VIDA Interview with Anne Waldman: “From the Larynx”
Anne Waldman–poet, performer, professor, editor and cultural activist– is the author of over forty books of poetry, including the recent book-length hybrid narrative poem Manatee/Humanity published by Penguin Poets in 2009, and the editor and co-editor of numerous anthologies, including Civil Disobediences: Poetics and Politics in Action, and Beats at Naropa (2009), both published by Coffee House Press. The Iovis Trilogy: Colors in the Mechanism of Concealment, a feminist epic project of over a quarter century will be published by Coffee House Press in June of 2011. She is the co-founder with Allen Ginsberg (who called Waldman his “spiritual wife”) of the renowned Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, the first Buddhist inspired school in the West, where she is Chair and Artistic Director of The Summer Writing program, a program they began together with Diane diPrima in 1974.
Amy King: Where does writing originate for you?
Anne Waldman: From the larynx, from the imagination, from the writing of others through many centuries, a continuum I feel part of. Each project has a particular demand.
“I say it is what one loves” in the words of Sappho. And also this sense of wanting to show the world what it could be as you make it over in language.
Amy King: How does writing function in the world? Is there a reason, goal or purpose in the act of writing and putting your words into the world? Is writing a kind of faith?
Anne Waldman: It’s a safer or saner haven, particularly in these times. But we are faced with the coming supercosm which will have technological machinery carry our moist warm environment of the pre-Phanerozoic micrososm into the future, as interestingly non-human as the past. Clone poets? No human period has ever existed without poetry — oral or written. I think we are originally “wired” for this in our larynx-zone — it’s as essential as food, water and breathing. Through attention to nuanced language, human poets might mirror back the world, help other humans toward an intuitive understanding of ideas, sound, emotion, gesture, visual possibilities. Not to mention history, psychology, anthropology and so on. But to also be a challenge, you don’t just “get” it all on one reading or hearing. I am interested in the magical properties of language — its sound and image, its logopoeia . I consider myself a field poet, an investigative poet, “an archeologist of morning” (Olson’s term). And to see the world, its exigencies, tragedies in a “new light” or a refreshed light through a heightened perception of language is what I try to do. Spiritual perhaps, but also a down-to-earth practice. A way into my own consciousness, into body, dreamscapes, other considerations of space, time, neuralinguistics, astronomy and so on – back and forth, up and down the spiral. And “lalita”- the “play”, delight in the particulars. And maybe we will leave a trace- who knows – poetry archives on the moon or Mars? I appreciate the fragments of Sappho!
Amy King: In your Tricycle interview with John Tranter, you elaborate on your idea of the “Outrider.” Could you talk about this position in the literary context, especially as it relates to literature written by women?
Anne Waldman: It’s a term we’ve used over the years at The Jack Kerouac School at Naropa University, a program founded by myself and Allen Ginsberg in 1974 which is part of the first Buddhist inspired university in the US and is situated in Boulder, Colorado. “Outrider” is not “outsider”, but rides alongside the mainstream, intervenes upon it, but keeps her autonomy. Originally an attendant on horse-back who rides ahead or alongside the going vehicles. In Buddhism ones talks about the different “vehicles”. And often tantric deities are riding mounts of different kinds. Tigers, buffalos, sows.
Outrider is another rhizome, another complexity, not static, but in constant motion. Many experimental women have evolved new writing strategies and performances beyond the left-hand margin look and content-driven epiphany of the poem. Ambitious projects that eschew the master scriptures of shape and form which have been male gendered for centuries. There’s also reclamation back to older less theistic forms of practice. The outrider also seems socially, culturally engaged, involved with creating alternative infra-structures, aside the academic mainstream. Less careerist, if you will. And the autopoietic view of life is circular. The “poem” as such is a metabolic machine that stores information in order to resist breaking down.
Amy King: Please tell us about your book, “Iovis,” a “25 year mediation on patriarchy and war,” and how poetry like this can enact cultural intervention in a world rife with strife beyond the “world of letters.” Or is there no division between these worlds? What is the value of cultural activism?
Anne Waldman: I’ve just finished the third book or final cantos of this 1000 page work: The Iovis Trilogy: Colors in the Mechanism of Concealment to be published in its entirety in June of 2010 by Coffee House Press, and relieved I didn’t drop dead! Luckily I wasn’t writing in dactylic hexameter, that would have been really exhausting. There was a deliberate vow to sustain and be inside the imagination of this project for a long time. Coleridge has said it takes 10 years to do the research and 10 years to write the epikos. It’s a “history lesson for my son” or perhaps all future children, and tracks him as well over time and it plays on the word “history”- istorin which means “to find out for oneself”. As an epic, and in that primarily more “male” tradition, this montage considers and rails against war and patriarchy and calls out the horrendous deeds of the Patriarch. Strife beyond the world of letters indeed. But we’re all symbiotically linked. It’s the story of my “tribe”, our time, culturally, philosophically and so on — the industrial military complexes of our time — genocide, torture, endless war and the karma of that brutality. The inextricable knots. And it has recognitions scenes and scenes of reversals, as epics do and also the trope of in media res– where action begins in the midst of things. But also contains mythologies, peaens to ancestors, elder males such as John Cage, William Burroughs, love stories, hilarious asides, family histories, literal dreams and sacred rituals, flickering filmic narratives, the words and guidance of the child Ambrose who is a kind of Virgil for the poem. My favorite lines of his in Iovis are “Just shut up & stop always writing things down. Stop writing down your stupid notes. What are you writing down, Mom? Anne Waldman’s an idiot. She’s going to write these things & think: O I’m going to sell them for a dollar. Maybe I could sell it to a fool like me for a dollar. She’s the goddess of all idiots!” The hero if you will is the consciousness of the poet, and she is a documentarian as well as a “singer of tales”.
So documents: letters of my grandfather, friends, random research, travels — specifically in Asia — India, Viet Nam, Indonesia. Myriad genres. Epic most likely derives out of folk traditions, and is distinctly oral. It’s one vast Hybrid. And the underpinnings are feminist and Buddhist. One of the last sections is entitled “Problem-Not-Solving which has an oral crescendo that alights on the continual unresolved horrendous tangle of Israel/Palestine. Another section is titled “Welcome to the Anthropocene” where one considers how nothing on this planet is not mediated by the designs and intervention of anthropos, man, us, a dangerous species. And so on. It’s a colossal experiment that demonstrates the existential interdependence of everything. I believe it shimmers with a high burning energy and is a mirror of many worlds and it helps me locate my own consciousness which is restless and unsettled except in the writing of itself. I just hope it comes across as such. Thus a poem that’s a parallel that’s a track that’s a system, a construct….a dissipative structure… I think of Sappho’s papyrus poems as mummy cartonage. Iovis, food for the slime molds?
In Tibetan Buddhism there is the concept of “terma” which refers to received text which may be found in cloud formations, hidden in rocks, seen in dreams. Like poetry. I was watching patterns of light on water recently and the end of Iovis came to me. The patterns resembled words. This also dovetailed with a funny snake encounter — a female rattler — in the mountains. She was coiled in the crotch of a tree root, then roused, flicking her fang in that rhythmic way, and as I sang to her telling her how beautiful and powerful she was she calmed down and we performed together and then stared at each other in silence quite a long time. The Manatee/Humanity (Penguin Poets, 2009) project began with a similar occasion- an encounter with a scarred manatee (also female) in an aquarium in Florida, a species that was just being removed from the endangered species list at that time and of course has suffered in the recent oil spill. I think it’s feminine energy that stops and listens. You don’t have be female to do this, however…but I think it’s more generally the case.
Amy King: What is the “patriarchy” (beyond the traditional definition)? What does it stand for in the spiritual sense?
Anne Waldman: Traditionally in Buddhist psychology, male energy is “upaya” which means “skillful means”. It has to be balanced with “prajna” the feminine principle which refers to womb-like wisdom. Skillful means without wisdom is dangerous, lethal, deadly in fact. It goes power-mad. The “warring god realm” in Buddhism constantly need to create — hallucinate — its own enemy in order to survive. It survives on this out-of-control paranoia. It is a mind-set not unlike William Blake’s “Urizen” – a patriarchal mindset.
Amy King: What is “ambition?”
Anne Waldman: For me it is an energy that propels one to make a difference in the world. You could have a Bodhisattva’s ambition – that would be the best — to benefit others, other life forms as well. It seems an impossible task, but you have aspiration, you try. To be an “intervention” that opposes the war-machine, the culture of death. And you take others with you on this alternative journey.
Amy King: What advice would you give to the writer focused on recognition or even fame?
Anne Waldman: Do the work. Make it a daily discipline that you are in the mind of your work, all the time. And be attentive to the work of others. And “dedicate” the positive merit of what you do to others. And stay awake without getting cynical. And don’t be a careerist hustler.
Amy King: You often emphasize community for writers, “It’s not something that’s just handed to you…” This subject is of special import to us right now as we continue to build and shape VIDA. Can you talk about the importance of community, giving back as a writer, how to support other writers, and other methods of outreach and support for writers?
Anne Waldman: Venues, sites for gathering and performance, spaces of course. On and off line publications. Collectives. Sharing information and collaborating on proposals for monetary support. And staying in touch with writers all over the world you have some common ground with.
Amy King: You started Naropa with small material and giant spiritual means, visioning a “hundred year project at least” – a place to build that would outlast your lifetime. This outlook rings powerfully in our era of short attention spans and instant gratification. Could you talk about what drove you to the commitment that the creation of Naropa entailed?
Anne Waldman: It was a kind of “satori”, a flash of insight that this could be interesting and beneficial. Allen Ginsberg felt it too, the invitation to be part of a hundred year project (“at least”), with its contemplative backdrop and a two thousand year-old practice of meditation behind it. Also in a place like Boulder – which was an interesting point between east and west coast energies, on the Rocky Mountain spine, not far from the Continental Divide. A place sacred to the Arapahoe tribes (and to honor that history), a neutral space perhaps, compared to New York…. and economically more viable. I liked the idea of passing something down just as I had personally felt the transmissions coming from members the “New American Poetry”- Frank O’Hara, Barbara Guest, Amiri Baraka, William Burroughs, Diane di Prima, – the Beats, New York School, Black Mountain etcetera. A place to include the work and poetics of these elders and beyond— and go back as well. Sappho, Blake, Dante, Pound, Gertrude Stein etcetera.
It seemed that The Kerouac School could be a nexus for various strands of an experimental poetry that would also include ethnopoetics, Language poetry, performance and inter-arts work. And a diversity of cultural reference and practice. It seemed, also, more of training or a way of life — with letterpress printing, Project Outreach (working in prisons, school, elderly homes and the like). Also encouraging cultural/political activism and greater awareness of our role as humans, sharing the planet with other sentient beings. And this commitment continues with many individuals who have gone through the Naropa maelstrom. And we have an astonishing Audio Archive, some of which may be accessed by going to “Archive.org” and scrolling down to “Naropa”. My friend the poet Akilah Oliver who has taught with us many years refers to Naropa as “The Mother of all Dispersals”. But what this all entails is a vision that can’t be bought or compromised, that is sustained by a “view” which prioritizes awakened imagination, humanity, generosity, and the day to day hours of making the work, rather than being consumed by the distraction culture.
I also enjoy working with others — something that is part of the Naropa ethos — with my son Ambrose Bye, a musician and composer who grew up at Naropa, Steven Tayor, composer, musician, long time teaching colleague and cohort, and with my husband Ed Bowes, a remarkable writer and filmmaker whose projects have engaged the Naropa community, with my cohorts at Naropa — Lisa Birman, Laura Wright, both former poetics students. And with dancer/choreographer Douglas Dunn, the visual artists Donna Dennis and Pat Steir. I learn so much from their very distinct genius and talents. I always carry these busy artistic utopias and comrades in my life stream. I worked with Judith Malina on the Living Theatre production of my play “Red Noir” last winter which had a two and a half month run and a cast of 25 performers. Many of them young and from around the world. It was interesting to be inside that anarcho-buddhist ethos and speaking of “outrider”, this was it. And the piece used the trope and parody of noir to explore the “syndicates of samsara”. Judith, Douglas…many of the people I work with have been connected to the Naropa vision.
The commitment is a kind of ethos of exchange (gift economy) and non-competitive openness beyond the actual place and its exotic history. The place could change, become more institutionalized, less daring. We will see. But its ethos continues.
A friend gave me a cloth bag from Nepal with an image of Dr. Martin Luther King on it. It says: “Dreaming. He is still at work”. That’s what inspires me — people still at work, and dreaming.
Amy King: You mention this “distraction culture” – how do you partake of online content and stay au courant with innovations soft-wired into the minds / habits of younger generations growing up “plugged” in, without becoming distracted? Is there a balance or way to navigate / negotiate the work you do with these mediums that can lead to less distraction? What is your method of combining the ancient with the contemporary?
Anne Waldman: I try to stay attentive to all possible forms and have recently signed book contracts that give permission to explore possibilities for dissemination of the writing “not even invented yet”! The 38 year Audio Archive at Naropa is an endless source of fascination. Of course we need to get everything digitalized now, but that form will be obsolete soon, as well…so we’ll need to shift gears in 30 years. Even if the mode is stable, the technology to unlock the goods may have changed. Poetry implants? Mind to mind transmission? It would be good if our memories improved and were not so reliant on being plugged in. The internet was really invented by the military. But I value it in all my cultural/ political /literary work. It’s strengthened all the alternative scenes we’re engaged with. But we still need guardians down the line. To keep the hidden stories, those below the radar, the “other” histories preserved.
I recently voted in Colorado on the subject of whether an embryo should be considered a “person” with inalienable rights. Of course the notion of consciousness coming to birth is fascinating. Have you seen Gaspar Noe’s “Enter the Void”? But in relative sensible terms: women’s right of choice is at risk, there is a huge anti-gay and lesbian and trans Xtian fundamentalist lobby — very active and crazy. The outsourcing of our wars, the secret agendas. Censorship exists. Observe what gets censored online in China, that could happen anywhere and does. The government is coming down hard on Wikileaks just as they did the Pentagon Papers. The Pentagon Papers shifted the course of the war in Vietnam and Daniel Ellsberg continued to be active. We were arrested together — with Allen Ginberg as well — at Rocky Flats in Colorado and many of us stayed on the case to shut the place down. We are still protesting there, because the site is horrendously toxic and about to become a theme park. My point here being you take the long view. Plutonium has a half-life of nearly a quarter of a million years. It’s a different sense of time and responsibility. The speed of the Net can erroneously support the speed of the “distraction culture”. Some of the anti-war protests we were doing in New York at Bush’s second term could not have happened without the internet. The internet helped elect Obama. It’s a double-edged sword.
We need to use it skillfully and have a back-up in place. And have strong minds, not cede it all to the machine.
Non-market driven treasures – our poetry, poetics – are considered dangerous. They are about the liberation of imagination. Most of the writers, poets, artists of all generations I know are strong minded. And there’s “sousveillence” – we can document them. So most are not susceptible to ideology driven or pop culture distractions…the slow drip of warmed over news. They are curious about the undersides, the histories, the left-hand path, stuff you have to dig for, explore, investigate. There’s a joy in discovering the world and all its beauty and tragedy and contradictions for yourself. The rhetoric, the “master narratives”, the “versions” of our experience can’t be co-opted. What I like about being plugged in is the experience of the rhizome, the endless Indra’s Net, the “pratitya samutpada,” a Sanskrit term which describes our interconnectedness, both the immediacy and the long range. But I also keep up on what younger writers are doing by keeping up with small press editions, mail art etcetera that arrive all the time, and by going to readings, performances. I still enjoy the occasion of being face to face, flesh & blood, live breath and voice.
In the mind of the poet all times are contemporaneous, a paraphrase from Pound. So ongoing look/study of Mayan glyphs, Buddhist sutras, various arcana….animal alphabets. The artifacts in the Kublai Khan show at the Met Museum that are both distant and very close. Some of this kind of obsession enters Iovis. Dido and Aneas have walk-ons, a host of other ancients and their mandalas and scepters.
Amy King: What are you writing habits / processes?
Anne Waldman: Various at this point. I used to compose primarily at night. The completion of Iovis- a considerable effort after so many years — was a kind of hiatus. And has happened in the wee hours. I still have a lot of undigested material I’ve gathered for this project. It’s been a filmic process. Viewing, selecting, re-running the rolls or scrolls, re-ordering- deciding what goes into the montage and where. There are re-occurring leit-motifs. The idea is how to sustain the various separate and recombinant trajectories over so much time and space, and length. I want it to be like the span of a life, with all its concomitant themes and interventions, surprises, jump cuts. And that it hold light, as it were. I sit on the floor often arranging a lot of paper. And consider the shape on the page. And light on the page. What do I know.
Manatee/Humanity (Penguin, 2009) was essentially a three year project. I was completely inside it. It went through a lot of stages and arrangements. But it had a three-day structure from the Kalachakra initiation, a ritual on the nature of time involving a central deity which becomes the androgynous manatee. The notion here was to connect with another life form with whom I am linked in a subatomic way.
This new piece- “Gossamurmur” is in a somewhat nascent stage. It has to do with doppelgangers, doubles, and is a resonant with the “Gossamer Years”, the diary of a Japanese Heian noblewoman. I’m trying to get back to a rigorous schedule on this. Things start usually in notebooks. This piece already holds a narrative arc. And I’ve done some writing on Ed Bowes’s recent movie projects, most recently text for his next film, “The Value of Small Skeletons”. Usually I see what he needs, what the gaps are or he asks me for text for particular images, scenes he has in mind. And he has his “presenters” speaking language.
Amy King: What is your relationship with academia? Where does Naropa stand on the continuum between academic institution and the definition of the academe Philip Whalen reminds us of: “a walking grove of trees”? How can the feminine principle guide us in this balance? How can someone be a “feminine” academic (which may or may not be the same as a feminist academic)?
Anne Waldman: Friendly with academia. It is one of the few zones for serious discourse. Has rooms, — heated even — fantastic libraries. Modest resources, but still feels its responsibility to cultivate the mind and in certain places there’s considerable respect for the traditions I’ve been so much a part of- the second generation of the New American Poetry and the activism and women’s work of the counter-cultural Sixties & Seventies. And a commitment – in many places — to serious poetics study. And archival work. San Francisco State, Buffalo, PENN, The Hatcher Graduate Library at the University of Ann Arbor (where my archive resides). The PhD program at CUNY is impressive, very creative poetics scholarship going on there. The Lost and Found series that emanates from that program is crucial recovery/investigative work. There are recent pamphlets, among them Darwin & the Writers by Muriel Rukeyser, and the upcoming Mysteries of Vision: Some Notes on H.D. as well as R.D.’s H.D. by Diane di Prima.
I recently read at Barnard for the “Poems from the Women’s Movement Anthology” edited by Honor Moore. A group of us, including Jorie Graham and Eileen Myles, were introduced by young women at Barnard in a comprehensive way. We were all impressed with their intelligence, composure, passion. I am also charmed by students I encounter from the Pratt and New School creative programs and the new Long Island University MFA program situated in Brooklyn and directed by Jessica Hagedorn (with Lewis Warsh also in charge & designing curriculum) where I am currently teaching a workshop. Any universities and colleges that have guest reading series and residencies are keeping the poetry wheel turning.
Philip’s “walking grove of trees” has to do with the Naropa Outrider ethos, that the magic and sparks occur in the interstices of the pedagogy. When your mind might wander as you walk outside the great but stuffy halls, clocks, desks, ivy towers of academe. The Kerouac School is both a reading and writing program with a printshop. The Summer Writing Program is a unique component with both activism and contemplative themes and discourse-driven community — panels, colloquia. An ecopoetics class might find itself visiting Rocky Flats or on top of Bald Mountain, or surveying algae at the Sawhill ponds. Several anthologies give the flavor and content of this poetics, including Civil Disobediences: Poetics & Politics in Action, edited with Lisa Birman. The lineage of Black Mountain, classes going way overtime and into the night, the old Bohemian café model, engaging an “elder” over a drink, etcetera. When I worked with the Schule fur Dicthung in Vienna and one session in Frankfurt we held our classes in the Art Schools and cafes. Europe doesn’t have the MFA writing model yet. In an interview I did with Joanne Kyger in the Civil Disobediences anthology as an answer to a question about the economics of poetry she speaks of how she hasn’t seen the “outlaw” tradition in some time. “More poets now seem to be published by university presses, speak at “conferences”, earn attractive incomes, have high standards of living, get stuck in graduate poems writing about poets who were “rebels”, and seem rather bland and formulaic….The whole occupation of poet, if it does exist as an identity in the current society, is one that has to do with spiritual, cultural practice of words, and it can’t be bought.”
A feminine academe could bring the poetry calling and practice back to the source, and explore the feminine history of this literary outrider world. And it’s happening already. At some of the places I’ve mentioned.
Amy King: You write about the birth of your son as the inspiring turning point in your relationship with the planet and people; how has this attitude evolved over time? How do you collaborate with your son, Ambrose, and how has your work mutually influenced each other?
Anne Waldman: The unconditional love one has for a child is a great teaching — how that could extend to others. And then the child as a reminder and goad of one’s hope and fear. That cuts deep. The child is the rahula -- the chain, the attachment. It’s unspeakably intense. And this creates greater empathy with a woman in Palestine, for example, who has just watched her own child blown to pieces, and is climbing trees and gathering up the child’s body parts in a basket. As a mother one might feel a small part of the depth of that loss and sorrow. Or any mother’s loss, we are surrounded by it…it’s unconscionable the suffering that’s inflicted on women and children on this planet…it’s a source of great rage. There have been extraordinary movements in history- I think of the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (Mothers of the Disappeared) in Argentina. And naturally the delight as well, the child coming to language, to humor, to parity.
And then how he’s his own person, willful, opinionated, impossible at times. But Ambrose and I have shared a rich life together — he’s part of this interesting inter-generational community, having grown up at Naropa. And he traveled with me quite bit as a child, specifically to Bali where he studied gamelan. We work very well together collaborating with his music and my poetry, he knows my oral palette. He’s able to generate layered textures, some really astonishing things. He’s recently inter-cut some of the Iovis text with the refrain “Remember Qana!” with lines of another piece entitled “Cry Stall Gaze” (a text responding to the work of painter Pat Steir) and the results are powerful. We’ve been performing parts of the Manatee/Humanity Suite and we’re building a new album which includes some of this material and parts of the epic. It’s called The Milk of Universal Kindness which should be ready in by the summer of 2011.
I also have a step-daughter Althea whose life I follow. She’s made a commitment to a non-urban lifestyle, though she’s a photographer and writer. These youth are links to a greater world. How they navigate or trans-migrate is endlessly fascinating.
Amy King: Can you tell us something about your position as a woman poet in your earlier, formative years (around the period of your directorship of the Poetry Project) and your relationship with other women poets? Anne Waldman, Bernadette Meyer, Diane di Prima, Barbara Guest – the names of women actively engaged and reading in the New York scene seem to be few compared to the male stars of the day – were you treated and received with the same respect and expectations as your male counterparts? Did you have female role models and mentors?
Anne Waldman: The ur-years: my mother Frances who dropped out of college, left America in 1929 and lived in Greece a decade with an utopian community. Who was an auto-didact, in love with poetry, translated some of the surrealist Cesar Moro and her former father-in-law the Greek poet Anghelos Sikelianos. Helen Murphy, a drama teacher for children at the Greenwich House community center in Greenwich Village. Kim Hunter the actress who played Stella in “A Streetcar Named Desire” who was the mother of my best friend in high-school. I lived with her when I worked my first summer backstage at the Shakepeare Theatre in Stratford, Connecticut. She was Rosalind in “As You Like it”. Her approach as a performer was hermetic, she worked from within. Jessica Tandy as Lady Macbeth was also amazing. Chilling. Various teachers at Bennington: Barbara Hernstein Smith, sharp as a whip on Milton, Pope, and Keats, and Kit Foster who taught Virginia Woolf and showed one how to read between the lines. Dr. Virginia Grace, a woman I worked for when I was 18 years old and doing a residency in Athens during my Bennington non-resident term. She looked like H.D., had the comportment and demeanor of that early generation. She taught me how to read the seals on amphora handles at the American School of Classical Studies.
I first met Diane di Prima in the early sixties – even before The Poetry Project got started – a living legend in situ at the Albert Hotel with children, a Buddhist/alchemical shrine, and a body of vital poetry as well as a small press and the Poets Theatre. She was also self-taught, poet-scholar, anarchist, bohemian, Buddhist, and a mother, able to straddle many worlds, and who lived within an exciting community. Devotees of the real stuff. I appreciated her politics. This Kind of Bird Flies Backwards, a crucible work, and the Revolutionary Letters as well. Necessary works that caught the urgency of the counter-culture ethos. I think a bond was established then and also in the early days at Naropa. She was one of the founders as well and also a Buddhist practitioner, although she never moved to Boulder. She was incredibly nurturing — and a teacher and healer and even seer at times, and I consulted her when I went through my mother’s death, childbirth, a break-up. Ah, Sisterhood. I caught her for a moment recently and we looked in each others’ eyes and vowed to stay better connected…
Joanne Kyger is a genius. We met in 1967 and the friendship continues. She has been critical to the Naropa experiment as well. And I see her as the counter balance to the excesses, indulgences of the so-called Beat ethos. Her poems are luminous gems. She is always a person speaking in the world at hand with a boundless wit and energy. She lets you into the metabolism of her “wild mind” thinking. She is a kind of impeccable sister always telling me to straighten up my kitchen!
Barbara Guest who was part of my early New York landscape. At the poets’ and painters’ parties associated with the New York school, yet she was always her own person. Always kind, encouraging. Like H.D her work got stronger, more individual and challenging as she aged. Her poetry is subtle. I play tapes of her readings at Naropa often. I saw her shortly before she died when she came out to hear me read in Berkeley with her daughter Hadley. That was generous of her, she was frail at that point.
Amy King: I think you already have that thing you wish for – are that thing. You are one of the most generous poets I know, giving to us via your poetics, activism and constant vibrant presence on the “scene”, all of which are inextricably linked. Perhaps you can share a final word on some elders – not only your peers but women poets from times past – that you have learned from, and what you might want to convey to poets freshly breaking into poetry now, and female writers in general – what does it mean to be a woman poet in our times, in this political climate? What can we do now that our predecessors couldn’t do, and what can we do better? Where to next?
Anne Waldman: I always enjoyed the legend of Sappho starting her school for women- a moisopholon “domos” – a house for the muses. The little magazine editors of the turn of the last century. Stein’s “salon”, the Nathalie Barney circle in Paris. Currently, the Belladonna Press activities. HOW has always been an important journal. As a woman poet you know the work of your predecessors. You keep reading, re-reading it. Honoring their birthdays, reading the work aloud. The female critical theorists as well. Cixious, Kristeva, Spivak. So many others. And the poetry mavens — Rachel Blau du Plessis, a fine poet as well. Her critical work is essential. Study historical periods. And those shamanic presences: Maria Sabina, the Mazatec Indian healer and seer, so crucial to the early “Fast Speaking Woman”.
Where to next? Continuity. Building on the work before you. Taking advantage of new technologies.
We have more freedom now of course, that’s obvious. Count our blessings, and continue. Reclaim the world and imagination for poetry.
As citizen, staying on the case for women’s pro-choice rights, for equality in the workplace, for proper medical care, and working on perhaps of all gender “difference”. And supporting women in other parts of the world. Pick our focus, your “battles”. I’ve seen some advancement in my lifetime but you can’t get taciturn. The environmental degradation is more intense than ever and the ignorance in this country is astonishing. Being teachers is important, in all spheres. And working with others, always.
Amy King: VIDA co-founder Cate Marvin recently shared a poem you wrote in 1971, “Icy Rose,” with her class, and they were excited by how the poem moved and seemed to be about empowerment. Can you talk a little about the experience of writing this poem? How did it originate?
Anne Waldman: “I see rose,” the pun of course. The rose as the long trope that Gertrude Stein invokes in “a rose is a rose is” etc. Perhaps it was written in that lineage of reclaiming the rose for women. It was winter at the time, and the image in my mind was of a crystalline rose, that could emanate and expand and maintain its intellectual “cool” integrity.