Anne Waldman on Counterpoetics & Oppositional Action

Anne Waldman,  Naropa, 1987 – photo: Allen Ginsberg – courtesy Stanford University Libraries/Allen Ginsberg Estate

We continue this week with transcription from the 1992 Naropa panel on “Counterpoetics & Oppositional Action”. Today, Anne Waldman

Anne begins by quoting from Christopher Columbus’ Journal  (1492)

“They (the Native People)… brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned… . They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features…. They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane…. They would make fine servants…. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

So how navigate a new chaos of possibilities. You remember our discussion of Pratītya Samutpāda of the first week, the interconnectedness, cause-and-effect, the endless karmic web of ungenerous action propelled by ignorance and aggression. Henry Louis Gates quotes Dr Martin Luther King in today’s (sic) New York Times – ”We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. Whatever affects one directly affects us all indirectly”.  How navigate the “horbins” or holocausts in memory, out of memory, and to come, of a (is-it-conceivable? dare we say?) spiritual poetics, of mythological poetic wars, of continual and perhaps unprecedented racism, of planetary finitude,  of unfathomable sickness, (estimated one hundred and ten million adults will be infected with the AIDS virus by year 2000, starvation (check out Somalia, worse than Ethiopia) – and death? How navigate the new savage state? As writers, what’s the task? More letters to immured powermongers? Putting our energy onto – quote – “a candidate” in an arena with the least.. candor?, total renunciation?. “The Crips & Bloods, the newspapers say, orchestrate a kind of truce since the LA Insurrection”, people to people, we are made . A poet and I argue about that word,  “insurrection”, wanting to get the facts straight. Whose version is it?  Simply “frustration” ?  You think “riot”s a better word?. This is January 17th 1990 everything’s markedly different. Did the war in Iraq erase Vietnam?. My niece, in 1992, had “communist” smeared across her high school for refusing to salute the flag and wear a memoried yellow ribbon. But harassment for cultural workers continues on all fronts. How not to simply preach to the converted, these questions keep coming up. Personal frontiers have been – fighting Rocky Flats, for the last nearly twenty years, writing out against the censorious ones, joining Greenpeace, Amnesty (International), Rain Forest Network, PEN Club, AIDS Benefit work, more retreats with the homeless – This school (Naropa) is a political act. This is a political act. Your life is a political act.

I’d like to read from a statement, “A Pre-amble & Statement for a Council on Counterpoetics” (September 16, 1989) – This is drafted by myself, Jerry Rothenberg, Diane Rothenberg, Pierre Joris, Anselm Hollo, Ines Talamantez, and others. This was put together in Telluride, Colorado where we met at the Telluride Institute and I’ll read just part of it:

“Our purpose was to discuss the relationship of ethnopoetics – the  poetry- and-culture nexus over diverse space- and-time- to the contemporary crisis (ecological, political, ethnic and spiritual) that continue to confront us as a single but divided species on a single but divided planet. In the light of that meeting it became clear that what we were seeking in common was an activist poetics that would expand from an ethnopoetic base to incorporate concerns with ecology, language, polis, tradition and those alternative human models – cognitive, social, and spiritual – that have always been the foundations of what we take to be a true and germinal ethnopoetics.

A poetry so centered in its mission, we felt, was suffering today from a sense of fragmentation and alienation –  from the segregation of individuals and groups that, taken all together, might exercise a force larger than any of its particular manifestations. And we recognized further that what was true for poets was also true for other artists and writers and for those whose humane practices lay outside the arts as such.

It is our firm belief that what we are setting out here is not a minority poetics but one that represents the true mainstream of the world’s poetries (both deeply traditional and militantly avant-garde), wrongly seen as marginalized from the still-dominant western perspective.

With that much as preamble we offer the following statement for our concern for what a contemporary poetics might include, along with our proposals for a loose alliance and interchange between poets and other cultural workers in the various worlds,  local and specific, that comprise our global system

STATEMENT – There exists today, as there has throughout the centuries, poets and writers and cultural activists driven by a sense of planetary urgency towards the exploration and enhancement of a deeply-rooted human and natural potential. While this takes different forms, depending on the needs and views of individuals and groups and regions, we feel that there is a widespread desire today to accomplish the following:

  1. to encourage local forms of expression within a global perspective – both multicultural and intercultural in intention
  2. to remember the sources of poetry in an earth consciousness (“earth as a religious form” – Eliade), thus to support moves toward an enlightened relation to the natural world in which we live and to those fellow species with whom we share the planet
  3. to recognize that advances in technology are not merely a danger to be resisted but an opportunity to advance those principals of interpenetration and communication on which these proposals rest – not least for those of us for whom language is our “proudest tool”
  4. to encourage the recovery and expansion of our pre-technological repertoire of powers: of body, of voice, of performance, of deeply-rooted ritual acts, of private and interconnected dreams and dream-works
  5. to avoid ethnocentrism and a naïve provincialism by setting song and speech, spoken and written forms of language, performance and text, on an equal footing, and by recognizing and fostering common goals across the range of human arts and sciences
  6. to oppose with an awakened heart all forms of racism, sexism, and cultural chauvinism, and to encourage an active interchange with third and fourth world peoples on terms of mutual assistance and respect
  7. to resist all forms of repression and censorship and to defend thereby the acts of the individual (that most local and most threatened form of human life) against the restrictive pressures of the state, of organized religion, and of the vigilante action of those who live in fear among us
  8. to revitalize a view if artistic experiment as a form of political and social action, and to move beyond that to break down the barriers between art and other forms of human enterprise
  9. to foster alliances between poets, artists, and other cultural and intellectual workers, by reinforcing and creating networks of cultural activists towards an exchange of ideas, information, and projects in common
  10. to transmit to the century ahead of us (sic) that sense of mission that has invigorated and justified the formal experiments of our own time, and to bring the work of poets and artists so committed once more into the public sphere.

And then we go into a list of the various projects we are undertaking to enact some of these ideas – a newsletter, information (we’re soliciting contributions of information from the various networks), planning a series of further conferences, hoping to develop at least the beginnings of an-going organization of cultural activists, etc, inviting and continuing dialogue, looking for ways to encourage and promote the arts of translation both written and oral, recognizing the art of translation and how to live together on the planet,begin to take steps toward the establishment of an archival repository of documentation that can serve as a resource for those involved, etcetera.

So that was a statement that came out of a concern if writers and artists and it’s very much open to further purpose, and, working with Peter Warshall, we hope to incorporate an aspect that gets into other species as well – a lot of the areas of discussion that came up that first week, I think are coming in to this continuing expanding document     So without further ado I’d like to turn it over to some of our other cultural word workers here. First, Joanne Kyger..

Joanne Kyger’s contribution/statement will appear tomorrow

Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at the start of the tape and concluding at approximately ten minutes in

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