Enough cannot be written about desire. Desire will not let us hold or master it. Instead, we are both lucky and pained to dwell in its atmosphere, an atmosphere changing so quickly we would need an atomic clock to trace its movements.
Anne Carson’s Eros the Bittersweet invites us into a space where desire, where Eros—its play of opposites, its ever-elusive pleasure and torment—become our study. Diana Whitney’s debut poetry collection, Wanting It, makes a similar gesture. Even before we encounter Whitney’s poems, the title reminds us that desire, the state of wanting, is ongoing, a horizon point continually ahead and yet never reached. This work explores the role of time in shaping desire, an exploration the collection approaches through its subjects, structure, and shifts in its speakers’ sensibilities. Summer memories, blossoming, and the intoxication of adolescence and young womanhood give way to “The Winter Room,” where
Wind slips through each cedar clapboard,
through plaster, horsehair, lyme—no difference
between the air outside
and in here,
Next spring thaw, soon marriage, and yet nothing about the cycles and seasons in Wanting It is complacent or predictable. The speakers in these poems fling open the doors and are brave enough to breathe in the bittersweet discomfort provided by such daring and vulnerability. These stanzas from “Wanting It” and “Geese-going Moon” capture the raw wholeheartedness in Whitney’s work well:
The new underwire bit into my ribs, pushed
me up and I caught the mirror, wanted it, cocked a hip,
wanted it—front seat, back seat,
down on the floor, brag of bruises
blooming like plums on my neck, tender,
bad and legitimate. . .
A hundred geese in a shaved cornfield
fuel their passage to another realm.
One cardinal caught in wild-rose briars, scarlet daub
on monochrome. And we’re still here
Scanning the roadsides, reading the full moon, bracing
for the long haul.
Wanting It underscores that what we desire says more about us than the object desired. The “It” of the book’s title and titular poem could be sex, could be everything and nothing, mysterious and unnamable longing, or as precise as a white bull described as a “fat pearl in the grass, muscles twitching / beneath the sheen of his hide.” Wanting may not be unique to any one of us, but our states of wanting are individual, a singularity shaped by all of the particularities contributing to our makeup. The power and beauty of the natural world and of rural life, support, put pressure on, and shape these poems. As do mythology and a deep sense of place, and nature is capacious enough for all of these: metaphor, meaning, setting, and to serve as teacher. A pregnant woman is “like the great cloud of apple blossom / Wreathing the treetops, too radiant, too much” (6). In “Outer Heron II,”
Even the air here smells of migration.
Even the channel bell clangs us a warning—
changing, changing, changed.
Nature provides an open channel to the sensual world in Wanting It, providing one of the many pleasures of this text. Through these poems, sensuality approaches what Cixous calls “a real liberation of sexuality, that is to say, a transformation of each one’s relationship to his or her body (and the other body), an approximation to the vast, material, or organic, sensuous universe that we are.” The bold, unashamed lyric of that sexuality and desire is part of this work’s strength. Not a hint of performing boldness or vulnerability in these pages, just honest interrogation fashioned into elegant, challenging lines. Here, the you could be the beloved or the very act of writing:
Every way I try to render you is wrong,
pulling the thread of language through the eye
of winter, cinching it tight, stitching up the season.”
Such double valences run throughout Wanting It, creating a text that reaches toward but never attempts to domesticate all of the pleasure and longing these poems and Whitney’s readers bear witness to.