Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday August 14th 2018

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“Waking The World Up”

Interview with Poet Anne Waldman
By C. S. Satterwhite

Anne Waldman is by far one of the most renowned poets to come through Pensacola in recent memory.

Associated with the Beat Generation and the New York School of poetry, Waldman’s reputation far precedes her. In the late 1960s, Waldman played a key role in the St. Mark’s Poetry Project in New York City, serving later as its director for several years. In the mid-1970s, with Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, Waldman co-founded the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. Through her work at Naropa and St. Marks Poetry Project, Waldman mentored and taught generations of poets throughout the world. Ginsberg, her mentor and colleague at Naropa, once described Waldman as his “spiritual wife.”

After writing and editing dozens of books, taking part in numerous projects and reading in countless cities, Waldman is making her way to Pensacola, after a major poetic project in Mexico City. Inweekly interviewed her as she was about ready to catch a flight to Mexico City, to meet Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore for that very project.

INWEEKLY: What was the greatest moment of your life?
WALDMAN: The greatest moment? There have been so many. The birth of my child, my collaborator Ambrose Bye. I’ve heard this said by so many women, with their first child especially, but the wonder of that and the instant synaptic connection with that and the synaptic connection with the universe. I think another epiphany was being at the Berkeley Poetry Conference in 1965…I heard Charles Olson, and other poets, but Olson primarily, coming unhinged as he was reading. Not that I had been to that many readings, but [prior to Olson] I’d encountered more traditionally conservative poets coming through New York. There was something very shamanic [about Olson's reading], I guess that would be the word. He had some quality that seemed magnetizing… A poet in a public space that seemed unrehearsed and following his or her psychic rhythms through language. So that was a moment where I thought I am drawn to this. I’d already been writing and thinking about poetry, a lot of poetry, but [there] was a community of poets who were there in Berkeley. It was my first time out of New York. Although I’d been out of the country, but I hadn’t been in our country. Anyway, [there was] something about the possibilities for experimental American poetry.

INWEEKLY: Did you see this as the birth of your poetic moment?
WALDMAN: I don’t know. The epiphanies are so definitive. Or you might see them in retrospect that [they] might seem like momentous moments in your direction. I decided [then that] I wasn’t going to go to graduate school. I just wanted to get back to New York and be on the scene. So I guess I don’t know if this is a good question for me about the moment as there are so many. And of course travel. Every time I go to a new place my mind is blown.

INWEEKLY: I know that you’re going to be reading in Mexico City soon and New York City, too. Then the next logical stop, in Pensacola.
WALDMAN: Of course!

INWEEKLY: What are you expecting in Pensacola?
WALDMAN: Well, I know Jamey [Jones], and I have great admiration for him and what he seems to be doing there. There’s a sense that there’s a ground that he’s created through his teaching. I’m very much looking forward to seeing him, catching up and meeting some of his community. I’ll also be visiting some of the Buddhist community, teaching a workshop. I expect open hearts and minds. Also the climate—we’re still fighting the piles of snow here.

INWEEKLY: You won’t get that here, I promise you.
WALDMAN: I know. It’s also a nice stop with a lot of other things going on. Deadlines, travel and so on. It’s nice when you go to a place where you know the people hosting you. I’m curious about what people are thinking and reading. It’s a difficult time for the country, with the current political climate. We could say a lot about that. Where that’s all heading—with the cuts to the NEA [National Endowment for the Arts] and the Department of Education. I mean the new Supreme Court justice hearings. It’s just, everyday, there’s so much to keep track of. It seems very retrograde, dystopic and scary, frankly.

INWEEKLY: How do you think the impending budget cuts will affect the arts, and poetry in particular?
WALDMAN: Well, we’ve all been very active for a number of years with some help, as there should be, from [the government]. It’s nothing you come to expect, and it’s so minimal anyway, but we’ve become attuned to our practice, life in the art, the infrastructure of poetry for generations now so that you’re aware of what can make a difference. So that little bit of money, especially the way it’s going, has been spread out so that it’s not just the major cities. Things trickle down, so it can help a little reading series get going, or a publication, or help an individual working in collaboration with others.  These can be necessary ways to keep things going. I was especially thinking of a student from the Kerouac School starting an after-school program in a small town near Seattle. That funding really made all the difference in terms of renting a space, getting poets from outside the area to come to town and teach workshops, doing publications. You can do a lot with a little in that kind of environment. I just hate to see that cut off at the root.

INWEEKLY: While the government is officially trying to downgrade the role of the arts in American society, what is the role of the poet?
WALDMAN: Well there are many roles for many, many different poets. You don’t want to assign one role for all poets. That’s what’s kept me so interested [in poetry]—the variety. The different strands, the different lineages. Some people are not able to comfortably get up and perform their poems. Some people are much more involved with the look on the page, documentary poetics projects. Then there’s the infrastructure business that some poets are really involved with, like creating community, rolling up their sleeves… it’s something when you’re able to hold a site over time. The [St. Mark's] Poetry Project is now in its 50th year. It’s gone through many, many different struggles and versions of itself. But there’s a sense of that continuity. People have worked hard to keep it going, by donating their time. So there are infrastructure poetics. There’s lots of stuff [involving] identity and gender and issues of the time. A lot [of poetry about] working out a trauma, working out of the sense of the migrant body. There are a number of migrant organizations spearheaded by the Academy of American Poets—taking migration as a theme of the work they’re all going to be doing in the next year. Migration is a theme for the curation of events, but also for writing projects and collaborative projects. You know it’s hard. The role [of the poet], I think, is to wake the world up to itself through your propensity toward adoration of language and all of its potential power.

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