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Anne Waldman: The Early Years... 1965–1970
The August 1965 Poetry Conference in Berkeley, California, was one of the watershed events in the world of Poetry that brought together representatives of American poetry as outlined and published by editor Donald M. Allen in his anthology The New American Poetry: 1945-1960.
Richard Baker organized the event, which was intensely political and passionate. He later became the controversial and brilliant abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center. He needed all possible diplomatic skills. Robert Creeley decided Shunryu Suzuki, Richard Baker’s teacher, was giving him the evil eye from the front row because Bob wanted all students to be able to attend the events even if they couldn’t pay. Dick was running this event to break even; it was under the auspices of the University of California at Berkeley.
Michael McClure decided he and Phillip Whalen were not given enough attention; they were not invited to give a lecture, so he persuaded Phillip to boycott the event. That meant that I had to perform my evening reading with Lew Welch instead of Philip Whalen, and I implored him on the telephone many times to reconsider — “You know Lew always CRIES when he reads and it will ruin the evening.” He was sorry, but he had promised Michael.
Anyway, Anne was there. She says:
During the summer of 1965 I traveled across country with my younger brother Carl and a school friend.... 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 The New American Poetry. I was curious of the LIVE voices of these persons I was privately emulating. Robert Duncan, Charles Olson, Ed Dorn, Ted Berrigan (Jon Cott had been sending Ted and Ron Padgett’s C magazine to me at school) Lenore Kandel, Ed Sanders....
They 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 a salesman pushing a product. There was a tribal feel to these events. An exchange of energy taking place. I took a further vow to poetry at the Charles Olson marathon event, for he read and spoke and raged and wept more than he technically “read.” But Olson was powerful that night, vulnerable, arrogant, bombastic, poignant, embarrassing. He was the poet coming apart before our eyes, scapegoat, shaman, doing it for us.... His friends were dismayed....
And Robert Duncan’s arms waved and danced in the air as he read.... This was a body poetics. And these poets had put their whole beings on the line. Was I being too romantic? And I made a vow too to the larger community that sustained this poet and would sustain others, a vow that I would spend my life developing and maintaining such a community.
(Anne Waldman, Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, vol. 17)
Anne Waldman was then 20 years old. Poetry readings were big events in those days, hundreds and hundreds of people. Poets had celebrity status, newspaper reviews. It was at Robert Duncan’s arm waving reading that Anne met Lewis Warsh. Lewis had traveled to San Francisco and had met Jack Spicer and Robert Duncan, was interested in the Black Mountain poets.
These poets 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.
(Lewis Warsh, The Angel Hair Anthology, Introduction)
The combination of poetic awareness of these two young writers was a collaborative gift to the poetry publishing community with their Angel Hair magazine and books. [See Jacket 16.]
I don’t remember Anne at the 1965 Berkeley Poetry Conference because I didn’t see her. But I DID see and hear Ted Berrigan display the New York City-Tulsa language spark connection. And Jim Brody. Ed Sanders’s almost Vaudeville-like act. These were poets I later met during September 66-September 67 in New York City.
I had read Lewis Warsh’s poems which he sent to Wild Dog magazine in Idaho (started by Ed Dorn and students), which moved to San Francisco circa 1965. I was a guest editor for 2 issues. Lewis’s poems wafted poetic in the San Francisco tradition. Someone sat on a bed and cried — a melancholy depth of connection.
So that when I arrived in New York City September 1966, I called up Lewis soon after we arrived. Jack Boyce and I had spent 9 months traveling in Europe. Jack wanted to live in New York City for a while, because he was a painter, and his teacher Rubin, from Claremont College in California, was now living there. And this was where the “art” was happening, or had happened. I remember Jack helped make frames for a show of Morandi’s work. But I never saw much Art in New York City at that time. We had just come from 9 months of looking at the history of western art in Europe as outlined in one of Jack’s classes. It was a focused and thorough trip. After some hunting we found a loft on the corner of Grand and Green in the garret district. Jack partitioned it off with giant timbers and put in a woodburning, coal stove and sleeping loft. We spent almost a year there. Jack Smith, the crazed underground filmmaker, lived upstairs, and he called us the rabbits. We were timid and quiet. Living a “California Lifestyle” someone commented once. I thought NYC was very unhealthy and depressing. The Lower East Side looked worse than Naples!
I wanted to meet the poetry “scene.” When I visited Lewis he in turn called Anne, and she came over from St. Mark’s where she was working. An expansive open energy, looking a little Ivy League, maybe the Bennington look. Beautiful and fresh. Enthusiastic, intelligent, informed with a love of poetry.
33 St. Mark’s Place became familiar over the next year after poetry readings, on visits. Lots of people. Lots of funny outrageous behavior. Why are Ted Berrigan and Carol Gallup staying so long in the bathroom? I was still watching 30 minutes later, but everyone else had forgotten.
I remember when Lewis and Anne decide to marry. It was at St. Mark’s, naturally. All the poetry friends were there, some in the informal attire I had begun to associate with NYC, and what in 1967 was the beginning of the psychedelic or counterculture hippy movement. I remember the wedding shower for Anne. I gave her some Jean Naté toilet water.
Anne writes in No Hassles:
Weddings are great! We got married the other day. In the church we said “I do” to each other. You put a gold ring on my finger. It all happened so quick.
Most of our friends came bringing good cheer to the nervous couple.
Afterwards we had cake and some fruit punch with sherbet in it.
Some one took photographs. I could feel my face wide open.
(Anne Waldman, No Hassles)
I remember Anne and Lewis went away on their honeymoon but came back after a few days because they missed everybody.
Anne got her job at St. Mark’s Place in The Bowery Poetry Project in 1966 as assistant, and by 1968 she was the director, taking over Joel Oppenheimer’s job. This put her in touch with the many poets who came here to read and teach.
How to appropriately honor and describe the countless events, readings, performances, first encounters with some of the most controversial and outrageous thinkers and writers of any time, New Year marathons, memorial readings, collaborations, benefits, all night planning sessions, fund raisers, magazine collations that were to take place under the protective wing of St. Mark’s Church? ... How to capture the hilarity of Gregory Corso streaking at a Michael McClure reading? ... John Wiener’s fragile and dreamy movie-star reading, one pant leg rolled up, gold lame scarf around his head? ... Light streaming in the church’s stained glass windows the morning we gave the all day and all night Gertrude Stein marathon.... St. Mark’s continues to be a holy place for poetry.
(Anne Waldman, Contemporary Authors Autobiography, vol. 17)
This was full tilt NYC.
People come into the world to live
& go out when they are totally exhausted
(Anne Waldman, No Hassles)
I remember when Anne introduced Helen Adam before her reading at St. Mark’s. Born in 1903 in Scotland, she had been published in Don Allen’s New American Poetry and was part of the San Francisco Renaissance.
It was a big deal. Helen was of the tradition of magic; she really read the tarot deck. She recited her ballad-like poems with a crooning to high-pitched range of voice. She had lived in San Francisco where she wrote a play/ musical called San Francisco’s Burning about the 1906 earthquake. And poems like “I found my love with a Chronicle Want Ad.”
Anne and Lewis edited the poetry magazine published by St. Mark’s, The World, besides their own Angel Hair publications. So there was a place to publish all the myriad collaborations and writings that Lewis and Anne were a part of. The recent publication of The Angel Hair Anthology is a beautiful and historical documentation of this time.
Ted Berrigan, an almost daily and nightly visitor, Bernadette Mayer, Hannah Weiner, Michael Brownstein, Peter Schjeldahl, Dick Gallup, Ron Padgett, Gerard Melanga, Rene Ricard, Lee Crabtree — composer for the Fugs — Harris Schiff, Tom Clark, after he came back from England, the Schneemans, Jim Brody who seemed like he was glued to the couch. After most St. Mark’s readings there was a gathering there:
One day Mike gave a reading for Jim, that is, a reading by Jim was given by Mike who decided it would be nice if Jim gave a reading so he would do something about it and gave a reading for Jim. The reading was at Mike’s place.
Jim looked great in Tom’s purple dappled jacket.
People packed into the loft on the Bowery.
Karen was wearing purple too. Linda too!
Everyone had drinks. Everyone talked. Morris to Ned. Morris to Lewis. Ned to Anne. Anne to Ted. Ted to R.J. Mike to his guests. Peter to Linda. Lee to himself. All this in reverse and more.
Then Jim began. Some people sat on the floor. Everyone sipped their drinks. A great giant dog slurped Jim’s orange juice as he read poems. A great giant dog pissed on the floor!
Jim’s poems were great. He got lost in how good they were, as did others. But some rude friends were flipping out.
“Get the grass!” they shouted. And they did. There was a break.
During the break there was a party.
Then Jim read some more, and lo, a great giant dog shit on the floor! Everyone was getting drunker and higher. Ted cut out with Lee. Peter was cutting out with Linda. Everyone was nervous. Jim’s poems continued to be great, but the reading was too long.
On the very last poem, dedicated to Frank, Mike put on a record and cut Jim off. Then I left.
(Anne Waldman, No Hassles)
The poetics of the moment were straightforward, uncomplicated. Whereas I was still trying to find a rhetoric influenced by Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer, and Charles Olson. Trying to articulate, or over-articulate, a “poetics,” I hadn’t read Frank O’Hara’s “Personism,” or maybe I had and dismissed it as too NY.
An entry from my notebook of the time:
April 24, 1967
The structure of poetry interests me. All its layers. I do not like to see one image worked upon and developed, unless of course it is very insistent; but to see the stray and often extraneous seeming bits of image and fact brought to bear upon a loosely scattered area which is the poem. The linear aspect of the poem being merely a suggested voice line to take you from the beginning to the end, but suggesting no such consecutiveness in thought. The area of the poem is able to contain all elements. For what one can recognize and adhere to is the continuity, no matter how or where it comes from. I usually follow a time sequence — that is, what occurs to me first, goes in first and what follows is second, no matter how long the time gap or what changes in thinking have occurred after words.
Although seldom is this gap more than an hour. One poem is usually written on the same day. I seldom ever change or rewrite the poem.
Poem as breathing space. Poem as true discovery. Poem is resolved. A poem is the koan way of realizing a problem.
Is this confused, long-winded or what...? I was coming to simplicity the long way around — Learning to appreciate the almost naive simplicity of the openness of the moment. I am not an urban person and was never able to find any heart in the city.
In 1970 when Anne is 25, Ted Berrigan writes of her poetry (on the dust jacket of Baby Breakdown) as “an open circle with her many selves at or near the center, and those selves deal honestly and openly and passionately with what is happening to her, all of us, right now. That’s what Anne Waldman’s poetry is. NOW. Technically, she is impeccable. If her poems are clumsy in places, those are clumsy places. She knows what she is doing.... This book is an ordinary miracle.”
Anne says — “The hub of the universe is where I am in a night whose promise grows with me....” She is confident and buoyant, and dedicated to her own energy:
Behind the scenes
I’ve seen it all
I carry it around
in my little red hen
(Anne Waldman, No Hassles)
And fearless too:
I was trying to remember coming up for air 6 years ago
when another wave knocked me clear across my past
& back again: I forgot
what it was like & concentrated instead
on the hot sun beating down my face —
the face of everyone who’s looked at the sun —
who’s looked at the sun in the eye
(Anne Waldman, Life Notes)
She and Lewis did take some kind of break to go to Europe. I love her piece “Getting Light.”
When we leave on our trip, our suitcases are bulging with clothes, but many of them are garments to be worn just once before discarding. This saves laundering, lightens the load progressively, and gains space for purchases abroad.
Our only problem resulting from this practice has been with cabin stewards who think we’ve mistaken the waste basket for a clothes hamper and therefore neatly pile the discarded clothes beside the berth. This necessitates a trip topside to throw them over the rail.
Lewis and I usually wait until the whole ship is asleep, then creep, arms full of bundles, to the main deck where we cast our garments into the deep.
(Anne Waldman, On the Wing)
By the age of 25 in 1970 “Anne Waldman is,” writes Ted Berrigan, “easily the most exciting poet of her generation.... Half the population of America is under 25 and Anne Waldman at the age of 25 is a star. IT seems she can do everything and she has and does.... Anne Waldman’s poetry is NOW.... This writing is an ordinary miracle.”
And this is what her writing of the time was so ably to display: “An abundance of energy and a sense of mortality born of her generations awareness of a war it never made,” say the liner notes on her book Giant Night, “an intriguing synthesis of ingenious reactions and sophisticated knowledge, a mixture which changes in quality with the changes in the writer’s life.”
from WHAT’S NEW
when you sit down and write
at a big desk
think of everyone everywhere writing
take a plane anywhere you want
show up everywhere you can
but if you are a terrorist
don’t show up here
(Anne Waldman, Giant Night)
from WAKE UP POEM
Now you drink a glass of iced coffee
Now you turn on the fan
the phone rings
Did I say the phone rings?
I meant the doorbell
It’s for us
(Anne Waldman, Giant Night)
. . . . . .
Hi everyone! * How do you do?
WHO IS SPEAKING? WHO IS SPEAKING?
I like to write these things down on paper
Otherwise, why be here today right now?
I’m so happy to be alive the same time you are!
(Anne Waldman, from Baby Breakdown)
I remember Anne sitting in the front room at 33 St. Mark’s one day looking through Vogue. “Hmmmm,” she says, “I wonder how you get in this.” Six months later, there was a picture of Anne, looking regal, relaxing on an empire antique couch in Vogue.
I was about 10 years older than the group of St. Mark’s poets I was meeting during the same year I was in New York. I was often trying to figure out my relationship to them, like my relationship had been to, say, Robert Duncan and Jack Spicer, my informal teachers.
from Places To Go, The Test of Fantasy:
There once was a woman who grew older, not that she minded, but the passage of time was always constant. Why does one have to contend with that she said, puzzled, as she got carried along, and CONSTANTLY had to think up new coping modes of behavior. If he behaved to me thus when he was 40, now that I am 30, I can hardly behave like that to those that are 20 and so forth. There wasn’t any model except the one she built, and one could scarcely believe there was no established pattern. This offered wonderful possibilities, but also indecision and gutlessness.
(Joanne Kyger, Places To Go)
After I left New York City in August 1967 and returned to California’s West Coast, San Francisco, and then Bolinas, I would see Anne and Lewis, and then Anne and Michael, on their trips to the coast. Bolinas offered an alternative lifestyle, one that was sought at that time in the late 60s and early 70s. A small coastal town of about 500 inhabitants at the time, it offered rural living, the hippies versus the surfers for softball teams, and in large letters painted on the sea wall NEW YORK REFUGEES GO HOME. Anne had many poetry companions here. The pictures of those years, like the ones in Angel Hair Anthology, have everyone sitting on the ground, shoulder high long grasses, and long hair. On Indian print bedspreads. We could sit all afternoon, with bottles of wine and smokes, and conversation and poetry, moving along with the path of the sun. Nobody sits on the ground anymore. Bolinas was a destination point.
But that’s a whole other story.
I wonder about the future
I wonder & wonder
No use getting upset about it
no use at all
(Anne Waldman, No Hassles)
The Angel Hair Anthology. Edited by Anne Waldman and Lewis Warsh. New York: Granary Books, 2001.
Kyger, Joanne. Places to Go. Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1970.
Waldman, Anne. On the Wing. New York: Boke, 1968.
———. Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, vol. 17. Thomson Gale, 1993.
———. Baby Breakdown. New York and Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merril, 1970.
———. No Hassles. New York: Kulcher Foundation, 1971.
———. Giant Night. New York: Corinth Books, 1971.
———. Life Notes. New York and Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merril, 1973.
Joanne Kyger, a West Coast poet with affiliations to the San Francisco Renaissance and the Beat Generation, has published many books of poetry, the most recent being As Ever: Selected Poems (Penguin Press 2002). She recently taught at Mills College in Oakland, and teaches at the New College of San Francisco and the Summer Writing Program at Naropa University in Boulder. You can read the Jacket feature focussed on Joanne Kyger in Jacket 11.
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