Bill Berkson, Anne Waldman, Lewis Warsh, Westhampton, N.Y., fall 1968. Joe Brainard photo.
by Lewis Warsh
We met at the Berkeley Poetry Conference, summer of 1965. Robert Duncan’s reading. Anne was visiting her high-school friend Jonathan Cott, I was with my friend Michael Bernsohn, who knew Jonathan when they were both at Columbia. They introduced us. We sat together and after the reading we went to a party in the Berkeley hills, and talked into the night. People meet somewhere, if they meet at all, and that’s what happened to us. Then two nights later we met again at the Charles Olson reading. It was the reading where Olson interrupted himself every time he started a poem and went off on a tangent, insisting that it was more interesting to hear a poet talk than hear him read his poems. People started walking out, including Duncan, who was sitting in front of us.
Anne had an angelic, innocent, world-weary, always questioning expression on her face, attentive to everything. She had grown up in a brownstone on MacDougal Street in Manhattan; now she was entering her senior year at Bennington. I had grown up in a 3-1/2 room apartment in the Pelham Parkway section of the Bronx. I was entering my last semester at CCNY. It took me an hour by subway to get down to Washington Square Park, which was right around the corner from where she lived.
A few days later she visited me in San Francisco and we took LSD. It was her first time, second for me. Allen Ginsberg was reading at Berkeley that night, but there was no way we could get there. Instead we wandered around San Francisco. I could see the lines of her face melt in the sunset as we sat on a park bench. She looked like a child, crying and laughing all at once, but most of the time we both felt giddy just to be together.
She arrived a week later at my apartment with a suitcase and we decided to go to Mexico City. We didn’t really have a plan. We hitch-hiked from San Francisco to San Diego where we stayed a few nights with an old friend, Jon Walden. Then we boarded a rickety bus for the endless trip to Mexico City. We found a hotel in what turned out to be the red light district. There were always couples coming and going up and down the stairs day and night. We took LSD again. We looked out the hotel room window and the buildings were shaking in the distance. I thought we were hallucinating, but it was actually a minor earthquake. The buildings were shaking.
We stayed for two weeks, took a bus to Laredo, Texas, and hitch-hiked back to New York. Our longest ride was with a melancholy middle-aged man who reminded us that marriage was “a two-way proposition.” He was getting divorced. We stayed overnight in a motel in Indianapolis, just to get some rest, and eventually we rode in the cab of a truck into the city. We parted on the steps of Anne’s family house on MacDougal Street. I didn’t come inside to meet her parents. That would happen later.
A year later we were living in a four room floor-thru apartment on 33 St. Mark’s Place between Second and Third avenues, and in May 1967 we were married by Rev. Michael Allen at St. Mark’s Church, where the Poetry Project had just started. Anne looked beautiful in a shimmering white gown which trailed behind her as she walked up the aisle. Ted Berrigan was my best man. Anne was now the director of the Poetry Project, and we often stayed up all night at the church running off a new issue of The World on the Project’s mimeo machine. We were also publishing Angel Hair Magazine and Books, never moving at less than top speed through our days and nights.
Anne at 20. Older, wiser, perhaps, after all these years, but in many ways unchanged. We talked for an hour on the phone the other night—she was in Boulder, I was in New York—crying a bit over our various frailties, and the state of the world, and for a moment it was as if no time had passed at all.
Lewis Warsh’s (www.lewiswarsh.com) most recent books include Piece of Cake, in collaboration with Bernadette Mayer; A Free Man; Out of the Question: Selected Poems 1963-2003; Alien Abduction; and One Foot Out the Door: Collected Stories. He has taught at The Poetry Project, Naropa University, Bowery Poetry, and SUNY Albany. He was founding director of the M.F.A. in poetry at Long Island University (Brooklyn). He is editor and publisher of United Artists and Books.