by Erika Hodges
I was always deeply desirous of poetry but only became a poet when I read Anne Waldman’s Fast Speaking Woman as a teenager. “Woman combs snakes out of her hair/ Woman combs demons out of her hair/ Woman lies down on the cobra/ Then meditates under cobra canopy…” I did not know you could write about something other than the world of men. I did not know someone would want to publish a wrathful poem written by a woman. “She was burning alright/ her house (the one she carried on her head) was afire….”
I was raised in the south, where gender enforcement was still very much the rule of the land. Anne was a portal to new possibilities of living. Years later, I was a writing student at Naropa, Anne’s school of disembodied poetics, and several times throughout the year she would appear, like a comet or a flashbang, brilliant and constantly in motion. Like so many hundreds of her students, I was drawn to her luminosity. In that program and in her classroom I found a place of belonging for the first time; a way of being that celebrated fire and renewal and work. The work always came first.
And then when I left that home for New York City, Anne told me she was proud, that I belonged to a lineage now and the pilgrimage to St. Marks, to The Bowery, to the basement readings of the stacked up city were a part of that lineage. I remember that moment very clearly. She said, “If you ever need anything, come by. I hope you will think of this (her apartment in the village) as a kind of home.”
The most remarkable part of this story is that there are dozens just like mine. Her poetry children are scattered over the earth, and when we meet one another there is an immediate kinship because we recognize that the flame in each other is from the same source, one that Anne encouraged and stoked and helped us care for. Anne transforms poetry orphans who look for answers and solace in line breaks and language into poetry warriors and holders of a sacred lineage. She’s adopted so many into her family without second thought. She pushes and exclaims and proclaims in the service of us all. She will ask if you’ve eaten and if you have written in the same breath. To her they are the same.
When I was going through a breakup she asked again if I was writing. I said, Yes, I am leaning on poetry quite a bit these days, and in the middle of a quiet suburban street she shouted, “What Else Is There?!?!” That question still moves me. In Anne’s world of poetry there are full meals, tough and infinite kinds of love, there is justice and utter liberty. Anne’s poetry is a mother’s love, and aside from that, What Else Is There?
No Land photo.
Erika Hodges is a gender expansive poet and performance artist living and breathing in Brooklyn, N.Y. They are a graduate of Naropa University and an M.F.A. candidate at Pratt Institute where they are the current Leslie Scalapino Fellow. Their work and life is deeply devoted to queer love, troubling the dystopian values of borders and binaries and the ideas of poetry and lineage as a space of being together.