· Diane Wahto ·
Diane Wahto’s combination of lyrical and descriptive power in her poetry makes music in my mind. The Sad Joy of Leaving is an emotional, imaginative, and beautiful book.
Wahto had a stroke last December but she’s recovering well. Now, she’s back and busy producing material for her second book of poems that a publisher has requested.
I won’t mention Diane’s age, but anytime a writer tells the reader that she used to own a ’47 Chevy, you can do the math. This is a memory in “Fathers Day.”
He taught me how to fix
my ’47 Chevy
and make it run again.
When you think about it, productive writers are constantly revealing personal experiences that others might keep secret. Why? Because artists, including writers, understand that some of their best material is from their emotional roller-coaster ride. Besides, they can’t help it.
One single sentence in “Sunday Dinner at Grandmother’s House,” creates a cautionary tale. Grandmother calls Uncle Howard a liar but he warns Diane.
me be careful of Granddad.
Wahto seems to always find good news in the bad. In her poem “The Yellow Dress,” my favorite, she’s a victim of domestic violence but gets out alive after thirteen long years.
He ripped her yellow dress, the dress the color
of spring flowers, the dress with the white
stripe down the front that neatly defined
her body, saying he had always hated that dress on her.
“I’m really interested in you commenting about writing memoir, poetry or prose, when the PTSD memory is/was dark. I caution writers to be careful because sometimes the subject is too recent or too raw. My question to you is, ”How do you handle a bad memory when you’re visiting it in your writing?’
“Author Bonnie Tharp told us at a Kansas Authors Club, District 5 meeting, how ten years ago she tried to write her novel, Your Every Move, about her college experience with a stalker. She soon learned she wasn’t ready so decided to wait. Ultimately, fairly recently, Tharp was able to complete it and feel empowered from it! It was cathartic for her.
“So, I recommend to other writers: don’t push it, be careful, and listen to your body.
“But what do you think, Diane? What’s your advice? Is waiting one answer? How long after you left your marriage with ‘The Yellow Dress’ husband did you create the poem? Can you tell me about composing it? Sometimes a poem takes years to write! I know the memory must still be emotional for you because you said you weren’t sure if you were going to be able to read the whole thing at your book launch.”
“I never thought of myself as having PTSD,” replied Diane. “I did something I had to do, and I was sure I needed to do it. My three sons were young then and I couldn’t let them grow up with a man who abused me. He had already started doing mean things to my oldest. As far as the bad memory, I saw a picture of myself with the kids when we were dressed up for Easter service a year or so ago. I was wearing that yellow dress, one of my favorites. That brought back the memory of what happened to me and to the dress. This happened in 1972, a long time ago, and while I still had bad memories of what happened, I also got on with my life. I had kids to take care of, I needed a job, and I needed to get back on my feet. It helped that I had a friend who was also a single mother and we talked a lot about the problems of raising kids without a dad. I also had parents and brothers who gave me moral support.
“The kids and I returned to Baxter Springs where I grew up. My parents were happy we were there and Dad helped me find a job at the bank. I hated the job, so I decided to go back to college and get a master’s degree. Eventually, the kids and I moved to Pittsburg. I had three jobs when I was going to school, including working on the student newspaper. That job helped me get my job as a journalism teacher at Winfield High School, a job I really enjoyed. By then I was married to my second husband—handsome and a good dancer, but not very good husband material. He went back to the west coast where he was from. I missed him for about thirty seconds. However, he never abused me.
“I missed Michigan terribly. My first husband and I had a beautiful house on the Black River and we lived close enough to Lake Huron to drive there and swim. I missed my friends and I hated to leave the good schools up there, but it was worth it in the long run.
“As I said, this poem came from an old picture. It took me about thirty minutes to write. My best poems come quickly to me. If I have to labor over a poem, it’s usually not good. I compressed the memory into the poem. It wasn’t leaving my husband that made me sad. It was the life I liked in Michigan. He remarried and beat on his next wife, but he became ill and died when he was 61. His widow and I are friends. She has married a really nice guy and the kids have adopted her as another grandmother.
“When I read the poem at the reading, yes, I felt tears come into my eyes. I was thinking of all the things I left behind in Michigan, a place I loved. I also thought of all the women who have been abused by their husbands. However, I made it through the poem with no problem, then I read some happier poems after that before my time was up.
“I have a lot of bad memories from my past unrelated to my abusive husband. When I first started writing poetry, I became obsessive about those memories. Eventually, I moved on to different, more interesting subjects. I met the man I’m married to now. We’ve been together since 1981, married since 1996. He’s smart, strong, and takes care of a lot of things around the house and the yard, things I can’t do now. I love him and I would find it hard to live without him. My three kids are all doing well. They have wonderful wives and amazing children. They’re all successful. I’m one lucky woman.”
Check out Diane’s blog at https://poetofacertainage.wordpress.com/
The Sad Day of Leaving may be purchased at Blue Cedar Press https://bluecedarpress.com/, where they publish excellent and courageous literature.
Until next time, happy writing and reading!
Tracy Million Simmons says
You’ve uncovered some stories beneath the poems. Wonderful poet. Wonderful person. So glad to have Diane in my writing community. Thank you for the interview, Jim.
Jim Potter says
Thanks for your encouragement, Tracy!
I enjoyed your interview with Diane Wahto. A woman to be admired for so many reasons.
Thank you, Jim. The ’47 Chevy was ancient when my dad bought it. But, yes, I’m officially a senior citizen.
Jim Potter says
You’re welcome. Thanks for taking the time. We’re all so busy.
Jim, I loved the blog post and hearing about the poetry directly from Diane!I have to have her book now!! Rae