Posts Tagged ‘Katie Daniels’

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.