Kenneth Koch, Anne Waldman, Jerome Rothenberg, Allen Ginsberg, and Ed Sanders at a Poetry Project Symposium, 1987. Vivian Selbo photo.by Kyle Dacuyan
The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church
Spring a few years ago, I think it was shortly after Anne’s birthday, I remember she had assembled a group of poets, musicians, dancers, makers in between and beyond to share work for a kind of near-equinoctial salon. It was entirely intuitive: the manner, the sequence, the feeling. No authority or suggestion of stage management, just people in shared time and space. When Anne started what she felt called to start, there was a kind of rolling meditation, sustained attention and listening to the language in an epigraph from Yu Hsuan-Chi: “Nothing needs doing. I’m idle and free now.”
Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, and Robert Creeley in the West Yard at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery. Date and photographer unknown.
That line, accumulating and rising, and tumbling across years toward persistent shifting springs, into the poem Anne read—”trick o’life”—a variation sequence building from refrains of this is: “this is and this is / and / this is the way it looks / writing purgatory / and this is and this is / its sound.”
There are endless word-portals into Anne Waldman’s work but “this” and “is” feel right today: she has built vast worlds of poetry and community from her call to presence, her dedication to being with and naming, to opening the polyverse and staying with aporia.
This and is and spring—I think of that season and its attendant inflorescence when I look at the vast interdependent structures of Anne’s work. Within language and within communities of language-workers, everywhere we see the mark of her beginnings and endurings, things coming to the surface finally and with great possibility. For all of her brilliance and, I think it is true to say, her wisdom, I perceive Anne as radiant with continued study. Maybe that is why and how she is so particularly a leader; her attention is something we gather along or around, as opposed to under.
Anne Waldman with Fast Speaking Music at the 45th Annual New Year’s Day Marathon, 2019. Ted Roeder photo.
We at The Poetry Project work in the grain of her spirit: counter-culture, counter-hierarchy, counter-market, counter-possibility. When the rector of St. Mark’s presented the Church as a space for our radical and enduring Project, Anne said: what else could poetry be here? Publication, teaching, performance, gathering, community—how could all of this happen differently? What I admire and most learn from Anne is that we are not trying to amass new centers of power. Our work is not acquisition. We are finding what can happen when we reorient culture as a force of continued divestment, redistribution, and aid.
I asked Anne recently how she thinks of the word project. What were the projects of poetry in 1966 when we first set up at the Church? What are the projects of poetry today? And she said: well I also think of it like proJECT, what you do with light onto a surface. We project. Not a noun, a verb. This and is—the poet making and illuminating through the constancies of change.
Kyle Dacuyan (www.kyledacuyan.com) writes poems and makes performance. His writing has appeared in Ambit, The Offing, Social Text, and elsewhere. Brendan Lorber photo.