A literary exploration of how to live meaningfully in “the darkness of our time” needn’t be as bleak or daunting as it sounds, according to a world-renowned poet who will read here this week.
“Looking in to the darkness can be very generative,” Anne Waldmansaid in a phone interview from her home in New York. “It can be about seeing light in the darkness. That makes people sharper and forces them to think a little more deeply, waking them up to the luminous details of life. So it’s not just gloom and doom, but a way out through imagination.”
Internationally recognized, Waldman has been an active member of the Outrider experimental poetry community, a culture she helped create and nurture over four decades as a writer, editor, teacher, performer, curator, and cultural and political activist. Her poetry is recognized in the lineage of Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg, and in the Beat, New York School as well as the Black Mountain trajectories of the New American Poetry.
Along with Ginsberg, she co-founded the celebrated Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University in 1974, the first Buddhist inspired university in the western hemisphere. In fact, Ginsberg – who was portrayed by James Franco in the 2010 film Howl, based on the epic poem of the same name – once referred to Waldman as his “spiritual wife.”
“It was very flattering, but kind of a strange idea,” she laughed. “But he was very involved in Buddhism and we shared that.”
Waldman will read some of her work in progress as well as from her latest publication Gossamurmur, an allegory of a radical spirit in lockdown, dominated by "Deciders" and "Imposters" who threaten the future of poetry and its archive. It’s been described as “a witty meditation on identity theft and a searing plea for the primacy of imagination and for collective sanity in our provocative yet precarious time.”
In both her recent work and in conversation, Waldman is clearly focused on the preservation of poetry, both in its printed form as well as recording of readings, speaking with great passion about “the preciousness” of those artifacts and documents.
And while she may fret about the threat of losing those works, she maintains the poetic spirit is still alive and well.
“The world I travel in is very healthy,” she said. “There are some very impressive writing programs that just weren’t in existence when we began our school. So it has a place in the academy that it didn’t have, but you don’t want it to just reside there. And everywhere I travel I meet extraordinary people who are looking at better ways of living together.”
Sponsored by the Humanities Research Group with support from the English department, Waldman will read on Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Freed-Orman Centre. She will also conduct an open seminar in the same location at 10 a.m. on Friday. Both events are free and open to the public.