Juanita Rice's Reviews > Vow to Poetry

Vow to Poetry by Anne Waldman
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Jul 26, 11

bookshelves: non-fiction, poetry
Read in April, 2011

Essays, Interviews and Manifestos. Dedicated to Ted Berrigan, the School of Disembodied Poetics, Lyn Hejinian, Eihei Dogen, and Subcomandante Marcos, who is quoted : "The world we want to transform has been used (abused?) by history and is largely hollow. We must be inventive enough to change it and construct a new world. Take care and do not forget that ideas are also weapons." This is a big book, 353 pages excluding a good and very useful index, and an ambitious one.

I have only sketchy notes, because I intend to reread and ponder the book, there is so much in it that speaks to me. But then I am somewhat of an age with Waldman, and it is a unique prospect to have defied the fifties stereotype of femininity and then to find out in the sixties that "a Monstrous Regiment of Women" had done so throughout history, again and again, when the Second Wave of Feminism developed in the seventies. On page 15, "Author's Notes" Waldman posits that "the call to articulation is on the one hand choiceless, and on the other a matter of ongoing activity and improvisation." That seems to sum it up neatly.

Her autobiographical notes in one section called "Feminafesto" are identical in essence to my own experiences, although I was much less literate until late in life: " Of course, I'd always identified with the male protagonists in the novels I voraciously read as a kid," she writes. "And I was even hungrier than the boys for their adventure, wanting to be right inside Balzac's monde. . . .I would follow and live Siddhartha's journey through the words of Herman Hesse. I would yearn to play first Hamlet, then King Lear. And I saw myself as ageless Puer, picaresque adventurer, traveler in boy garb, entering the Hindu temple in Puri strictly forbidden to women, or making the long Haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca."

She addresses the destruction, suppression, and eradication of women in history and in so many kinds of cultures–Hindu Bali, Arab streets, "the Levite laws in the Bible, the destruction of the Astoreth goddess temples." She looks at the "progressive anthologies of poetry" and "the scarcity of women in any institution, sacred or secular." "Keep counting," she exhorts. "Do you women writers I'm speaking to feel marginalized? Do you agree, you'd almost have to, dear scholarly sisters, that the experiences of women in and with literature are different from those of men? Much feminist criticism has centered on the misogyny of literary practice." And here she names some of those guilty: Jack Kerouac, surprisingly, first, with James Joyce, Freud, Norman Mailer, Henry Miller, Homer, the Bible, the Koran, the Vinaya, among others.

Her project she declares is to transcend gender poetics. "They [women] are turning to skillful means in figuring how to combat assaults on their intelligence and time. She—the practitioner—wishes to explore and dance with everything in the culture which is unsung, mute, and controversial so that she may subvert the existing systems that repress and misunderstand feminine 'difference.' She'll take on the subjects of censorship and abortion and sexual harassment. She'll challenge her fathers, her husband(s), lovers, male companions, warmongers, micromanagers, spiritual teachers. Turn the language body upside down. What does it look like?" (23/24)

In "My Life a List," she mentions poetry by "the so-called 'academics." "They seemed stuck on the themes of aging and death. They'd been through the war—you know, angst, disillusionment." An amusing note: "Eliot is great, of course, and useful too, though he very likely set things back a century, as Williams said." The only women poets she mentions as contemporaries are Diane di Prima and Lenore Kandel.

I loved walking with her along, it seemed, a familiar parapet where I looked with her down upon the track of a productive woman's life from the 1940s up to the 21st century,
and heard her muse on what it means and has meant to be a woman dedicated to writing and creativity in general in this half-century of history.
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