Open the pages as a stranger and emerge a well-versed friend in Diana Whitney’s debut book of poetry Wanting It. This deeply personal collection of poems invites readers to explore feelings of regret, love, confusion, and that inexplicable longing each of us feels when our hearts aren’t ready to admit their true desires. Whitney brings you along on her journey of self-realization, reflecting on the movement from herself as she once was to the woman she always wanted to be through beautiful imagery and clever metaphor.
More than a mere assortment of poems, this book reads more like a memoir exploring such issues as gender roles and self-identity. Divided into four sections, each speaks to a different time in the author’s life and the inner struggles she faces at each milestone. “Watched Pot,” the first of these sections, details the author’s life as a free-spirited young woman exploring her sexuality and what it means to be a member of the female gender. The honesty in her revelations is at times harrowing as it reaches into the hearts of her readers to establish a connection they may have never realized existed. She details her changing definition of feminism as one who freely gives her body away to “city mouse and country mouse” (Peckerville) alike to her realization that there is more to being a woman than entertaining the male gaze. This changing definition has a push and pull effect on the reader, causing them to fluctuate along with the author. Whitney uses the nature surrounding her farm town as a means to communicate her confusion. The readers feel the author’s confusion about her own understanding of what it means to be a woman through her inability to subscribe to one definition of feminism and womanhood, just as the nature surrounding her is unable to subscribe to just one season.
As the reader moves through each section, one cannot help but notice the continuous references to Whitney’s mother—a woman content to cook and clean the house while the men go about their days fishing and hunting. There are mixed feelings of admiration for her mother’s unwavering commitment and rejection of ever wanting to be contained to a life of servitude as she has chosen. Her poem “Making Babies” perfectly encapsulates these conflicting emotions. She looks upon the women in her town whose goal in life is to have a family to take care of with judgment, though not so harshly that by the end she finds herself wishing the same for her own life as she “[slips] under the quilt the way [she checks] for the mail, trusting there’s nothing in there.”
This inner conflict resonates throughout the book, often leaving the reader in a state of deep pontification. What do I really want? What are my own goals in life? Am I merely subscribing to what is expected of me as a woman/man? Too often poetry acts as a means of clarifying those emotions which are too difficult to articulate, as if the right string of words can explain all of life’s most challenging questions. Whitney defies this formula, expressing her own doubts and uncertainties about her desires and identity, leaving them ambiguous to the reader. Like her many comparisons between herself and the nature that surrounds her in her childhood farm town, her wants are ever-changing with the seasons. Perhaps that’s where her true desires lie; to be free to change as the weather and land, to not subscribe herself to anyone’s definition of self but her own.
Through her powerful imagery and expressive language, Whitney welcomes her readers to come to their own conclusions about their identities and desires. She opens her soul to anyone who cares to dive through the pages of self-discovery and resurface with a fresh understanding of themselves and of others. Wanting It is an impressive debut book from a poet with a firm grasp on the essence of human nature.