Poetry Matters

Poet and Memoirist Diana Raab's Muse: Anais Nin

Diana Raab

We don’t see things as they are,

we see them as we are.

– Anais Nin (1903-1977)

Poets often use other poets’ lines to inspire a poem, but Diana Raab has taken the idea further in titling her latest collection Dear Anais: My Life in Poems for You (Plain View Press, 2008). The book begins with a love letter to the highly acclaimed diarist, whose journals Raab discovered 10 years ago. Raab draws parallels between her life and Nin’s, but even more poignantly, she thanks her. “You’ve taught me the intrinsic value of the written word,” Raab writes, “how to dig deeper into my emotional truth, and the importance of having love in my life.”

Nin began writing a diary at age 11, about the same age Raab began journaling. Both young girls used their journals to cope with grief; Nin lost her father, Raab, her beloved grandmother. Nin is known to have had many lovers. In addition to her diaries and essays, she was one of the first women to explore erotic writing. Many of Raab’s poems dance with the same theme.

I told you that I couldn’t

do anything on demand,

not even tell you what a

great lover you were :

except of course

if you asked me with your seductive voice

to make love in that hammock again,

hanging upside down like the sloth

we spotted at the zoo today,

everything in slow motion :

-from “On Demand”

“I only believe in fire,” Nin famously wrote. “Being myself on fire, I set others on fire.” She spurred a generation of women, Raab among them, to take up writing journals and memoirs. Today, Raab gives workshops around the country, and teaches at UCLA and at the annual Santa Barbara Writers Conference. Among others, she shares with her muse the qualities of honesty and charm. At a recent reading and book-signing at Tecolote Book Shop, she sat under an exquisite magnolia tree sharing poems with an audience of friends and fans. It was hard to know who was having the most fun. Raab has learned to laugh at herself by going into the dark moments of her life and finding light.

In a poem to her grandmother-who took her life at age 60 when Raab was only 10, and with whom Raab was very close-she writes:

I’ve learned from you

never to give up, but to find

a passion and thank you.

I did.

I live to write

so I shall never die.

-from “To Dettner (My Grandmother)”

Raab’s memoir about the impact of her grandmother’s life and suicide, titled Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal, won the 2008 Indie Award for memoir and received high honors including the National Best Books Award sponsored by U.S.A. Book News for Memoir/Autobiography.

Raab’s poems, like her memoir, speak of a deep love and affection for her family: a beloved grandfather who died suddenly of a heart attack at 83, which caused her to take LSD to escape the pain; her father, a Holocaust survivor who taught ice skating at Rockefeller Center; her mother who loved horses; and her proud and courageous Aunt Lily, her “Navigator,” who also endured years in a concentration camp. Anyone who grew up in the ’60s will appreciate the poems dealing with her teenage rebelliousness, but Raab also writes about moving forward, and how the practice of writing helped her face life, illness, and the possibility of death. Through it all, her poems reflect a positive spirit, as in “Toast”:

Pour the champagne;

clap for the exuberances;

bow to the accomplishments;

and flush all the sorrows.

Nin advised her students “to cry out” and “sing” in their writing; Raab’s poems do just that. Her next reading is Saturday, December 13, at the Karpeles Manuscript Library (21 W. Anapamu St.) at 2 p.m.


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