Anne Waldman Essay - Waldman, Anne

Waldman, Anne

Waldman, Anne 1945–

Ms Waldman, an American poet, searches for meaning and value in urban settings, looking for "the occasional jewel" which becomes the poem itself. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 37-40.)

I don't know how to say this without offense, but I found [Baby Breakdown] a horrid little monster, a spoiled brat of a thing. Ted Berrigan, who wrote the blurb, makes only one statement with which I agree, that Miss Waldman "is no Emily Dickinson." Apart from that, his eulogy means nothing to me and has no public relation to the poems.

It is perhaps significant that he refers to the poet as Anne; if he knows her personally, perhaps her poetry takes the form of action, words may not be her medium. On the mere evidence of the poems, Miss Waldman's verses are baby-talk, precocious but not intelligent. The usual modish assumptions provide whatever content appears: the world was born today, young is by definition beautiful, a policeman is a billy club with a number, pot is good and acid is better, "give us your open mind." Toward the end of the book the poems seem to tire of loving themselves and they think of something else, but … [they don't go very far] in that direction…. (pp. 30-1)

Denis Donoghue, in The New York Review of Books (reprinted with permission from The New York Review of Books; copyright © 1971 NYREV, Inc.), May 6, 1971.

It is time to consider how the work of such oral precursors as Jackson MacLow, Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, Gary Snyder, and Robert Bly has been taken up and continued by many of the younger American poets who have, in different ways, broken out from the printed page, in which oral poetry makes a new and definite beginning, [as] in the [work] of Anne Waldman….

Einstein talked about the importance of the observer in relation to the event observed, and in this instance, only Miss Waldman could have observed what there was to be observed as taking place, because she has seen the direction and nature of her changes as a poet in the type of poems she now writes, in the way she moves through language with a simplicity and grace and respect for language that gives her poems power, not only in the way they are written, but in what they have to say—how they are heard to her when she reads them—although in what they have to say, in no way, may improve how they are written; but merely enhance that possibility…. [The] best example of what I mean [is] the poem opening, which is a poem in itself, inside the poem Life Notes as an echo chamber strata of language and observed locations moving backward and forward through itself…. (p. 237)

I would attribute the change in her poetry, in the past seven years since she was an undergraduate at Bennington, simply to the reality of growing older, seeing more, in that sense of what her life provides from the experiences she is given to write, thus acknowledging her life in its reality. What makes Miss Waldman unique among the poets of her generation is the fact that what she is experiencing is poetry—oral poetry—long before the poem actually gets to be written. (pp. 238-39)

Gerard Malanga, in Poetry (© by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), January, 1974.

Waldman is a child of the idealistic '60's. She is sexy, peaceful, open, funny, pretty fond of herself (and giving lessons in how to do this through good times and ill), and prepared to write about any damn thing in any damn style, but inclined toward the gloriously vulgar vernacular. We can see the worst of this, I think, in No Hassles, which succumbs to in-group temptations of cuteness and simple narcissism. We can see the best of it in Life Notes…. I adored this book. (p. 188)

Waldman's work is the more serious as it does not pretend to seriousness; playing with words, rhythms and ideas is its sign of life; the lady wants life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for herself and us, and play means the energy it takes to keep this project buoyant, against the downward pulls, from within and without, of despair. (p. 189)

Alicia Ostriker, in Parnassus: Poetry in Review (copyright © by Parnassus: Poetry in Review), Fall/Winter, 1974.

Waldman's Fast Speaking Woman convinces me that a writer of little talent by becoming a celebrity can get work published and sold, and earn a rather large reputation….

I find Waldman's mind predictable, sentimental, self gratifying, and, in short, boring. A common device she uses is to derive one word slickly from another; viz., mobile derives from automobile; necklace derives from elastic; abandoned dumps in from abalone; aborigine from gibberish; demi-monde from demented, etc. These connections are facile—that's my point. Wordplay is great when the inventive or creative imagination of the writer is first-rate. Even funky writing requires better than a comicbook level of inventiveness. (p. 142)

Her … poems are marred with flat (ulent) writing and sophomoric conclusions about life, love, and art: examples, from various poems—"I would be father I would be infant animal awesome / I would suffer / become extinct again / I would relight the earth with love…." "be insistent be an empire be a symphony & in a moment's gentle passing & in a moment's violent passing…." (Here, Waldman hits on the arresting idea of yoking together contraries—as Blake used to call them). Sometimes, as in "Pressure," the effect is of spreading stale peanutbutter over a half-mile long delicatessen roll—it's a waste of good paper to wipe these details over numerous pages, when, in actuality, all Waldman has going is a long series (hot shower, poolroom, bowling alley, bar, bathtub, restaurant, delicatessen, store, trolley, the Alps, etc.) better assembled in prose. And, also, she's something of a culture-vulture…. All of this I find entirely predictable, the slender resources of undergraduate mind. Moreover, the things … about Socrates, Einstein, Goethe are sentimental: they aren't felt. And that finally is my greatest fuss about these writings (I won't call them poems): there is too little feeling and there is a lot of showing off—or, perhaps, showiness is the word. (pp. 142-43)

Robert Peters, "This Rolling Stone Gathers Moss," in Margins (copyright © 1976 by Margins), January/February/March, 1976.

Waldman's poems are a kind of high-energy shorthand, elliptical brain-movies of her life and times, and, most recently, as in her outstanding performance piece, "Fast Speaking Woman" (the title poem of [one of her collections]), repetitive, chant-like "songs," which bring to mind tribal shaman ceremonies. These latter, which can work hypnotically on an audience but tend to lose some of their magic on the page, point to a whole new emphasis in today's poetry—from John Giorno's reiterative "ragas" to Allen Ginsberg's "Blake-Songs"—which puts the poet once again in the oral tradition, making his or her fullest statement in vocal performance—an emphasis which at least in part, I think, can be credited to the influence of such latter day "electric" troubadours as Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Rod McKuen and others, who have reached an enormous audience by combining words and music.

The question is the familiar one of whether or not a Bob Dylan lyric sheet, for instance, amounts to a real poem; or whether or not one of Anne Waldman's poems in this mode can be judged accurately by reading it on the page. For me at least, the answer remains both yes and no. In Waldman's case, there is no mistaking the energy and high spirits of her work as printed, but for the most part the page is a poor substitute for the poet in performance. Only in the shorter poems, where the words are not dependent on a gathering rhythmic impulse that in effect must be "voiced," do you feel the experience is complete on the page, and these tend to be among the less substantial of her works, though sometimes among her most charming.

The prose selections included in "Journals & Dreams" are also among the most successful pieces, especially "Amanda" and "Letter to Joe Brainard."…

The poems in general tend to read quickly, and there is curiously little emotional content….

"Journals & Dreams" indicates to me that Anne Waldman may be at a sort of crossroads—she may remain simply a "fast speaking woman," but I wonder how much longer she can go on before this posture of "no person no personality" simply exhausts itself. She has made a contribution to poetry today; perhaps now is the time for her to give more thought to her resources and directions.

Aram Saroyan, "Performing Poet," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1976 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 25, 1976, p. 18.