Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel, woman poet extraordinaire, loved Valentine’s Day. Me, too, I told her; it was supposed to be my birthday but I was born three weeks early. “Oh, what a fine valentine that would’ve been for your dear mother,” she wrote me. A kindly soul, prolific poet and friendly epistolary pal, Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel lives with us everywhere in our apartment. Beneath our stacks of books piled leaning towers on footstools, stuffed in our rows of books on my roll-top and shelves, I can reach anywhere amongst the paper clutter and touch her when I find a treasure from Wilma: one of her books, drawings on the back of scrap paper, handwritten poems with those little raven-winged tildes separating her impeccable stanzas, bookmarkers she made from good recyclable cardboard, beautiful gilded prayer cards from the time she did a novena when a family member survived a crisis, perhaps salved by Wilma’s devoted prayers. She loved being a poet, she told us the last time she was able to telephone, the August before she died at age 88. “Us poets are special,” she said to us and did not speak one word of her suffering. A humanitarian, a loving anthropologist of her Okie kinfolks as she recounted tenderly and with wise humor their dusty hardscrabble lives, she loved, too, the unusual likes of crows—and Charles Bukowski. In all four Bukowski Reviews Pearl published, Wilma was frontrunner with a witty hagiography to him. You always remember where you were, what you were doing when someone special dies. I was frying eggs over-easy in my kitchen when Bukowski died. When Wilma died Friday, April 13, 2007, I was in that same small kitchen making cannelloni for that coming Sunday supper with three of my granddaughters, guest of honor my oldest one, whose husband, Charlie, a captain with the British Army, had been gone three weeks to serve a five-month tour of duty in Afghanistan. The plump creamy red-sauced cannelloni were not praised as highly as they usually are, none of us having much appetite, concerned about Charlie. He’d just called, not saying much, only enough to let my granddaughter know he was “okay.” As I patted my granddaughter’s arm—it was her mother for whom Wilma dedicated her novena—one of Wilma’s prayer cards caught my eye, the prettiest one of a golden-haired angel I’d tucked between Bukowski’s The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills and Wilma’s The Girl From Buttonwillow. “We are bog women,” I remembered she once told me, when I mentioned I was of Scottish descent too (both of us fair eyed, in need of soothing mists, not California heat waves). Bog Women. I imagine her now in a soothing mist between green knolls, someplace near North Yorkshire where my granddaughter lives now. An angel. She loved angels. Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel will make a good one.
—Joan Jobe Smith
“Wilma was one of the best poets we had . . . there was terrific honesty
in her work and sheer brilliance to the lyricism of her writing.”
—Robert Peters, Los Angeles Times, April 20, 2007
Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel
Courtesy Joan Jobe Smith and Pearl. Copyright protected. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright owner.
Funding for this project is provided in part by a grant from the Oklahoma Humanities Council (OHC) and the We the People initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this website do not necessarily represent those of OHC or NEH. Unless otherwise noted, photographs, select correspondence, handwritten poems, and other items, are Courtesy the estate of Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel; from the poet’s personal collection. Copyright protected. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright owner.