By Amanda Weber
Assistant News Editor
The eighteenth season of the Contemporary Writers’ Series came to a close for the semester this week at Canisius. The final speaker brought in for the series was the poet Diana Goetsch. Some of these accomplishments include having her work featured in The New Yorker and Best American Poetry. Goetsch also has her own independent publishing company and online bookstore called Jane Street Press and had the opportunity to write a column for The American Scholar. This column, titled “Life in Transition,” details her life and development as a transgender woman. This event took place in Grupp Fireside Lounge on March 29, 2017 at 7p.m.
The event opened with the chair of the Department of English Department at Canisius, Dr. Mick Cochrane, saying a few words about the achievements of Goetsch, mentioning her accolades and awards, and he also provided a history on her teaching career. Goetsch is currently a freelance poet and performs writing-intensive workshops out of her New York City apartment. Goetsch previously taught creative writing to teens who were incarcerated in the Bronx and taught students in the New York City public school system.
Goetsch also visits colleges and participates in panels across the country, and offers to help students with their writing or even review their work. This is detailed on her website, which outlines opportunities for individuals to get her expertise on their writing including her free writing intensive workshop, which “is a course developed to radically transform our approach to writing and accelerate our progress.” Dr. Cochrane closed with his personal thoughts on Goetsch’s poetry and praised her for the “emotional honesty” on display in her work.
“We need language that illuminates rather than injures and connects rather than divides,” said Cochrane.
When Goetsch took the podium, she first expressed her personal admiration for an audience member, Carl Dennis, a Pulitzer Prize-winner for his poetry book “Practical Gods.” She then began to read examples of her work, some that the audience may be familiar with from her book “Nameless Boy,” as well as completely new material. She began with a poem called “One Good Thing.”
The beginning of the poem reads, “Who knows how / you’ve gotten here, / but you can always / do one good thing. / In fact, you should. / Wash a dish or / water a plant. / That’s not nothing.”
In some of her her newer works, Goetsch made it clear that there is an underlying theme of her transition. In one of her works, she detailed how her brother reacted to her decision to transition. Instead of being open and accepting, he continued to refer to Goetsch as a man and did so seven times in one letter written to her. Although he agreed to go to New York City to meet with her and discuss their “brotherhood,” Goetsch decided that this was not a viable option and told him to “stay home and Google how to respect a trans person.”
The last line of the poem read, “I signed it with a word he couldn’t say: my name.”
Goetsch also read one of her poems regarding politics, which she wrote about the rhetoric and mudslinging of the campaign. This poem was called “A Proposal,” and she did not write it about racism or abortion. She sarcastically wrote about Donald Trump’s hair as an issue of national importance. She expressed her dislike for his hair, and did not want Americans to come to accept it, but to continue to see its absurdity. However, she notes that this analysis of Trump’s hair has “nothing to do with body shaming,” but a political comment. However, as the poem claims, “That’s not style. It’s not even human.”
In the question-and-answer portion of the event, one audience member referred to Goetsch’s style as a poet by saying that Goetsch had “the ability to combine laugh-out-loud humor and profound meaning.”
Goetsch went on to talk about her transition process and why she did not make this decision earlier on in life. Currently, Goetsch is 53 years old. She made the decision to transition at 50. Although she revealed that she was cross-dressing all throughout her adult life in New York City, she did not make the decision to transition until later in life because of her love for women.
“The women I loved didn’t seem to love women,” said Goetsch.
Another audience member continued with discussing Goetsch’s transition and asked how she picked out the name Diana. Goetsch responded that, while she was cross dressing, she used to call herself Tina. Goetsch liked this name because it was the most feminine name she could think of. However, when she decided to transition, her friend was honest with her and said that she did not look like a Tina. Goetsch agreed with her. Then, the friend looked at her and said, “You’re more of a Diana.”
When an audience member asked a question about writer’s block, Goetsch admitted that she did not experience it much. However, she revealed that she believes that writer’s block is necessary for some writers and should not have such a negative connotation associated with it. She believes that there is an “intelligence about writer’s block,” as it indicates that your work is not up to your usual standards. However, she also indicated that writers need to be able to be open and should not be so focused on perfectionism in their work. Instead, “opening up and seeing what happens” is the route that she encourages writers to take.
She concluded the event with describing the audience as both “intelligent and good-looking.” After her talk ended, a reception followed and students who were interested were able to have Goetsch sign copies of her poetry for them.