Scholarly Comments on Diane Wakoski Poetry
After searching for a scholarly source who had written a substantial review on a poem by Wakoski, I was unsuccessful. However, I did find an extensive general review of her writing as a whole as opposed to a review of a specific poem. I applied the comments by these professional authors to the poem Belly Dancer and inferred from these scholarly observations.
Toby Olson, the writer of the book Margins, commented on Wakoski’s style of writing. “One of the central forces of Wakoski’s poems proceeds from a fundamentally serious playfulness”. This can correlate to the poem Belly Dancer quite well. In this poem, the imagery of a beautiful and charming belly dancer is the focus. When I think of the words “belly dancer”, I think of exotic, sensuality, and a playfulness. Belly dancers are symbolic for seduction, entrancement and timid sexuality, which I believe can fall within the category of “serious playfulness”.
“One of their most compelling qualities is their obsessiveness: the need at every turn to digress, to let the magic of the words take her where they will, because they are so beautiful…” states Olson. The somewhat mystery and seduction the entails with a belly dancer leads to the tone of the poem.
The setting of the story is never clearly stated, however I inferred the setting and situation through imagery. I imagined a setting of men and women watching a belly dancer for entertainment. The narrator, I believe, is the dancer herself. The narrator comments and observes the reactions from the audience being entertained by the dancer, stating that the women in the audience “laugh stiffly” or look away in fear; that the women are scared of the movements. These leads me to believe that some of these women were uncomfortable with the showcase of sexuality the belly dancer was demonstrating. The line stating that these women “keep themselves laced and buttoned and made up” infers that they are conservative, plain, and not willing to “explore” themselves or their ability to be sensual.
Wakoski then describes the dancer as a snake gliding across the floor. Snakes can be associated and symbolize slyness and sexiness, much like a belly dancer may be described as.
By the poem’s end, it leaves the reader perhaps questioning the sexual orientation of the dancer or the observer. By saying “they do not realize how I scorn them/or how I dance for their frightened/unawakened/sweet/women”. Here, Wakoski reveals some of the dancers thoughts as she dances, that she is not only dancing for the men’s entertainment, but also for their “unawakened” women. It could be inferred that maybe the dancer has the urge to explore her sexuality with women as well as men. This could be supported by the background of Wakoski: since she did a majority of her writing and experimentation during the “beat generation”, it has been said that she was known to experiment with drugs as well as her sexual orientation to seek inspiration.
“In many of Wakoski’s poems the obsessive muse focuses on the idea of beauty. Taken as a whole, her work may be regarded as a linguistic/poetic quest for beauty.” Author Mark Harris stated this which is an observation I too believe. In the poem Belly Dancer, external beauty is a main focus. The tone of the poem is sensual, passionate and exotic. The idea of beauty is the characteristic in which the poem centers and builds off of in many aspects of the poem, including the description of the dancer’s clothing, the seducing movements and the “awakening desire” of the audience. Since belly dancers are a symbol for beauty among other things mentioned, it is clear that Wakoski is enticed by the mezmorizing movements of the dancer.
“Belly Dancer” by Diane Wakoski
Can these movements which move themselves
be the substance of my attraction?
Where does this thin green silk come from that covers my body?
Surely any woman wearing such fabrics
would move her body just to feel them touching every part of her.
Yet most of the women frown, or look away, or laugh stiffly.
They are afraid of these materials and these movements
in some way.
The psychologists would say they are afraid of themselves, somehow.
Perhaps awakening too much desire-
that their men could never satisfy?
So they keep themselves laced and buttoned and made up
in hopes that the framework will keep them stiff enough not to feel
the whole register.
In hopes that they will not have to experience that unquenchable
desire for rhythm and contact.
If a snake glided across this floor
most of them would faint or shrink away.
Yet that movement could be their own.
That smooth movement frightens them-
awakening ancestors and relatives to the tips of the arms and toes.
So my bare feet
and my thin green silks
my bells and finger cymbals
offend them-frighten their old-young bodies.
While the men simper and leer-
glad for the vicarious experience and exercise.
They do not realize how I scorn them;
or how I dance for their frightened,