I discovered Wakoski’s “Greed”

Oh that great American pastime. What The New Oxford American Dictionary defines as an intense and selfish desire for something. We usually associate greed with money and the things that money buys, but when I discovered Diane Wakoski’s take on this component of the seven deadly sins, I found a definition I couldn’t forget. In her series of poems The Collected Greed: Parts 1 – 13 Wakoski casts a broad net that catches all of us:

“Greed, I keep reminding you,
is the failure to choose. The unwillingness to pick one thing over
another. Wealth or simplicity; you cannot have both. Accord,
 agreement, harmonious relations with others or your honesty; you
cannot have both. The
telling of the truth
is not beautiful; does not make people feel good.
I do not think any alternative is absolutely right or wrong.
I do know that it is absolutely wrong not to commit yourself
to one alternative or the other.”

Wakoski started her Greed poetry series in 1968 and then added to it through the years. Number 13 was completed in 1984. (She has since published #14 in 2000 within another collection, The Butcher’s Apron.)  The poems read like diary entries, confessional, complaining, judging and, for the most part, laying out in plain, unmistakable view what we chose to ignore — that which motivates our desires.  Her rants and raves are refreshingly honest and come from the poetry confessions of the 1960s and early ’70s (à la Anne Sexton), a time when poets expressed confessional anger, angst and sin way before writers began dumping them into memoirs. You can hear Wakoski’s unique strong and plaintive voice in these poems, and I relished all of her emotions about self and others because they felt alive and real.

She’s been writing for decades — her first poetry book published in 1962 — and there are  many poetry books to show for it. Along with the Greed collection, I’ve read the slim volume/poem Thanking My Mother for Piano Lessons (1969), a signed copy published by Perishable Press in 1969 (see below) that I purchased at an antiquarian book fair. (You can read the poem here.) It’s more of  that unforgettable autobiographical voice and a beautiful poem, and it later became part of Wakoski’s well-known collection, The Motorcycle Betrayal Poems (1971).

That’s where I am with Wakoski — in discovery. All of her books except for three new collections, published during the last 10 years, are out of print, and I like finding them by chance in used bookshops and at antiquarian fairs. I’ve purchased Cap of Darkness (1980)  and Waiting for the King of Spain (1976), two collections sitting on the bookshelf for someday reading.  I must get ahold of those motorcycle betrayals.

Updated 5.16.11 with a new image of The Collected Greed Parts 1-13.

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