For Poetry, Daniel Nester looks at a new release of the classic Wakoski work The Motorcycle Betrayal Poems. I remember discovering her work in the 90s and being fascinated.
The re-release is another victory lap in Waksoki’s impressive and in many ways unlikely six-decade career, well-mythologized over more than 30 collections. Wakoski’s work is a sui generis mix of Deep Image, Confessional, Beat, and New York School poetics, one that Lynn Melnick classifies, in a Los Angeles Review of Books essay, as “enduring badassery.” Wakoski herself has long resisted labels: most notably, feminist and Confessional. She has also resisted the strain of criticism and condescension reserved for independently minded female writers who draw on their own lives for material.
“I’ve had, you know, 80 percent negative reviews and 20 percent good ones,” Wakoski tells me. “But the negative ones never really gave me anything to work with. One of the things that always made me mad about poetry criticism, for the most part, was that it wasn’t very useful.”