(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

IOVIS: ALL IS FULL OF JOVE: BOOK II is a big book—twenty-five sections, 312 oversized pages in all—yet still only a fraction of a still larger project. It is not just that IOVIS is immense; it is immensely risky too, for what will strike many readers as laudable ambitiousness will strike others as mere pretentiousness. Yet Anne Waldman’s audacity and arrogance is tempered by her humility. Putting in so much, she reminds readers how much has been left out, and not just of her poem. Ego here is something put forward in order to put aside in a gesture at once self-asserting and self-effacing as Waldman plays her many parts: “sweet Siren” and “Dante’s hag; spinster, spinner, weaver; jongleur, juggler;” lady singing the blues in “long complex collages;” Amazon waging her “war of words.”

IOVIS, her “Powerbook,” shape-shifts just as rapidly and is only as verbal as it is visual (and visceral). Giacometti-like columns of words, one or two per line, alternate with more conventional poetic formations as well as swirls of words, blocks of prose, pictures, musical notations, lines of nothing more, or less, than punctuation. Poem and poet wander through space (typographical as well as geographical) and time to create, like the Chinese Book of Changes, the I Ching, a “moving map,” a “complex intersection.” “Raw and random” on the one hand, IOVIS is artfully contrived on the other, refashioning the Western epic tradition (from Homer through Walt Whitman to the force fields of Charles Olsen’s “Maximus” poems) in light of Eastern tantrism and its yin-yang of masculine and feminine energies. “War, gender, language” is the mantra she chants as she beats the gong “to blunt the knife,” i.e., the long knife of war as well as the castrating knife of overly doctrinaire feminism. As both poem and performance, IOVIS is a powerful yet playful work: political, personal, highly self-conscious, deeply meditative, above all, inviting.