Monday, April 4, 2011

National Poetry Month - Day 4: Anne Waldman

I think I discovered Anne Waldman during the same semester as the Auden experience that I mentioned yesterday. It was in a modern poetry survey course at SUNY Buffalo, taught by one Myles Slatin. If I remember correctly, we had to pick a poet from the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry and write a paper about his or her work -- for whatever reason, I chose Waldman, and kept on reading her long after the semester ended.  Thanks to the SUNY Buffalo Poetry Collection, I could get my hands on quite a few rare Waldman books. The one I liked the best, head and shoulders above the rest, was First Baby Poems, which was published in 1982 and then in an expanded edition a year later. Somewhere, I have copies of both of these editions, but the one I'm looking at tonight is a reprinting of the expanded edition (with artwork by George Schneeman) by BlazeVox Press (see the entry for National Poetry Month - Day 2).

First Baby Poems chronicles Waldman's pregnancy and the first year of her son Ambrose's life. I realize I'm walking on thin ice here, but there must have been something about the experience of motherhood that inspired Waldman to write such exquisite poems, many of which seem to get at the heart of the infant's worldview, which we can never know, but of which, with poetry of this caliber, we can perhaps get a glimpse. I'm revisiting this book now because I wanted to see if any of it read differently now that I have a toddler of my own. It does and it doesn't. I can see my son in some of these words, but these are Waldman's poems, and while some of the experience of parenthood that the poems describe is universal, the attentive reader never loses sight of the fact that Waldman never pretends to speak for anyone other than herself, her partner, and her son.

Although Anne Waldman has written many fine books of poetry, nothing comes close to what she accomplished in this book. She uses many different formal structures to, I think, illustrate the quickly morphing and growing infant that crawls through the pages. The following is a "list poem" that really gives a sense of the paradoxically enormous amount of things in a baby's tiny world-space.

To Lure to Him the Objects of the World He So Desires

white typewriter alphabet keys come to baby
Vajrasattva don't topple down on top of baby
Skrip ink don't spill on baby
press button, room light up for baby
Chinese dragon of moving red mouth, green shirt on, come
          grasp the baby's finger
electric clock buzz for baby
telephone ring for baby
Yellow Pages fall onto baby's lap
little cork to baby's mouth
Bozo-On-A-Holiday approach baby on your ratchety wheels
Mickey Mouse, baby holds you
measuring spoons, baby shakes you
Hildegard the Duck with undulating neck come to baby's arms
shiny green traveling trunk you hold baby's woolens
baby loves to encounter a toothbrush
baby would love a red caboose
Phoebe Unicorn you are a pretty toy, come to baby
Baby sees tapestry unicorn in the museum
Lady's Lucky Locker with tiny implements inside, come to
          baby's hands
All the Stoned Wheat Thins make their way to baby
pink highheels you make hammers for baby
baby loves the protuberances of any object
spotted shells of the South Pacific come to baby
arroyos run to baby
bowling pins you get knocked over
tupperware come to baby
Mozart Concerti sing in baby's ears
he loves a shiny black disc
Mr. Saheeb the Camel do a baby's jig
Aquaman, swim to baby
green-eyed owl hoot for baby
gruff bear sings the Brahms lullaby for baby
workboots are clumsy in baby's lap with their laces dangling
wooden block necklace, baby wears you like a lei
books-a-plenty, don't let baby rip your pages out
satin half-moon cradle baby's neck
Hindu horse take baby for a magical ride
prehistoric cave animal with shadows on your pelt, you
          are baby's favorite
flute makes a toot
socks leap to baby's kicking feet

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