Anne Waldman,
Fast Speaking Woman
(Pocket Poets Series No. 33,
City Lights, 1996)

As director and co-founder of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute, Anne Waldman continues to make herself known as one of the leading figured in the poetics and performance poetry field. Fast Speaking Woman is a 20th-anniversary expanded edition of the original text and includes several essays culled from her teaching materials on chant and performance poetry.

The title poem is a 30-page "list chant" indebted to Maria Sabina, the Mazatec Indian shamaness in Mexico. Making use of free association and internal rhymes, the list is a representation of both the individual artist herself and "everywoman" -- "I'm an abalone woman / I'm the abandoned woman / I'm the woman abashed, the gibberish woman / the aborigine woman, the woman absconding." Waldman's use of the list chant gives her the ability to improvise with sounds and words during performance, to further explore the relationships among mental, verbal, physical, and emotional forms. She explains these forms further in the essay titled "'Fast Speaking Woman' & The Dakini Principle."

Laced with Tibetan buddhism and archaic beliefs in magic, the poems in this collection continue to push the envelope in contemporary performance poetry. Like the title poem, many of these poems are list chants, best spoken aloud. The repetition of the first words of each line in "Notorious" -- "known for" -- create a rhythm and mindset that allows for a further glimpse into the energy of the poem. According to Waldman, the poem itself speaks through the performer as an energy source, becoming a full experience in itself.

Waldman continues playing with free association in "Lady Tactics," a poem best read with that idea in mind. At first some of the word choices seem absurd; read the poem aloud, however, and the assonance and dissonance created will open up a new layer in the poetry. Waldman functions on the principle that poetry is meant to be heard, not read. "Lullaby" is a short, eight-line chant; reading it over and over suggests different ways to emphasize and inflect lines with subtle nuances. Fast Speaking Woman also contains several excerpts from Waldman's writing journals that explain the principles that drive her poetry.

Fast Speaking Woman celebrates the renewed force of feminine energy in writing while paying tribute to such traditional lyricists as Sappho and Yeats. Waldman's collection is a must for anyone who enjoys performance poetry or playing around with language structures.

[ by Audrey M. Clark ]

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