A n n e   W a l d m a n :   K e e p i n g   T h e   W o r l d   S a f e   F o r   P o e t r y

N a p a l m   H e a l t h   S p a :   R e p o r t   2 0 1 5 :   S p e c i a l   E d i t i o n






Anne Waldman: Standing Corporeally in One’s Time


Ab Ioue principium Musae; Iouis omnia plena;

ille colit terras, illi mea carmina curae.

                  Virgil, Eclogue 3


Muses, my song begins in praise of Jove.

He makes all flourish; my song is in his care.

                  David Ferry, translation


All is full of Jove.

                  Waldman, from Virgil, Eclogue 3.


                  Ernst Bloch wrote about modernity, “one has one’s time according to where one

stands corporeally.”[1] This is a materialist position about standing in the now.

Waldman extends this “now,” as a global citizen in the name of possibility. She

generates hope for a “new time” in glimmers, in her artwork, her manifesto-like

performances: “an antithesis to bald commercialism, selfishness, spiritual vacuity,

political advantage, double-dealing, lying, dishonesty” and so on — as she says in her

mini-essay about the Beats in Iovis II (143). In this she has consciously assumed the

“King of the May” mantle from Allen Ginsberg. Waldman generates event, conscience

and a sense of possibility by her presence.

                  Anne Waldman’s work in poetry exists at the intersection of activist passion

gender critique and wariness, and long poem ambitions. She is at root inspired by an

Olsonic ambition to speak the whole social fabric as an incantatory, analytic cantor in

shamanic voice. She is someone who can inhabit her own culture and play among a

multiple of global sites with Blakean transformative lust. She calls us to account

whenever she takes the witness stand: “Will some future generation look upon the

ravages of the planet and the perpetuation of suffering by the powerful over the weak as

a Second Holocaust? And see that no one attempted to stop the madness?” [2] Thus she

stands corporeally in her time, in Ernst Bloch’s phrase. Many of her poetic works

present illuminating political outrage about the continuing crisis of failed social justice

across the world. She flays power with words, ignoring or disdaining voices that say

such gestures are impossible. To Waldman one could apply the comment Charles Olson

made about Pound: “[Pound] would be the first to stake his work as social in

consequence. He is no poet to separate his poetry from society.”[3] Waldman tells us

repeatedly and vividly that although we live in a modernity inflected by global

oppressions, we nonetheless have the potential for global transformation.

                  Part of Waldman’s political citizenship involves a specific kind of gender outcry

and analysis. We can discuss this once we acknowledge that writing is not ever a

gender-neutral site. Waldman tries to place herself corporeally into gender materials and

relationships, and, in her long poem (among other works), she investigates the damage

and attraction of the gender sites we know. To the avant-garde, many feminisms have

been inadequately mobile, uninterested in merriness, multiplicity of means, and

chiaroscuro, too wedded to a monochromatic representation of the world of gender, too

clear about univocal critiques and desires for healing or wholeness, too willing to buy a

piece of power, or to engage in mono-dimensional naming rather than creating fissure

and palimpsests.[4]

                  On the other hand, since there are socio-political griefs in the world that must be

addressed, to some feminists, the texture-oriented and performative avant-gardes have

been inadequately materialist in their understandings of these griefs and urgencies.

Could a feminist poetics of innovation make some dynamic syntheses of the politics and

aesthetics surrounding gender questions? Some women contemporaries have confronted

this seam between politics and the aesthetic with their long poems.[5] Iovis is Anne

Waldman’s intervention into this debate, a poetic analysis concerning patriarchy,

subservience, psychic and spiritual struggle.[6] The form this takes in Iovis I is an

investigation of maleness as an idea and set of subjectivities in culture, politics,

psychology and religion.

                  To make this investigation means experimenting with the means of investigating.

Who speaks? How will “data” be accumulated? What does judgment portend? What

happens when love and criticism collide? What subjectivity and what text can a speaker

create? What questions are there that necessitate this work? There have been several

theoretical discussions of a female subjectivity adequate to rewrite culture; these in

themselves offer enough claims and cross-claims to attract and trouble any female

writer, and one could well find evidence of each and all (“both-both”) in Waldman’s

Iovis (Iovis I, 2). One may call upon the new female feminist subject (in Rosi Braidotti’s

terms) or try to negotiate the wilds of a new heterogeneity (as does Luce Irigaray) — in

the name of really achieving two sexes in dialogue, not just one. A person might find the

idea of “writing the body” put forth by Hélène Cixous particularly liberating for women

whose “bodies” have been so trashed or iconized in ideology as to be unrecognizable,

and whose corporeal/ intellectual bearing needs to be reseen as Waldman might, as “a

construct of multiple meanings, like a multifaceted jewel....”[7] One may even continue

to find that Jungian ahistorical frameworks have explanatory power, for those terms may

function as compelling metaphors and as mythically-connected names for one’s various

subject positions, such as hag or puer. Waldman is frank about her allegiance to Jungian

archetypes, noting certain benchmarks, for instance, her “‘Puer’ dreams. “This possible,

too, as she ages, having shed seductive submissive ingenue” (Iovis I, 177).

                  We have all lived in an era of the newly elaborated notion of the “feminine.”
post-structuralist and post-modern thought, the feminine is defined as free-floating

resistance, as excess, the outside, the beyond, the ahistorical, non-symbolic otherness.

This concept of the feminine is, in theory, unattached to gendered bodies — yet

nonethless the male feminine is particularly powerful, as in Roland Barthes or Algernon

Swinburne. There is also queered subjectivity that takes binarist gender (and its ideas) as

moot, finished, untenable and untrue, and tries to imagine it is living in a world that has

transcended these elements. To construct her speaking subjectivity, Waldman seems to

have drawn, ad lib. and variously, on a mix of those propositions from feminist

theorizing, but she has also declared, with this poem, the space of the female masculine, a

performative incorporative masculinity inside a female body.

                  However, unlike the “female masculinity” studied by Judith [aka Jack]

Halberstam, with its emphasis on butch and drag king behaviors or performances,

Waldman always insists on feminine panache. Halberstam indicates that this taxonomy is

incomplete: “the more we identify thevarious forms of female masculinity, the more they

multiply” (Halberstam 46); Waldman is certainly one of the exemplars of female

masculinity. Indeed, Waldman might be closest in her ferocity, performativity, and

aggressions to the picture Michael Davidson draws of Sylvia Plath in Guys Like Us, with

those “self-conscious assaults on gender binarism” (Davidson 160) by someone who will

interrogate masculine aspirations from within a speaker who embodies many of those

aspirations” (Davidson 170).[8]

                  Waldman, like Alice Notley and other women loosely in the avant-garde and not

in the women’s poetry movement (as it centered its canon of interests in the mid-70s

through mid-late 80s), was very resistant to any victimization theorizing and against any

sense that women have little or no agency. For them, early feminist critiques had a hard

time not sounding like self-pity. This (supposedly) in a belated replay of Woolf’s Lily

Briscoe’s angry, poignant remarks, as if they were constantly saying “women can’t

write; women can’t assert.” Feminist thinking seemed, to these listeners, like an

affirmation of disabilities, when it was, instead, trying to encounter and name the gender

assumptions, the taboos buried in culture and in internalized/ externalized values that

blocked female striving. Indeed, as Ann Snitow and I argued in our introduction to The

Feminist Memoir Project, any “victim status” thinking was viewed, in early second

wave feminism, as a naming of a thankfully temporary female condition, a condition

soon to be rendered obsolete by the intensities and gains of feminist politics. Such terms

were not meant to offer frozen and undialectical analysis.[9] But despite having some

common concerns, the two poetic worlds in which women were active did not meet or


                  For at the same time, another aspect of early feminism was a stirring affirmation

of female power and transcendence. Waldman’s Fast Talking Woman (1974) was a

performance of assertive female power contemporaneous with semi-canonical works

like Ntozake Shange’s performance piece for colored girls who have considered suicide

/ when the rainbow is enuf (1975) and works taken as belonging to a lesbian-separatist

(or gay-focused) world, such as Judy Grahn’s A Woman Is Talking to Death (1973). It is

also true that in feminism’s effort to bring women up to scrutiny, men and maleness

were sometimes treated as a backboard, as hypostasized, and even distasteful, objects,

not as mobile, in-process subjectivities, albeit ones with certain guarantees — or at least

many redeemable chits — of social power. Certainly Iovis responds transformatively to

this set of materials. Thus Waldman may have been notably ambivalent to the women’s

poetry movement in certain of its manifestations, yet she also drew, sub rosa, on its

feminist intellectual and cultural energies to confirm and extend her own evident


                  Such writers as Waldman, active in Doing and Making (scenes, magazines,

presses, work) felt they had disproved, by their own agency and bohemian élan, some of

the claims made in other poetic circles of female powerlessness to be cured by

allegiance to all-women communities. So these writers had a strong resistance to, and

even some frank contempt for feminism as a movement, something visible in Notley’s

Mysteries of Small Houses, for example, in which small-mindedness is displayed on

both sides in the debate about “men.” The Women of St. Mark’s thought their own life

histories and productivity rendered irrelevant or moot the questions of access,

representation, canonicity, and literary history that feminists raised. And this resistance

continued despite the capacity of both sets of cultural workers to commit, or to

construct, polemical “women’s” poems. Waldman’s recent poem “Abortion,” a simple

poem of political outrage, uses the jeremiad genre to turn any accusation of a crime by

women outward to speak of crimes (rape, patriarchal control) committed against women.

In style, tone, and purpose, as an instrumental intervention, this poem could have

appeared in This Bridge Called My Back.[10] And this apparent resistance to feminism

among the Women of St. Mark's continued despite the capacity of both sets of cultural

workers to construct major critiques of gender and the social order, on the scale, for

example, of Alice Notley’s major mythopoetic intervention, The Descent of Alette, a

magisterial feminist work, making a critique of patriarchy and tyranny and of the

internalized consciousness and external society that supports these forms of social

control. This resistance has modified itself considerably even since this essay was first

composed in 2002.

                  Waldman’s position can be framed with Denise Riley’s insight — one wants to

see gender, talk about gender, work through gender, transfigure gender, organize

thinking to consider gender — and also wants sometimes to get beyond any such

category. Who could deny this? Certainly not me. Denise Riley says about the female

situation at the end of her book “Am I That Name?”: “while it’s impossible to

thoroughly be a woman, it’s also impossible never to be one” (Riley 114). It is just a

step to translate Riley’s formulation in this way, a way I enjoy: “while it’s impossible

thoroughly to be a feminist, it’s also impossible never to be one.” For whatever the

unevenness of approaches to feminism in this period (and there were plenty), from a

historical point of view all the sectors of women writing were inflected with, touched by

that particular “angel of history” (to tease Walter Benjamin), and touched with all due

ambivalence and wariness, by its contradictory guises of positive assertion and negative

skepticism and resistance.

                  All female poets of the avant-garde (and always some male poets, too) had to —

were compelled to — come to terms with the power of feminist cultural and political

challenges. All women writers, whether they did this consciously, or willingly, or not,

were saturated with feminist questions, feminist demands, its cultural critique and its

ferocity. The evidence is in their work and in the growing importance of feminist

reception or gender analyses to the careers of women experimental writers — even if the

writers themselves had ambivalent or resistant relationships to feminism, or to the

women’s poetry movement (which does not, and should not be the only container of

feminist thought).[11]

                  In this, I would agree with the strategic formulation proposed by Steve Evans: it is

vital to keep in play feminism and avant-gardism together in order to avoid the sharply

articulated culs-de-sac he lucidly details: an avant-garde poetry without a sense of

gender (or other vital social locations and materials), a theoretical post-structuralism

without any sense of contemporary poetry and its practices, and a feminist

institutionalizing of a single poetics. This essay, too, attempts to avoid “an avant-garde

without women, a poetics without poetry, and a poetry for which entire registers of

experience, innovation, and reflexivity are taboo” (Evans, differences ii).

                  For wherever one began in relation to writing, to call for, to notice, to comment

upon the productive and compromised presence of women artists and writers, indeed, to

be one of those writers, has entailed a negotiation (sooner or later) with the feminism of

cultural critique, whether this critique features equality or difference (the great dialectic

of feminist thinking) or tacks strategically between these. For it was feminist cultural

criticism (including lesbian and black-feminist cultural criticism) that articulated and

foregrounded the roles that gender plays in culture — in the production, dissemination,

reception, and continuance of artists and texts. And feminist analysis really wanted —

still wants — to change culture fundamentally. Thus while women’s writing is not

particularly self-similar at the point of production, there may be strategies and motifs

related to the female position in culture that can be found in it. And women’s writing

becomes rather similar at the point of reception, so to speak — because (without

intentional, subtle and concerted feminist reception) it is similarly treated by “the

patriarchal government of poetry,” to cite Clayton Eshleman’s phrase in Companion

Spider. It is for these reasons that the care and maintenance of feminist — socially

located — reception has been my concern, and not the demand that people from certain

groups write a certain way, nor that they attend only to certain materials or themes or

modes of representation, nor the argument that certain themes and stances are essentially

(rather than situationally) expressive of their social location.

                  However, feminist critique is not simply about gender, sexuality and ethnicity: it

is also a challenge to the split between thought and feeling; a critique of values of

profitability and wealth as social goods when in fact they create inequality, exploitation

and immiseration; it is a rejection of all the forces that create the disenfranchised. The

task of feminist critique is the pluri-decentering of binarism and the smashing of

hierarchy. It is a critique of power in the names of social justice and gender justice. The

task involves standing corporeally within gender structures and other structures of

oppression to break down these enormous pillars of patriarchal culture so that something

new can be built as one is leveraging critique. So the feminism of critique is based on

inquiry, resistance, disobedience, rage, and on placing yourself as if in utopian new time.

It is in this enlarged sense that Waldman speaks in Iovis, a poem of feminist investigation

and critique from “an oppositional poetics” (Iovis I, 298). Iovis is “a long piece which

took on’ male energy in all of its manifestations” — in the lives of the men around her,

and in herself as bearer and critic of male energy.[12]

                  What is “a woman” but a person mainly gendered female whose subjectivities and

masks may be far from female — may be boy, male lesbian, female masculine, queer. A

woman is a person human and parallel to a man; a person some of whose experiences are

different from a man’s; a person socialized to the pleasures and temptations of dress-up

femininity; a person intrigued by the mythic claim to otherness in the (so called)

feminine” space of language. Thus any woman in Iovis may be called polygynous

she has “married” many women, many meanings of woman and women, many meanings

of man and men in a rapturous textual space. She is also investigative — like a detective

she wants to find out about power, and thus again she must examine men and

maleness. She wants to tell her truth. Waldman’s poetics of gender is put forth in

“FEMINAFESTO” from Kill or Cure. She says: “I’d like here to declare an enlightened

poetics, an androgynous poetics, a poetics defined by your primal energy... a transsexual

literature, a hermaphrodite literature, a transvestite literature, and finally a poetics of

transformation beyond gender. That just sings its wisdom” (145). It is clear that Waldman

has some proto-queer ideas about how one’s subjectivity is performative, how

subjectivity does not necessarily go with body. The poem is like Blake’s demonic

printing presses coining new gender-money. Male-female — hermetic bisexual

hermaphrodite or androgynous twins seems to be the plan for Iovis I, II.

                  There are several versions of female subjectivity and social position in much

feminist or proto-feminist thinking about women in this period, and the fact that these

positions are in contradiction does not make them any less important, influential,

powerful, or palpably generative. The positions are female equality, female difference,

and [female] queerness. For instance, the second book of Iovis (Iovis II, 142-146)

contains an important 1994 epistolary essay about the place of women among the Beats,

an essay that opens the question of female difference in historical power and position. At

one and the same time, the essay defends the Beats for their achievements and

acknowledges what Waldman names their “sexism” and “racism” and their “fear of

women’s power.”

                  In the course of this letter, Waldman discusses the very narrow options for women

in the 1950s if you were at all “strange,” artistic or bohemian: madness and shock

treatments, abortion and physical terror of illegality and, if you were really unlucky,

infertility or even death, and/ or suicide attempts from sheer nihilistic pain of non-

conformity. (Sylvia Plath also discusses some of this in another register in her novel The

Bell Jar). This section acknowledges a specificity of female cultural history (that is,

female difference at a certain time and place), and puts in evidence an interview with

Joanne Kyger that even somewhat undercuts her Beat-analysis, and indeed, puts in her

headnote her own resistance to what she said: “sleepless, she rises once again to be an

apologist for the macho Beat Literary Movement” ([Iovis II, 134], suggesting a shift in

her own upbeat attitudes between 1994 and 1996/97). In the important essay called “‘I is

Another’: Dissipative Structures,” Waldman speaks for “feminine energy.” This seems to

be a position for female equality as in “I am, as a woman, adequate, capable, inspired, in

readiness, as good as anyone” (Kill or Cure 212).

                  This position is verified by Waldman’s inclusion in this essay of her poem

claiming her birth as a performative poet from the Zeusian head of Charles Olson during

the 1965 Berkeley Poetry Conference (Kill or Cure 209). Waldman was present at the

conference in which the Olsonic genre of performance, crossing essay, poem, chant, and

declaration was particularly rich and provocative/ provoking. Iovis as a powerful male

figure is a substitute Maximus, and Waldman deploys herself in ways like Olson and in

ways like a critique of Olson as a figure. In part from Olson and others, the poem deploys

tactics of heterogeneity of diction and allusion, and an enhanced textuality as the page of

poetry holds more than usual — more space, marks, non-letters, pictures, gestures,

diagrams. There is a heterogeneity of dissemination practices, too, that have one point of

origin in Olson, with a strong emphasis on performance and poetic drama and a

renovation of sound and the ear as means of poetic fabrication. The Olsonic impulse also

enters with the “realism” of this poem in its documentary fervor.

                  However, “Feminafesto” also wants to claim female difference in ways that

absolutely parallel claims from the center of the women’s poetry movement. Mythic

allusions, ancient wisdom’s special functions for female are accepted as such, taken as

compelling and applicable contemporary information — as the end of this essay in “Gaia

worship” (Kill or Cure 212-13). And the essay also proposes an uncanonical female

genealogy of poets, tracing her own poetic lineage to Sappho’s singing school and its

basis in ritual (Kill or Cure 194-198). Waldman’s wobbling contradictions between

female equality claims and female difference claims are very situational, not at all self

consistent. They are even opportunistic. This does not differentiate her from many other

women in culture. One seizes the means that are to hand; “skillful means” (a Waldman

phrase out of Buddhism) implies the analysis of situation and applying the right “nom de

guerre” to triumph. So Waldman’s position shifts in thesis-antithesis between equality

and difference claims — this undecidability and situated analysis is in fact characteristic

of much feminist thinking. It is this that enables the great power grab made by Waldman

in Iovis: “Jove or Zeus or any procreative male deity is presumably filling up the

phenomenal world with his sperm. He rules through possession, rape, and through the

skillful means of the shape-shifter as well. From the psychological point of view (as a

daughter’), I need to call him out, reveal him, challenge him, steal his secrets” (Kill or

Cure 198).

                  Given that Iovis I opens — opens! with a citation from the famous so-called

“Christological” passage from Second Isaiah: 52-53 about the man of sorrows, the claim

Waldman immediately makes concerns female messianism (5), something one also sees

in the great Victorian novel in verse by Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh. The proposition

is — when you want world-historical and ethical transformation, a woman shall lead

them. This boldness does not stop, nor does the syncretic religious impulse falter; just a

few pages later, the speaker imagines herself inseminated by Jove (Iovis I, 7). A world

cultural arc is evoked; Hindu and Buddhist tropes and mythologies will soon be engaged.

This is a mythic-synthetic imagination at work, incorporative and “Golden Bough”-ish

but trying to re-torque mythology to discuss gender transformation. Thus one element of

this work is its revisionary mythopoetic quality — an element significant to works of the

women’s poetry movement (like Rich’s Diving into the Wreck), but also worked through

in modernist mythic imaginations. In H.D.’s Trilogy, Christian mother Mary becomes a

fertility goddess; in Helen in Egypt, H.D. examines the roots of bellicose violence as a

repression of the passionate attraction to the mother, feelings of matri-sexual import.[13]

Waldman particularizes these forces contributing to female power and sexuality with

letters and interviews to her specific, local family — her father, her childhood (Iovis I,


                  In the Allen Ginsberg (“Howl”) and Allen Grossman (Summa Lyrica) narratives

of poetic possibility, the Oedipal fantasy of being in the bed of the mother recurs for the

male poet. This tenderness and hotness around incestuous fantasies is also visible in some

work of Robert Creeley. One may have to confront a parallel? similar? or different?

psycho-biography in Waldman. She claims the desire for the father, the freshness of the

oedipal girl, the play with and through incest with a brother. Waldman makes the Jungian

claim of archetypal repetition and offers a marital vow to these brothers and father, “I

honor & obey these first men in my life...” (Iovis I, 14), and she immediately writes a

primary sex act that inseminates her with the ambition to accomplish this poem, “It feels

like the great sperm whale entered me” (Iovis I, 20).

                  However, insemination as one male act is not even half of the “it” that will be this

poem. The poem proposes allegorized interactions with men that attempts to diagnose

them by revealing their potency — even through their weakness and fallibility, their

losses, their self-deceptions, their assumptions. Waldman constructs the poem as a force

field for gender, and what one quickly finds is that gender involves everything there is —

school, children’s games, war, Rocky Flats, random sex, old poems by Pound and

Williams (or remakes of those hits), concepts like beauty, goodness, justice, the

destruction of forests for “Happy Meal boxes” (Iovis I, 274). As Myra Jehlen notably

argued in general about writing, “gender has emerged as a problem [an issue] that is

always implicit in any literary work,” implicit in every cultural act.[14] We pass to

needy, whining, men; we pass to male civilization giving benefits to men in great

productive washes of power, and civilization hurting men, sacrificing them constantly (as

in war). The speaker negotiates this influx and wash of contradictory material and

findings constantly through the poem. This is her “both-both” poetics at work.

Narratively, she, in her own oedipal desire for the father, and/ or the power of the father

and/ or the phallus of the male, also, at the same time, negotiates the oedipal urgency of

her son (“You are my wife Mommy you are the dream of me” [Iovis I, 25]). Simultaneity

of conflicting transformations involve both underlying method and specific rhetorical

techniques. The poem seems to be the collection of materials put, in each section, into a

rhetorical swirl calling for metamorphosis.

                  Section XIII of Iovis I offers the term Aetiological (etiology): a medical study of

the causes, origins of, reasons for a disease. Etymologically speaking, it is an allotting of

responsibility. This is the key word for the diagnostic element of Waldman’s epic. She

will study causes and rationales of patriarchy especially in the cultural field, but also in

the political, military, spiritual; she will assign responsibility; she will analyze and

implicate — and imprecate! There are multiple “plots” — but one plot is weaning herself

from Jove. She rehearses her own history, saying that she “stuck by her patriarchal male

companions” and was their “trusted confidante,” but, alas, the power she got was an

illusion, and she must thus confront the Jovian patriarchal center — no individual man

can help you negotiate patriarchy (Iovis I, 143).

                  This is a pretty stark and bold position, one that makes a feminist separation of

blessed or helpful individuals from any patriarchal system as a cultural artifact. The

individuals are men (and sometimes women) who never (or rarely) think they participate

in the powers and privileges of this system. There is a resemblance, in a different poetic

register, between this finding and Alice Notley’s structuring of The Descent of Alette

around two key actions: the mid-book healing of the headless Mother (by the affirmation

of female intelligent compassion and by the application of male blood given by a dead

man) and, the climatic action in Notley’s book, the killing of the patriarchal Tyrant, who

oppresses male and female both.

                  In Iovis, there is an ongoing discussion of several contemporary men, among them

Robert Creeley and John Cage. Waldman asks what possibilities they model, and whether

(discussing John Waldman, her own father), a woman in the “daughter” position finds it

is plausible, easy, reasonable, or perhaps forbidden to “inherit” from these men. The

question of inheritance is offered in its most condensed form in a play with French

gender (Iovis I, 193): “(père et son fille) / sa fille.” Waldman has an acute and observant

sense of genealogy, and filiations. This bearing is not innocent: she will write herself into

history as the daughtered son, or the sonned-daughter of a great male figure. There are

different Waldman attitudes in this work: she is motivated to play the game of patriarchy

accurately and with finesse, but she also diagnosis its ills with resistance and suspicion.

Her brilliant performance piece in homage to John Cage, the penultimate canto in Iovis I,

memorializes an artist who is gentle, active, inventive, and productive, allowing her to

affirm androgyny because of his (Iovis I, 309). In general, in this poem-long diagnosis,

“She rides through the poem on / villains, brothers, saints, deities / they speed her on”

(Iovis I, 333).

                  The astonishing Kristin Prevallet letter in Iovis II (36-37) discusses Creeley,

female writers, and the beginning of female cultural consciousness, dramatically showing

the recurrence of issues and problems relating to female creativity in a new generation.

Iovis thus, in its own way, continually proposes the necessity for feminist or gender

oriented analyses of culture.In this letter Prevallet challenges and admires Waldman in

equal measure, wondering precisely how she survived as a female writer:


Interestingly enough, Creeley asked the class today [circa 1992] if

anybody knew of anyone who was attempting to write an epic on the scale

of Olson, and people mumbled this and that, and I said, but of course,

A.W. [Anne Waldman] and Creeley disagreed with me, and I still find it

strange, not on the basis of writing/ poetic skill etc., but EGO! What he

meant is that your work is more personal in that you bring in letters,

stories about your child, emotional instances, etc. (although admittedly,

the boundaries get very shifty here — I mean Olson’s persona was huge

and was personal) So I was thinking what was at stake here was not ego

but gender, and I wonder how you felt about it. (Iovis II, 36)


She continues, noting that people do not complain about male EGO,


Well, I am very confused about the whole thing because I am being

confronted with the problem — to be forward, or to hang back — to

perform or to whisper — to vanish or to shine forth.... And [speaking

about another incident] I know this is only the beginning of similar kinds

of interactions, where I speak my mind and get my hand slapped

afterward, like I did something BAD, or even worse.... (Iovis II, 37)


                  Despite the examples of strong women writers in the generation before hers

(Kathleen Fraser is also mentioned in this letter), here again a woman writer presents

these recurrent questions: may a woman have EGO as an artist, who is it that allows her,

what is the price of her engagements, and what are the internalized and exterior costs and

even punishments that a woman writer risks. These are thoroughly feminist questions.

                  One way Waldman solves these cultural problems of access for women is by

assuming that her subjectivity is not just female, but is also male. “Both-both,” again. The

subjectivity of the work Iovis speaks in response to Jove as shape-shifter; she makes

herself Puer (boy or youth) as shape shifter or trickster figure (“Puer, picaresque

adventurer,” she says [Kill or Cure 144]). She conjures this figure, holding the mother at

bay (Iovis I, 177). Being a puer figure leads her to the incisive command: “rise up

paginal” (Iovis I, 187). Rise up meaning, appear, be prominent, increase in intensity,

return to, or get erect. This “paginal” I also read as like a page or boy helper figure. As a

pun on vaginal, as if the vagina could, with penile panache, erect. Finally, the adjective

pertains to the pages of a book. Thus when things rise up paginal, they constitute a male

vagina of the book, or a bisexualized, self-inseminating vagina-penis composite. Which is

what this book is — an active vaginal space in which sperm-words of oneself and others

enter and inseminate. So there are always two genders (at least) on this page. Self

consciously and consistently making the claim of dual genders also at the same time

confuses and transcends the issue of gender totally (which means a queered sensibility is

also in play).

To appreciate the genders, we need to take seriously Waldman’s playful and

serious claim, made sometimes but not always, that she dis-identifies with her own

gender, or certainly with its disabilities. This is both a dangerous and an entrancing,

enchanting position. Her analysis is keen. Patriarchy says only itself and its men can be

promiscuous, adventurous, far-ranging, seeking, piratical (that last, a Kathy Acker subject

position) (Iovis I, 107-08). Patriarchy says females must be loyal and relatively meek.

Waldman sweeps this demand for femininity and mildness away. But holding the mother

at bay or “scorning the mother” is a problematic position, given that one is also a mother

and a female (this in Iovis I, 177-187). “Scorn for women” — something well-known

from the first Futurist manifesto — is like playing with fire. Does this mean scorn for the

parasitic, feminine, the enforcer of bourgeois social norms? If so, then scorn seems like

an appropriate response, one often made by feminists. But if this means scorn for the

whole female gender as an entity, such “scorn” is unalloyed misogyny. However, this

position is not consistent, for in the essay “Feminafesto,” Waldman speaks of the mother

as model, suffering with unexpressed creativity that inspires her daughter’s oeuvre.[15]

Her determination to persist as a thinking, creative woman, her resistance to

compromising her desires have their origin there.

                  As she gets older, Waldman also foregrounds the third phase of a Jungian triple

goddess — the “hag” archetype. This raging witch and speaker of curse and imprecation

is off the scale of binary gender, beyond the desire to please men or the more timid

women. Waldman finds these Jungian categories appeal to her; her revision of them lies

in claiming both puer [boy] and hag. This is a typical Waldmanian “greed,” as it sets her

as the gatherer of multiple forces, and the sustainer of these forces in contradiction. It is

clear that the struggles of gendered subjects are major struggles of loyalties and desires

inside the speaking subject. Whole dramas and allegories of gender unroll inside

Waldman as speaker no matter what subjectivity she assumes. That is why the genre

encyclopedic poem” is prime; it is a genre of inclusion and juxtaposition adequate to the

matter at hand.

                  An encyclopedic poem is certainly heterogeneous in genre; and for Waldman one

might easily identify ode, newspaper clipping, epistle, conversation, jeremiad, interview,

documents, lyric, dream records, diatribes, arias, sestinas as among the genres included in

Iovis. Yet no matter how long the genre list, one can never account for all its genres.[16]

Thus one point is the plethora or dynamism of her generic urges, which is a fact of many

(although not all) long poems in this period. Both Smaro Kamboureli (speaking about the

Canadian long poem) and Lynn Keller (for contemporary long poems by women) discuss

the 20th-century long poem in general as alluding to many genres — specific choices of

materials from epic, lyric and serial poem, narrative — and thus a flexible and ambitious

vehicle (Kamboureli, On the Edge of Genre; Keller in Parini, ed.; and Keller, Forms of

Expansion). The encyclopedic long poem clearly functions as such a flexible genre

compendium. As such a poem, Iovis is generically hybrid, polyphonic, intertextual,

conceptual — a pooling of documents and acts of analysis and outcry.[17]

                  An encyclopedic poem is simply inclusive. Although encyclopedias are generally

organized by the alphabet, giving a non-teleological order to things, the encyclopedic

long poem insists that anything and everything could, in principle, be included in any

order, so it gives the feeling that no cultural censorship has taken place — no exclusions

for false norms, for standards of elegance or fitness. This aesthetic of inclusiveness is

certainly Waldman’s. When Waldman began Iovis in around 1985 or 1986, she

remembers “feeling for a time I needed a long poem.... I often tend to get a bit too

scattered... so the idea of putting all of the writing into one place, under one rubric, was a

relief! Anything that arose might go into that work....” (AWP Chronicle, 28.1 [Dec.

1995]: 1; “An Interview with Anne Waldman,” conducted by Lee Christopher). Waldman

thus uses the poem to account for motion, meaning both change or flux and teleology of


                  Unlike the analogous poems of Pound and Williams, this poem, according to

Waldman, “is 4-dimensional in its performance” — a way for Waldman to stand

corporeally with the work, and to some degree a way for her to modify, to cut or to

emphasize some of the materials in performance as a griot might. There is a sense that

this poem is a multi-act opera without one singular or particular narrative, but a magical

Bollywood” production, incorporative, absorptive, dashing. This is her sense of

channeling energy, but it makes of “writing” a way-station or “go-between” to

performance. This has some real cost in word-to-word attention or carefulness. A more

static analogy for its form is a “temple” — one with pluralities, polytheisms, and a sense

that the sacred is everywhere.

                  This inclusivity does not necessarily have a master-subjectivity organizing it, as

one finds in Paterson, with the topos of the speaking subject wandering among, but not

totally participating in, his city. And Paterson, like Iovis, offers a community of voices

wild, wary, hopeful, yearning, needy, dynamic, critical, responsive voices that are not

the poet’s voice. The use — part of her inclusivity — of letters and of some interview

exchanges are a feature of Iovis that tends to make subjectivity of the poet/ speaker a field

site of cross-hatching vectors. It is not that the subjectivity is decentered; it is that a

zillion demands pull and tug at her, and she attempts to satisfy all of them.

                  While I don’t want to romanticize female difference here, this dilemma of

overload takes on a particularly female cast. Kathleen Fraser in “Tradition of

Marginality” in her Translating the Unspeakable: Poetry and the Innovative Necessity

will sometimes note the female relations to life-issues that lead to a sense of difference,

and also refuse to romanticize that position, resisting the separatist. The demotic form of

the encyclopedia poem is the scrapbook. And the scrapbook is a domestic, artisanal,

hobby-horse genre. It is this version of the encyclopedic poem that Waldman has


                  Waldman uses the scrapbook-look of her page as a utopian space of “both-both”

attitudes — she can put things together in dynamic inclusivity because she will provide

the syntax of connection within her corporeal passions of performance (Iovis I, 2). “Both

both” is a brilliant formulation, rejecting as too binarist even the notion of “both-and.”

The page as score for a performance has a number of functions for Waldman. It is a place

to locate “other informations [that] weave in her” (Iovis I, 100) — that is, it is a holding

place, a site in which you collect things because you do not want them to get lost,

forgotten, obscured. This tremendous sense of the rescue of the lost marks particular

periods in writing — here it marks women’s writing, whether the work is by Adrienne

Rich or Susan Howe, and whether it investigates lost women only, or lost aspects of

history.  (The critical recovery of African-American writing of the US past during this

period is a parallel example of the rescue of the lost.) Iovis is keen on this necessity; for

example, the poem collects her own principled political interventions, one of many letters

of protest that enter this text, for example, “I believe that Mr. wa Mulumba is a prisoner

of conscience” (Iovis I, 31).

                  Sometimes these materials will make faceted or nuanced our sense of “men” or

malehood.” There are many letters included: a crackpot inventor offering his ideas to

women, not to men, and a winsome needy student waiting to be acolyte, epigone, and

above all recognized (Iovis I, 32-33) and a poignant letter about a young boy discovering

that he is gay (Iovis I, 54-56). Any few pages in this book run a wild tonal and

informational gamut that one might simply note as Waldman’s mode of “realism” — a

precise use of realism in poetry (very similar to what Olson and Williams did), both

trying to account for, to sound out what we are now by what has happened to a site

(maleness) in historical time. For this work, the page is a dynamic instrument, a

transformative forge in a Blakean sense.

                  Iovis is fundamentally a gigantic collage of materials located around issues for

meditation. Every section cuts down through a time, takes place in a transfigured locale

(sometimes a merging of geographical sites) that is essentially a meta-materialist space

for meditation, and works through — or at least locates — a problem or issue: “How to

change rhythms on a cellular level” (XI in Iovis I, 154) or in “Ambrose: Nam” (XIX in

Iovis II [Aside from being "man" spelled backwards, "nam," pronounced with the correct

tone, means "man" in Vietnamese]), “What did you see? he asks. What do I know?”

(Iovis I, 241) The “strands” of the poem “come together karmically” (Iovis I, 298). The

advantage of collage modes — the collection dragnet — is also its weakness, an

anything/ everything goes mentality; the poem is an extension of “catchall notebooks”

kept over many years (Waldman, AWP Chronicle interview, 4). Deploying an

encyclopedic poem, however, will always raise the possibility that there is just too much

heterogeneity and fragmentation.

                  Some of that heterogeneity is galvanized by the sometime evocation of the

manifesto genre; like “scrapbook,” this is another key long-poem genre allusion. For the

poem, like many specifically encyclopedic long poems (certainly like Pound’s Cantos)

has a manifesto impulse — the look of urgency on its page, the theatricality of now-time

in its gestures, the sense of speed, immediacy and even crisis are admixed with

rumination. The temporalities are mixed. A manifesto creates the sense that the “moment

of social transition” is happening there on the spot; that the poem is not the

representation, but the vehicle of this transformation, and that the poem as manifesto will

mark the artistic praxis that will create that new world.”[18]

                  If the page is, as I’ve said, also a score, then any page stands in a position of

conflict — it is a way-station on the way to something else (a performance), and it is a

place where things accumulate and get pieced together in the here and now. The page in

Iovis is a space of declarative urgency (the manifesto root), but it is never, or rarely, seen

as a place of poise, of stability, of the iconic. Indeed, Alice Notley points to the

documentary and autobiographical/ accumulative impulse behind Waldman’s work, with

some skepticism — the poem, she says, is going to be “what happens next,” but she

nonetheless suggests that while “the form makes flaws possible” still “possibly poetry

should make room for flaws, being a human form” (Notley, “Iovis,” 121, 126). Waldman,

inside her choices, justifies the looseness and assimilative flair of the work with a “Beat

Buddhist” (and incidentally Olsonic) aesthetic enunciated (Notley, “Iovis,” 128-29) as an

energy pulse” — form is activity, form is energy. Form is choice on the run, is event,

not stasis, or reflective choice. “Rather than have the poem be an extrapolation, a refined

gist of a ‘high’ moment, I want it to be the experience... a poem that would include

everything and yet dwell in the interstices of imagination and action” (Waldman, AWP

Chronicle interview, 6). The poem — a Western poem of potential, subjectivity and

assertion — also tries to dramatize “the dynamic pratitya samutpada, the

interconnectedness of the whole ‘scene’” (Iovis II, 241). (This sometimes occurs in its

adolescent deformation: “Mom, you are so random,” as in Iovis II, 221.)

                  One may also see in Iovis its deep links to encyclopedic long poem projects by

Pound and Williams.[19] In modern long poems like Paterson and the Cantos, there is a

strong component of diagnosis. With their pileup of evidence, the encyclopedism gives

the illusion (and it is an illusion really) that all elements of a given society and culture

have been covered. This contributes to the sense of totalizing of these poems even when

they have many loose ends. Further, such poems (and this is part of the pleasure) seem to

adumbrate in their field and polyvalent accumulations a new society, and a new and total

culture (as Pound once said). That is, the very form of the poem is a sociality and a hope

for social transformation. This is quite true of Waldman’s poem, although it is not clear

that she allows this form to argue for final or rested; in contrast, Notley’s The Descent of

Alette is very conscious of its ending: a secular vision based on the resurrection in the

flesh, of bodies emerging from the grave of the subway. In Notley’s vision, too,

everything is left to be done; there is no prescription for a new society. Such a society

will be built by the values learned in the struggle with the Tyrant.
Waldman’s speaking

subject claims authority — but it is the authority of investigation — like a detective, a

follower of clues, an explorer, a discoverer. As I already noted, there is often a sense that

the subjectivity of the poem is on overload with the pressures and voices of all the others

she allows to speak forcefully in her text.

                  In his long poem, Pound’s subjectivity was the revealer of the hidden, occluded,

structures — it is the voice of someone who has uncovered a gigantic conspiracy and

does not doubt his findings, their importance, nor his unchangeable subject position as

catalyst case-manager. This is the ambition to speak the whole social fabric and articulate

root issues or problems that can be analyzed by means of the collage coupure and

engaged juxtapositions the poem provides. For Pound, the issue was economic deception

and degradation. He called this usury instead of capitalism; he became fixated on Jews as

history’s villains. Pound had a golden age vision with a sense of ultimate restoration of

that age with Mussolini. The Cantos were fundamentally traumatized by WWI and then

again by WWII. Pound offers political and historical materials (“tales of the tribe”); an

anthology boil-down — a summa of what’s really important; a declaration that the work

is not fiction (although presumably it is fictive), that is there’s real message, real

document in the work. This goal — that poetry should analyze, appreciate, explore what

is happening in the real world is vital to Waldman: “May it be her ultimate sirventes, that

old troubadour refrain of outrage toward a botched civilization” (Iovis II, 287) sums up

the Poundean motif, citing Pound’s “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley.” The encyclopedic poem

is evaluative and judgmental.

                  In Waldman’s Iovis scrapbook of array, as in Pound’s Cantos, or Williams’

Paterson, there are so many materials that the goal of judgment may seem implausible.

But it is a purpose central to the encyclopedic long poem. Judgment may occur in a

variety of ways. The paradox of Pound’s setting out the notes and glosses that constitute a

lot of the poem so that the reader can “draw his own conclusions” from the data — yet

the conclusions are predigested by Pound — it is one of those “fake” Socratic projects

that lead only to the conclusion the pedagogue proposes. Williams’ method of judgment

was a tactic of field composition that he called “rolling up,” so that great chunks of

material, as they crossed, could have one key idea extrapolated from them — such as

waste, or need for “marriage” — explorations of sexuality, or a sense of wonder amid the


                  Paterson is a somewhat more attractive poem (than Pound's) because of

Williams’ willingness to engage with criticism and doubts about the poem and the project

inside the very poem. Just like the fierce, lacerating letters from “Cress” in Paterson that

undermine the subjectivity of Paterson right where it really hurts — in his own self

justificatory gender narrative, so in Waldman’s poem, severe self-doubt enter and inflect

the project — a kind of “nekuia” moment, as in the epic plot, of a descent to the

underworld. The self-doubt is striking: coming “to rest with her box of scraps, notes,

journals, memorabilia, letters, unfinished versions, her major task continuing unsettled at

her feet. She spreads the documents about her, and bows her head. She feels a burden to

sustain the plan. The society is crumbling around her. She can barely withstand the daily

news” (Iovis I, 279). One section later, she feels marginalized within her own community

(Iovis I, 286). She incorporates the letter of a provocative, empathetic reader who calls

attention to the “transport” of the writing, the sense of riding the words, the issue that

language is often used instrumentally.[20] This letter is, unlike the Cress letter, a mainly

appreciative note on her mediumship (“I see you as this kind of poet, who lets energy

flow through her, while you do your best to manifest the patterned energies you sense”

[Iovis I, 297]), but it pulls at her, as do all the letters — political, cracking up,


                  The ethnographic urge to take the measure of a specific culture is one of

Williams’ “contributions” to Waldman’s poem. Indeed, Waldman’s themes of the waste

of possibility and the pollution of democracy by profiteering, the creation of waste from

abundance, contemporary ecological destruction are close to Paterson; so too her use of

inserted letters to offer a sense of a community sounding, and filiations to other people.

The writer of Paterson emphatically proposes a male gendered and sexed subject position

for the speaker of the poem. (Pound does too, but Williams is more overt because less

universalizing.) But of course neither the Cantos nor Paterson revises maleness and its

cultural authority. The male subjectivity of these poems and of Olson’s is counterpoised

consciously and with lacerating fervor — by Waldman’s parallel poem positing a

female/ androgynous subjectivity speaking the poem Iovis. Waldman has stood

corporeally against (and for) these magisterial works of modernism — continuing them

and criticizing them in one ambitious gesture.



[This paper was first given at the Anne Waldman Conference. 14-16 March 2002, Ann

Arbor, Michigan. Published, revised, as “Anne Waldman: Standing Corporeally in One’s Own

Time.” Jacket 27 http://www.jacketmagazine.com/27/index.html (Winter/Spring 2005). It was

subsequently published in Daniel Kane, ed. Don’t Ever Get Famous: Essays on New York Writing

after the New York School. Champaign: Ill.: Dalkey Archive Press, 2006: 173-194. Copyright

Rachel Blau DuPlessis, all rights reserved. The author regrets not being able fully to update this

essay to consider the full three volumes of IOVIS, although several verbal changes have been

made in this essay (in 2015).]





[1] “Women’s mobility is an important means through which the reconfigurations of the

modern female subject are textually represented: modern women may ‘move

dangerously,’ but their journeys situate women at the heart of modernity and remind us

that, as [Ernst] Bloch wrote, ‘one has one’s time according to where one stands

corporeally.’” This is cited from an article by Wendy Parkins, whose interest in women

defining modernity has been influenced by Rita Felski. Parkins (“Moving Dangerously:

Mobility and the Modern Woman, Tulsa Studies 20.1 [Spring 2001]: 77-92) herself cites

Ernst Bloch, “Nonsynchronism and the Obligation to Its Dialects (1932),” New German

Critique 11 (1977): 22.


[2] Anne Waldman, “Notes for a Public Forum,” 100 Days 30 April 2001, Barque Press,

2001: 133. Refers to the first 100 days of the Bush appointed-presidency.


[3] Charles Olson, in Catherine Seelye, ed. Charles Olson and Ezra Pound: An

Encounter at St. Elizabeths. New York: Paragon House, 1975: 17. Olson means this as

apart from “the vomit of his conclusions” (18).


[4] I am assimilating the terms merriness and chiaroscuro from Rosi Braidotti, Nomadic

Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory, New

York: Columbia University Press, 1994: 167.


[5] And another thing going on right now: over the past 25-35 years, a tremendous input

in women, of a variety of opinions, writing very long poems. Here is a partial list: Diane

DiPrima, Loba; Diane Wakoski, Greed; Bernadette Mayer, Midwinter Day; Sharon

Doubiago, Hard Country; Susan Howe, The Liberties; Judy Grahn, A Woman Is Talking

to Death; Beverly Dahlen, A Reading; Susan Griffin, Women and Nature: The Roaring

Inside Her; Alice Notley, The Descent of Alette; Lyn Hejinian, My Life (and Oxota);

Anne Waldman, Iovis; Harryette Mullen, Muse and Drudge; Rochelle Owens, Luca:

Discourse on Life and Death; Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Drafts.


[6] There is no doubt these works are linked. Notley’s thinking on epic, her narrative

strategies within the mythopoetic, her desire for a world-transformative analysis of

patriarchy links and interwines with Waldman’s thinking on epic, her encyclopedic

strategies for the mythopoetic, her analysis of patriarchy. Notley also produced a subtle,

apt, discerning, empathetic study of Iovis in Chicago Review. There is a further link, a

deep curiosity of literary history. Frances Boldereff, by the force of her enthusiasm and

knowledge, made Charles Olson look at Sumerian materials from Samuel Noah Kramer,

the great archeologist and historian. Some of that material involved Inanna, the mother

goddess epic, one of the great poems of world literature with a female quester. Under the

influence of feminist desire and curiosity, about thirty-five years later, a stunning

retelling of Inanna was published (in 1983) by Diane Wolkstein, based on Kramer’s

scholarship. This was rather fervently read; indeed, this epic of female quest was highly

influential. Of these long poems, it influenced Grahn, Notley, and Waldman.


[7] Waldman’s words; “‘I Is Another’: Dissipative Structures,” in Fast Speaking Woman:

Chants and Essays: 134; also in Vow to Poetry.


[8] Judith Halberstam, Female Masculinity. Durham: Duke University Press, 1998;

Michael Davidson, Guys Like Us: Citing Masculinity in Cold War Poetics. Chicago:

University of Chicago Press, 2004.


[9] DuPlessis and Snitow, The Feminist Memoir Project: Voices from Women’s

Liberation. New York: Three Rivers Press (Random House), 1998: 20.


[10] “Abortion,” written for an [undated] abortion rights rally in Boulder, Colorado, in

Kill or Cure. New York: Penguin, 1994: 114-115.


[11] One can point, now [2002], to a strong set of collected essays by poets, critical

books (all or parts) and special issues working on the reception of women “experimental”

writers of all kinds, books including Kathleen Fraser, Translating the Unspeakable:

Poetry and the Innovative Necessity. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2000;

Lyn Hejinian, The Language of Inquiry. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000;

Joan Retallack, The Poethical Wager. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003;

Rachel Blau DuPlessis, The Pink Guitar: Writing as Feminist Practice and Blue Studios:

Poetry and Its Cultural Work (both from University of Alabama Press, 2006 [Pink Guitar

from 1990]); Lynn Keller, Forms of Expansion: Recent Long Poems by Women.

University of Chicago Press, 1997; Ann Vickery, Leaving Lines of Gender: A Feminist

Genealogy of Language Writing. Wesleyan/New England, 2000; Linda A. Kinnahan,

Lyric Interventions: Feminism, Experimental Poetry, and Contemporary Discourse.

University of Iowa Press, 2004; Elisabeth A. Frost, The Feminist Avant-Garde in

American Poetry. University of Iowa Press, 2003; Laura Hinton and Cynthia Hogue, eds.,

We Who Love to Be Astonished: Experimental Women’s Writing and Performance

Poetics. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2002; Steve Evans, ed. differences

12.2 (Summer 2001), special issue: After Patriarchal Poetry: Feminism and the

Contemporary Avant-Garde; Patricia Dienstfrey and Brenda Hillman, eds., The Grand

Permission: New Writings on Poetics and Motherhood. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan

University Press, 2003.


[12] Lee Christopher, “Interview with Anne Waldman.” AWP Chronicle 28.1 (December

1995): 1.


[13] See DuPlessis, H.D.: The Career of that Struggle, 1986. H.D.’s “epic” clearly had an

impact on Waldman’s conception of Iovis. Along with the encyclopedism (alluding to

Pound, Williams and Olson), Waldman has made several key allusions to H.D.’s Helen in

Egypt. Stylistically the poems are exceedingly different — even opposite, as H.D.’s is a

centered, dreamlike but narrative-meditative reflection on one central myth of Western

culture: the fault of Helen of Troy in triggering one of the key culturally and politically

formative wars in our tradition. H.D.’s poem is centered, regular and, while spiritual,

non-vatic. But Waldman learned from and alluded to several specific elements of H.D.’s

poem. One is in the general reflection on women in a mythologically charged site.

Another is the creation of a quester speaker who is a thamaturge, responsible for rites of

naming and envisioning. Another is a specific rhetorical strategy that is very clarifying:

of having a headnote, a box of italicized information, that explains the work of the canto

to come, doubling its argument in allusive prose and then in poetry.


[14] Myra Jehlen, “Gender,” in Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin, eds., Critical

Terms for Literary Study. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995: 263-273. Citation

on 265.


[15] My analysis in Writing Beyond the Ending, that in kunstlerromans, female heroes

often complete the incompleted work of thwarted parents seems germane here.


[16] About the operatic, one may link this, pertinently, to the computer. Waldman feels

with Iovis the impact of the computer; she says “it is like a theater, a magic movie screen.

You have all of these little players to move around [referring to sections of poems]. It is

like an opera” (Waldman, AWP Chronicle interview, 4).


[17] Given the breadth of materials and of years over which such a poem is composed,

one might find some of its genres are conflictual (narrative and notes; sequence and

collage; sestina and letter). The absorption and transcending of conflicts in this poem’s

space would be this poem’s method. A writer may throw out a variety of analogies for the

work of encyclopedic form, analogies that are always right, of course, but always

incomplete. Despite the fiercely febrile performativeness of the work, Waldman has also

called it a temple (“Go Between Between”) meaning a plurality of nooks and crannies, a

catholic” space in which the sacred dwells in every spot — and in which worship and

exorcism can occur. There are other analogies besides shrine or temple. In a lecture in

1996, she calls Iovis a totem pole. This last appealing in its frank phallicism — and in its

quasi-Jungian cast of poised characters stacked like masks on the pole. Both these are

very spatialized analogies and at interplay with the performative, aria/cantata sense of a

poem cut into time for performance.


[18] A little touch of Marjorie Perloff in her Futurist book, but I am mainly drawing on

Janet Lyon, Manifestoes: Provocations of the Modern, Ithaca: Cornell University Press,

1999: 16.


[19] People sometimes call these poems epics. This is the subject of a very important

comment made by Alice Notley on the matter of Iovis, that it does have epic themes (love

and war). Notley makes two propositions. She says that it is conventional to call Olson’s,

Pound’s and Williams’ work Epic (as a metaphor), and therefore Waldman must be

accorded the same rights, as she emphatically works in this tradition. But Notley suggests

(and I have long agreed) that a strict definition of the term epic would exclude these

modern long poems, though not the work of H.D.: the definition of Notley’s is that it is a

narrative that does cultural service. By the way, this implicitly makes The Descent of

Alette an epic moment — that is using the “descent to the underworld” part of epics—the

nekuia — as the whole story. Scope is here



I use words as my table, as a kind of shrine

I sweep over the care of the words

They take care of themselves

I sweep them under my demand (Iovis I, 119)


Scope is here in conflict with being through-composed. This is the challenge, par

excellence, for the writer of the long poem.



Works Cited


Bloch, Ernst. “Nonsynchronism and the Obligation to Its Dialects (1932),” New German

         Critique 11 (1977): 22-38.

Braidotti, Rosi. Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary

         Feminist Theory, New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.

Cixous, Hélène. “The Laugh of the Medusa,” trans. Keith Cohen and Paula Cohen. New

         French Feminisms, in Elaine Marks and Isabelle de Courtivron, eds. Amherst:

         University of Massachusetts Press, 1980: 245-264.

Davidson, Michael. Guys Like Us: Citing Masculinity in Cold War Poetics. Chicago:

         University of Chicago Press, 2004.

Dienstfrey, Patricia and Brenda Hillman, eds. The Grand Permission: New Writings on

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