The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2018

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JUL-AUG 2018 Issue

The Oligarch Is In Charge
( …and has to go)

Anne Waldman
Trickster Feminism
(Penguin Poets, 2018)

Anne Waldman’s very apropos and very prescient / omni-present and very true latest, Trickster Feminism, lays philo-sophic poetry at the feet of sleep as well the very wakeful performance aspect of our current oligarchical moment.

What’s reeling and alive is the freshness of topicality, personal and public, in this collection: ICE and Immigration, the DOJ’s current personnel, the Women’s March, Oligarchism and global money laundering, technocracy, “Anthropocene weather complexities,” nuclear threats, and so on. All taken from the live air and brought into the writing—as vocabulary, not for any one agenda they might themselves propose—but as fodder for the poem’s act of concealment. In that winding way toward a personal vocabulary another side opens its eyes in front of the public mirror.

behind the dull glass

appropriate to
“the people
want it”

all of this out of:

a kiss
working a voice

The point is that in this meditation at the mirror it is the “branches of laurel,” a poetry as a “trick o’ death a strategy,” by which the old feminism can and will be reborn.

under stars
way to gnosis
saying this is the place
this is indeed the place
with many layers
lie down here

and feminism is old mistress to strange
tiers of it to make you think
on death
how cold it is out on the road
making love like this

Waldman uses these thought-nodes and stanzas to get us up into the reaches of poetry, to listen and see how the poem itself unfolds as a kind of victory over patriarchy as well as a life-breath over death-cults that creep up from an unrecognized unconscious. Using a performative aspect of the page, the poet continually engages what was a major oracular cycling of materials in The Iovis Trilogy (Coffee House, 2011), a masterwork long-poem whose 1,000 plus pages are a must-read for any serious student of poetic open forms and experimentality.  On Trickster Feminism’s acknowledgements page, Waldman mentions “Melpomene” and “Trickster Feminism” “are considered an ongoing part of the Iovis Project,” and as such, continue her soul’s life-long epic trance.

In Trickster Feminism, Waldman has placed various visual cues into her poetry: vertical columns of poem-text shadowed by pictures and glyphs, as well as cross-intentioned “parallel” columns that stagger and question the way we gather all the “many layers” of what we are reading. Indeed, to “lie down here” means to see what, in “strangling me with your lasso of stars” the linkages of a hierarchy of metaphors and their interpretative valor might otherwise blind us by. The cross over into sight crosses, instead, into the moment of waking.

the stars are projections   fetishized hunger
shelter is postcultural              take you away
come up from South
come up this way                    words are citizens
a better life                             words are enemies
                                                  as one writes to reveal them
a leader was opening               a map fails
then all shut down

“Then all shut down.” This moment, in other words, operates inside a fetishized hunger, creeping into the words has made them, to quote from Gertrude Stein, “Patriarchal Poetry.” Waldman plays with words as labels and shows, as Stein did, patriarchy as an interpretive guise of the poem that can be “withstood.” How? Stein shows how by turning “at peace” into “a piece.”

feminism is your ploy,
oftimes retired
come out now
not disenfranchised
nor abandoned
nay obsolete
how many you go con

bruited lab death of feminism?

when you sit with
the corpse of your world
let it shut its corpse

We are moving from “shut,” as in “an end” towards “shut” as in “the end” of a natural lifespan. This exemplifies Waldman’s antinomian context, which is considerable throughout the Iovis project, turning materials toward their opposite. Sometimes we are in the midst of a dream when we thought we were awake; other times we realize if we give up the ghost of words and labels, our meanings can be reified into the current, now more swift and urgent than previously felt. Words are powerful, but only if they are used to write themselves into the current—not dissuaded from their conviction but held in more earnest for having traveled into the wet dialectic of the poem.

It is the antinomian gaze of the gulag.

Antinomian: the rhetorical equivalent of “No.” To disagree with doctrine, the antinomian context instead uses “faith.” So it is here, in poetry, with great discursive polarities from the reformation and the enlightenment. This is the métier of a Waldman text where “Opposition,” as Blake wrote, “is true friendship.” The energy of the poem, when taken to be a narration of supposed and dominated values, turned trope-inward, negates an unconscious cultural hegemony—and at that moment, naïve assertion of a positive is exposed for its other uses. Negentropy is, of course, a living value and not merely an assigned value.

They’ll beat it, meme of us: metataxis
The oligarch is in charge
Is at it metabolically and has to go
We make him go

The pun on “has to go” shows how the cultural moment does not completely foretell the final hearing of the poem. Even as “we make him go” he cannot, in this new reality, hear himself being pissed off.

choose fuel or
  every divine apo-
phatic wrong
 what we don’t have
     to ring, amuse
negative time’s nexus
   trick o’fate
come melodious one,
    mother of sirens
   success not be
in sessions of
       patriarchy’s charge
shocked from the page
   into mock
crown vir tiumphailis

Patriarchy is over, but the context of the poetry echoes the voices of the patriarchal heads judging that song, the poem, as what is over and so of no use. That poetry, the pissed off fraternity seems to conclude, is over because it has no worldly commodity in our hyper-monetized, craven, capitalist culture. This is the chuckle underneath any of the various “uses” or methods Waldman employs in her dialectic of focused, well-placed lines. Addressing itself as multi-verse, the poem rides up into clouds. Hits us in the ur-imaginary.


dream city
violent Picchu       where ice once
crystalizes streets

not this year
not this time
not this century

thinking about sound in this conundrum
   as you chant
“stone stone conjugal stone”

The empire of thought has ended, is extinct. Namely, the dialectic that finds a too-easy mirror in the gendered world our imaginations sleep within. Poets need to overcome this. Or, more precisely, imaginations turned to stone by the commingling of man and wife as non-complementarities, is another way to “think” about it. But which is who and masculine you or feminine you or, or, or, WTF? Certainly, as Blake intoned, “They become what they behold,” so the urgency of one gender “over” another in the epi-phenomenality of the present, of this fallen brain we are all riffing off of, becomes a gaze seeking what else could be in the mirroring surface.

a curl of cloud wisp
    hair    much like yours
descends over my body in tantric shape

the anthropoid
is grief
as women … is, power?


to fierce tenderness in new feminism

This magic, this twist-of-fate in the oracular underpinnings of Waldman’s ongoing poetry, brings us a greater, higher unfolding narration, as readers, as voluble humans and as partakers in the Anthropocene—the excessive showing off an “us” or “them” at detriment to the planet. The attempt to show this age for what it is. Here there is a shared tenderness, recalling love poems of fidelity and amore in Trobar, anent any gender, so that we see:

married a woman so they could
have poetry contests together
a kind of trobairitz revival
women take back talk back in the voice of women
as if men …
surely some want to be men, right?

The domestic scene, as a spine or ridge erecting poetry that might mirror the contemporary, riffs off the symbiosis of the human figure as centerpiece to all projection . . . crumbles in that want “to be men” which turns/flips the image into a too-domestic cartoon. What can any of us recognize in the archetype once its undercurrent of desire is brought to view? This too IS the history of “femininity”:

Confucian etiquette:
governing herself to maintain
a sense of shame

And on and on we take apart governance, of the state as well as house or home. Governance, whose root is also found in the Greek: kubernetes, a self-governing, or as we say now, a self-automated body or (cyber) system.

And this “Trickster” Feminism, which takes as husband both AI and the robotic as if it were merely “at rest” within and without us, a place or image-pool where gender can be more easily targeted, where patriarchal poetry hunts, traps, and preys on a vulnerable aspect of all of us human sitting ducks—in the form of fascism, but more to the point, a mirrored prognostication of our age.

Why do race and gender now seem so high on the US agenda? / What does an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth actually mean? / What is the origin of this formula?

A take on Jeff Sessions’s confirmation hearings shows this new agenda in an axis of vision of this new age of protest. There has to be focus, in time, and not simply along the usual bias of socio-political agendas based in outworn vocabularies. And all vocabularies become out-dated, no longer fitting on a body, especially bodies that violently throw off any clothing, real or imagined:

Does one see fear in Jeff Sessions’s eyes
  & that aggrandizing sick smile which is a
predatory gesture
  of the face, jaw, mouth related to atavism….?
 “I did not declare it so,” he said in answer to a question by Representative Karen Bass of the Black Caucus about Black Lives Matter

And then the twist on such a sight:

What is the modus operandi of Jeff Sessions, of Alabama?

ICE: whose ads resemble ISIS ads, e.g. “we’re coming for you,”
   “We are coming to kill you.” Who designs these ads?
Why do we borrow this strategy from our perceived enemy?

A tarot image adorns one of the pages, a lion/lamb held down and in place by an official, a robed figure—the would-be poet the would-be doctor of religion or state, a woman in women’s dress—any—reaching into the maw of the animal and disgorging from its body what looks like dollar bills and/or books.

we are bereaved
 and awakened
 pirate space?
could one only say it?
saying is action

in the spirit of all
    we can’t see

I offer crystalline chants
just scribble out poems

The difficult act of showing the “new” demands that the poem also be heard. Voices entangle one another in the long arch of the poet’s history. In homage to other poets, Waldman garbles their names to bring them into “entanglement”:

Mar rien moored
An auld linguistic stew

Barb a guest

Kayacker sure

May may bur sin brooch

Hold esteem
Mean alloy
Am car some

Mara boot

Burn a debt
Renew a glad man
Jar knot

Not all lease a knot lease, onna-bugeisha

What do we hear in these names before we see them? It’s no longer a kind of Rorschach test; this isn’t psychic tiddly-winks. A female samurai. The longevity of the writing elicits and courts the dismissal involved in a Patriarchal Poetry.

As this “knee-jerk” becomes the stock-in-trade mode of deciphering our contemporary art-world, poetry-world, etc.-world, what unconscious and extempore utterings / gestures will become the carriers for the “new” as it seeks to be heard? We have to seep in the flock of sleeping sheep to get at the cosmic source.

Brutalize      origin     organza
“spurned as a feminist”
so we think so we march on
Sojourner Truth sold
with a flock of sheep
for one hundred dollars
“Ain’t I a Woman?”
horrific time ago
be slave,
was like to think
rustling the assemblages
one such a body might offer
as one does these parts
and feminists needing people


Tod Thilleman

Thilleman's most recent work is one's own nature. Other drawings and readings are archived at


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2018

All Issues