I’ve been thinking a lot about my mom recently. Maybe it’s all the Mother’s Day hoopla or maybe it’s because I cannot consider the question of why I enjoy poetry readings or why (thanks Jeffrey) I might not suck as a reader without thinking about and acknowledging my mother, Diane Wolkstein. diane1.gif
My mother is a famous storyteller. I grew up watching her practice in front of the double full-length mirrors in the apartment upstairs where she wrote and rewrote and rehearsed alone and with musicians and other storytellers. I was such a good listener—so quiet—I was permitted to sit in the on-air studio at WNYC while she recorded her weekly program, “Stories from Many Lands.” From her I had an up-close portrait of a hard-working artist. Our relationship hasn’t always been smooth or uncomplicated; how could it have been?
In any case, I wanted to mention that Mayor Bloomberg has declared June 22nd DIANE WOLKSTEIN DAY in tribute of the 40 years of service my mother has given the city. She has been telling stories and inviting other storytellers to the statue of Hans Christian Andersen in Central Park for 40 years. Maybe some of you have seen her there or read her books. If not, you should! On June 22nd and 23rd will be celebration with many world-class storytellers to honor my mother’s service and to promote storytelling in New York City. Check it out:

Originally Published: May 13th, 2007

Poet and educator Rachel Zucker was born in New York and grew up in Greenwich Village, the daughter of novelist Benjamin Zucker and storyteller Diane Wolkstein. She earned her BA at Yale University and her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.   Zucker’s expansive yet lyrical poems interrogate and deftly...

  1. May 14, 2007

    Wow, Rachel. What a neat thing to have your mom be famous for. Her stories, voice, facial expressions must be floating around in the psyches of thousands of people.
    I wonder if it was hard sharing your mom, if there were stories she saved just for you. That balance of the public/private is something I'm wrestling with.
    Your post also makes me curious. We read your first book in one of my classes last month; the students were really excited, and it prompted the best discussion we had all year. The mother-daughter relationship between Persephone and Demeter was so poignant and current-feeling. It made me wonder a little about your home life. This revelation complicates whatever I had imagined.
    best wishes, Jeffrey

  2. May 15, 2007
     Brian Hadd

    I agree: cool. Honorees are neat for values at least--congratulations!!
    The Hood Company

  3. May 15, 2007
     Rachel Zucker

    Very astute, Jeffrey! There are lots of big issues floating around the mother/daughter, mother/artist issue. People always said to me I was so lucky that my mother is a storyteller. I am! But not in the ways they imagined. I grew up immersed in stories (my father also told me amazing bedtime stories every night) and that has shaped my life. On the other hand, my mother was and is a serious professional. My experience of her was that she was often unavailable to me because she was writing or rehearsing or traveling. I have struggled with the good and less good parts of this legacy in my own artist/motherhood life with my sons. It isn't easy.
    My first book absolutely came, in part, out of my relationship with my mother. I did not set out to write a book about Persephone but when I looked at the poems I'd written over the course of 2-5 years I saw this unnamed story lurking in the backstory or understory of the poems. And I thought, wow, a story about a girl drawn to darkness who has this very powerful and somewhat overbearing and melodramatic mother... I know that story! And it is important, I think, for daughters to go through the process of retelling the stories of their lives and their mothers.
    I am so touched (and grateful) that you taught my book. It's a strange little book in a way. Very overt and hidden at the same time.

  4. May 20, 2007

    I can't wait to go back and read the book. That's so interesting that you had written a number of the poems first, and then connected it to the myth and sumperimposed that on a partially existing structure.
    We had such a good discussion about your book in class. It made me want to teach a class (one day) that looked at contemporary writers who deal with classical mythology. I made a quick list in my head of books that would fit on the list. Both of A.E. Stallings' books, Louise Gluck's most recent book, your first book, Paisley Rekdal's second book (with the long Myth of Atalanta poem), and then there could be a Xeroxed packet with individual pieces, like Merwin's Odysseus.
    If you were going to one day teach a course like that, what books would you include?
    best wishes, Jeffrey

  5. May 21, 2007
     Rachel Zucker

    I'd add: Olga Broumas' Beginning With O, Jorie Graham's The End of Beauty, Rita Dove's Mother Love, Anne Carson's Autobiography in Red, Carol Ann Duffy's The World's Wife, Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus. There is an anthology you might like: Orpheus and Company: Contemporary Poems on Greek Mythology edited by Deborah DeNicola. A good reference although I wouldn't use it as a course book. I'm also partial to Meadowlands by Gluck. I like Eavan Boland's poem, "The Pomegranate"
    I woke up this morning SO happy to be finished with the semester, but thinking about this class--I taught a course that had a few weeks on myth but was organized around the larger theme of poets writing in dialogue with other poets and texts--made me a little sad that my job at Fordham is finished.
    Teach on!