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
For nine months, this teepee was pitched on the tracks leading into Rocky Flats nuclear trigger factory
just south of Boulder, Colorado. From April 1978 to January 1979, a group of local activists known as
The Rocky Mountain Truth Force protested here. Anne Waldman read here & was arrested here, as seen
in Costanzo Allione’s Kerouac School film Fried Shoes Cooked Diamonds. Photo by Ernie Leyba.
The photograph of a teepee pitched on locomotive train spur bringing plutonium in & out
of Rocky Flats on railcars is an American Ideogram of what Anne Waldman: Keeping
The World Safe For Poetry means to me. The community of citizen-activists that
demonstrated peacefully there––keeping the nonviolent pressure up––led to the eventual
shutdown of Rocky Flats nuclear trigger factory in 1992. Granted, this is but one sign
among many in the Anne Waldman mudrasphere, but the experience continued to have
its impacts––informing her work and life. At the Prague Writers Festival in 2009, for
example, she reads a poem called, “I remember being arrested at Rocky Flats Nuclear
I remember being arrested at Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant [Excerpts]
for Joe Brainard
I remember being arrested at Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, what I
was wearing: a red & white Hawai’ian shirt, white straw hat with plaid
ribbon, white pants with a gentle crease down the front.
I remember thinking "all this could disappear."
I remember being with Allen Ginsberg in Chicago during the Chicago Seven
trials, I remember thinking that I would demonstrate with him anywhere in the
I remember Allen's good cheer on the bus to be booked in Golden, also his gentle
I remember how we chanted mantras then & we are chanting mantras now and
we will keep chanting mantras for the rest of our lives.
I remember making a huge circle of human bodies for miles & miles around
I remember when I was pregnant I stayed away.
Where she’s been, already! What she’s seen, done, accomplished! “We will keep
chanting mantras for the rest of our lives,” she says of her Dogenesque Poetry War Time
Being at the Poetry Project, with Allen––and all the days after Allen, truth to fact––
making the world a safer space for all voices to rise up from voices long denied. Just
consider the range of her invention. Hers is an expression of Matriot-ear wit-music
mastery, vocal lyric composition mastery, mastery of forms, virile mastery, activist
scholar/experimental international poetics curriculum master. Chant, jazz-blues,
operatics, improvising–mastery of innovation––from the master of whole books spun
from a lone word or two riding along like a spider so big you ride it with a saddle...
Maybe it was the rivalry between Sei Shonagon (The Pillow Book) and Lady Murasaki
Shikibu (The Tale of Genji) or a transmission from Gertrude Stein that made Anne the
poet she is. Maybe it was a sense of Classical Greek fashion. Maybe it was her family,
her magic New York, the passion with which John Lennon cut through his lyrics. Maybe
it was something about everywoman she learned from Mazatec shaman María Sabina.
Maybe it was her spiritual relationship with Allen Ginsberg––both in their founding the
Kerouac School, commitment to sanity throughout their engagement––and how Anne
remains as much influenced by Allen in life and in death, even as she finds herself in
ever-widening circles of poets around the world, carrying on original missions as she sees
them now. Maybe she was a secret member of the Lettrist International, a Dada Muslim
Feminist with a sound like lipstick traces. Maybe she came back to human form in our
time to exemplify what Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche meant by The Mishap Lineage &
undifferentiated, undualistic Crazy Wisdom.
It was from Anne that I learned the import of the poetry magazine as a public service
announcement. I also learned the Art of The Interview directly from her, in 1978 when
we interviewed Ted Berrigan. Once, I opened an interview with Anne by popping the big
question, “So, is it true? Are you a blood relative of Sappho?” Something so propitious,
so Sapphic, about her... Although the Buddha remarked that all things are transitory,
including his own teachings, it’s also a corollary that equally as likely, Anne Waldman’s
poetry will never be extinguished. It will find bodies to illuminate in order to be read,
spoken and performed again.
Co-editors Lisa Birman, Eleni Sikelianos and I came together in order to strike the gongs
of bodhichitta in celebration of Anne’s 70th earth year. Poet, novelist, editor, and Naropa
University Summer Writing Program Director Lisa Birman reached out to the Vast
Waldman Network. The poet Eleni Sikelianos, a direct relation to Anne and great
granddaughter of the renowned Greek poet Angelos Sikelianos, also did endless
networking and came up with the title Keeping The World Safe For Poetry. Let it be
(said). Great is our joy in lashing this virtual collector’s item together.
In this pixidelic gathering, one can see the sheer testimony to Anne Waldman’s merit.
Good to have Rachel Blau DuPlessis’ critical analysis “Anne Waldman: Standing
Corporeally in One’s Time” reprinted here. Also fortunate to have included Andrei
Codrescu’s “Who’s Afraid of Anne Waldman?” keynote address/poem in Ann Arbor,
March 2002, University of Michigan Special Collections Library “Anne Waldman:
Makeup on Empty Space” Symposium. To paraphrase Eileen Myles, Anne Waldman
knows. It’s Anne, all along the watchtowers, keeping the world safe for poetry.
Three interviews are reprinted here, giving us the opportunity to retrieve strands of
Anne’s poetics evolution. There’s the definitive 1989/1980 interview by Randy Roark
that became know as “Vow to Poetry.” Marcella Durand’s interview for the St. Marks
Poetry Project Newsletter offers insights from Anne in 2003 on poetry, peace, politics
and humanity. There’s my interview on topics specific to The Iovis Trilogy––her 25 year,
1,000+ page epic––published under the title “Push, Push Against the Darkness.”
Much time-traveling to fill the eyes & feet, mind & heart. Deep connections posted here
from Joanne Kyger and the women of the Beat Generation, to Bill Berkson & Lewis
Warsh from the first and second generation New York School, to Alystyre Julian’s
positively fabulous multigenerational film “Fast Speaking Woman” Tribute by the “Fast
Speaking Woman” Collective. Images of Anne through the years circulate––a 1960s Nick
Dorsky still from his critically acclaimed film Hours with Jerome, the beatific Bobbie
Louise Hawkin’s portrait, decades-spanning photos to which the editors are indebted.
Because the oral tradition is so crucial to Anne Waldman, we also did our own survey of
online Anne Single Poem Clips and included highlights of those to remind ourselves and
the future of the thrill of her live performance. Some are readings of poems. Others are
with musicians––often centered around her son, Ambrose Bye––making spoken word
music. In no particular ranking, these pieces taken together comprise our AW Top 12
Video Pics, spanning five decades.
The work we published in this celebration of Anne Waldman at 70 years reflects the
Home-Of-The-Muse Sangha that has grown steadily around her since the early 1960s. At
20, the 1965 Berkeley Poetry Conference opened a door in her. It provided an expansive
model, one she developed throughout her own poetics practice, teaching others with
awakened sanity what there is to write about, fight about, love about, make a united front
about. The occasional poems that we received for and to Anne reveal the depths of these
bonds with those who have come to know her, who have felt the vast geogenerosity of
her language, keeping it safe for poetry.
We stand with you, Anne, in empathy & sousveillance. We taste the fruits of all your
performing, recording, speaking, administrating, programming, orchestrating, touring,
editing, childrearing, teaching, after reading hours, after the readings hours hours & after
those midnight hours the other hours, buying shoelaces on the way to the beach––years
come & gone. We see the enormity of benefit your Time-Being has meant to American
Letters, Women’s Literature, Planetary Poetics. We see you in us, like Imagination &
Action, like Deep Space Nine & “Tomorrow Never Knows”––on the next nonstop flight
heading out into the Sweet Kali Yuga By-&-By.
–– Jim Cohn
28 November 2015