POETRY BEYOND BELIEF: YIN &YANG
Calgary International Spoken Word Festival
Featuring Anne Waldman and Quincy Troupe
Tuesday, June 21
Knox United Church
Anne Waldman speaks in poetry. The 60-year-old Beat movement legend hardly finishes a sentence or a complete thought before jumping into another sentence, leaving her interviewer to string the half-sentences together and make sense of their images and ideas.
To some it may sound like she cant get her point across to save her life, but once you start to understand that shes communicating with something other and perhaps more creative than conventional sentences, things start to make more sense.
For example, when shes asked why poetry is important in todays political context, Waldman answers:
The abuse of language.
The lockdown of language.
The way Bush and his people have manipulated.
Foxes in the henhouse.
Bits of sentences. Its poetry, and Waldman, who is performing and teaching at the second Calgary International Spoken Word Festival this month, believes it can often bring more clarity than supposedly straightforward speech. Its this conviction thats inspired her to recently get involved with the News as Poetry project at the St. Marks Poetry Project in New York (where she was director for 10 years in the 1960s and 70s). The poets involved in the project challenge "fair and balanced" news sources like Fox News by looking at the truths behind the "war on terror" and other Bushspeak. The project presents a new way of looking at the skewed information thats often parroted by corporate media.
Waldman doesnt discredit the traditional news sources she admits shes a New York Times junkie but "poetry can help you deprogram from the slow drip of euphemism and deception."
News as Poetry is just one of Waldmans many projects. In 1974, she helped start the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado with fellow Beat poets Allen Ginsberg and Diane di Prima (the latter was a guest artist at the first spoken word festival last year). More than 30 years later, one might expect her to be driving an SUV and living in some suburb like so many of the so-called revolutionaries of the 60s. But Waldman is still writing, performing, teaching and learning, and shes using all those things to raise some hell and bring some peace to the world, fuelled by "the energy and dedication of people aspiring to a better situation" among todays artists and poets.
The furious anti-establishment themes that were so prominent in the Beat poetry of the 60s still wind their way through her words, but Waldman has also focused on her Buddhist spirituality, something that has influenced her poetry heavily. In her own words (as spoken to me over the telephone):
You cant just work on
destroying and killing and negating
theres this sacredness of life
spirit and principle
that theres something in there
if you could engender it
wake it up.
In one of her recent books, The Structure of the World Compared to a Bubble, she goes through a "walking meditation" of the four noble truths and the six realms of existence in Buddhism, the latter being gods, titans, humans, animals, ghosts and demons. In conversation, she wanders through the different realms, eventually arriving at the ghost realm:
The hungry ghost realm
depicted by the skinny necks
and extended bellies
which is a psychological state
and the more you eat
the hungrier you are.
Waldmans insights are a poignant analysis of the insatiable and dangerous desire for more of everything.
Despite her long career and many travels, Waldman has never before done a reading in Calgary. Spoken word fest organizer and local poet Sheri-D Wilson says Waldmans June 21 performance will be a definite highlight of the festival.
"When she reads, she roars like a woman," says Wilson.
Waldman will be reading with Quincy Troupe. As well, shell be doing a workshop on "writing as performance as activism" on Monday, June 20 and Tuesday, June 21.
In Waldmans own words (as spoken to me over the phone):
We have a job
as best we can