It’s one of those odd things, when you feel that you know someone so well and they don’t have any idea at all who you are. Anne Waldman was one of my earliest Poet Mother mentors, but she didn’t know this. She didn’t know that I followed her from reading to reading, beginning at age 18, picking my favorites and buying her books and getting them signed. If she could open her mouth and howl like that, in chants and incantations, then maybe I could, too.
Anne Waldman at 75. I wouldn’t dream of trying to explain her work; to attempt to prop her up against a specific category. Others have tried; The Village Voice said her work was “A syncopated web that includes the personal within the metaphysical and the environmental, tying the individual’s story to the story of the survival of the planet.” What I will say is that when I think of her work, it always reverberates back to her delivery. There she is, emerging from a small stage, out of a side shadow, her hair long and black, her eyes bright, a scarf swung around her neck. She’s speaking in sparks, setting my mind and my heart on fire, and I go to her when I need to find some fire of my own. The first collection I found was Helping the Dreamer. Giant Night came for me later.
It was a couple of years ago and I was standing on the subway (was it the 4/5?), holding onto the bar. I look down at the long blue plastic seat below me and it’s her, sitting with her son, a beautiful young man, who seems just a few years older than my own son. In another movie, I leave them alone in their bubble, but in this one I cannot. Out of me spills this younger version of myself, far less afraid, reaching for her like I did decades ago. I’ve loved your work since I was 18, it’s meant so much to me, I saw you in New York and I saw you in Albany when I was too young to get into the clubs. As time has passed for her, it’s passed for me. I consider today the mundane activities of motherhood we might have had in common. Or not.
Now I bring her performative work to students who are just finding the edges of their voices so they can see what’s possible. The Shamanic-rooted fast speaking woman still strikes a hot match, and from it my students catch the air like I did so many years ago, and rise above and beyond it. “I know how to work the machines,” indeed.
Rachel Aydt (www.rachelaydt.com / Twitter: @Rachelrooo / Insta RachelNYCroo) is a part-time assistant professor of writing at the New School University. She’s published essays and short stories in The White Review, HCE Review, Broad Street Journal, Post Road, Green Mountains Journal, and many other publications, and has completed a memoir. She lives in the East Village.