Academic journal article Chicago Review

Iovis Omnia Plena

Academic journal article Chicago Review

Iovis Omnia Plena

Article excerpt

Anne Waldman. lovis. Books I & II. Coffee House Press, 1993, 1997.

With the publication of Book II of Iovis last spring, Anne Waldman's poem is now six hundred forty-eight pages long. Book I contains twenty-three and Book II contains twenty-five individual poems or sections of varying lengths, as short as three or four pages, as long as twenty. Each section is preceded by an italicized head, a third person plot summary also containing parallel information, side facts. The prevailing form for a section is an amalgam of verse and prose, the latter including letters from others, selections from interviews, dream narratives, journalistic facts and so forth, though some of the sections are in a more homogeneous form: repeated stanzas say, or a consistently surfaced "score" for a performance. It is difficult, in fact, not to project into the silent reading of the work, at almost any point, the sound of a Waldman performance: the whole work is a score, as well as a poem for the silent reader, with no loss of quality and force in either aspect. The theme of the poem is male energy and power, the fact of its dominion over all of us in both the harmful and socalled harmless forms, and most specifically the author's relation to it in her personal and professional life. In a way the form of the poem is Waldman's ongoing life, as in Frank O'Hara's sentence "What is happening to me...goes into my poems." However, what is happening to Waldman is experienced by her as mythic as well as quotidian, and she identifies with many more personages, real and imaginary, than herself in the course of this investigation, passing among an array of cultures and vantages.

Is the poem rightfully to be called an epic? That probably depends on how picky you are about your definition. In Both, Both: An Introduction, at the beginning of Book I, Waldman acknowledges "a debt & challenge of epic masters Williams, Pound, Zukofsky, Olson" as well as a more indirect debt to H.D.'s Helen in Egypt. I myself wonder if the first four of those authors have written what can rightfully be called an epic since their works contain, really, no story and have, rather than a continuity of narrative and form, a continuity of consciousness. There is a letter towards the beginning of Book II of Iovis which brings up the question of definition in a different way. The writer of the letter, K, has participated in a class taught by Robert Creeley, one of Waldman's specific heroes in lovis and also certainly a friend, in which he seems to have eliminated Iovis from the category of epic on the basis of the poet's "ego": Waldman does not manage to transcend hers, Olson in The Maximus Poems does.K writes that "what he meant is that your work is more personal in that you bring in letters, stories about your child, emotional instances, etc." As the letter makes clear, a male definition of ego/egolessness tends to be a little special. My sense is that Waldman's form is close enough to that of those four masters to be called epic if you're willing to call their poems epics, and most American poetry specialists are. Iovis is big in spirit and scope, it includes history, it's very long, and it's replete with an appropriate grandeur of language frequently undercut, in the twentieth-century manner established by those same men, by ironies inherent in being American.

Why would a woman write a feminist poem in a male form? Why isn't this poem in one of the newer exploratory ("subversive," post-modernist, more impersonal) forms in which many women (e.g. Scalapino, Dahlen, Susan Howe, Hejinian) are now working, often writing long and even very long poems as well? The reason women are writing at such length is the need to say all the things that have been suppressed for so long, to invent mythologies themselves, to devise a world in which their imaginations actually participate. But why do so in the modernist male form? Because, if this is the form that the "greats" worked in, if it is acknowledged as the "great" form of our (at least American) century, surely a woman can be "great" using it, as great as any man. …

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