Walking Through Victoria’s Secrets

Poet Kate Daniels doesn’t know this — but we have had a long history together.  When  I was an undergraduate, poet Judy Vollmer used the book  Working Classics: Poems on Industrial Life in my composition class. I loved this book in so many ways, but was especially taken by one of Daniels’ poems, “Self Portrait with Politics” a narrative work about family politics at the kitchen family where a sister disagrees with her brother about work, politics and life choices.  The poem reminded me so much of my homelife (and in many ways, it still does), that I knew I just had to find other work by Daniels.  So I trotted to the used bookstore in town, and found a copy of Daniels’ The White Wave (winner of the 1983 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize) on the racks.  I read the copy over and over again until the cover curled, until the pages started to tear at the corners. 

When I was an adjunct at Penn State Altoona, I actually got to see/hear Kate Daniels read.  I remember sitting in the back row, a lonely adjunct who taught one night class, grasping my beloved copy of  The White Wave, waiting to go up after the reading to get my copy signed.  But I was going through a stage where I was embarrassed to ask for signatures.  So I didn’t — instead, I tucked my copy in my worn backpack, so that poetry and student papers acted as one, and went on my way.

Since that time I did purchase The Niobe Poems and  Four Testimonies, Daniels’ other collections published after The White Wave, but it has been years since I had read anything else by Daniels.  So I was very happy when Anthony got me Daniels’ newest collection, A Walk in Victoria’s Secret, for Valentine’s Day this past February.

Daniels’ newest collection did not disappoint — A Walk in Victoria’s Secret traces a southern upbringing intertwining personal and public history.  In “Autobiography of a White Girl Raised in the South” the poet explains, “From the beginning, then, there were always two: me and not-me./The one I was, white and skinny/straight brown hair.  And the one/I wasn’t but could’ve been—that black or brown girl, hair coarser/than mine, eyes darker, skin gleamier and smooth.”  In “Late Apology to Doris Haskins” the narrator offers a belated invitation: “Come in, lone black girl, and sit among us/And if there are twenty whites and only/one of you? No matter. New laws say/it must be so…”

Race issues intermix with class issues, and as Daniels explains in this brief interview, “I will always be thankful to Warren [Robert Penn Warren] for that sense of permission.  It allowed me to write about my people without apology or shame, and to claim the first-person details of our own experience as working people  – excluded until recently from Southern literary history.”  These working people’s lives are seen in such poems as “Doc” and “The Shampoo Girl.”

I haven’t done at lot of poetry reading lately — April has been overloaded by work from my day job — and this book has been sitting on my to-read shelf for weeks now.  I’m sorry it took me so long to pick it up.

 

 

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3 Comments »

  1. So glad to read about your relationship with the poet through her work. I had read individual poems but not a whole book. Must do that now!

  2. Thanks for this memory. It was great to see mention of book from the 80’s, as I tend to find so much focus in blogs and in academia on what’s the most current or stuff from bygone eras. Has me itching not only to read Daniels but to also pull some of my 80’s books off the shelf and re-read.

  3. kweyant Said:

    Daniels is well worth the read, Kathleen!

    Sandy, You are right. It does seem that “recent history” poetry is pushed to the back shelves rather quickly! Another favorite from that time period of my life is Leslie Ullman. I should look and see if she has a book out….


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