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Angel Hair feature

Introduction
by Lewis Warsh

Also see Anne Waldman’s Introduction
Cover of Angel Hair anthology

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Anne Waldman and I met in the earliest stages of our becoming poets. Possibly editing a magazine is a tricky idea under these circumstances. Possibly it’s the best idea — to test one’s ideas before you even have them, or when they’re pre-embryonic. In a sense doing a magazine at this early moment was our way of giving birth — as much to the actual magazine and books as to our selves as poets. We were going on nerve, all of twenty years old, but trusting in our love, which was less tricky and in the moment defied all uncertainty.
      The fact that we were growing up through the editing of the magazine and writing our own poems at the same time was a complicated process and gave us a lot of permission to make mistakes, stumble and recover. It was by making mistakes, as in every endeavor, that we learned. From the start, the contents of the magazine mirrored our social encounters as much as any fixed aesthetic.
      Yet we also had a point of departure and context — the poets included in The New American Poetry anthology edited by Donald Allen, which first appeared in 1960. I encountered this book the summer it appeared, when I was fifteen, and eventually knew many of the poems and the biographical statements by heart.
      There was also the context of The Berkeley Poetry Conference, which took place in the summer of 1965. This is where Anne and I met, at Robert Duncan’s reading. The conference was one of the major convergences of the poets included in the Don Allen anthology, with emphasis on the Black Mountain poets and the poets of the San Francisco Renaissance. (None of the first-generation New York School poets were present, though I’d heard that Frank O’Hara had been invited and couldn’t make it.) So from the start this was the tradition we wanted to explore as publishers and editors. A feeling of wanting to go beyond that tradition came later — another step in the process of becoming, of being. It was just a matter of time before we realized that our real work wasn’t simply to mine the tradition of the poets of that world, but to create our own.

The first poem in the first issue of the magazine is a translation of a poem by Pierre Reverdy by Kenneth Koch and Georges Guy. Georges was a French professor at Bennington who would frequently take Anne and me to dinner (a French restaurant, The Rain Barrel) on weekends when I’d go visit Anne, who was in her last year at college. Kenneth Koch had been my teacher at the New School in fall ’63. When we decided to start the magazine — we were in the backseat of a car driving from Bennington to New York when we looked at each other and said ‘Let’s do it’ and five minutes later ‘Let’s call it Angel Hair’ — Georges offered us this poem.
      I must admit that in my first readings of the New American Poetry anthology the poets in the New York School section interested me the least. My tastes were with the Black Mountain poets, especially Robert Creeley, Denise Levertov and Paul Blackburn, and with the San Francisco poets, Jack Spicer, Robert Duncan and Robin Blaser. The way these poets internalized experience made sense to me; I’d always been involved with inner voices, and it was the tone in which these voices were speaking to me that became the ‘voice’ of my early poems. These poets also taught me that psychology, magic, history and dailiness could exist in poetry in equal measure.
      The New York School poets sounded a bit too formal and rhetorical to me, too on the surface — Frank O ’Hara, most confusing of all, since he was formal and colloquial almost in the same breath — I wasn’t ready for it. This is what evolution means — the factors that create the possibility of interest, the chance encounters with books and people that influence you in ways you might not know about until years later. Though I had attended Kenneth Koch’s workshop, during which he discussed at length the poets of the New York School, my heart was really elsewhere. Yet when I was in the class, I wrote my first good poem — ‘The Suicide Rates’ — influenced mostly by Robin Blaser’s long poems, ‘Cups’ and ‘The Park,’ which I’d read in Locus Solus magazine. I realized that all the geographical/aesthetic divisions which Don Allen used to structure his anthology were open to question (as a fifteen-year-old, I assumed all those boundaries were sacred) and this insight, fueled by Kenneth’s positive response to my poem, had a lot to do with my later stance as an editor.
      In April 1966 I found an apartment at 33 St. Marks Place, between Third and Second Avenues, a four-room floor-through for $110 a month. Anne graduated from Bennington in June and moved in. The first issue of the magazine had come out that spring.
      I was working as a caseworker for the Welfare Department, my first job after graduating City College, cruising the streets of Bushwick with a black looseleaf notebook in my hand as proof of my identity to those who might question my presence on the streets, spending my afternoons drinking coffee at tiny formica dining room tables with young mothers with four or five children from two or three different fathers.
      It was a job that affected me as much as anything I was reading but in a way that I didn’t realize until decades had passed. I was supposed to ask these women about the whereabouts of the fathers and why they weren’t paying child support. What I realized was that many of the men were paying child support — but that to tell the Welfare Department this would reduce the already miniscule grant that was being offered. Mostly I realized that it was none of my business, and when my clients figured out that I was trying to work for them — not punish them for having children, or judge them — they welcomed me with less suspicion.
      So this is what I was doing at the beginning of my career as an editor. Anne, meanwhile, found a job as an assistant to a newly formed arts organization — The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church. Joel Oppenheimer was the first director, Joel Sloman the co-director. By 1968 Anne became the director. Almost simultaneously, Ted Berrigan began visiting us at our apartment, usually late at night as he meandered home to his apartment on 2nd Street between C & D. The second issue of Angel Hair had appeared by then and we had included a chapter from his novel, Clear the Range. I had quit my job at the Welfare Department after eight months. Anne kept her own (albeit regular) hours at the church, and we could stay up most of the night and get through the next day without much trouble.
      First it was just Ted and Dick Gallup who came by regularly. We spent hours smoking dope and listening to music and talking about poetry and writing poems together and gossiping about everyone who wasn’t there and what jerks they were because they were missing out. Ted and Dick’s collaborative poem ‘80th Congress’ (to Ron Padgett) catches with awkward delicateness the initial awakening of all our new friendships:

It’s 2 a. m. at Anne & Lewis’s which is where it’s at
On St. Mark’s Place, hash and Angel Hairs on our minds
Love is in our heart’s (what else?) dope & Peter Schjeldahl
Who is new and valid in a blinding snowstorm

Inside joy fills our drugless shooting gallery
With repartee: where there’s smoke there’s marriage &, folks
That’s also where it’s at in poetry in 1967
Newly rich but still a hopeless invalid (in 1967)

Yes, it’s 1967, & we’ve been killing time with life
But at Lewis & Anne’s we live it ‘up’
Anne makes lovely snow-sodas while Lewis’s
          watchammacallit warms up this
New Year’s straight blue haze. We think about that

And money. With something inside us we float up
To & onto you, it, you were truly there & now you ’re here.

After awhile the crowds in our living room grew denser. Jim Brodey, Lee Crabtree (keyboardist and composer for The Fugs) and Michael Brownstein were among the initial regulars, along with Ted and Dick. Harris Schiff, my old high school friend, came later. Tom Clark was there a lot after he arrived from England. Peter and Linda Schjeldahl were there — and sometimes we all ended up at their apartment on 3rd Street, or at George and Katie Schneeman’s apartment once they moved up the block. Sometimes, well after midnight, we ended up at Max’s Kansas City. Gerard Malanga and René Ricard were around a lot.


Larry Fagin (left) and Ron Padgett, Holly Solomon's Greene Street Gallery, NYC, circa 1973. Photo by Linda P. O'Brien. Photo courtesy Larry Fagin.

Photo of Larry Fagin and Ron Padgett

Larry and Joan Fagin came later and Ron and Pat Padgett appeared intermittently. Martha Diamond and Donna Dennis, two young painters who lived across the street, were frequent visitors.

Tom, Angelica and Juliet Clark on Bolinas Beach, CA, 1969. Photo by Bill Beckman, (c) Tom Clark 2001. Courtesy of Tom Clark

     Tom, Angelica and Juliet Clark on Bolinas Beach, CA, 1969.
     Photo by Bill Beckman, © Tom Clark 2001. Courtesy of Tom Clark

I’m leaving out others. Ted was there every night until he left to teach in Iowa in 1968. Sandy Berrigan often visited by day, with her two children, David and Kate. Joanne Kyger showed up one afternoon after she moved to the city with her husband Jack Boyce, and Jim Carroll was a constant self-contained presence, straight out of high school. Bill Berkson was there often, especially after he moved from East 57th to his apartment around the corner on 10th Street.
      Alongside the salon atmosphere, a little publishing industry was rumbling in our living room. We had begun doing books by then — the English poet Lee Harwood’s The Man With Blue Eyes was the first, followed by Gerard Malanga’s 3 Poems for Benedetta Barzini. It was a natural progression to go from magazine to books, a furthering of the commitment to the writers that interested us most. In retrospect I think Anne and I were intent on mining all the possibilities of being editors and publishers as quickly as possible so that we could get on with our own work and whatever was to follow. Some nights we wouldn’t answer the door just to get stuff done but Ted had a special code for our buzzer — he was always welcome, and often our best-intentioned plans to spend a quiet night at home were quietly sabotaged. If I was lucky, I could get to work by 2 or 3 am: type a few stencils, rewrite yesterday’s poem, answer a few letters, mail some books into the world. Read the newspaper.
      There was little critical writing going on at the time. Not even reviews. Some of the poets wrote art reviews for Art News and The Village Voice. I wrote a few reviews for Poetry Magazine, but to what purpose? I could only reiterate the ongoing decades-long argument between academic and experimental writing and try to draw attention to the work of my friends (though I didn’t have much say about what books I could review). Writing poetry criticism during the late sixties was to associate oneself with an academic world, and a tone of voice, which was considered inimical to the life of poetry itself.
      It was more important to look out the window, to feel the light coming in, or the way the whole world seemed to collapse around you and rearrange itself as you stepped off the curb, than to think about poetry in a way that might improve other people’s lives. There was the poetry of being alive and there was the poetry on the page. The word ‘poet’ was often used generically to describe the way you lived your life, whether you wrote anything or not. No one I knew aspired to a tenure-track position, no one I knew attended MLA conferences, no one I knew had a PhD. Most of the people I knew didn’t work at all. Visiting writing gigs at colleges was the most one ever hoped for, but no one was hustling in that direction.
      This nonacademic stance, however, was never anti-intellectual. The freedom from working regular jobs meant there was more time to read and talk about books, and not just the books that arrived in the mail. And the culture of the late sixties was inviting, as well, so that as a poet you could feel part of a larger world that involved music and painting and dance and movies and politics, what was going on in the present, and without feeling cynical. The songs on the radio actually had some immediate illusory connection to what one might be doing as a poet. I remember going with Anne to a special screening of Blow Up in London; before the movie came on, they played ‘A Day in A Life’ by the Beatles — it was the first time I heard it. The day that the Beatles White Album came out, we stayed up listening till dawn. (I can still picture Anne, curled up in an armchair, attentive as always, as the light came up over St. Marks Place.)
      At the same time — and this might be the true measure of how much time has passed — there was almost no feminist or multicultural consciousness at work, no conscious attempt to balance the number of male and female poets contributing to the magazine, no thought of raising the political level beyond the politics of the poetry world itself. Especially embarrassing is the dearth of women poets published in the magazine. To say that there were fewer women poets writing or that the most radical political groups at the time were sexist and homophobic is no excuse.
      By the fifth issue, the magazine became associated almost exclusively with the The New York School. Yet I’ve never felt quite like a bona fide New York School Poet, whatever that means. The poetry world, especially during that time, felt more communal to me than a cluster of different schools, and I saw no contradiction publishing poets associated with the west coast — Ebbe Borregaard, Philip Whalen, Robert Duncan, Joanne Kyger, John Thorpe and Jim Koller — alongside the poets from the New York School. (The magazines I’d learned most from, Yugen and Locus Solus, were committed to a sense of variousness, and I had no interest in editing a magazine where the bloc of contributors was the same from issue to issue.) I’d begun reading Clark Coolidge’s poems in Aram Saroyan’s Lines magazine, and elsewhere, and felt an immediate rush of recognition. Bernadette Mayer’s 0 to 9 magazine, which she had begun coediting with Vito Acconci, overlapped and expanded the work we were doing. Of all magazines published in the sixties, possibly 0 to 9 is the true precursor for much of the experimental writing that has been done in the decades to follow.
      The sixth and last issue of Angel Hair is a kind of denouement to the whole project. Only three years had passed, but it felt like many lifetimes. Anne and I were more involved with publishing books (many of the poets we knew had book-length manuscripts and no publishers, so doing books was more useful) and The World — the mimeographed magazine published every month or two by the Poetry Project — was beginning to cover much of the same ground as Angel Hair. I also felt that we had made our point in trying to define a poetry community without coastal boundaries — a community based on a feeling of connectedness that transcended small aesthethic differences, all the usual traps that contribute to a blinkered pony vision of the world.
      Anne and I, however, had by then created personal boundaries of our own — we were evolving, growing up, growing out of ourselves, but no longer in parallel directions — and it was time to move on.

photo of Anne Waldman and Lewis Warsh

— Lewis Warsh, 7/2000

Photo (left): Anne Waldman and Lewis Warsh
Angel hair sleeps with a boy in my head : the Angel hair anthology
edited by Anne Waldman and Lewis Warsh
Granary Books, ISBN 1 887123 50 4 (cloth: alk. paper)
ISBN 1 887123 49 0 (pbk.: alk. paper)
Granary Books, Inc. http://www.granarybooks.com/
Distributed to the trade by D.A.P. Distributed Art Publishers, 155 Avenue of the Americas, Second Floor, New York, NY 10013-1508, Orders: (800) 338-BOOK, Tel.: (212) 627-1999, Fax: (212) 627-9484


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