Anne Waldman Essay - Critical Essays


Despite her connection with two generations of Beat poets, Anne Waldman has never considered herself to be one. In fact, her poetic inspiration has virtually worldwide sources; moreover, unlike the largely apolitical Beats, she has been deeply involved in protest politics. Her work is an intense expression of her advocacy for feminist, environmental, and human-rights concerns. She has also written powerful love lyrics and spiritual meditations.

While describing herself as an “outrider” or as part of “a hybrid outsider tradition,” Waldman is an avowed formalist, although the tremendous range, vitality and unconventionality of her work, especially her performance poetry, often belies its own structural underpinnings. For political and aesthetic reasons, her poetic practice has been highly inclusive, assimilating the forms of Asia, the ancient Mediterranean, Western Europe, and contemporary America. With the incantatory work of poet Charles Olson as one of her chief inspirations, she delivers her performance pieces in the “vatic” style of a crazed prophet, attempting to embrace the whole of human social experience and even that of other species. Overall, Waldman’s influence has served to revivify the oral tradition of poetry and to extend the boundaries of poetry far beyond the printed page.

Giant Night

Giant Night displays Waldman’s exuberant, expansive consciousness of the world and people around her. Her use of meter, a rapid alternation among spondees, anapests, and iambs, reinforces the impression of constant change. Underlying the mutable surface, however, is a profound and paradoxical sense of timelessness. In the title poem, she declares:

Awake in a giant nightis where I am There is a river where my soul,hungry as a horse drinks beside meAn hour of immense possibility flies byand I do nothing but sit in the presentwhich keeps changing moment to moment

“What’s New” conveys her deep sense of connection with other beings:

when you sit down and writeat a big deskthink of everyone everywhere writing

Fast Speaking Woman

Fast Speaking Woman was first published in 1975; in 1996, a twentieth anniversary edition was published, augmenting the original text with essays based on her teachings about chant and performance poetry. The title poem is a long “list chant” listing the attributes of a phrase repeated at the beginning of each line. Waldman presents the list as descriptive of both herself and “everywoman:” “I’m an abalone woman/ I’m the abandoned woman/ I’m the woman abashed, the...

(The entire section is 1228 words.)