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20th Anniversary Rendezvous - Anne Waldman

Poets are by definition verbal and vocal and were they not, would atrophy. From that perspective the poetry "scene" seems alive and well. And because the stakes are not particularly high in the material sense, poets tend to be supportive of one another rather than competitive. The greatest compliment is always, "I wish I'd written that myself!" I remember the occasion of first reading the rant poem entitled "Crack in the World." The poem was inspired by a narrow comment in the New York Times that women poets were really, after all, only writing about their menstrual periods. Aha! I hadn't taken on that subject yet! I thought with glee. When I did, the poem became a ritual enactment of the state of mind only that time of the month can evoke, the words singing of "endometrium collapse." (Imagine the vowels elongated, and an hysteria in the vocal presentation):

Let me go howling in the night
No man to touch me   -
Don't fathom my heart tonight, man
No one wants to be around this factory,
this beautiful machine
but I shun your company anyway
My flexible body imagines the crack
See the crack in the universe
The curse, the glorious curse is upon me!
Don't come to my house
Don't expect me at your door
I'm in my celibacy rags.

After the reading, surrounded by a bevy of younger folk, one youth exclaiming he finally knew what it must be like to be a woman, Allen Ginsberg profferred the supreme compliment that he wished he could have written the poem himself!

But the point here is simply that the rewards are in the making of the poems, and in the positive response from one's elders and peers in the poetry community.

Unlike the visual artists who must date each work so that history will know who did what when and first, there's a freer give and take in the poetry community in terms of the work itself. Many of us pick up on each other's suggestions for experimentation. I'm a great fan of John Ashbery's "mistranslation" assignment where you simply take a page of writing in a language you don't know and write off it, triggered by the look of the letters and the sounds they suggest. I got the line "I love a night of paychecks, and not all go for poker" from the Russian of Mayakovsky. Bobbie Louise Hawkins (on the core faculty at Naropa Institute's new MFA program) made us all stand up and curse something or someone at top voice, and I found myself addressing the Contra-gate hearings:

You loathsome TV patriarchs, obsolete Senators,
lie of the land Admirals, Draconian Lieutenant Colonials,
Pentagon jack-offs, idiot box political pentacostals,
perjuring arms dealers, bigtime macho money-grubbing
drug smugglers SHUT OFF!

Not a woman amongst ya!
Ye lilly-livered big wheels
Judges of my world?
I'll make your semen dry up
Your genitalia will wither in the wind!

I'll always thank Bobbie for getting that off my chest.

I travel a great deal on the modest poetry circuit from Rochester to Managua, from Bhopal, India to Lawrence, Kansas and the interest, the dedication to the practice, and the community continues to grow. There's a fellow in Florida reading Joanne Kyger's Japan and India Journals; a soul-sister on Shakespeare Drive in East Orange, Texas, quoting Gertrude Stein; a large gentleman outside Boston who runs a place called Tiny Blueplate's and served in Viet Nam, is a bodyguard for the Dalai Lama when "the Dai's in town," and organizes poetry readings; a secret poet in Norfolk, Virginia, reading Celine and Creeley and playing Charlie Parker records; a woman wanting more "contact" from Iceland; a Dharma bum in Poland who had to meet secretly to meditate and share poems with friends, and so all these people want to click in with the truth and beauty and the surprise of words, not words of repression, propaganda and slimy dark-age materialism.

There's a tremendous exchange going on through the mails. There are lively performance arenas as well. I judged a poetry contest in Mesquite, Texas and we composed poems on stage for on-the-spot performance. There's a wealthy collaboration also with musicians and dancers and video artists. I recently completed an hour-long video in which I jump around, sing, read in a rocking chair, read as if under water, and speak into a magnifying glass. It's an exploratory poetics performance.

My interest personally is always in the "rub" between "self" and "other," outside/inside, male/female, and how words can play with those dualities, creating sparks in the very clash and mesh of the phones and phonemes. And how, too, the mouthing of the words, the vocalization, can generate energy that stirs people out of mesmerization. I'm interested in a participatory poetics, a transformative poetics. Read more, read out loud, I tell my students. Learn other languages. Get poet-penpals in Korea and Thailand and Ireland and China. Start weekly Tuesdays in your own homes reading and celebrating your favorite poets. Keep Sappho, Shelley, Blake, and Hilda Doolittle in your hearts. Join the PEN Club and write a letter on behalf of one poet prisoner at least once a month. Join Greenpeace and work on behalf of all suffering life forms. Don't forget to vote. Keep a pad and pen handy at all times. Start a Newsletter, edit a magazine, write a pan-toum. Get your livelihood together to allow these precious luxuries. Sit still for an hour a day and follow your breath. Don't worry, the words for poems won't dry up.