Cover to Cover with Jack Foley

Cover to Cover with Jack Foley – March 9, 2016

Today’s show is a tribute to poet Anne Waldman (b. 1945). Jack writes: Anne Waldman, “spiritual wife” of Allen Ginsberg and “writer, performer, collaborator, professor, editor, scholar, and cultural/political activist” (Wikipedia), has been a force of moral awareness, spiritual exploration, and wildly experimental poetry since the 1960s. The prototype of Waldman as “fast-speaking woman” was not Mary, Mother of God—does Mary ever actually say anything?—but the curandera Maria Sabina (1894-1985). This is Waldman bringing that tradition into Amer-English literature:


woman never under your thumb, says

skull that was a head, says

bloodshot eyes, says


I’m the Kali woman the killer woman

woman with salt on her tongue


fire that cleans

fire that catches

fire burns hotter as I go


None of the multiple women named in this poem would have been likely to have shown up on Ozzie and Harriet, I Love Lucy or The Mary Tyler Moore Show:


my hair sparks desire

my mouth breathes holy fire


This poet asks over and over again, “May I speak thus?” But if the answer is No, she speaks anyway. One aspect of Anne Waldman’s work has been to bear witness, and she rightly understands bearing witness to be an important task of poetry. But she done something more than bear witness. She has been actively something to bear witness to. This is from Iovis:


I was effacing the authority of my own voice, Blake

I was hemming, Blake

I was serving, Blake

But I was fashioning a new kavya

I wanted to be adored

I was writing on palm leaves in my earliest center, my first dream-city

My “Alaka” where the beloved dwells

A high high abode

I became a yaksa

Moving thru space like a cloud

Then I asked him to take it

—all pretense!—the body suit!—off

Blake—off! Off! Ungarment here…


Blake as woman came and told me this in a vision….


Anne Waldman has been for these many years a co-conspirator and an inspiration, and it is important to note that both these words have the notion of breath at their root. “Song,” she writes, “is the body.” She is an outrider (“a mind ill at ease, restless, jumping from desk to orally standing-at-attention, examining itself”—Outrider). She is a live wire in an age when no one knows what electricity really is.

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