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Andrei Codrescu

Who’s Afraid of Anne Waldman?

This is not one of the toughest jobs I ever had
            Talking about Anne
            After years of talking about Anne
With everyone I know
                        Who knows Anne
& that’s a lot of people
            some of them in this room
& a few thousand in other rooms

I talked about Anne before I even met Anne
            In 1967 in the fall
A year after I came to America
Alice and I hitchhiked from Detroit
            To New York and stayed
On 125th Street in Harlem with a couple named Allegra & Jack
            Allegra had been Lewis Warsh’s girlfriend
                        Before Lewis met Anne
& when I showed Allegra my poetry she said:
            “You must show these to Anne Waldman,”
& what I thought she said was:
“You must show this to Walt Whitman”
            not really, but
what was remarkable about that
            was that Allegra was naked at the time
& sitting on Jack’s lap with the sheaf of my poems
            in her hand
& I was so startled by that
            I dropped the two cans of soup I had just stolen
                        From the corner store
Which, considering that I was the only white guy in the store at the time
            & the four of us may have been the only white people for ten blocks
                        I thought was pretty bold
                        But so was this way of looking at poetry —
Alice & I went back to Detroit for the riots
            & it was another year before I met Anne —
I first met Ted Berrigan
            Who was teaching a poetry class at the Old Courthouse on 2nd Avenue
I actually went to Sam Abrams’ class because he encouraged pot-smoking in class
            (The teaching of poetry in those days was serious business!)
but I ended up hanging by Gem’s Spa at the corner of 2nd Ave & St. Mark’s Place
            with Ted’s disciples
& I became one too, I guess
            when I saw that he could overcome just fine
            in content and voice volume
            his competition
                        Ben Morea the Motherfucker
Who used the same corner for starting riots
On weekends
            With the lovely slogan:
“Free Food! Free Food down at the graveyard!”
            which was the graveyard at the St. Mark’s Church
where Peter Stuyvesant is buried
            and should be dug up
so we can put Ted Berrigan there instead
— from Gem’s Spa radiated a vast array of activities
                        carried out by mobs of agents of the esprit
cadre of longhaired cappeloni brimming with inexact missions
            all filled with light delights revolutionary zeal
                        & occasionally paranoia & terror
though in 1968 the summer of love in New York
            the delight was much denser than paranoia

& I followed Ted around for about two weeks
            until he looked at my poems
            & the next thing I knew
            I was invited to 33 St. Mark’s Place
            Across the street from Gem’s Spa
            & here was the literary heart of the lower east east side
                        Which was the Number 1 bohemia in the world in 1968
With London a distant 2nd
            And San Francisco on its way out

                        Anne Waldman & Lewis Warsh in residence

Publishers of The World

            The mimeo monthly of the St. Mark’s Church in the Bowerie Poetry Project
                        Anne Waldman director

33 St. Mark’s Place was the inner sanctum
            the command bunker of the New York School of Poetry
                        manned by the second generation

who coined that “second generation” business anyway?

On my way to work at the 8th Street Bookstore one day
            Some guy stopped me on the street and asked
“Do you know where the New York School of poetry is?”

and I directed him to 33 St. Mark’s Place
            Sorry, Anne,
You didn’t really have to put up that guy!
            He was Allen van Newkirk
                        Just kidding

At 33 St. Mark’s Place
             Everyone was poets
                          Even the drug dealers
             They conducted circular missions
             wide circles that touched
                          on other circles
            of painters & musicians
                        & Andy Warhol’s crowd
all the way uptown to Lita Hornick’s
            & to the Hamptons
& vertically in time to other bohemias
            that had just gotten tired

absolutely nobody was ever tired at 33 St. Mark’s Place

and amid this current & historic rebel splendor
            was Anne cool classical beautiful
energetic, intelligent & in charge

everyone was in love with her
            it was the summer of love Anne Waldman

there wasn’t anybody who didn’t love Anne Waldman
            the Establishment didn’t love any of us
                        but even the Establishment
            if we had let the Establishment
                        anywhere near us
would have loved Anne Waldman

but Anne Waldman didn’t love the Establishment
            she was a “Dark Commando”

“private property that’s why
you can’t snuggle up to someone else’s trees”

            (Giant Night, 1970, p. 62)

            and she went to the store to buy:

            1. PRINCE fast drying RUBBER CEMENT
            2. airmail envelopes
            3. brown wrapping paper
            4. a light blue washcloth

and she declared these things “necessary to my daily life / as love sex happiness joy”

now there was a Pop credo
            there was faith
                        there was a hood

as in the next breath she thought about her friends, “Martha in Vermont,” “Ted in Maine,” and “all the people everywhere in the country / surrounded by trees / &water&birds&the song of the birds / heard in our land / America America America,”

            quite breathlessly

and if you went back of that list you’d find that the Rubber Cement was for gluing Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Wales Visitation” cut from the New Yorker, and her annoyance at people who use Elmer’s to do that

            and from there to missing her friends
                        to total pantheism
            & the pickle of American policy

there was only a wave of breath the same breath

Of course we were young
            & we had a lot of breath

and a new mission that included
1. taking nothing for granted
& 2. making sure everyone was in love with you
& 3. vanquishing the masters of war
& 4. staying high
& 5. making a new art & literature

and amazingly
            we accomplished all that
esp. 2 & 4

but when I met Anne I felt very young indeed
Ted seemed to me an ancient — he was at least 28
Dick Gallup — a man from centuries past — 27 at least

And Anne
            Anne was only a year older than me
                        But she was sophisticated
            She was Olympian
Essence of cool
            Totally American
& all these New York poets who knew each other so well
            were also rich
or so it seemed to me still stealing cans from the A&P
            & deploying my accent

I’m still deploying that but I have a couple of credit cards now

These Americans scared me
            They were so American!
And Anne was the most American!
            She even put brand names in her poems!
Elmer’s! The Mets! The NY Times!

I was brooding and seething with philosophy

but I had one thing over them
            my secret weapon
my belief that I had taken acid
            at least five months before anybody
in the New York School 2nd generation had
This was my firm belief

At least until a month ago when I talked to Anne
            & we ascertained that yes, indeed,
I had taken acid in the spring of 1966 in Rome
            But that she was only a month or two behind

A difference that by 1968 meant nothing

Since by then we had all taken acid —

Still, there was this class thing —

            Bohemian pedigree
I never quite felt at home at 33 St. Mark’s Place
            I thought that people were laughing at me
                        They probably were
I made some jokes
            They weren’t laughing at those

But I do feel home now at 33 St. Mark’s Place
            Because Ted Berrigan wrote this:

It begins

“It’s just another April almost morning, at St. Mark’s Place / Harris and Alice are sleeping in beds; it’s far too early / For a scientific massage, on St. Mark’s Place, though it’s / The RIGHT place if you feel so inclined.”

and it ends:

“Calling right from where you are, in Anne’s place, / As to your heart’s delight, here comes sunlight.”

Ted wrote that in 1971 or 72 so I’ve felt at home at 33 St. Mark’s place ever since.

I had one of my graduate assistants
            Go through Ted’s complete works to find out
                        How many times Anne’s name appears in his poems:
                                    438 times!

Mine only appears twice

In 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972 my poems appeared in The World. Not just one poem but many. And everyone on the scene had not one poem but many in The World. We could appear as rich as we wanted to be, knowing that the bar was set high, the standards quite elevated. Culture.

            Anne Waldman was my publisher.
            Anne liked my poems.
            I know, maybe it was Lewis who REALLY liked my poems
            But I preferred to think that it was Anne who really really liked my poems.
            The word “counterculture” had just come into vogue
A word I never liked
            Il s’agit of culture pure and simple
What’s this counter all about? Is this a store? 2nd generation? What?
            The counterculture had utilitarian aspects indeed
And insofar as we were rebel poets we were serving this counterculture
            By making joyous noises wherever we went
            And angry noises too, but joyously

The readings at St. Mark’s place
At public meetings
At anti-war rallies
In the parks

Everything had a grand scheme like a big top over it

            But the New York poets were not like that
Well, some of them weren’t

Ted was about as apolitical
            & pro-American as you can get
he wrote “fuck communism” and mentioned the passing parade
            because it was there
                        not because he was against the war
in fact I never heard him mention it
but he got off on cheeseburgers
                        both in poems and in life
            (when he could afford them)
and those attitudes & appetites drove the peaceniks & the vegetarians crazy

            so that this “counterculture” might have been catering to some Big Ideas
but many of us poets still stole from the store

            even The Diggers store
                        which was “free”

& the appeal of the New York School in the Sixties
was precisely its apolitical feel
            that allowed that art is art only
                        & only art

that it’s not bombs or propaganda

            until that attitude became a propaganda of its own

                        but that’s another story

& the New York School was a refuge also for midwesterners and finns and romanians and escapees of every sort even for some categories of people who had no ID tags yet

I would call this the apolitical stage of the New York School
            For those in the audience
Who know Anne’s amazing activist career
            After 1970 or so
& first her vice-presidency of the Counterculture
            under President Ginsberg
& then her Presidency of the Counterculture
& while the personal was certainly political
            it was a lot more personal than political back then
we were just amazed to be alive at such an interesting time

& Anne was breathless and a busy bee

            making The World
                        the St. Mark’s readings
                                    her own poems

& all the lives I knew nothing about —

the word “community” might mean more than “counterculture”
but I think that “family” fits better La Famiglia La Cosa Nostra
because we had some major ties & were up many nights writing
together & keeping up the dark shift until the radiators hissed “Basta!”

there were so many people in this family
            I won’t name names
Because I am no longer a New York School poet
            I’m a New Orleans poet
                        First generation

The only way not to be in the New York School back then
            Was to not want to be a New York School poet
                        Either that or not to know Ted or Anne

I remember Bill Knott reading a nasty poem about the New York School
            At St. Mark’s Church one time
            He said “the New York school is a spigot on a corpse”
Or some such thing & Ted shouted from the back of the room,
            “Bill, you can be in the New York School now!”

Anne & Ted wrote a poem together
            “Memorial Day Poem,”
and it was such a great poem
we read it over and over
and many people still read it
it’s still a great poem

it was a love poem to America & to all of us

that poem was a masterful collaboration
in a collaborative age and place
that was a small pool swarming with life
current & past life
from which sprang many streams
that are now flowing everywhere in America
stocked with all kinds of fish that were never
even born in 1967

Ted Berrigan was the Prime Mover
Eminence Grise & Pink & White
And sometimes deus ex machina
But Anne was the Goddess Machina
She was the whole machine
The little engine that could
The Total Goddess of Work

& when she drove people too hard
they ran off to Poppa Ted and he severely critiqued their verses
& made them pay for the check

& then the members of the family
began dispersing, and making families
of their own, in Bolinas, in Colorado,
in San Francisco, in Jersey, and in England

but never forgetting to pay tribute to Anne
& send their poems to The World
& read at the Church at least once a year

At least I did —

Anne went on to inhabit two states
The State of New York
And The State of Colorado
States of Mind with buildings on them

“the community we are developing at Naropa
is already very strong
and continues as a webwork
extending into the planet at large”

interviewed by Randy Roark 1991
(Vow to Poetry, 2001, p. 108)

The planetary business
The Allen Ginsberg business

“The new deeper voice
The poet’s path
Voice and wisdom
The tough tongue of a crone”

These are all Anne’s words

But also:

“Heady talk in La Garona restaurant after poetry show
Cathars argue separatism”

That was “2 AM in Toulouse,” Kill or Cure, 1994, p. 101

Anne’s genius then as always
To give back in talk
What the world gave her in sound
Texture fact gossip and news

Intense talk
Thick with the density of various streams
Not just language hoping to win the lottery

The magnetized Olsonian field
Through which one travels
Gathering intensities

Throwing body and soul into the dance

Anne’s New York family
Made alliances with other families
& there were great familial reunions
& great familial tragedies
& truly down moments
like the Naropa Poetry Wars
when Anne told me apropos of Tom Clark’s
book about it:
“the family umbrella’s shredding”

and that was such a fine Cold War metaphor
for all of us still under the atomic umbrella

but the family just kept getting bigger
with or without an umbrella
because Anne’s interests got bigger

and there was a whole tent city
where the umbrella stood

And she moved into Annes
Some of whom I knew some of whom I didn’t
One Anne after another
I kept up with Anne in books

And once or twice a year in person

So I do know of Anne the traveler
Anne the dream journalist
Anne the raw-feeling lyricist
Anne the keeper of the record
Anne the epistolary
— I have about a hundred cards scribbled by Anne,
all of them ending, “Love, Anne” —
Anne the Naropa builder
Anne the Shaman
Anne the Performing Shaman
Anne the Heavyweight Poetry Champion of the World in Taos
Anne the teacher
Anne the student
Anne the flirt
Anne the interviewer
Anne the interviewee
Anne the essayist
Anne the historian
Anne the Mourner
Anne the Protester
Anne the refusednik
Anne the propagandist
Anne the Environmentalist
Anne the Gringa
Anne the Mother
Anne the Daughter
Anne the Founding Father
Anne the Witch
Anne the Buddhist
Anne the Feminist
Anne the Lover
Anne the Wife
Anne the patient
Anne the Therapist
Anne-with-Allen Anne
Anne-in-meetings Anne
Professional Anne
Amateur Anne
Rolling Thunder Review Anne
Anti Mega-Mega Bomb Anne
Anne at West Point Anne

I heard about them
I read them

I do know Anne-in-stories Anne
I know Anne stories
I know what X,Y,Z said about Anne
And I’ve seen little Annes
Perform nationwide at slams
I know the I-am-a-little-scared-of-Anne Anne
I’m a little scared of Anne

But I’m not sure which Anne I’m scared of
Anne’s always been a good friend to me
& that’s Anne-my-friend Anne

and this is Anne — the List
Alpha-bibliographical Anne

             Kill or Cure dreams nightmares
Congresses with the Muse the male/ female personae
There is Iovis Anne
            Some scary dude
And the tractatus on the sentence of marriage
            Ten to life if you’re not careful
Baby breakdowns & grownup tantrums
            & the more I read the less I know Anne
In some of these books Anne is a state more than a person
            It’s Anne-land
& you best go there in the summer

Anne-land is big
Is like Ginsberg-land
Or Yevtushenko-land
A regular country with seasons
& a foreign policy

relations with Italy and the Czech Republic are good
but since Heider Austria’s not so hot

and I actually feel the pathos of a thousand readings
or performances a thousand late-night colloquia
the ocean of talk
the wordless chasms between faces

the everwidening sea of humanity with its center
in Anne

Anne cannot be lost
That “vow to poetry” is to be everpresent
A tough job
& even Anne needs some sleep now and then

            I can identify with that

& with such magnitude comes a bedrock solitude
            I know about that
& the dead sometimes appear
            more alive than the living

being awake more natural than being asleep

“Listen to the fragmented buildings
and the decorum of traffic getting somewhere.”
(Kill or Cure, p. 198)

the dead fly in
            like big patching bees to patch the family umbrella

I think the idea of Ted as a big fat bee patching
            The family umbrella
                        Is quite funny
& I can see Allen in that role, too,
with a big darning needle
            but others just hang out
            watching Ted & Allen work
& just shout “Go!”
I’m probably being unfair to a hundred of the hard-working dead
            Be kinder to the dead
            They work just as hard
            Anne, materialist and utopian,
                        At times:

“They laid me out on the table all decked out,
scratched me with their metal & I bled &
they began sucking & eating. And you were the
last to partake & that was when I didn’t care
anymore, love or hate. And you were going to
love me when we abolished hunger.” (Kill or Cure, p. 150)

Note that this is utopianism
            Not merely in the service of ending hunger
But eternally hopeful of tasting good
            Even as a corpse

Love, Anne’s major theme,
And work, her major praxis

In the tent city the young are hard at work

& Anne is Queen of the Young
while some of us as Ted once said to Tom Clark
are still just “majors in the army of the young.”

Fielding Dawson, recently dead,
            Wrote in House Organ, no. 37

“the influence of the Hag in her performance art
             who I first witnessed at Naropa in 1978
                        an unforgettable experience
            for I was seeing my mother before my very eyes.”

It’s not the first time Fielding saw his mother
            At a performance I’m sure
But Anne sure scared him

I did find Anne on stage pretty scary
            At the Taos Heavyweight Poetry Bout
            My money was on Anne
            I can’t even remember who the challenger was
            He just wasn’t fast enough
            For fast-talking woman
            The world gets faster it’s a fact
                        News from Hubble
            It’s giving pause to the Big Bang Boys
            Who thought that the universe is taking it easy

And the longer we live
The more we know without speaking
We are standing
In a room full of ghosts
That’s not scary
That’s now

& when we stop standing
there will be shelves of us
standing for us

at the U of M

but not very well

Getting old is everyone’s private business
Staying young is a collective affair
& it’s nice to have a place for your papers

& so I sat with a stack of Anne’s books by me
            opening them at random
            for some oracular clues to this
            wholly other kind of performance
            where Anne is at the center but not on stage
            which must be very unusual
            Forgive me for trying your patience, Anne
            I’m of the same school
            I can dish it but I have a hard time taking it

            & I came up with this
             (from Kill or Cure, pp. 83-84):

            “put in:
            put in new-found seas
            put in courtesy & wit
            put in groveling wit
            put in symmetry
            put in coffin cords & a bell
            put in extreme breathing
            put in a cosmic image
            put in a feminine image
            put in politics, brass-tacks level
            put in how he was in love with Turkish eyes
            put in is this machine recording
            put in like footprints of a bird on the sky
            put in lifting arms embargo
            put in when you are cherished
            put in still a little bit up in the air,”

            and I think that I put in a bit of all that, except for “the arms embargo,” and maybe I didn’t say anything — or too little — about being in love with Anne’s Turkish eyes, but I certainly put in some extreme breathing and, I hope, some courtesy and wit. I mostly wanted to put in where she is cherished, because she is. I certainly put in “still a little bit up in the air,” which is how I hope we stay this entire conference, though not off the wall or without feet on the ground.

            March 5-11, 2002
            Baton Rouge

Andrei Codrescu

Andrei Codrescu

Andrei Codrescu was born in Sibiu, Romania, and emigrated to the United States in 1966 at age 19. He is a poet, novelist, and essayist, and the current MacCurdy Professor of English at LSU in Baton Rouge. He is a regular commentator on NPR, and edits Exquisite Corpse: a Journal of Life & Letters, online at His latest book is Wakefield, a novel, and his first poems in English were published in 1967 in The World, edited by Anne Waldman and Lewis Warsh.

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