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For the “Poet Photos” portfolio in our November issue we invited each poet to tell us more about the circumstances behind his or her photograph. Diane Wakoski’s note was too long for us to include in the portfolio, but it’s so lovely that we want to share it with you here. She writes:
In 1961 I was living on Bank Street in New York City with avant-garde composer La Monte Young, with whom I had come from Berkeley to NYC in September of 1960. I was working at the British Book Centre on 55th Street and going weekly to poetry readings run by Howard Ant and Ree Dragonette at the 10th Street Coffeehouse (owned by Mickey Ruskin, who later owned Les Deux Megots Coffeehouse — where we read poetry in a series organized by Paul Blackburn — and who even later opened the artists’ bar, Max’s Kansas City). My life was poetry and nothing else, aside from the hours I spent earning a small living at the bookstore, where I worked from 9-6, six days a week for a salary of $55.
In 1961 I still wore my somewhat prim schoolgirl clothes, as you see in the snapshot, even though I was a Berkeley beatnik, with black tights and long hair. I suppose I was two people? Had I always been? Am I still? By day, I was the proper bookstore clerk, my hair tidily pinned up, who had to lie about living with La Monte, since we weren’t married and I probably couldn’t have kept my job if anyone knew. By night I was the long-haired poet, full of rage and sadness, reading my poems, begging for purity, for love, for beauty, and for justice.
I am tempted to send you another photo I found on the next page of the scrapbook. From 1962, it depicts me building a large sandcastle at the beach. I used to take the subway, the Coney Island line, all the way to the end to go to Riis Park on Sundays. I went by myself and built sand castles and worked on a tan, while reading. It made me so happy. Despite being a California girl, I had spent very little of my life at the beach, and I had never before gotten a tan! New York. How I loved living in New York. Everything about it.
She was even kind enough to send us the sandcastle photograph:
The photograph at the top of this post, of Wakoski in the garden, was sent to us in 1961 to mark her first appearance in Poetry. Here’s the beginning of her first poem, “Apparitions Are Not Singular Occurrences”:
When I rode the zebra past your door, wearing nothing but my diamonds, I expected to hear bells and see your face behind the thin curtains. But instead I saw you, a bird, wearing the mask of a bird, with all the curtains drawn, the lights blazing, and death drinking cocktails with you. In your thin hand, like the claw of a bird, because you are a bird, the drink reflected the light from my diamonds, passing by.
You can read the rest of the poem in its original setting in the May 1961 issue.
Today is the last day for the Poet Photos exhibition at the Poetry Foundation, so stop by if you haven’t already! If you can’t make it, be sure to check out the online slideshow to get a sample of what’s on view.