Files 996, 997, April 1973: Anne Waldman (b. 1945)
Waldman reads here in a low-key manner and in a voice that doesn’t project at you as she has done since then. Like one month later! (See below.) These poems are loose in the way a traveler’s poems will be. In ’72 she had travelled in Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. Her eyes are open to rustic subsistence and mysterious ways, but without the introspective depth she would mature into. She continues with a journal in the form of a letter home to Joe Brainard. The writing is conversational and flexible. She also reads an early version of “Fast Speaking Woman,” which she augmented over time into the full litany that was published as Fast Speaking Woman and Other Chants (City Lights Publishers). Her writings are well known, but I advise knowing well Fast Speaking, Helping the Dreamer: New and Selected Poems 1966–1980 (Coffee House Press), and, of course, The Iovis Trilogy (Coffee House Press). I recommend a close reading of “Book III: Eternal War” in that book, where Waldman’s compression, precision word jams, and structural sense are at a peak. In this century she has published civic-spirited books against ecological destruction, and her newest, beautifully written, is Trickster Feminism (Penguin Poets).
File 968, ca. 1973, likely May: Anne Waldman and Ted Berrigan
The pair read a collaboration they planned in the spring of ’71 for the first reading they would give together after years of closeness, in May ’71 at the Poetry Project at Saint Mark’s. The poem is called “Memorial Day,” and it is an extraordinary success. They bring out the best in each other’s writing. Here Waldman exercises the force in her voice that she would refine onwards. She has in her parts of the poem introspective immediacy and sharp-sharp word decisions. She is the “woman in the Prime of Strife.” Berrigan plays the old warrior, the Irish sentiment of mortality and loss, the magnet of the moment, the beauty of memory. It is elevating to read the poem on the page, out of Berrigan’s Collected, while listening to and glancing up at their performance. They use all possible indentations and there is a lot of white page done very tastily. A laying out of the page passed from William Carlos Williams’ Paterson and O’Hara’s “Biotherm” and through Berrigan’s blockbuster “Tambourine Life,” (1965–66), also in the Collected. The collaboration was planned as a handout sheaf for their ’71 reading. It was published once, Memorial Day (Aloes Books) in the U.K. Collaborating before email required meetings and phone calls. They arranged the work on time.
The Smithsonian Institution has an Art and Culture blog, edited by Elizabeth Botten. She requested I write a piece on the “98 Greene Street Poetry Project,” what Holly Solomon called the pioneering arts space in Soho that was later renamed The Holly Solomon Gallery. Elizabeth sent me 21MB of several audio tapes and more than a dozen videos, a record of the series which was curated by Ted Greenwald between 1971 and 1973. The blog has been delayed for novel reasons but should appear this fall. I read along from the page and kept half of my eyes on the laptop screen at least three times during “Memorial Day.” One’s eyes mist up. The Smithsonian will post on the blog excerpts from the video.
Anne Waldman was not born to be anybody. In her youth there was a place that needed somebody, and she was.
Is there a way to combine “Anne Waldman leads because she is a leader” and “Anne Waldman is a leader because she leads”?
And I double down on what I say above about Book III of Iovis.
Somebody I know is forever.
John Godfrey is the same age as Anne Waldman—well, he’s four months behind at the start. In 2016 Wave Books published his The City Keeps: Selected and New Poems 1966-2014. Cuneiform Press recently published his A Torch for Orphans. He only lives in the East Village. Elizabeth Scholnick photo.