Anne Waldman Autobiography:

St. Mark's Poetry Project

I'd moved into the St. Mark's Place apartment upon graduating from Bennington and after interviewing with the folks who were doing the hiring (including the dynamic and liberal rector Michael Allen) for the newly conceived St. Mark's Church In-the-Bowery arts projects, theater and film as well as poetry and I was selected as a poetry assistant to Joel Oppenheimer, who was to direct the poetry program.

I was writing nightly, completely charged by the constant activity—artistic, political—of the Lower East Side environment. I was also free of school, of a certain kind of useful yet, from another point of view, pernicious influence. I was interested in my own energy patternings, conversations and dialogues in my own mind, not in conceptualizing "the poem." The voices in my brain wouldn't sleep. And when I did sleep I'd awake with the tail end of a dream demanding to be writ, heard, remembered—startling language figment, image of another world, time, place. Use it! An immediacy and urgency took hold to write all waking and sleeping details down quickly—as witness, as eyeballer of phenomena—and accept whatever shape they took. I surprised myself. Logopoeia, melopoeia  phanopoeia: Pound's three muses were entering from all directions. I worked with tape recorders. I recorded phrases off the radio, the telephone, the street, overheard conversations, stole lines from other poetries. I'd look out my window on St. Mark's Place and there was a "revolution" going on and I was part of it. We were angry about the war in Vietnam, about police brutality, strict drug penalties, racism, social injustice everywhere. I felt like an antennae, receiver, conduit for "my time." I was reeling—like so many of us in the sixties—from the intensity of a passionate vision of a better world and from all the sweet and painful informations that sang in my ear. Drug induced? Not entirely. More appropriately, poetry induced. Poets had always been oppositional, liberated, angry about the right things or at least tuned in to where the energy, power was. Witnesses drawn to the flames. Witty, too. Were poets dangerous? The FBI thought so. And yet as an artist I never felt lost in the version of that particular time. Poetic lineage went further back. In retrospect I think as activists we were politically naive. As poets we were working hard to save the world. "The DeCarlo Lots," haunted pubescent poem drawing on memory from earlier junior high school summers (Union Lake, New Jersey, near Miliville where my father's family was from), seemed an important piece. It was looser than other pieces I'd written yet organized with recurrent tangibles—details—in a collage-like structure. This was written before the Poetry Project had even begun. Having not entirely disowned my Bennington manuscript, which included pieces like "College Under Water" and "The Blue That Reminds Me of the Boat When She Left," I still wanted to break free of a lugubrious "poetical" tone I felt those poems carried. I wanted to start all over again, needing to forget the boring rules of prosody. Metaphor, simile, objective correlative. I wanted the person I was (liberated young woman in love with her own thinking and with poetry) to shine through. Persona was the clearer notion. I wanted an unbound line, physical freedom. And I wanted my passion, a kind of natural exuberance, to be in back of every line, syllable, consonant. "The DeCarlo Lots" poem seemed to bode well for subsequent pieces. It had a nostalgic tenderness rooted in specificity.

Of course the New American Poets had explored so much terrain already-explicitly, thoroughly. The poem was a field, the landscape was scary, rugged. These terrific beacon poets—like boddhisattvas pointing the way with generosity, offering to be vehicles, bridges, sources—had already by 1965 left an important legacy. And they were still around, alive, active. They were a tremendous inspiration as elders. Community was significant, necessary. The contact provided by correspondence, literary magazines, and small-press work, as well as readings and workshops, was considerable. And what was to develop over the years was a major poetic network, unparalleled. The Poetry Project existed to preserve a legacy and to continue to "make it new." This was its command. I saw the peripatetic community as tribal, connected by invisible poetic gossamers, mind to mind glints and gleamings. I felt the tremendous "mission" of the work, sense of purpose to make the world safe for poetry.

Anne Waldman. "Anne Waldman: 1945-," in Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series. Gale Research Series, Volume 17, 1993: 277.