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Interview with Anne Waldman: On All Kinds of Roads

Anne Waldman is a poet, performance artist, and author of dozens of literary works as well as the editor of important volumes on the beats and other subjects. Waldman’s latest book is The Iovis Trilogy: Colors in the Mechanism of Concealment (Coffee House Press, 2011) She is a cofounder, with Allen Ginsberg, of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. The interview took place in the spring of 2011 in Greenwich Village.

JACOBSEN: What does Whitman’s open road mean to you?

WALDMAN: First I’d like to invoke the Native American Navajo because their word for road is used as a verb. Their whole relationship to road has to do with how you travel it, who you are traveling it with, what the environment might be, where you’re headed, in what direction, the weather and so on. So there are many different forms of that word, and to give one example of how it is used as a verb form, they say: “it roads me away,” So I invoke that sense of the particulars of that kind of literal travel and what that has meant historically in terms of diasporas, in terms of the migrations of immigrants coming to this country with a real vision of finding the promised land. So there’s a little bit of background: think of the road as a kind of zone and a site of incredible diversity.

I think for me in terms of this kind of dichotomy you have to hold the sense of negative capability in your mind–which is Keats line about being able to hold two different ideas ‘without any irritable reach after fact or reason.’ So you have on the one hand this extraordinary vision and ethos of the open road, and the stripping away of status and class and even race – although that comes later – and we have to keep that in mind in terms of the very recent rulings of the 1960s for African American people, the situation with Native American people. So there’s romanticism for the generalized American, I think there there’s been a lot of projection onto that. Just keep these kinds of tangibles in mind, and historical facts. I think it’s great to see the richness of the possibility and the ethos [of the road].

JACOBSEN: Where did you grow up and why would you want to leave?

WALDMAN:  I grew up in New York City in Greenwich Village and had parents who were somewhat bohemian so I was always on the nonconformist side of the equation. I was raised with a sense of democratic vistas and egalitarianism. Both my parents came from working class backgrounds and had been dropouts, in a way. My father shared the ethos of many of the beat writers and was a friend of Allen Ginsberg. Probably for 25 years of my father’s life, He had been an itinerant piano player and so traveled the road with bands and that sort of thing. My mother actually left American in 1929 to be part of an alternative community of bohemians around her then father-in-law who was a well-known Greek poet. This group of people were living in this semi-Luddite reality and weaving their own clothes — proto-hippies in a way- -but around an artistic vision.

JACOBSEN: A pretty unusual background.

WALDMAN: For me there is a poesis, a poetics, around the trope of the road that is embedded within many life experiences of the people I’ve been close to. Certainly the beat writers I’ve known who carried forward the original, you know, I’d say that came together in the 1940s and 50s. So I was inheriting in a way some of that ethos.  In my teen years and early twenties I was really interested in this fellaheen worlds that, of course, Kerouac invokes and wanting to go below the border and wanting to get to these other places or interstices of the culture where you were encountering the realities of these other kinds of cultures, experiences, language, I think of jazz culture of course. The culture of a certain kind psychic exploration, if you will, I think of Burroughs’ interests, and others.

JACOBSEN: It’s the question that needs to keep on being asked.

WALDMAN It’s so rich as a trope–the whole idea of the road and it being in terms of language, being an active experience. I think my life very early became dedicated to that ethos, to creating further zones. For me the road became a zone, in places like Saint Marks poetry Project where I worked for 12 years. Then when Ginsberg and I founded the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics – that was 1974 – we referred to it by a term used by Sufi thinker Hakim Bey, as “temporary autonomous zones.” That for me sums up some of Whitman’s sense of a community of likeminded people with a certain kind of adhesiveness and connection and sharing of this ethos.

So I felt we were inheriting this open road ethos and what were we going to do with it. What were we going to make of it?  Yes there were the travels and hitchhiking. I first went out to California not till 1965 to this huge New America Poetry conference, convention and figures whom I admired such as Charles Olson, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Duncan, many others were at this event. I went out to see them.  Then that led to hitchhiking to Mexico, getting to Mexico, my first LSD experiences and so on.  Then coming back and working at Saint Marks and then the founding of magazines and communities. So a lot of my life has involved with helping create cultures that have as their basis this vision of the sharing, the partaking of a certain ethos together.

JACOBSEN: How is On The Road part of that ethos?

WALDMAN: Remember On the Road is a work of art. It’s a piece of writing. So, yes it’s the road trip and, yes, it’s the literal thousands of Americans taking to the road and getting into that green automobile and just going. At the same time there is real incredible work [of art] that comes out of it.  Never forget that.  There are many versions of On the Road, many visions of how that book would come together. Then it was heavily edited. Now we have the original scroll version. It’s a work of art and because of that ethos it carries and is a real cultural intervention and continues to be in our world as younger people pick it up and read it.

JACOBSEN: Do the passing decades make a big difference in how the work is seen?

WALDMAN: Things are a little different now.  Where do you go on the road? Do you go on the Internet? Do you leave America? What is the contemporary vision or version? A lot of people pick up on the Beats and then come out to the Jack Kerouac School in Boulder. They might be interested in Buddhism or, if they’re scholarly, they become scholars of this extraordinary range and collection of amazing poetry and philosophy and thinking.  I think of the letters between Ginsberg and Kerouac or Ginsberg and Burroughs–he thinking and the complicated making that was going on.  I just think of the amazing things that were going on.  So it’s so rich.  The doors keep opening.

JACOBSEN:  In On The Road two young white guys bounce back and forth between the coasts a lot.  Is it just a macho white boys’ trip?

WALDMAN: I bristle at some of the macho references or how women are referred to.  But I also take this as a symptom of the times, the kinds of vocabulary used because it’s a book, a work of art. It’s beyond whatever the white boy trip is that might be were they frat boys or something. It’s just a very different reality for me. I think it’s an instance in contemporary literature of male bonding. It’s not an Army story.  It’s not a buddy story in that sense, It’s a different kind of picaresque book, it can only happen in this particular time frame.  So the soulfulness, the tender connection, the heart connection between the characters. The sense of the writerly Kerouac, the observer projecting onto the protagonist who is Neal. Remember these are composite characters. They’re not literal either.  Kerouac was making this up. It was based on a combination of trips and so on.

I think of these amazing scenes where they are suddenly leaping out of the car and playing ball. The scene in Denver, this vision of seeing Native Americans and black kids and white kids and soldiers.  It’s a very Whitmanic moment. There’s traveling to Mexico. You’re really going to places that had not been covered in quite the same way. And all the direct speech. I think of William Carlos Williams and the notion of ‘no ideas but in things’, and the attention to the details of ordinary speech. It’s not a highfaluting, constructed or artificial kind of world. So as a window on the time and on this very soulful heart connection, filled with epiphany, of insights, spiritual connection, seeing things for the first time, feeling the excitement of the writer’s gaze. It’s much more than a boy’s trip for me. I knew some young women who tried to imitate that trip just in the last 5 or 6 years, a pair of women who had this art project and took it on the road. Those guys had done it and we can do it too. Its led to so many interesting projects. And just the effect of the writing itself has been profound; I still see it in my things that come my way.

JACOBSEN: What about your own times on road right after leaving college?

WALDMAN: It was very political time going out to Berkeley with all the drama there. This was before the radical revolution at Columbia in New York which I was caught up in to some extent when I was back in New York. But going to this convocation of poets and artists and alternative folk in the environment of Berkeley with all its free speech movement, Being in a room with some of my heroes, I did notice there weren’t enough women poets at this event. It was somewhat lacking in diversity. But the nature of the conversation, the nature of the discourse, the range of the individual work, the experimentation of this writing. This was not left-hand margin poems about dead animals, and flowers and your dying grandmother. It was a much more extensive poetics. And more out of the influence of the Whitman and Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Gertrude Stein, and others. You really felt a radical shift in the advance of a poetics that had really been engendered by Whitman. This was very exciting. I wanted to work in this environment. I wanted to help recreate it in places. There was a lot of small press magazines activity.  We had no Internet at that point, but there were correspondences that started happening. Then when I got back to NY had the opportunity to work with the beginning years of the poetry project which was founded with money from the OEO under Lyndon Johnson to work with alienated youth on the lower East side.  This was extraordinary, to be able to help then to create a culture that would capture the energy that I felt at Berkley.

I talk about taking my vow. I took my vow to poetry; this is where I’m going to be. These are my people; this is my tribe. This is where I’m going to put my energy.  So that led later to the founding of the Kerouac School when the opportunity arose to create something at Naropa University which was the first Buddhist inspired University in the West with Allen Ginsberg. And to lure William Burroughs out there– and Gregory Corso and Diane diPrima and many, many writers, and younger writers as well, associated with the Beat Movement. Gary Snyder, Ken Kesey, Joanne Kyger, many people I felt were helping co-found this vision of a temporary autonomous zone that could happen on the spine of the North American continent going clear down to South America, that had the closeness of Denver, which was Neal Cassady’s stamping ground. And you could go there and get the beat tour, and Kerouac had actually passed through there.

JACOBSEN: How did you settle on the name?

WALDMAN: When Allen and I were talking about naming our school, he came to mind as this quintessential American mongrel, Quebecois working class, Lowell, came to high school and then Columbia on a sports scholarship, was soulful, tender-hearted, throbbing inside for the fragility of the world, seeing everything in this energized way, and having a vision, a spiritual vision of its impermanence. So it continued that moment in Berkley. And seeing Allen out there. We already had had some phone calls but that was where I really officially had met him. The confluence of these initial inspirations just came together. So I see in my own life this stream that comes out of this ethos that you are talking about. And also a ground where people can come if they’re curious, and think of themselves as artist and writers. And come and really play with that and develop relationships with one another.

The beat literary movement is strong because of those very challenging and individual relationships and styles and contention and so on. So I just feel blessed by this kind of opportunity that came from it. It was a kind of seed.

JACOBSEN:  Did going ‘on the road’ necessarily connect with radicalism, with political as well as a cultural radicalism?

WALDMAN: I would say so.  I certainly saw it.  I think of my father growing up in South Jersey, the son of second-generation German immigrant glassblowers.  The opportunities for him of feeling that aspiration, that yearning, get out of the small town, connect to a larger world, get yourself to New York, wanting to play the piano at every opportunity, bonding with people who were on a similar path, ending up in Provincetown, which was kind of nexus for nonconformity, and artistic dropout reality.   A lot of my father’s generation were thinking about communism and had deep liberal and progressive connections. He never admitted whether he was a card-carrying communist party member but I think its possible.

Then World War II comes along, and World War II synchronizes things for a lot of people.  There’s a kind of wakeup call. I think he had been drinking a lot and had a chaotic life. You have to sober up and you’re fighting the Nazis.  Then you come out and what do you do? You go to college on the GI Bill and gets a doctorate in English literature, in education and he ends up a teacher at Pace University down the block. He was a frustrated writer. I think he wanted to write the great American novel.  He certainly loved fiction. He was a serious reader, I would say. I think of him born in this very small, limited situation and then coming out of that.  Many people have this story.

JACOBSEN: What about the contemporaries now?

We get students at Naropa who are often from very conservative backgrounds. I had a student some years ago whose father had worked on the Manhattan Project. I had a student who had to escape this very intense, born-again fundamentalist Christian background that was very much like a cult and of course they struggle to get to Naropa.  And they have cut themselves off. They don’t look back. But they then have to survive. Survive on many cases as artists. We hope people get the training to be teachers and editors and translators. Free spirits as well.  So that’s always been interesting to me the kinds of people who show up. I have students whose fathers are voting for Sarah Palin.  It’s wild.  And the whole red state/blue state thing is very interesting. Watching that shift over the years.

Who would have thought this would have happen. Seeing these different transient tendencies and tactics now that were so active with many of us during The Vietnam war period. That’s another key milestone in terms of what you are talking about You know the dichotomies, The brokenness of the culture around things like the Vietnam war, and then a lot of it has to do with war and where we put our energy and money and attention. And the military industrial complex, which dominates our whole economy. Even with the vision of democracy in other places we know the dark side.

JACOBSEN: Was the Vietnam War responsible for what we call the 60s?

I think it plays a large part in that I felt that very specifically. People I knew were going to serve, couldn’t get out of the draft. Other people I knew getting out of the draft and moving to Canada. The people who were behind were involved in protest and getting arrested.  I did go to Vietnam in 2000 as a kind of pilgrimage and to feel my generation was very much a part of this. I felt responsible but also connected and empathetic.  It was a very complicated relationship we had, whichever side you were on. The shock of being there was very few people my own age – I was primarily in the North in the streets of Hanoi. A whole generation was essentially decimated. I was with much younger people who were born after the war. Then I was with elderly people, often crippled and maimed because of incident s created by the war.  It was a very moving to see that, the palpability of t the loss. It was such a stretch at the time.  We had much more imagery from that war. The media was not controlled. The storyline, the master narrative was not controlled. I thin it was some those images really radicalized people and shifted things to some extent. And the Viet Cong also, their tenacity.

JACOBSEN: Tell us about growing up in the 1950s.

Growing up in the fifties, having to wear a dog tag, having to take shelter in a bomb shelter. That turned me toward the road, I did not want to live in fear of that, I was gong to work somehow against what that vision was, and what that horror was. It was poetry, art, music. The antithesis for me was the artistic path.  That was very strong as well. Whitman’s vision was before a lot of the atrocity of the 20th century. I was going to public school in the post-World War II, the grey doldrum years. But I was in this extraordinary environment of Manhattan, of Greenwich Village, of bohemian parents.  Pete Seeger was down the block. My older brother was involved in the folk movement. We would gather every weekend in Washington Park. The folk songs were so important to my reality I had parents who were attentive to what was going on politically.  They also had these interesting histories.  There was the Greek connection, a sense of a larger world. People coming in from abroad.  There was a sense of community around ideas: a discourse and an adhesiveness–which is my favorite word from Whitman. My teachers were often very eccentric in this neighborhood.  There was a kind of formality and strictness. This also was a heavily Italian and Roman Catholic area.  We were atheists. My mother started taking us to church when I was in seventh or eight grade.  That was always a question, Do you believe in God? I remember having a vision in the girls’ room with some other girls at PSA which was around the corner from here. We convinced ourselves we were seeing the devil, it wasn’t God we were seeing but the Devil.   I think we were punished for that.  It was a civic education, being taught American history, the importance of voting. It was a diverse community, I had Portuguese kids in my class, Hispanic, a couple of African-American students. So there was the melting pot that you find in America.

JACOBSEN: The commies were always coming.

WALDMAN This business of taking shelter because of the threat of the commies coming across the water or whatever. I started to question that. What is this fear?  As we see through our whole lives here the way fear is propagated. Whether there are some killer bees on the way. One of the classic examples. So there clearly was a point where you were going to live in the fear or live in the horror or try to do something about it or put your energy somewhere else.

It was really hard coming to terms with the Nazi history. Then in my twenties I was traveling to Germany. There was a lot of poetry activity and some of my first readings abroad and trying to relate with people my own age there and what they were discovering and learning had to examine in terms of their backgrounds. Then so many of my friends had family who had either perished in the holocaust or survived in the holocaust.  It was very palpable. This was another reality to consider. You had a relationship too. Was it the Adorno idea? Can you have beauty, art, after atrocity?  I felt this resounding, “Yes, You have to.” I mean, You have to.

You had a lot of the Beat writers – there had been some military service there. But not what my father had been through for the most part. There were friends of Kerouac who were in WW II certainly. Ted Berrigan, a close poet friend. had been in Korea but did not really see action.  I felt certainly with Allen there was a real pacifist stand there. Then I knew people like Dave Dellinger and working with people in the peace movement and that later led to a lot of work, which continues for me. With the Rocky Flats plutonium plant where I was arrested with Allen Ginsberg and Daniel Ellsberg in the 70s. We helped with many others to close that place down. There was so much extraordinary criminal, I would say,  lack of accountability. We’re talking about plutonium actually leaking into the soil. So this site is still toxic and still the Fish and Wildlife department want to have a park on the site of rocky flats where you can take your children and your dog.  So I’m involved in thirty years with the rocky flats guardianship project where were trying to alert citizens of the area and the world. With this situation in Japan if this is not our last chance to wake up I don’t now what will be. When l look at my life there are these streams, these things that have continuity from the fifties to now in 2011.

JACOBSEN: Is there anything about Kerouac that you find especially misrepresented or misunderstood?

WALDMAN: I think the idea of the lone tormented artist – which we can apply to others – I think that it needs to be revisited. He needs to be seen in the context of a lot of other artistic activity. He is like a Jackson Pollock of words. There is a pretty interesting document called ‘action writing.’ Which is not all about spontaneity and first thought, best thought,’ but a certain kind of attention to the smallest increments of the phonemes of language, The kind of power of connection, what he is able to do with language.  Or John Cage or other radical artists of the time, and put him in this context rather than extracting him and being more obsessed with the life story, whether it’s the relationship with the mother. All these are factors in who he is and what he created.

Go to the work if you have real curiosity. Go to the work and you take on something like Visions of Cody. When you think of the move from Maggie Cassady or Tristessa to Visions of Cody. I think Visions of Cody is his most radical book in terms of poetic stretch and the way he is able to incorporate documentation and incorporate the live tape recording of Neal and so on. It’s a collage, its more like montage, its more like film in some ways. I think of the work of Burroughs and his work with cutup and superimposition and so on.  And his writing being more like film, the way he talks about montage. I think you can apply some of that to what Kerouac was doing. So to see the experimentation of this kind of artist and to make him less of a pathetic figure, I guess. And also we don’t want to go too heroic either. Form some point of view we’re not allowed to have heroes anymore really unless they are movie stars who are not really doing what they are portraying.

JACOBSEN: What can women take away from this writing, this experience?

WALDMAN:  As a woman I have felt encouraged and fed by and nurtured by the work of Kerouac and others. Certainly Allen and Burroughs.  I knew Allen and Burroughs, and Gregory to some extent.  Certainly Gary Snyder’s work. Then the connection to Buddhism, because that is another strand in my life. There’s this combination of this subtlety of mind, thinking about the big things, chewing on who we are, why we’re here and what are we doing, seeing the joy and the heartbreak as well, being able to hold the two disparate things in the mind “without any irritable reach after fact and reason.” This negative capability. And being able soar with it and inspire people to try to just not imitate that but to feel that, feel some human possibility and potential. That we still have our larynx, we still have our minds and we still have our consciousness. We still have this gift to make things with words and images and get outside these preordained tropes and ways of thinking and the master narratives–what’s handed to us.  That we can think for ourselves and we can awaken the world to a greater consciousness.  They were doing that.  And here’s Kerouac looking at the fellaheen worlds.  Looking at these other cultures. Welcoming it, curious, Really stepping outside his own limited, whatever that narrow world was. It’s amazing to think we can do it. We can have that same kind of trajectory of mind.

JACOBSEN: What’s the best of the Beat legacy?

AW: Adhesiveness, candor, curiosity, travel. The sense of traveling this continent, also other continents. The friendship. That is so amazing to me; I would say a non-competitive friendship. Yes, they had their squabbles and love affairs and emotional differences and certainly political differences as Allen did with Jack during the Vietnam War.  This idea that all the beats are wildly liberal and progressive is ridiculous.  You have people thinking for themselves and having certain affinities because of their upbringing and who their family are, their own people who were close to them who fought in these wars and so on. It’s complicated. But they had that ability to continue the conversation.

Allen’s loyalty to his friends was extraordinary. And as he was dying he was calling people: “What can I do for you before I die? Do you need money? What can I do?” My last bedside conversation in the hospital just a few weeks before he died was ‘please take care of so and so.  And the legacy of the Kerouac school. We’ve got thousands of hours of Allen’s teaching and William and panels and colloquia. We have the archive and some of these cultural icons are still with us. Lawrence Ferlinghetti is still with us. Diane DiPrima is still with us. Gary Snyder is still with us. For me the richness of that vision, all these things I mentioned but also the diversity in the discourse of the actual writing, the interest in Buddhism, the interests in jazz, Black culture, other cultures, whether Morocco or Mexico. Its expansive, it’s an expansive poetics; it’s an expansive gift. I mean as a younger person you can come in through many, many gateways. It’s like some huge Mandela. You can enter into this and get refreshed. And It’s an antithesis to this war culture, this death culture, this suicide of, you know, Oh, don’t get me started.

JACOBSEN: What stands out among your own road trips?

WALDMAN: I remember being caught in this earthquake in Mexico City and having a sense of people coming before me., of being part of this lineage. I felt similarly when I went to India and South America. Allen had been there in the 60s and I was able to meet with people he had known. I think there also was a sense of serendipity. What’s coming up? You know it’s very different if you’re in your own car.  If you are hitchhiking then you never know want you might encounter. But I remember a very kindly fellow. I was traveling with a friend. We were at the Alamo in Texas and we’re exhausted and hadn’t really eaten. He had an extra room; I don’t know that I’d do that today. At the time it seemed safe and interesting.

JACOBSEN: As a woman on the road did you feel in peril?

I was not ever hitchhiking alone. I’ve done solo train trips but I’ve never driven myself alone. So it’s always been with others. It was a little harder when I first went to Egypt when I was 18 years old and being a white woman with a knapsack and in blue jeans.  But again I was part of the rucksack revolution there was some grace there. You could put it that way. And confidence as well because I thought of myself as a poet. That was part of it. I was going for that, to have experiences to make the work.

JACOBSEN: How does the rucksack revolution look to you now?

WALDMAN: These rucksacks are very expensive and there’s so much gear involved.  I think anything that gets people outside–I’m a big supporter of public parks and public spaces. I get very upset when money is being cut and people can’t visit the Grand Canyon. Also I’m concerned about the overuse of these spectacular places. And there’s no real wilderness left and so there’s a heartbreak there.   You can go anywhere and be rescued through your cell phone and have some helicopter drop down. It’s very different. We’re really connected up here. Some people chose not to do that.  There’s a lot of potential for disaster. Again the radical intervention of the web. It just shifts the mind, shifts the frequency but also you can make links. Any technology is just a skillful means and it’s how you use it. How are you using it? You can push a button and bring down a whole rain forest in South America; you can push another button and do something more creative. So it’s not the technology itself. So I don’t demonize the downside. As we’ve seen in Egypt and Tahrir square and other recent event, the adhesiveness through these kinds of communication is extraordinary. Interesting times we live in.

JACOBSEN: Burroughs warned Kerouac against California Buddhists – a certain kind of Buddhist.  “There are no sidelines, like it or not you are part of the human endeavor.“ Your response?

WALDMAN:  That was a statement probably from the mid-50s. I think William’s view grew and changed. He was certainly around Allen enough and Allen was a serious Buddhist. William was in residence at the Jack Kerouac School at Naropa, which has this Buddhist backdrop, and many people in that community are activists, are cultural activists, political activists. And I’ve never myself been on the sidelines. So he saw that in me and others. That’s another misconception also, that you are going up and staring at your bellybutton on a mountaintop somewhere. I wish we could. I would love to do that. The view is that you need to take it with you. (Laughs).

It’s interesting. When William finally did a Buddhist retreat under Buddhist auspices. You’re not supposed to take along all the paraphernalia of your work, your typewriter, your novels you want to read, other texts or research books. He protested that. He said, ‘What if a great idea comes to me during the retreat and I let it go?’ So he took his notebook and writing utensils and wrote something called the Retreat Diaries that was published. I find that tension sometimes with younger students who are inspired by the vision of the beats and show up and are also are curious about Buddhism. There seems to be a disjunct there. How can you work on letting your thoughts go and getting synchronized into the moment and questioning your wild imagination.  But I say just think of all the great Japanese and Chinese poets and scholars who were also meditators.

I mean, yes. There’s a kind of training, when you are sitting in a session in the Japanese tradition or any of the Buddhist traditions, taking your lotus posture or whatever it is. That’s what you’re doing. You’re sitting there following your thoughts, considering the nature of your mind, and how things arise. Where do they come from and where do they go. And you let go and you try to just get synchronized into the present. You’re not sitting there with your computer necessarily. There’s a time and place for it all.  I think people get it, start to get it. Also it helps, I think, with the problem of identity and ambition. If you can integrate your life to have a kind of meditative practice that is considering others. We pride ourselves at Natrona – I mean, pride {ironically] – on developing a noncompetitive community. That’s very important.  The values that can come from that kind of meditative work combined with the creative work you do, combined with your activism, can come together.

JACOBSEN: The women were slighted., at least in the beginning, weren’t they?

WALDMAN: They were not given the transmission. So when the guys are talking about what they read last night, what excited them in Spengler or Count Korzybski’s notebook on semantics. You know sharing their insights and soon. The women were not getting those transmissions. They were kept out of that conversation. And you had a fight to get in it.  Certainly Diane did and Joanne Kyger who was married to Gary Snyder. Finally I think both Allen and Gary in later years were able to finally see Joanne’s work.

I think I was very lucky with Allen because there was some affinity that seemed quite organic and I had his ear, and he saw that we were on a similar path with our Buddhist studies and with Naropa and so on. He was almost a generation above. He could be a kind of mentor and a guide. And certainly traveling with him and performing with him and that sort of thing and then creating this school with him. I was watching him up close and there was complete egalitarian give and take. So I have no complaints there.

I think again it’s that period of the 50s and the 60s.  I felt it even as a 20 year old at Saint Marks. I had to hold my ground.  The first night I met William. In the early 70s. He had come from England.  I was sitting next to him at a cocktail party. I think “The Job” had just come out and the interview where he talks about children being born out of men’s assholes and we don’t need women. I remember that sort of conversation. There was some part of me feeling very intimidated but also I felt I could hold my ground and I was curious. So it took this added chutzpah in some of these early encounters. But then especially at Boulder which was kind of spacious environment, and a project that we were creating for ourselves. We weren’t working for the man. It wasn’t some institution with a heavy infrastructure that was controlling our imagination. Things could relax . Then more and more women were coming in. I was bringing more women writers into the arena. There were more women students. The fact that I was teaching there. Diane Di Prima, Joanne Kyger and Barbara Guest were part of the vision.  And so these things can change. I think it was a relief for Allen to let go a little bit of that. I think I still had to correct him at times when he called women girls. I’d say. Allen please, it’s not politically correct. (laughing).

JACOBSEN  Is the road over?

WALDMAN: I don’t think it is as a trope or as something in our psyches. There’s very little wilderness out there but there is wild mind, and the Wild mind that actually, as Gary Snyder says, wants to take care of things. There’s an elegant quality to the wild mind.  It might be that everything is in museums, that everything is in books that we have to read on kindles or online. The sacred stuff will be there but it ‘s more codified and it will not be so easy. Maybe we’ll have to go to outer space. That was crazy Leary’s view at the end, and William’s view to some extent. We’re here to disappear. We’re also here to get off the planet. This is a sinking ship. I’m curious about other universes, and nonhuman elementals.  For me it’s still a very lively ethos. It’s a kind of practice. It’s an ethos that is very sustaining.

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