Anne Waldman learned the political value of a poem on the street. Specifically, on a street in front of the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant, in Denver, Colorado (USA). There she protested with words and there she was arrested along with Allen Ginsberg, one of her closest poets, and Daniel Ellsberg, the journalist who leaked the Pentagon Papers. “A poem can express the delights and powerful urgencies of consciousness and struggle,” explains Waldman (New Jersey, 1945), one of the leading American experimental poets, a militant feminist, framed in the New York School and with strong ties with the Beats. “I hate the noise of technology and pollution, I hate the noise of dictators,” she adds. And although she also reads “in silence”, she is celebrated for her public readings and performances. This Saturday she participates in the Kerouac Festival in Vigo.
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“Where is all this beauty going? / din of confusion / war drums in the street,” she writes in the poem trick or treat, as if summing up his position on writing in three lines. Included in the most complete Spanish translation of his work, To be a star at midnight (Arrebato, 2021), is one of those long texts with which Waldman confronts the world as it is. “My childhood involved taking refuge under a desk during air raid drills,” he tells elDiario.es, “which immediately made me wish for a reality antithetical to that. He experienced cognitive dissonance. Writing can help the world to awaken and express the passion of resistance to tyranny and empire”.
Her poetry, which she herself places somewhere between Anglo-Saxon modernist ancestry -William Carlos Williams, HD, the songs of Ezra Pound or Charles Olson – and the second generation of the experimental wing of the New American Poetry, is protean. Without fear of the long distance and resistant to limiting what is or is not its object, she understands “writing as a political act”. truth or consequences testifies to a trip to the southern border of the United States in July 2019. Donald Trump at the White House. The poem emerges in prose and breaks down into a broken diction, asyntactic at times. “what have borders been… / fluid or fascist? // a cradle of civilization is fear // what girl have you abandoned in Juarez?”, says the version of Mariano Antolín Rato published by Arrebato, “Wichita Kansas, headquarters of the vampire company Koch, here I summon you! motherfucker! traitors! / the death of a brother is no consolation…/ the spirits suck more blood past the grave”.
“That there are children in cages on the American border or the slaughter of teenage soldiers and the murder of young women in Iran are atrocities that poets should scream about,” notes Waldman, who wrote somewhere that his long poems are like “drafts of research”. In which barbarism enters but also oppressed cultures, a certain libertarian spirituality, an inclination towards radical aesthetics. It is the case of one hour pieceswritten for performance accompanied by the piano of John Cage. “=dear John Cage= / =the world is a more resonant place we thank you= / =I heard the traffic lights= / =I will never get used to television=,” the poem reads. Waldman clarifies: “This composition explores sound, randomness and the operations of chance.” And feminism, of course, central to his work and which he considers essential to “change the frequency towards justice and the liberation of precarious lives, also beyond gender binaries.”
Two paths converge in Waldman’s poetic praxis: “The writing of books and performances for records or collaborations on stage.” He has worked alongside composers such as Meredith Monk and Laurie Anderson and with jazz musicians such as trumpeter Don Cherry and saxophonist Steve Lacy. He is even listed in Renaldo & Clara (1978), the film collage by Bob Dylan. Still in 2020 he brought together Anderson, the legendary free jazz double bassist William Parker or the guitarist noise Havard Skaset for the LP Sciamachy, a treatise on “ecological ruin and war mongers.” “But I am also committed to the text. The Iovis Trilogy It is a modernist lyrical montage of more than a thousand pages. I have written a lot of poetry that is not immediately useful for performances”, he assures, and places two other examples of extensive poems in the form of books: ManateeHumanity (2009), “a meditation on endangered species” or Structure of the world compared to a bubble (2004), “A pilgrimage to Borobudur Stupa, in Java, through the stations of the bodhsattva path in Buddhism”.
“I also read silently, I do it all the time, of course. now i’m with [la poeta danesa] Inger Christensen”, Waldman also answers the question about poetry as an antidote to the acceleration of the world: “I hate the noise of technology and traffic and pollution. And I hate the noise of dictators.” She is responsible for a vast body of work, more than fifty titles in the form of a book, plaque or anthology, she is also a scholar of the poetic fact. In 1974 she founded, together with Gisnberg and Diane di Prima -author of revolutionary cards (1971)- the Kerouac School of Incorporeal Poetics. She thus honored the “subversive Beat tradition” that attracted her “at an early age”, as she confesses in To be a star at midnight. “I have been a dedicated student and lover of poetry all my life. Although I am associated with the experimental strand of New American Poetry, I have also crafted my own form and sound through the voice and music of the period ushered in by the Beat Generation,” she admits. And it is precisely to Jack Kerouac that he directs these verses, taken from the monumental Iovis Trilogy: “Well, I have sinned / I have slept in the arms of / another ‘husband’ / I have defended the revolution / in the market / I have looked / at the face of / Fidel Castro”.