or con artists: people who might invade my life in a way that could not be good for anyone. Honestly, I didn't believe my genes would produce such people, but then who really knows what her genes are like? And then, there weren't just mine. But the excitement of an interesting, nice, normal person approaching me—that's the stuff of novels and film. And I am excited to be in the middle of it just now.

The serendipity of her finding me on the eve of her forty-second birthday seemed like one of those synchronicities that Jung wrote about. Astrologers would have a field day! (More clichés?) Of course I immediately answered her letter, but cautiously, saying that I wanted to make sure that she and I were in fact the actual mother and daughter, but she gave me such information that I knew she was the right one. Immediately I told her who her biological father is: my wonderful avant-garde composer friend, La Monte Young, and e-mailed La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela, his wife, that Leann wanted to be in touch with them. La Monte and Marian have no children, and La Monte, with all his (born a Mormon) interest in genealogy, was ecstatic to find out about his biological daughter.

Thanks to the Internet I was able to send her flowers to arrive on her birthday, September 4th, and we began an intense e-mail correspondence. Here are some of the many and fascinating things I have learned about Leann since we have been in touch. She is a bookkeeper with her own business. I laughed, thinking of my mother's life as a bookkeeper. I was fascinated to learn that she is an athlete, a water-skier who has participated in many tournaments, and that she likes to cook and give parties. La Monte began to fill her in on his family. It seems that all his many brothers and sisters are athletic and compete in various events. If you know La Monte you will find this almost comical. But then I guess those genes skip around. Leann was not as lucky as I had hoped she would be in getting stable parents, but after her adoptive parents divorced when she was young, her mother remarried and gave her a rich family life. She has sent me some photographs of herself, which show a woman who looks the way I imagine a daughter of my sister Marilyn might look. Actually, Marilyn has two daughters around Leann's age, neither of which look like Leann, but I think I see physical aspects of both my parents that are in my sister, very different from my own looks, reappearing in Leann.

One of the reasons that Leann wanted to track me down was to find out about her half-brother, the son fathered by my high school boyfriend Jon Harmon. And she persisted, via the same knowledgeable woman who helped her to locate me. After helping Leann find me, she then set to work on finding Leann's half-brother, the child I had at the Florence Crittenden Home for Unwed Mothers in 1956. This pregnancy is what I have written about in "Medea the Sorceress" and in "Blue Suede Shoes," and alluded to in other poems. That event was the traumatic experience of childbirth for me, for many reasons including the betrayal, as I saw it, of my first sexual lover and my devotion to him, whereas Leann's birth was very different since I was living with her father at the time. Though in both cases the shame of being pregnant without being married was very hard on me.

Getting pregnant the summer after I graduated from high school is the reason I did not go to Berkeley directly from high school graduation, on the scholarship I had won. It is the reason for many of my difficulties at Berkeley, being so overwhelmed by the secret I had to keep, the sacrifice I felt I had made which no one could know about. When La Monte and I met, he a grad student in music, I an undergrad in English, in a way we formed a bond with each other because we needed someone who could care and understand about our feelings of hurt. He was anguishing over being dumped by his UCLA girlfriend, Carolyn See, now a rather successful novelist; and I was trying hard to use the new bohemian possibilities I found in my life as a student poet who practiced "free love" to heal me from the desperation of my teenage situation in the straightlaced climate of the late fifties. Despite the fact that I had no access to birth control, I was totally unwilling to give up sex. My friends and readers often see me as a risk taker. I protest that I never was, that I simply did what I had to to follow my quests. However, in one respect I was a terrible risk taker. I had sex without benefit of birth control and, of course being a poor unsophisticated person, no access to abortion. So be it.

La Monte and I knew that we didn't want a child to have to endure the problems we both felt we had experienced when we were young. It is only at this point in my life, when I am a few years from retirement at the university and the successfully published author of more than twenty collections of poetry, that I feel I have something to offer the children who came out of my body more than forty years ago. I can offer them now what I wanted my parents to offer me: an interesting successful life well lived, autonomous and without need for them. When I wrote about the greed for parents and children in my greed series, I wrote about the way parents devour their children with their own needs. I couldn't bear the thought of having been such a person.

It's taken Leann ten years to track me down, yet she never gave up. Now, I feel genuine remorse that I did not open those files sooner, but perhaps the quest is always part of the adventure. "Nothing easy," as I like to think of Charles Olson apocryphally saying. So, once I had given Leann some information about the biological father of my first child, and the particulars of his birth, June 11, 1956 in Pasadena, California, her tracker, Bonnie, found his name: Bradley, and found an address for him, but no e-mail. I suggested she try snail mail for her letter rather than telephoning. I can't imagine that anyone would really want this information on the telephone, even if they had hoped for it over the years. And within a week, Leann heard from him. This is what he wrote:

Hello Leann,

Thanks for your letter; I'm glad you were able to find me. I had never done any research into my birth connections.

I grew up in La Habra, California, a town on the northern tip of Orange County that is between Whittier, Brea, and Fullerton. I went to La Habra High School and then on to USC, where I got an undergraduate degree in history and math, and then got a master's in computer science. I worked for Bell Labs in New Jersey for a while, then for HP in Cupertino and Palo Alto, and now I am doing consulting and I am associated with a little Silicon Valley company called Zindigo.

When I was in high school I played on the tennis team and the cross country team, and I bicycled all over Orange County in my free time. I was not athletic at all until high school; I spent almost all my time reading in elementary school and jr. high; my other passions in high school were photography and electronics.

I am 6'2", 175 pounds, brown eyes, brown hair, glasses. My adoptive mother died this past January, at the age of seventy-seven, from a massive heart attack. She was not in good health at all, and it was a blessing for her to go quickly and painlessly. My adoptive dad still lives in the same house I grew up in, in La Habra; as it turns out, I am much closer to him now than I ever was before. We talk on the phone every day now, and he's done a great job recovering from the grief he suffered when his wife died.

I am curious to know more about our birth mom. Sometimes I've thought about how hard it must be to put your child up for adoption. I had never before thought seriously about investigating my history, mostly because I didn't want to do anything at all that might have the slightest unhappy impact on my adoptive parents. For some weird reason, I always assumed the information might someday just come to me, and that I would gladly receive it if it did, but I didn't want to go out looking for it.

All the best to you and thanks for finding me,


And then on September 19th, I received this e-mail:

Dear Diane,

I learned your name yesterday from Leann. She said that you were happy to hear from both of us, so I am taking the liberty of writing first. If for any reason you'd rather not correspond, I understand, and I will certainly respect that.

Leann said she forwarded on the e-mail that I sent her, describing my exterior life. Yesterday afternoon, after I dropped my daughter at soccer practice, I ducked into the nearby Newtonville books and found The Butcher's Apron. I got back into my car, read "When Canned Peaches Turn into Maplelight," and started crying.

Last night my wife read the bio of you on the Internet and said she was surprised I didn't happen to have a big stack of your books on my shelf. My favorite poet is Robinson Jeffers, but I am not well versed in poetry. I love to read Joan Didion's description of Santa Ana winds.

There are so many things about me that seem obvious now. I don't know where to begin in listing all the odd coincidences between my life and yours, or at least the little glimpse of yours that I have seen in a few poems and the bio.

There is so much I'd like to tell you, and so many questions I'd like to ask you. But one that isn't too deep is, did you spend your Guggenheim in Paris?

All the best,


So, the stories are unfolding. In the mean time this seems like the spark I needed, after my summer of health problems and the psychological sadness of losing Black Sparrow Press, to get back to work on my so-called memoir, the poem/letter projected three-volume Noir. In an odd way, the beginning of Noir is the real beginning of this adventure. It was because Reg showed up at the KGB reading in March 2001, and then I took the memorable cab ride with him in October 2001 that put me to work on Noir. Why was Reg the muse? To be melodramatic—unrequited love? Or crush. I had another boyfriend, an important man in my life, but Reg was always in my fantasies, a King of Spain? Perhaps because I dreamed of him from a distance, it made him early a character in my mythology? When I had to put a Christian name on my son's birth certificate in 1956, I called him Reginald. Brad was born Reginald Harmon. So, now the story is fleshing itself out literally, and it started with the reentry of Reggie into my life.


Now, in the spring of 2003, I have made friends with my biological daughter. We had an adventurous weekend in New York City where we met for the first time in October 2002, and where she also met her biological father, La Monte Young and his wife, Marian Zazeela, at the site of their Dream House installation in Manhattan. I have not met Brad, perhaps never will, but exchange poetry and occasional e-mail conversations with him. And another adventure begins as I contacted his biological father, my high school boyfriend, and we begin to talk via e-mail and letter about the past and how we've dealt with it in our lives. I hope to write an update to this entry in another twenty years when I am eighty-five, for it seems that I will continue always to have more stories to tell.

Ever the Romantic, I remain Yr Lady of Secrets and Revelations, DW



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Lauter, Estella, Women as Mythmakers: Poetry and Visual Art by Twentieth-Century Women, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1984.

Roberts, Sheila, editor, Still the Frame Holds, Borgo Press (San Francisco, CA), 1993.


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Far Point, spring/summer, 1970, Philip L. Gerber and Robert J. Gemmett, "A Terrible War: A Conversation with Diane Wakoski," pp. 44-54.

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Kliatt, September, 1993, p. 26, review of Jason the Sailor.

Library Journal, June 1, 1982, p. 1100; November 15, 1986, p. 100; December, 1988; February 1, 1991; August, 1993, p. 109; August, 1995, p. 80; March 1, 1998, Graham Christian, review of Argonaut Rose, p. 92; February 15, 2001, Judy Clarence, review of The Butcher's Apron: New and Selected Poems, Including "Greed: Part 14," p. 172.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 18, 1982, p. 11; November 4, 1984, p. 4; October 26, 1986, p. 14.

Margins, January, 1976.

Mediterranean Review, spring, 1972.

Ms., March, 1976, Sheila Weller, reviews of Coins and Coffins and Discrepancies and Apparitions.

New York Times Book Review, December 12, 1971; August 13, 1978.

Parnassus, fall-winter, 1972; spring-summer, 1973.

Partisan Review, winter, 1971, Norman Martien, review of The George Washington Poems.

Poetry, June, 1974; August, 1976.

Prairie Schooner, spring, 1973.

Publishers Weekly, July 31, 1995, p. 74, review of The Emerald City of Las Vegas; February 23, 1998, review of Argonaut Rose, p. 71; December 4, 2000, review of The Butcher's Apron, p. 67.

Southwest Review, spring, 1975, Peter D. Zivkovic, review of Inside the Blood Factory.

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Academy of American Poets Web site,http://www.onlinepoetryclassroom.org/poets/ (July 15, 2003).