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Ode to Anne


Anne Waldman! Poetry in motion and then some. When I was studying at Naropa in

1980, I first met Anne and wow! What a role model she was for this fledgling female

poet! I remember how Anne would fly into a room and everything would fly around

her—her hair, her arms, her Isadora Duncan-esque scarves, and of course the

amazing words that flew out of her mouth in a chugga-chugga-chugga train rhythm

that carried us all along for the ride of our lives. Not only was Anne a working poet,

she was also a demanding teacher in the best sense of the word. She demanded that

we learn. She demanded that we take risks. She demanded that we get out of our

own way, stop writing the poems we had always written, and reach into ourselves

for more. And she demanded nothing less from herself.


I have a very vivid memory of a day that Anne and I went out to lunch together. We

went to a Japanese restaurant, and I, who was struggling with an eating disorder,

ordered a measly bowl of miso soup. Anne ordered a huge plate of vegetable

tempura. She declared she was “starving” and ate batter-coated deep fried slabs of

zucchini and sweet potatoes and god-knows-what-else with tremendous gusto,

picking up each piece with her hand, stuffing them into her mouth, and licking her

fingers without apology. I had never seen a woman eat like that before. Anne was a

woman of great appetite and she taught me by example to not fear my own hungers,

but to embrace them, feed them, learn from them.


To this day, whenever I get dressed in the morning and hold a wand of mascara to

my eyelashes, I think of “putting makeup on empty space.” To this day, I use Anne’s

poems “Baby’s Pantoum” and “How the Sestina (Yawn) Works” to teach my

students—and myself—how one can push formal poetry to new heights. To see

Anne perform “Manatee/Humanity” as she did at a recent AWP conference is to

experience the holy, the profound, the divine. One cannot see Anne Waldman up on

stage chanting her words without having a spiritual awakening. She has forever

changed the way I look at poetry and its possibilities and I am forever grateful.