Poet Anne Waldman, author of the famous Fast Speaking Woman in the mid-1970s, has reached light speed. The author of over 30 volumes of poetry, editor of many magazines and several anthologies, and professor/director at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in Boulder, Waldman is at the apex of her career, and the legitimate heir to Allen Ginsberg's crown as America's underground "poet-ambassador" laureate.
Born in New Jersey at the end of World War II, Waldman grew up in New York's Greenwich Village amidst the rich intellectual and bohemian life of the 1950s and '60s. She was only 16 years old when she began to make friends with older poets more central to the "Beat Movement" like Diane di Prima, Phillip Whalen, Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg.
Though she'd grown up on jazz and was infused with the new spirit of liberation and burgeoning feminism ushered in by the Beats and the cultural tectonic shifts of the times, Waldman was also drawn to a circle of New York--based poets more concerned with aesthetics than politics.
Jokingly referred to as "The New York School," these poets were more a circle of friends than a "school." Their interests in art, French poetry (the surrealists in particular), and the life of the city that fueled their writing brought them together. Originally consisting of Frank O'Hara, James Schuyler, Barbara Guest, John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch, there was also a "second generation" that included Ted Berrigan, Ron Padgett, Dick Gallup, Eileen Myles, Lewis Warsh, and the artist and writer Joe Brainard (among others).
This "second generation" was carried into the 1960s on the surge of cultural innovation that had taken place in the '50s. Like the abstract painters such as Franz Kline, Pollack, and de Kooning, poets and writers like O'Hara, Ashbery, Kerouac and Ginsberg had similarly exploded the forms of poetry, leaving for those that followed unlimited new fields of possibility.
Ted Berrigan, for example, cannibalized his old poems, stole lines from friends' notebooks and poems, and arranged them into strangely disjunctive sonnets called (you guessed it) The Sonnets. Later, he became famous for his talky "concrete" poems that catalogued what he'd been doing, reading, thinking and feeling.
Ron Padgett, smitten with the emerging aesthetics of pop art, dispensed with the morbid gravity and flowery language of the dominant "university" poetics, and adopted a kind of flat Dada punchiness that traversed the peculiar landscape of his imagination. He wrote poems like "Ode to Woody Woodpecker" and "Chocolate Milk."
Joe Brainard wrote the cult classic I Remember, a memoir that consisted of thousands of entries that all began with the words "I remember."
These poets were also keenly aware of the marginality of their poetics, and were content to publish one another. Now known as the "mimeo revolution," these writers were able to put together small, stapled editions of one another's works using the then-revolutionary technology of the mimeograph machine.
Waldman and her partner at that time, Lewis Warsh, ran Angel Hair Press, a small mimeo outfit that first published Joe Brainard's I Remember, and many other small editions by her friends.
The fusion of the Beat and the New York influences came crashing together in Waldman's 1974 collection, Fast Speaking Woman, which Lawrence Ferlinghetti published on City Lights.
Like Brainard's "I remembers" and Ginsberg's "Holys," Waldman's book was an incantatory, shamanic list held together by the repetitive drumming of the word "Woman." She became famous for reading with a channeled fury and biblical exuberance:
I'm the woman traveling inside her head
I'm the woman on the straw mat
I bewitch the stars to my heart
points of light, arrows to my heart
Pierce me as I sleep
I'm the night woman
I'm the terrible-night woman
I travel to steal your lover
to steal your food, to take your words
Her interest in Buddhism also led her to help Allen Ginsberg found the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in Boulder in 1974 with the aim of teaching poetry in the context of spiritual practice in a non-competitive environment. She is currently a distinguished Professor of Poetics at Naropa.
Perhaps Waldman's most ambitious work is her epic-in-progress, Iovis: All Is Full of Jove. Though the work employs the extremely male-centered epic form, her aim in the work is to challenge the long history of male dominated discourse.
Waldman's most recent book, Marriage: A Sentence, based on the haibun form, "in which a proselike poem is coupled with a condensed lyric poem of the same theme," shows her mind at its most electrically synthetic. Raking her mind across thousands of years of the myths, rituals, traditions, histories, personal experiences, and languages of marriage, Waldman both challenges and upholds the sanctity of "holy unions," prodding them where they seem narrow, and exalting them where they seem sublime.
Don't miss this rare opportunity to see Anne Waldman as she folds space with her oracular tongue.
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