In celebration of poet Anne Waldman’s birthday, April 2, 2017

One of my personal origin stories is of how I ended up at Naropa Institute. I was in art school, in a B.A. level English class and for one of my papers I wrote about beatnik misogyny. And in one of those flash life moments, pure chance or predestined fate, the teacher of the class loaned me a book called Make Up on Empty Space, by Anne Waldman.

So there was a women the Beatniks didn’t hate? I was just 21, mind you. I had a lot to learn. Furthermore, I loved the Beats, I just felt left out of the inside jokes.

Not too long after that class, I dropped out and into a freefall disaster that decimated my whole 21-year-old world. I ended up sleeping on an old friend’s couch in Boulder, Colorado.

Boulder, Colorado. That book by Anne Waldman mentioned a school in Boulder, the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. What was it? Could I go there? I decided to investigate. Yes, it was a real accredited school, and my parents were so worried about me not being in college that they let me go to this crazy place. William Burroughs would be there, Ginsberg, Jim Carroll, they would all be there! Anne Waldman too!

Anne Waldman - Fast Speaking Woman

My favorite glamor shot of Anne

In a way, Anne Waldman saved my life, pulling me out from the deep hole I had dug for myself. I was working in a department store while waiting for the Summer Writing Program to start when Anne sashayed past my register in a whirl of bohemian wraps and scarves. I recognized her instantly and meekly approached, told her I would be at the upcoming SWP. She was grand and gracious and utterly charismatic and a huge light appeared at the end of the tunnel.

Later in the summer Anne Waldman, in an intimate workshop of three students and myself, told me my poetry sounded like a Hallmark greeting card. Though I cried a river that night, she was absolutely right. She couldn’t have given me more invaluable criticism, and toughened me up for the criticism to come.

I remember in one class she broke down in tears while reading Pound’s “Usury.” I wasn’t sure if she was caught up in the beauty of the language, or something in her private heart. In the years following, Anne became one of my essential teachers, whose lessons resonated far after my time at Naropa. Her wild enthusiasm for poetry and life is unmatched. Her staunch support of young female writers is truly inspiring. Her words and deeds inspire me to this day.

photo by Lisa Janssen

I met my one of my oldest and dearest friends that summer, Gillian McCain (photo by Lisa Janssen)

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