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What Some New York Poets Are Up To: Anne Waldman
It’s as if people have ceded both their destinies and their imaginations to “a hopeless gray area of defeat and despair,” Anne Waldman comments in the introduction to the anthology Civil Disobedience: Poetics & Politics in Action
(Coffee House Press, 2004). Few other American writers have responded to that malaise with as much joy, ferocity and irrepressible charge as Anne Waldman.
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On a new CD, Matching Half , you can hear Waldman with collaborator Akilah Oliver. The two poets deliver stichomythic rapoetry to music composed by Ambrose Bye. (In performance, should you get a chance to see them, the two poets are hypnotic, improvising a kind of Beat-Sapphic choreography).
Over the insistently repeated piano figurations of “To Show my Face,” one of the cd’s early cuts, Waldman’s vocal inflections are riveting. Part poetry, part song, part conversation, part incantation, her urgent whisper—“It was your face that was always needed”—brings into relation the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, daily routine, “self-immolating attacks” and the responsibilities of Americans.
Matching Half covers a wide range of themes—from corset-makers in St. Petersburg (in a song that illuminates a historical connection between Emma Goldman and J. Edgar Hoover), to Buddhist binaries (in “Flame” where Bye loops haunting piano- scapes over quiet bass and percussion), to manatees (in a cri de coeur for the non-human world), to splatters of violence that mark the world map and “shapes of the mind on fire.” On “Strangeness of Living,” Akilah Oliver’s stuttering, computerized voice is counterpointed by the lovely guitar work of Zia Alem.
The “Manatee/Humanity” cut on Matching Half serves also as an appetizer for Waldman’s forthcoming book—Spring 2009—from Penguin.
And then there is First Baby Poems , coming out from visionary poet/publisher Geoffrey Gatza’s press BlazeVox. Written during her pregnancy with Ambrose– that same Ambrose Bye who now, twenty years later, wrote the music for Matching Half –First Baby Poems has been compared to one of my favorite of Waldman’s books, Marriage: A Sentence . (Gatza, who has a cat named after Waldman, notes that the book will be available by the end of the month. Check here First Baby Poems.