Diana Whitney debuts first poetry collection


BRATTLEBORO >> If you were a Greek god, you'd know what it means to commune with the moon. You'd know how it feels to move like a lynx and catch the hare.

You'd know that your body is kin to the sun, and that every shade and flower scent means another aspect of your moods. You'd know loneliness and you'd know desire, but no peace. You'd know succulent truth and insistent beauty, if you were a Greek god.

Or you could read Diana Whitney's first book of poetry, Wanting It, and know all the same things.

The night the moon turned to rust

we opened all our doors,

brought strangers to our kitchen

and danced in sheer dresses.

We wanted it to change us, the planet's shadow

moving like a spread of iodine

over white skin

Whitney's collection longs for spiritual ecstasy through the natural world. The poems heave with poppy stalks and hard winters. Apple and maple trees become the color of middle school danger, of teenage lust, of married love. Snakes arrive as wedding gifts:

...a fist-sized package marked

Thai Love Potion, a baby king cobra coiled in a bottle, pickled

in liquor & yellow rice wine. You drank it for virility,

for lust & faith.

In the search for impassioned meaning, Wanting It charts the earthy, epic struggle and glory of a woman's becoming. The central character of the poems seeks to experience herself wholly, her sex and her sorrow before saturated, immovable forces.

In "First Super Bowl at My House," the narrator sets the vision of her Apollonian lover, who "rises like the sun and shines all over" and "slides like hot butter into milk," against the stark image of a woman parked outside a general store:

The woman in her van doesn't want to go home,

maybe nobody's there, or worse than nobody, so she sits

in the dark when the pizza's gone, when the kids fall asleep

and the store shuts down, she watches the gas needle

slowly drop—half-tank, quarter-tank, eighth and drive.

The narrator is herself and the woman in the van; both are in thrall or debt to "an engine running that's not her own/though it keeps her warm, it gets her home." She is in both forms driving to the edge of feeling or action, watching the needle drop and the cold come over the game. She is lost and yet powerful, seeing as she does.

The ambition of the poems finds solid ground in Whitney's language. She chooses strong simple nouns and verbs, often one-syllable punches that expel sentimentality from the lines: "no one had the guts/or cash or time, we all watched as he kept on burning."

At the same time, images spool out as stories, as in "Trespass," where a walk leads to a November garden, to flower beds scraped clean, to a goddess stalking the woods, to a ravaged fury. There is logic in the images' progression that allows for great feeling and meaning, even when the narrative loosens.

"The Grove," a poem in the book's fourth and final section, "Channeling," most boldly marries the powerful and the humble elements of Whitney's work.

I'm a thousand flaming tongues of honeysuckle

exploding in bloom like a fever dream

...The god carries me into the grove.

He lays me down like an offering

in ferns and leaf litter, cherishes me

with his lips and hands

until my gold skin is flecked with black forest soil.

The woman who wants it becomes the goddess, and in ecstasy, in words, returns to earth.


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