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Welcome to Ask a Poet, where each week we will present (in no particular order) a Q&A with a poet who will be coming to the Dodge Poetry Festival this October 20-23. Through these blogs, you’ll be able to get to know these poets a bit better in preparation for #DPF16! 

Now, let’s get to know Anne Waldman.


With all the other demands and distractions in life, how do you make time for poetry?

Poetry has a way of ritualizing the day, making it expand into imaginative realms that escape the mundane, the  driven world of  duty, and obsessive attention to electronic devices, social media, and the slow drip of daily bad news and media worlds. Our overwhelming  Distraction Culture! But it’s not about escape, it’s about a deeper understanding of the human struggle. I’ve always been drawn to shamanism and vision. Poetry can be the true news. The tragedies of war, violence, and ever more palpable sufferings are elucidated, mourned, through poetry. And transformation can occur. One can still see light through the darkness. Beyond sentimentality. And I mean both the reading and writing of poetry.  And poetics essays as well. You can slip into a more tactile, sensory awareness of the “minute particulars” as William Blake has called them, of reality. Notice things you never noticed in the nuances of shifting tone and genre and meaning of your world and the shimmering play with language. Reading for a half hour can change your mental frequency. I’ve been revisiting the Beat Literary Generation writers such as Gary Snyder as a way to reflect on climate change. I have been reading Amiri Baraka and Claudia Rankine who address race and struggle and feel so prescient, contemporary and fierce in their intelligence and conviction. If you are writing poet you need to spend every day in a mind of poetry, and make time for the practice and discipline, and read tons of books!

What is the role of poetry in the twenty first century?

I think the role of poetry in the 21st century is to continue to help wake the world up to itself. To be in touch in a profoundly sensory way with the current poetic communities and experimental movements and to read poetry from a range of cultures other than one’s  own. To seek out other traditions and genres and forms. I’ve been inspired by Native American writers such as elders Simon Ortiz, and Joy Harjo, as well as  younger innovators Sherwin Bitsui, Orlando White, DG Opik, Cedar Sigo and Layli Longsoldier. The role of poetry should be a bridge across cultures. Because I travel a lot I have been reading Chinese poets, Indian Poets and poets from all over Europe. I think poetry has to be more embedded in our entire educational system in the US of A. Rigorously supported and appreciated. There are endangered languages all over the world, just as there are endangered species. Keeping the ancient continuum of poetry alive is a humanitarian responsibility, just as one would preserve art, architecture, music. And we need to do a better job with all of these legacies. The role is to guard the beauties and subtleties  and sorrows and penetrating insight  of our existence reanimated through poetry.

What poem are you proud of having written?

I am proud of my book- length poem Manatee/Humanity (Penguin Poets) that takes on an endangered species with personal encounter, documentation, dream,and a parse of Buddhist principles and ritual. “The manatee has more grey matter than man”. I write in the poem and also that  that the manatee is thinking more “archivally deeper than man”. It was an expanded vison that came to life and describes a 3 day ritual that “includes the manatee” as a kind of guide to a larger sense of rhythm and interconnected frequencies. The manatee stands in for all endangered creatures, the non-human elementals we share this planet with. This is an ancient life form closely related to the elephant, known for its empathy and inquisitive playfulness. I tried to have the language reflect the ebb and flow of life-in-water. The origin of the word manatee, is manitou, a Carib word meaning “breast”. The poet Kamau Braithwaite has spoken of “tidelectics”, the rhythm/pulse of moon/tides.

Anne Waldman has been a prolific and active poet and performer, editor and professor many years, creating radical new hybrid forms for the long poem, both serial and narrative, as with Marriage: A Sentence, Structure of the World Compared to a Bubble, and Manatee/Humanity, and Gossamurmur, all published by Penguin Poets. She is also the author of the magnum opus The Iovis Trilogy: Colors in the Mechanism of Concealment (Coffee House Press 2011), a feminist “cultural intervention” taking on war and patriarchy which won the PEN Center 2012 Award for Poetry.  Her most recent book-length poem is Voice’s Daughter of a Heart Yet To Be Born , from Coffee House Press, 2016, inspired by William Blake’s Book of Thel. She has been deemed a “counter-cultural giant” by Publisher’s Weekly for her ethos as a poetic investigator and cultural activist as well as her innovative poetry and performance, and Allen Ginsberg often referred to Waldman his “spiritual wife”.  She is a recipient of the Shelley Memorial Award, a Guggenheim Fellow for 2013-14 and a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets. She recently received the Before Columbus  Book Award for life-long achievement.  She is a co-founder of The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics MFA Program at Naropa University in Boulder Colorado. She is the former Director of The St. Mark’s Poetry Project in NYC.  She collaborates with dancers, musicians and artists such as Douglas Dunn, Thurston Moore,  Pat Steir and Meredith Monk. And is the founder with her son Ambrose Bye and nephew Devin Waldman of Fast Speaking Music productions.  Website:


Stay updated on the 2016 Dodge Poetry Festival as information becomes available!


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