Whitney ’95 publishes first poetry book
Writer, poet and yoga instructor Diana Whitney ’95 juggles writing and teaching yoga as owner of the Core Flow Yoga and Sport studio in Brattleboro. Her first book of poems, “Wanting It,” was published earlier this year, the product of 15 years of work.
How were you involved with the arts at Dartmouth?
DW: Dartmouth was an amazing place that nurtured my writing career. One of my first three classes was my freshman seminar with [creative writing professor] Cleopatra Mathis. It was an amazing class. We wrote these really powerful, long, very intense memoirs, and that was the beginning for me with the love of creative writing.
From then on, I took every creative writing class in the department. I was an English and creative writing major. It wasn’t just the academics, but it was a sense of community. The professors were gods and we looked up to them. I also did a little writing for The D. I helped start a women’s newspaper called “Spare Rib” — it was a really exciting time to be a woman and feminist on campus.
What did you do after graduation?
DW: I applied for the Rhodes Scholarship, and I didn’t think I was going to get it. It was really a stroke of good fortune that I got it. I went from this amazing, supportive community at Dartmouth and off to Oxford [University] — it was actually really hard for me there. It’s a very different academic system. That sense of community that I had at Dartmouth I didn’t have there.
I ended up meeting a handful of other poets, and we formed a poetry group. That’s what kept creative writing alive for me. Oxford is very traditional where there was a focus on literary analysis. By the time I finished my finals exams at Oxford, I was ready to be just a normal person and not a student. I moved home, and I coached rowing at Williams College. Then I moved to northern Vermont, which was the opposite of Oxford. I lived in a tiny cabin and was really roughing it. I loved that, and it was a very magical time.
I eventually went on to do a [Master of Fine Arts] in poetry at Warren Wilson College. I actually never ended up finishing that degree. I got sick and became depressed. I took off time, and it was the first time in my life that I hadn’t been the perfect student. Things happen in your life that you’re not expecting and it can be a real roadblock.
How did your career evolve to include both writing and yoga?
DW: I’ve always been a physical, kinetic person, and that’s what I’ve struggled with — the action of writing — it’s very sedentary. I’m a lifelong athlete. I started yoga at Dartmouth as a gym class. At one point, I was training to be on the women’s national skiing team. I got really into yoga as a counterbalance for the intensity of athletic training for skiing. Eventually, the spiritual aspect of yoga became more important to me. I started teaching yoga while I was doing my MFA. People ask me how the two things interact. It’s not a fully integrated act. Yoga keeps me grounded and keeps my anxiety down, and I think it’s important for managing depression. It keeps a clear flow of energy through the body, which is amazing.
What inspires your work?
DW: I am drawn to powerful, personal, women poets who write really deeply and who are tackling tough subjects. I love myths and fairy tales. They are beyond the normal everyday realm that is kind of forgotten, and you can delve into that through poetry. I write a lot about desire and longing, loss, love, impossible love or childhood things.
What themes do you explore in your book of poetry?
DW: “Wanting It” tells a story of self-discovery through love and desire. It really explores our longing, longing for connections, for nature, for something vaster with some mysterious otherness that we can’t put into words. It is about a love affair with nature where the speaker of the poems is inhabited with the natural world. She really feels a part of it, and it is a part of her.
You also wrote a prose column for a couple of years. How did that happen?
DW: My dad passed away just before I had my first child. Those two experiences caused me to go mute. When I did start writing again, I started writing these prose essays, which I called “Split Milk.” It turned into a parenting column that I wrote every week for four years. It was dealing with these questions of mothers judging each other and perfectionism and trying to bring a sense of humor [to that]. Sometimes it went into some darker material.
I only started writing poetry again in 2012, [when I became] a part of a great writing group. That community of writers inspired me to write again. The next project is to get “Spilt Milk” out as a collection of essays. I would call it a memoir of personal essays. I got a great response from it, so I’m trying to compile it and look for a publisher.
This interview has been edited and condensed