Book cover: Coffee House Press

kinetic from kinetikos, Greek, from kinein, to move

relating to or resulting from motion
motion in a nation

(of a work of art) dependent on movement for its effect

That’s what writing poetry elucidates for me. Impels. Stimulates. Moment to moment. What is it to be a poet right now, in time of every breakdown imaginable. Feeling part of a continuum and also a current community of wild purpose, love, sodality, citizens of imagination who write and read poetry. Often difficult poetry. Hidden from view.

Lives dedicated to poetry though all your lifeline that registers as coetaneous, synchronous. Accessible. And the lifetime is a magic of accretion as you age . . . what you keep, what you shake off, discard.

Feeling everyone’s kinetics in that zone. But also all together swimming in a database. Imagine.

Poetry feels now like a battle for “human.” Ordeals of navigation. Being helots together. Feels like a sciamachy—a shadow war. A battle for human justice, for spirit, for alignment, for all the vehicles of art and archive that keep moving consciousness forward. How do the lines cohere. What point of contact.
Be together in struggle, in lamentation, also joy.

More like a spiral perhaps. Not grow static as the receptacle of data flows invades psyche system, body, the mouth, the conversation. Not mere distraction culture here, something more scary, serious, portentous. That eradicates.

Are we even human yet? Are we a world yet? Who is even speaking? What is it to be transhuman? Will that be essential form to survival in technological universe?

Are you the icon of yourself or is it more risky. This is the thinking. How to make it work, get your consciousness out from under siege, keep free and clear of fascist mind, travel beyond binaries, keep pushing for knowledge, study and studying with, a deeper investigation, and human justice, a deeper action. The action. Totally necessary. And above all, do no harm.

Poetry has always braved shifting and terrifying frequencies. There is no time in human history without poetry. Poets often go into exile in fraught times.

It’s comfortable in the scriptorium, in the imaginary, sitting in our little divinity niches. Idols of ourselves. At other times: “house arrest.” Often the city walls shake; you are in the street, another kind of combat that includes a poetics of everything you hold dear.

The multitentacular poetry scene of upheaval midsixties thru seventies was heady. I had grown up in Greenwich Village.

A constant round of readings, of writing and reading or editing small-press magazines, of working at the mimeo machine all night, major collaboration of texts and infrastructure, high talk, love affairs, cultural and political activism. Respect for elders, supplicating wise poet elders. Street work. Exploration into other cultures and a curiosity about shamanic spiritual traditions. Asia. Travel. One of the founders and directors of the Poetry Project a historical church in the Lower East Side, founding a poetics school in Colorado, cross currents with other disciplines, lure of performance. Wanting to create things to my desire. I was being “called to” shape and lead. And I wanted to keep studying. This book enfolds and continues some of these formative trajectories.

Rhizome is the often-conjured term used philosophically by Deleuze and Guattari as an “image of thought that apprehends multiplicities,” and like the tuber system it moves horizontally rather than vertically. This is close to the pratitya-samutpada of Buddhist philosophy, which denotes the co-arising and interconnectedness of all life.

The rhizome, as tuber system, has no central root or logical pattern. By extension this set of potentials counters the traditional or logical approach to knowledge, which is usually represented by a tree, with roots. Upwardly mobile, hieratic, patriarchal.

The rhizome having neither beginning nor end but always a middle, from which it grows and brims over. Thus the rhizome is a self-vibrating kinetic region of intensities whose development eschews orientation toward a culmination point or external goal. A feminist ecology perhaps.

I felt in my teens through age twenty when I was coming seriously to poetry and arriving into a particular nexus of Zen and tantric Buddhism, and the exciting experiments in American poetry, something was already generating, a process of resonant and concomitant interests, influence of jazz, folk music, Abstract Expressionism, experimental film, New York School, the Beats, contemporary and hybrid arts, philosophical sympathies, progressive politics, interest in Asian art forms (raga, gamelan, trance, Sufi dancing), love of ancient oral poetries, poets, books as holy objects, the little outrider magazines and presses from Diane di Prima and LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka’s Floating Bear to White Rabbit’s letterpress offerings in San Francisco. To Locus Solus. And Margaret Randall and Sergio Mondragón’s La Corno Emplumado in Mexico City. This state of the art, so to speak, was a liberating tangible dynamic, an ongoing continuum with points of origin that had energy but no official agenda, a place one could enter as a willing novice. Jump into the maelstrom. In media res.

Help wake the world up to itself. A set of potentials.

The rhizome description is a rejection of traditional genealogy. You can refuse the assumptions and histories of the dominant class that seemed to rule academia. It isn’t a study of culture but rather an organic continuous effort to free the forces that have been constrained by master narratives. You are already a feminist. You challenge assumptions about gender, about class, about race. In a relation to contemporary arts practices, the restrictions make no sense. Who determines what is a literary canon that too often rejects the strange, the foreign, the woman, the “fellaheen.” Many of the world’s radiant and radical poetic seers and visionaries work outside and protest the centers of ambition. You want to join them. The busy Outriders. Become a field poet. Kneel down on that beautiful field. Remember that no one begs you to be a poet. Not down on their knees for you to do that. You are self-anointed!

We are often living a nightmarish dystopia of our own ignorance. I tell myself don’t tarry don’t tarry, urge that none of us tarry. Are we equipped? To work collaboratively and collectively on all the issues threatening our humanity and the living sinews of other life forms, plant, animal species. Are we ready? The world right now.

I often obsess over the Sixth Extinction, other versions of the end time: Mayan, Hindu, Christian, gnostic, Buddhist, Indigenous. Many dark visions: but how to articulate?

“This world no longer needs explaining, critiquing, denouncing. We live enveloped in a fog of commentaries and commentaries on commentaries . . . of revelations that don’t trigger anything, other than revelations about the revelations. And this fog is taking away any purchase we might have on the world,” writes the Invisible Committee.

What do we need then? What power of language? What force of poetry? What will trigger the reckoning? Who will be doing it? What kind of world?

Achille Mbembe in Necropolitics wrote of a new phase in the history of humanity of the “unremitting digitalization of facts and things.” And that it might become “increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish human organisms from electronic flows, the life of humans from that of processors.” And the terminal point of a “digital-cognitive turn could well be a widespread infiltration of microchips into biological tissue.” How vulnerable we have become, how surveilled, manipulated.

Donna Haraway reports that the trouble time now is “turbulent, is terrifying.” It will require incredible perspicacity and a practice of “the long haul. “What is a thousand year plan for the spirit?” she asks. And for poetry and its libraries?

When we started the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in 1974 we projected a 100-year plan, at least. And we were very close to Rocky Flats with its leaks of plutonium. And near half-life of a quarter of a million years. We ask now of Naropa and its archive and ourselves, what is the 500-year plan? The 1,000-year plan? We are inside an ecological Armageddon.

Eileen Crist in Abundant Earth calls for nothing less than the total reformation of human civilization on this planet. One of my Buddhist teachers suggests a third of the planet could be destroyed through climate or nuclear mishap. But it might also be destroyed from within. What is our status as “human subject”? Communication in the human realm is problematic in the Kali Yuga, as everything is speeded up and empathy and compassion break down. Crist invokes the miracles of wild nature and the diversity of nonhuman awareness. She invokes a “flame of life” whose richness is self-perpetrating.

Scientists and biologists reported that the earth’s seismic activity stilled as the coronavirus took hold. It was the least amount of seismic activity in recorded history since the Covid-19 2020 pandemic began. The air was clean. Oil prices were down because few were flying or driving. People could see the Himalayas from 100 miles away for the first time in thirty years. It was reported that wild animals were happier. Humans suffered, often excruciating death, from the plague. The toll continues. It will need to be a collaboration in care, our future.

Bard, Kinetic as field of possibility, with selected texts from parts and measures of my life lived interconnectedly. And I want the field strewn with poems.

I enjoy Keats’s sense of a “fellowship with essence” which means living in doubt and beyond binaries. I want to invoke satori’s sudden flash, recognition, and honor about some of the people whose work I’ve loved and admired. Instances of bits and pieces over the years of witness, discourse, autobiography, and memorabilia. So many poets and artists of my generation are leaving worldy time.

And their work enters the continuum.

We need to continually engage with the opening of imagination, with the trope of turning, an ongoing kinetics—of Lucretius’s clinamen perhaps. The swerve as a gesture moving forward and backward, and also in a vortex of compassion. Honoring the shimmering brilliance of the past—all those cultural artist-workers who struggled to make sense of existence, and an ever-morphing cyborgian future. How may we be better guardians? Are we even an evolved world as yet? Are we really post-post-post everything?

Post-Holocaust, postcolonial, post-Empire, postwar? We need to recognize our symbiosis with all living things, to honor the fabric of our alchemical and magical web of life.

In the startling present, with future severities and visions for poetry’s evolution, may poets and poetry be keepers and seers and activists and archivists of past and present, and held in future memory. This is the gist. Sarva Mangalam.

Used by permission from Bard, Kinetic (Coffee House Press, 2023). Copyright © 2023 by Anne Waldman.

Read a conversation about Bard, Kinetic between Anne Waldman and Lindsey Scharold.

Anne Waldman is the author of numerous volumes of poetry, including the feminist epic The Iovis Trilogy: Colors in the Mechanism of Concealment, which won the PEN Center USA Award for Poetry in 2012. She is a recipient of the Shelley Memorial Award, a Guggenheim fellowship, and the Before Columbus Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, and is a former chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.