Monday, July 16, 2012

Poetry Monday: Anne Waldman

There are so many famous New York poets, that choosing was difficult, but because I'm here, and feeling an excess of nostalgia, today I'm going to feature a poet who was active when I lived in NY - in fact I saw her way back then at the St Mark's Church's annual New Year's Day Marathon Reading (an event that, amazingly, is still happening). Anne Waldman is the author of over 40 collections of poetry (or books on poetry), and, and this is true for many poets, has given a lot to the poetry community, championing the cause of poetry through her many free readings, her involvement with the St. Mark’s Church Poetry Project for over a decade, the founding of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado, work as a teacher, editor, cultural/political activist, and above all, performer. I have to admit that it took me a while to take to Waldman's work and I still find much of it a little unsubtle and prosaic for my tastes, but when you see her perform the work, like a good song (and she sometimes sings), the work becomes transformed into high drama, the nuance added by vocals, gestures, verbal props, and body language into a complete piece. The following poem was chosen partly for it's utter New Yorkness (if I weren't actually in New York at this very moment, I'd be homesick for it from readng this poem).  Of course O'Hara is one of the key members of what came to be known as the New York school of poetry and Waldman infuses the poem with nostalgia for "the city", and for something/one, no longer alive in the corporal sense.  Like a missing relative, a missing city, desire mingling with an attempt at transcendence. 

A Phonecall from Frank O'Hara
“That all these dyings may be life in death”
I was living in San Francisco   
My heart was in Manhattan
It made no sense, no reference point   
Hearing the sad horns at night,   
fragile evocations of female stuff   
The 3 tones (the last most resonant)
were like warnings, haiku-muezzins at dawn
The call came in the afternoon   
“Frank, is that really you?”

I'd awake chilled at dawn
in the wooden house like an old ship   
Stay bundled through the day
sitting on the stoop to catch the sun
I lived near the park whose deep green   
over my shoulder made life cooler   
Was my spirit faltering, grown duller?
I want to be free of poetry's ornaments,   
its duty, free of constant irritation,   
me in it, what was grander reason   
for being? Do it, why? (Why, Frank?)   
To make the energies dance etc.

My coat a cape of horrors
I'd walk through town or
impending earthquake. Was that it?   
Ominous days. Street shiny with   
hallucinatory light on sad dogs,
too many religious people, or a woman   
startled me by her look of indecision   
near the empty stadium
I walked back spooked by
my own darkness
Then Frank called to say
“What? Not done complaining yet?   
Can't you smell the eucalyptus,
have you never neared the Pacific?   
‘While frank and free/call for
musick while your veins swell’”   
he sang, quoting a metaphysician   
"Don't you know the secret, how to   
wake up and see you don't exist, but   
that does, don't you see phenomena   
is so much more important than this?   
I always love that.”
“Always?” I cried, wanting to believe him   
“Yes.” “But say more! How can you if   
it's sad & dead?” “But that's just it!   
If! It isn't. It doesn't want to be
Do you want to be?” He was warming to his song   
“Of course I don't have to put up with as   
much as you do these days. These years.   
But I do miss the color, the architecture,   
the talk. You know, it was the life!   
And dying is such an insult. After all   
I was in love with breath and I loved   
embracing those others, the lovers,   
with my body.” He sighed & laughed   
He wasn't quite as I'd remembered him   
Not less generous, but more abstract   
Did he even have a voice now, I wondered   
or did I think it up in the middle   
of this long day, phone in hand now   
dialing Manhattan

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a perfect read for your visit! Hope you were able to to squeeze in everything you wanted to do!