Lucia Hinojosa Gaxiola photo.
By Dorothy Friedman August
By Anne Waldman
Anne Waldman’s voice is powerful, iconic, and revolutionary. Her words, like “talismans,” seek to “shake the cosmos.”
I believe in crucible logic
harassment and insubordination
he calls urgently for deeper inspection and introspection concerning traditional values, social change, and gender relationships, including a reassessment of women’s roles and women’s empowerment. She does so, drawing on a wide range of historical, religious, and mythological references, including Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Chinese, and Native American cultures, and both Eastern and Western religious traditions.
This volume contains 19 poems of varying lengths and styles. Two of them, including the title poem, are noted to be part of the ongoing Iovis project, Book IV.
“trick o’ death,” the poem that begins the collection, addresses all readers and particularly those fighting for women’s rights. The poem speaks to a “dear suffragette,” whom she advises to “outlast the misogynist” and “fend off patriarchal poetry.”
Waldman’s voice, with its mind leaps and often non-linear movement from thought to thought, stanza to stanza, reverberates as the urgency of a wise woman and teacher in a perilous time. The strategy, she says, is to know “the trick o’ death” and escape the world’s violence. One way is to communicate with spirits and “start a spirit fire.”
The poem conjures what she calls “the demon feminine,” as she challenges the notion of being a victim or a plaything. She directs her poem to “sister,” as well as “dear suffragette.”
Waldman often uses a series of pronouncements, in the form of chants and repetition, so that the poems have an incantatory and incendiary quality. These devices are parts of the oral tradition that she performs with great gusto. The effect of her poetry is amplified by her performance, but these poems also dart with great vitality on the page. In one stanza, she calls out with vast scope in quick succession,
… this is a longing
this is Ceres summoning Dame Hunger
this is Ethiopian Andromeda
or Lady Midnight’s Songs of the Four Seasons
this is tranced attention
this is Hermaphroditus
this is a shouter, an Engine-Woman
become a midnight star, Callisto
Waldman’s impassioned outcries recall Emily Dickinson’s poem “Madness Is Divinest Sense.” Like a free-wheeling trip through Dante’s Inferno, this book leads us through the spiritual world, deconstructing myths and juxtaposing them in newly meaningful contexts.
Waldman asks us to acknowledge frailty as well as power and the many masks we wear. “Feminism is an old mistress to make you think,” she says, as we travel in and out of many universes with her. She urges us to “muscle up,” let go of fear, and get in touch with female power.
Like a free-wheeling trip through Dante’s Inferno, this book leads us through the spiritual world, deconstructing myths and juxtaposing them in newly meaningful contexts.
The second poem, “denouement,” is a sequence of prose poems that begins with a quote from Gertrude Stein on “Patriarchal Poetry.” The second prose poem suggests that one should resist, ward off, deflect, exorcise, and defy. “And there were women everywhere across the land, children women, and girl women and they women and fluid women and men who were women and boy women and women from the past on the tongues of mind & ear and images of women everywhere: ancestor women. Out on the streets. And everyone woman that day…. The day said I am woman.” This lovely image may be of a women’s march and the joy of it.
In the next prose poem in the “denouement” sequence, she urges, “Take back founding myth of Americas: evil of the Feminine.” Waldman’s feminine linguistic hand guides us not to hold women down. What is the place of poetry that can inspire a revolution in thinking?
The next poem, “crepuscular,” is another powerful call to liberate ourselves from the forces that place limitations on creativity and gender, such as capitalism, racism, and patriarchy.
The poem begins with the lines:
Code your language and escape.
They won’t find you.
I made them up.
I made the words and then could hide them.
They won’t find you who are words.
Hiding in twilight.
Waldman suggests one way of staying hidden is by adopting heretical practices:
Conceal your heresy,
Bright colors, repeating motifs.
Practice your pradakshina, holy circumambulation.
Around the corner from the cops, the guards, the hounds.
I made them up my images seeking defiance.
Trickster Feminism encourages defiance of an unjust world that keeps people back, especially women. To do this, Waldman invents a code that she refers to in the following lines in “crepuscular”:
I made them a code with elaborate plumage.
Where the letters & digits sprout wings.
Grow feathers, making them sleek and haughty.
Help, avian, off the page.
We are all sisters, an entangled codex.
She suggests we “Hide in the calligraphy of desire & devotion/ Rise and fly in the signatures of space / time.” She says: “Be ready though you languish in new temper’s fluency/ Be ready although you fight for exuberance./ You card arises, be ready, this rebellious season.”
She suggests we are all sisters in this “entangled codex.”
A few lines later she encourages strength and empowerment in these lines:
Get ready, you are the force majeure.
You better reawaken.
The solstice strengthens you.
“crepuscular” urges us then to give up patriarchal signs, totems, and signals. “The notion is to secede from vocabulary they give you,” she instructs, and replace it with the feminine linguistic. She refers to “crepuscular” as an “escape from hell,” referring to the present order in which we live.
She then repeats “You are being tested” three times, and in one such instance writes:
You are being tested.
Gather ashes for the twilight of protest.
From the fire, force majeure.
Train the acolytes.
She conjures up supernatural forces to accomplish this in lines such as: “Practice disobedience as a coven might,” with coven suggesting the use of witchcraft.
In addition, she refers to the role of poetry and its possibilities, and refers to the revolutionary activist Emma Goldman:
Will poetry quench thirst in revolutionary night?
Find text or purpose here?
Inscribed on Emma Goldman’s activist bones.
Waldman depicts some men in macho roles:
The honcho is writing it down.
With his honcho women.
Here she is suggesting how men keep women down and how women can keep themselves down too, if they allow men to control them.
She writes: “It was the last white stand to hold women down./ A repertoire of new decrees./ Saudi sisters behind the wheel.”
She then presents a series of eight pronouncements, in which she introduces with the phrase, “I made them up: queen-size dimensions.” She envisions there that “women are the new translators, gaining ground,” in rejecting the patriarchal order, and she describes some of their roles.
Waldman sees “a ceremonial journey by condemned sovereign and her minions.” She envisions a new world in which “the transgendered one invented a new language./ It was mystic it was ‘fluid’ it was ‘ziggurat'”; a new world in which “women meant infinity,” meaning their potential is limitless.
The poem is dedicated to female empowerment and poetry. Waldman says: “Thank you poets./ You rescued our minds.”
Waldman rescues our minds with her thoughtful, forceful poetics. As she instructs, “… do this nightly in riding the blast/ Ingest ergot and.[should this period be here?] ride your words.” and “Strike with words./ Strike with walkout power, a new stylus, boycott.”
She also suggests “riding up the queer conversion elevator to become more queer.” Here she reverses the practice of conversion therapy, society’s way of forcing homosexuals to be “normal.” By reversing, she suggests “queer” people be free to express the full range of their sexuality.
Waldman in “crepuscular” encourages all of us to express our potentialities. She writes:
Be true and all the colors.
Be wild and all the colors.
I would magnetize and destroy my own uniform.
I walked the pavements in a new skin.
That we walk free, chanting “Resist, resist om ah con be gone.”
Over and over, and in so many new ways, Waldman affirms breaking with taboos on women’s artistic freedom and definitions of gender.
To “the rudeness of patriarchs,” she replies, “Not ours! Not ours!” She refers to her female power as timeless, immortal and magical:
I come back one hundred years to do this, again.
Because we are already out of the cave.
Force Arcane: come out now.
You are under all of us.
All the feminine, all the left-hand paths.
In “crepuscular” and the whole collection, Waldman is attempting to realign the world and invent a new order in which forces such as, “…racist imposters./ Looming in their tax-deferred paradises/ Arriving in luxury cars./ Ugly casket of doom. …” are toppled.
“They are not kind,” she says. “They want our city./ The new brokers of desire & greed.” Waldman vehemently resists these forces of capitalism, greed, and inequality.
“crepuscular” concludes with Waldman describing herself as “a lion that comes out of her sex roaring./ A dialectic, a rattle, a song. …/ Twilight becomes true memory summoned by roaring.”
Langston Hughes asked whether “a dream deferred” can be reinstated, in his poem, “Harlem.”
Waldman cuts bigotry skillfully with her knife-like, incisive words. She carries on the Beat tradition and invents her own iconography.
Dorothy Friedman August is a widely published award-winning poet, editor, and college writing teacher who has won two New York Foundation of the Arts fellowships and a Kathy Acker Award. She has published in numerous anthologies and periodicals, most recently in Sensitive Skin, Poetry Bay, Brevitas, Mudfish, Many Mountains Moving, Home Planet News, and others. She has published three books of poetry, and two are forthcoming from Poets Wear Prada.
She also has written art and book reviews for Home Planet News, The Village Voice, Poetry Bay, and Philadelphia blog, as well as other art and book reviews. In addition, she’s collaborated on a musical comedy revue, “Gorilla Kisses” with Carol Polcovar, performed in the west village at The Duplex and other venues. She was poetry editor of Downtown for over a decade and currently edits the zine White Rabbit. She also teaches writing and literature at Fordham University and Empire State College and will be offering a writing workshop in the fall at The Bowery Poetry Club.