Conversation with Anne Waldman

This conversation took place in Anne’s NYC home and what you will find below is an excerpt that is featured in the upcoming poetry journal 1:AM edited by David Garcia Casado.

Cover of the first issue of 1:AM. Photograph of Anne Waldman by Leila Jacue.

I know there have always been deep challenges in different times of history, but these times look even more urgent due to the unprecedented climate crisis. Could you give us a general vision of how you see the world today?

Anne Waldman
Well, I’m trying to be grounded, stay with what I know, stay with the karma of my own life and try to understand, being in New York in this particular home. My mother had lived in Greece for a decade living a pretty simple life weaving and making her own clothes. It was a kind of visionary community called the Delphic ideal. And I think she left the US like many female poets who could not be themselves living in the US, like Gertrude Stein being a lesbian, with a very experimental mind, and so on. HD, Hilda Doolittle, the famous modernist poet also escaped. And many figures like that are people who couldn’t live in this country for a number of reasons, often coming out of an upper-class expectation. Even as I was growing up there were certain expectations and certain boundaries. Luckily, my parents were somewhat bohemian, having been in these other worlds – my father lived in Provincetown, and he was a swing piano player. So, one has to talk about one’s own experience with this question, because it’s where you are. I mean, if we were in Pakistan, right now, with the amazing suffering going on or even back with the flooding in New Orleans years ago, that would be a different experience. So, relative truth, relative reality, relative experience is one thing to consider. We could just sit here and enumerate for days all the things that are wrong, so it’s complicated. Societies are complicated. For instance, Roe v. Wade is one of the most horrific defeats, and that’s just got to change. There’s just so much suffering, already extraordinary suffering on women’s bodies. I can barely read the news because so many individual stories are coming up. And yes, there are fights everywhere and I do want to say many people are working on all these things, existentially, psychically, spiritually, etc. So the point is to stay awake, to stay conscious. I kind of embrace this sort of Buddhist view, which is unborn*. There’s no salvation, there’s no ultimate savior. I love all the traditions of all religions, but I’m not expecting to be lifted to the great beyond. Also, we have so much wisdom already on this planet, from the entheogens, the various traditions that go way back, connected to the earth, to the interconnectedness of everything that can be helpful, to medicine that comes from various cultures, the intelligence, spiritual knowledge. But it is also true that a lot of that wisdom has been dumbed down or eviscerated.

How do you teach poetry?

I don’t think you can teach anybody how to do it. It’s just about opening up worlds. Reading is so important, reading other poets, knowing the mind of some of these poets, knowing their work, being able to memorize it at times, knowing what the prosody is, knowing about meters, knowing about all these different traditions and languages around the world. And also with the view that poetry is the oldest way of language, there’s poetry from the very beginning. I mean, they call it the first religion. So I just have confidence in that, but there’s still some perception through putting these things together: the image, the sound, the ideas.

Do you see poetry as a way to save or heal?

Well, reading or seeing it helps me feel stabilized. I feel I want to follow the reality of somebody’s will. For instance, Jean Luc Godard just died. And thinking of his mind and the consistency in his work, the playfulness, the risks, the vitality within the actors in their bodies, the wit, the politics, all that using language the way he does, using montage, it’s a breakthrough. I’m always interested in breakthroughs. So I think that’s where I’m stimulated. And I like looking at the sky and understanding as much as I can.
So in the end, I feel connected to those sorts of fantasies, dreams, nightmares, that come from a lot of interesting places. And also how you work with dreams, noticing your dreams, seeing how you can work with them…

*(There is an Unborn, an Unoriginated, an Unmade, an Uncompounded; were there not, O mendicants, there would be no escape from the world of the born, the originated, the made, and the compounded – The Buddha, Udana 8:3 of the Khuddaka Nikaya. Editor’s note).