Anne Waldman Autobiography:
Berkeley Poetry Conference
During the summer of 1965, I travelled across country with my younger brother, Carl, and a school friend who had a job lined up in Hollywood. Yet Berkeley—then the mecca of creative and political scholarship and action, where an important poetry conference was just about to begin—was the tangible destination. Little did I realize how this trip would affect the entire direction of my life. In retrospect it seems miraculous that being in a particular place at a particular time should activate or propel one's life in such a purposeful way. I was perhaps already primed. I was a novice, naive young votary who'd read the now historic Donald Allen anthology, The New American Poetry. I was curious to hear some of the live voices of these persons I was privately emulatmg. Robert Duncan, Charles Olson, Ed Dorn, Ted Berrigan (Jon Cott had been sending Ted and Ron Padgett's C magazine to me at school), Ed Sanders, Lenore Kandel were a refreshing contrast to the poets I'd been hearing at Bennington: May Swenson, Richard Eberhardt, Stanley Kunitz. They were less predictable, far ranging, their field was much more open, expansive. So-called subject matter was sexually explicit, tender. The poems were political, spiritual. Lines were shocking, dissonant, powerful, beautiful, lyrical, strange. The audience stayed with these poets all the way. Responsive to the point of shouting out commentary. These were not entertainments. The poet was not a politician or salesman pi presence, the groping for what was it? More light? More glimmers that were poems? Outside poems? The sense that one had a personal dance or motion in the world, a "job" to do, seemed to sustain this huge bear of a man whose feet lifted off the ground as he read, arms supporting his massive frame on the podium. And Robert Duncan's arms had waved and danced in the air as he read, gestures into the ether. This was a body poetics. And these poets had put their whole beings on the line. Was I being too roman for a liberated sexuality. Women could be empowered, more in touch with their bodies as landscapes for writing, not imprisoned by hope and fear of being desirable, feminine. Language could stretch to these new parameters. Other cultures—ancient cultures—were being rediscovered. We could see newly, freshly, through prehistoric eyes. Sappho's fragments were suddenly modernist poems. Ethnopoetics was as relevant—more relevant in fact—as it studied the songs and rhythms of the indigenous people of this continent—than the European canon. Make it new," Ezra Pound harangued. "Projective verse." "No ideas but in things." "Exploratory poetics." "Form is no more than an extension of content." "Duende." "Personism." "Continuous present." Although I never eschewed commas, Gertrude Stein said they were only good for hanging your hat on. Of course!
The night of the Robert Duncan reading I was introduced to a young writer-poet and novelist from New York, Lewis Warsh. Lewis had been travelling to San Francisco regularly during the summers, to sit at the feet of Jack Spicer, Robert Duncan, Robin Blaser, others. He was obsessed with poetry and the French "nouvelle vague," highly disciplined as a writer, having written several novels in high school. We were to become fast friends, romantic comrades hitchhiking to Mexico at the end of the poetry conference, hitching back to New York City, founding Angel Hair magazine and books, living together (even marrying in 1967 at St. Mark's Church in a gala wedding studded with poet friends) until 1970, feeding and pushing on each other's writing, working together at the St. Mark's Poetry Project, running a round-the-clock salon at 33 St. Mark's Place which had regular weekly parties after the poetry events at the church. The ubiquitous cops were frequently roused by disgruntled neighbors to quiet down the scene. Energetic "cultural workers," tireless poetry fiends, a close friend called us the "A" students. You could always spend a night on our sofa, have a meal, a milkshake, an audience for your poem, a new Angel Hair or Poetry Project publication thrust into your hands.
Anne Waldman. "Anne Waldman: 1945-," in Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series. Gale Research Series, Volume 17, 1993: 275-276.