Creating Common Bonds Using Threads of the Web
by Sanora Bartels
Last November, I did something I’ve never done before and it paid off in a huge way. I contacted an established author about her work and it turned out to be an amazing experience. It affected my personal growth as a writer and gave me an incredible feeling of community in this sometimes lonely business of writing.
In October of 2004, I read a collection of poetry by Diane Wakoski called Emerald Ice: Selected Poems 1962-1987. It’s a marvelous book and won the Poetry Society of America’s William Carlos Williams award in 1988.
I related to Ms. Wakoski’s writing style because of the prose nature of her poetry. Even so, there was a repeating phrase, or more precisely, image, in her poetry that confused me as a reader. “The King of Spain” kept showing up in various poems and seemed to mean different people at different times. Ms. Wakoski uses nicknames and/or pseudonyms for various people in her life (including herself) so I was no stranger to this particular device. For instance, she often uses George Washington to indicate a paternal guardian, at times he is specifically her father (her father was absent for much of her childhood) and at others, he is simply that icon that she looks to for inspiration on how to be a grown up in any given situation. But “The King of Spain” had me stumped. Of course, I did what any modern reader does, I googled her. There were many bios with various poetry societies and several interview articles but none of them made mention of “the King”. I was back where I started, but then I noticed that one of the bios listed her position at Michigan State University and gave an email address.
I didn’t want to send her an email simply asking about “the King of Spain”, after all, if she came up with a pseudonym, it may be an indication of a desire for anonymity for that particular person. I decided to choose my favorite poems in the book and ask her about all three of them and then slip in “The King of Spain” as an “oh and by the way” kind of question. I sent a short single paragraph email to her and held my breath. Ms. Wakoski not only responded, but was incredibly generous. She answered all of my questions and offered her home email because she would have more time to correspond from there. I was thrilled. It was the beginning of what has become an important correspondence between a mentor and protégé. I began to discuss poetry and writing style in earnest with her and she responded with incredible insight and humor every time. We have since shared our current work with one another and I feel so lucky to have this extra “teacher” in my life. All of this stemmed from my having a question about a writer’s work and deciding that the best person to ask would be the writer themselves.
Oh, and Ms. Wakoski’s answer was that “the King of Spain” was a nickname she used for that “perfect man” or in her words:
“I invented the King of Spain as a fairy tale figure, one who was/is invisible. I invented him as the most desirable of all lovers, one [who] loved only me. He was sort of immortal, or like the Silver Surfer, a mythic figure surfing the galaxies for his missing lost love. Except that I was not missing, I was always there. But because he was invisible and I mortal and visible, he could only be with me as a spirit. The King of Spain in my mythology is always following me, like a benevolent stalker. Always there to protect me by his invisible presence, and to make me feel loved when mortal, fleshly men reject me…. The first man whom I called My King of Spain was my second husband, Michael Watterlond, …”
Of course, her second husband was not really the “perfect man” and indeed one of the poems I addressed in my original email to her was George Washington’s Camp Cups written the winter after her marriage with Michael ended.
Even with that interesting tidbit to chew on, the real lesson here is that the web has become a friend of anyone with literary interests. There are so many biographies and articles to peruse and incredibly, there is often a way to directly get in touch with your favorite author. Through this experience, I learned that famous writers are actually still simply “writers” and writing is, and always will be, a lonely profession. I think that many writers welcome the creative distraction and sometimes, inspiration, of a dialogue with another writer. I am grateful for my newly formed friendship with Ms. Wakoski and encourage you to seek out a mentor or favorite author and start a dialogue that believe me can only enrich your life as a writer and, I think, will give them a renewed relationship with their work and their reader.