Essays • Poems • Interviews
Anne Waldman has been speaking about
the outrider tradition since 1974 when she and Allen
Ginsberg founded the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics
at Naropa, a Buddhist-inspired university in Boulder, Colorado.
This book gathers several essays, poems & rants, an interview
with her by Matthew Cooperman, and an interview by her with Nicaraguan
poet Ernesto Cardenal in an attempt to further articulate a sense
of this tradition from Walt Whitman to the present. Not a dry
presentation, this book is an fierce and loving look at what poetry
can be. Outrider is an iinvocation of lineage as a
challenge toward examining the practice of poetry and the links
of its history. This awareness of lineage encompasses both what
has been inherited and what needs be passed on. Waldmans
Outrider will be a provocative contribution to a post-millennium
The Outrider holds a premise of imaginative consciousness.
The Outrider rides the edgeparallel to the mainstream, is
the shadow to the mainstream, is the consciousness or soul of
the mainstream whether it recognizes its existence or not. It
cannot be co-opted, it cannot be bought. Or rides through the
chaos, maintaining a stance of negative capability,
but also does not give up that projective drive, or its original
identity that demands that it intervene on the culture. This is
not about being an Outsider. The Outrider might be an outlaw,
but not an outsider. Rather, the outrider is a kind of shaman,
the true spiritual insider. The shaman travels to
zones of light and shadow. The shaman travels to edges of madness
and death and comes back to tell the stories.
from the essay Premises of Consciousness: Notes on
In this superb collection of recollections, meditations, interviews,
poems, notes, and manifestos, Anne Waldman writes an indispensable
chapter in the history of American poetry, one at once brilliant
assessment and inspired exhortation. The outrider,
edgy icon of post-Beat authority, becomes the trope for a poetic
pedagogy involving avant-writers from Stein and Olson to Ginsberg
and Ernesto Cardenal. And surely the term also invokes the rebel
angel Gerard Manley Hopkins he whose outride syllables
ride forward or backward from the line in another dimension.
Waldman maps this out dimension as a visionary poetic
landscape where compassion and commitment are still possible.
From a life in which every aspect of the day is a radical act
of poetry and community emerges if we are lucky
a documentation of that very life. In Outrider, we encounter
a relentless drive to know, revolt, and review with equal parts
honesty and abandon, as only Anne Waldman can produce. Take
this ride through geographies of ideas and conversations and
come out with your hair aflame and your tongue out.
In this dark era of un-ending wars, Outrider reminds us there
is no human dimension in any given period of history without
poetry. Anne Waldman convincingly reaffirms that poetry,
essential element of human consciousness, state of mind, can
take action as a witness to injustice and speak to power
effectively. It stands opposite the ignorance of plutocracies
that hold power over human life, and offers a rival government
that can help save us from the tired, obsolete model of war
killing, show us a different version of the world, and the inter-connectedness
of all life forms. One comes away from this lucid and extraordinary
book knowing reminded, unforgettably that poetry
is a consciousness that can stop us from being planetary
fools, if only we will pay attention, and can help humanity
chart a necessary journey to a compassionate world in which
we take responsibility for where we are going, and where we
care for one another and the planet at the same time.
Anne Waldman, poet, performer,
professor, cultural activist holds the lineages of The New American
Poetry in her DNA. She is the author of numerous books of poetry
including the mini-classic Fast Speaking Woman (City Lights) and
the recent volumes In The Room Of Never Grieve (Coffee House Press)
and the meditative Structure of the World Compared to A Bubble
(Penguin Poets). She is also the editor of The Beat Book, and
co-editor of Civil Disobediences: Poetics & Politics in Action.
She is the Chair of the Summer Writing Program at The Jack Kerouac
School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University, faculty for
New England College's low-residency MFA, and the pedagogical director
for Study Abroad On The Bowery in New York City. Her extensive
Archive resides at the Hatcher Graduate Library in Ann Arbor,
Michigan. Allen Ginsberg has called her his "spiritual wife".
Outrider: Poems, Essays, Interviews
A Review by Larry Smith
Anne Waldman is what she is: a remarkable poet, performance artist, literary theorist, poet activist, feminist, and cultural organizer. Don’t expect her to also be a coherent essayist like E. B. White or Annie Dillard. Waldman’s stance as a writer, Buddhist, and rebel poet run counter to structured coherence, and bend toward construction by association, intuition, accumulation, and imaginative leaps toward inclusion. A child of Charles Olson’s open poetics, she discovers inner structure while mid-stream talking-consciousness, by circumambulating the subject: “Life and its forms are all moving in circles!” (67). And so her impressionistic prose-poems and essays on the mythic Outrider of alternative writing are inspired and often brilliant in segments yet incoherent in rational design:
“What the OUTRIDER desires is a return to urgency for the work
because we are trying to wake up the awareness of the world….
What we need, OUTRIDERS, is the modality of compassion.” (27-28)
“A stance is required that sets apart, yet co-exists with the notion of a
poetry of risk (sanity) and surprise (language)” (30)
These are whole paragraphs within her text of defining-describing the Outrider’s tribal role. Lacking development and logical connections, one finds here bursts of insight into the method of this engaged and engaging writing:
“The poet’s duty is to move the century forward a few inches towards Other. . . Colorful tattered bodhisattvas. With saddlebags, words at the center of mind, never banish thinking of Other.” (22-23)
One cannot help but connect this writing with that of other inside observers, Olson’s “Projective Verse” essay, Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Populist Manifestoes,” and Kenneth Patchen’s brilliant “The Artist’s Duty” statement within his Journal of Albion Moonlight. Like these open declarations addressed to the writer tribe, Waldman’s own fast-speaking manifesto capture the spirit of this new poetry of engagement (1970’s to present).
Though the prose-poems contain brilliant fragments, when Waldman is interviewed (by Matthew Cooperman and of Nicaraguan poet Ernest Cardenal here) she gains coherence and momentum and delivers comments that are astute, informed, and comprehensive. The dynamics of her hard-earned poetics of inclusion and revolt are laid out as mosaic stones to walk along. Topics include how her vow of compassion and her performance method embrace in the “wild mind,” how women writers of poetics struggle to be heard, how alternative writers have gone unappreciated, including the whole mimeograph revolution of the 1960’s: “The ‘alternative poetics’ had to do with economics, with urgency, with getting work-in-progress out as it was written. Which then would engender a response and perhaps guide the way the writing would go. It enhanced the conversation as writers.” (83) Culture and art are linked.
The second half of the book contains many valuable Waldman tributes to female writers of the tribe Lorine Neidecker, Gertrude Stein, Mina Loy, H.D. and others, and a developed and revealing study of Neidecker’s work through linking it with the poetics of silence in John Cage and Henry Thoreau. There are filmic memoirs of “Beat Roots” and another built around the HOWL landscape. The book is enhanced by poet photos from the 1970’s on. As insider and spokesperson Waldman witnesses, reveals, and demonstrates the vision and method of Outrider writing and traces its lineage for us as readers and writers in this illuminating collection.
Larry Smith is the author of Kenneth Patchen: Rebel Poet in America (A Consortium of Small Presses 2000) and Lawrence Ferlinghetti: Poet-at-Large (Southern Illinois University Press 1982).