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Favorite Poems – “You, Letting the Trees Stand as My Betrayer” by Diane Wakoski November 7, 2010

Posted by vscorpiozine in Favorite Poems.
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The Norton Anthology of Poetry was required reading for my beginning poetry workshop in college.  I lugged the 1,000 plus page tome to and from class joyfully, hoping to discover new gems very week. Already well-acquainted with confessional poets like Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton , I leafed through the book, hoping to find similar poets with less of a suicidal bent. And that’s when I saw the quirky title – “You, Letting the Trees Stand as My Betrayer”. Sounded dramatic enough, but I needed to check out the poet’s bio before reading.   The blurb that introduced the poet’s selections passed muster with my teenage feminist leanings. She was a “deep image” poet from Berkeley named Diane Wakoski, and had written books with titles like “Inside the Blood Factory” and “Dancing on the Grave of a Son of a Bitch.” This was gonna be good! I read the poem, a melancholy yet vengeful diatribe against an ex-lover, a few times and it made me cry. Big, salty tears splattered all over the onionskin-thin pages of the Norton Anthology.  I underlined these lines with my yellow marker-: “You, who understood me in the rain/or at least accepted me.” They didn’t remind of any lost love. I was only 18, and hadn’t fallen in love yet, but the words drew out something inside me, perhaps a premonition of things to come.

The poem soon turned ugly

“You ride past wintry trees
and summer trees
and never once think of me.
But my friends are the falling branches
That will tilt you
And snap your neck one day.”

No pop song about unrequited love could compete with that! Woah! Talk about intense. Despite the death wish, the poem struck me as wistful and sad more than anything, and I envisioned tree branches swaying in the rain, outside a bedroom window at night and that strange sense of longing you get when you want something you just can’t have.

I went out to Kroch’s and Brentano’s and bought the copy of Wakoski’s now out of print book “The Motorcycle Betrayal Poems.” She is still one of my favorite poets, even though some of her poems (in this volume, at least) and their self-deprecating tone turn me off now.  With experience and the perspective it brings, I appreciate the last poem in “Motorcycle Betrayal” poems, “The Pink Dress” more than its highly lauded pieces. One of the stanzas reads:

“But I went off
Not wearing the pink dress,
Thinking how much I love you
And how if a woman loves a man who does not love her,
It is, as some good poet said,
A pain in the ass
For both of them.”

Most articles about modern poetry approach it from a critical or analytical perspective. I prefer the emotional one. I always found it hard to decipher or deconstruct a poem, on the spot, in class. My emotional or visceral response to a good poem struck me first, and stayed with me long after I’d turned in any term papers or critiques.

–Jade Blackmore



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