The Poetry Project

Poetry is News (How Archive’s Murmur Circulates Around the Room): Anne Waldman’s Mundo Aparte / Offworld

Review by Lucía Hinojosa Gaxiola

“In the Dark Times will there also be singing?
Yes, there will be singing, about the Dark Times.”
—Bertolt Brecht (1939)

Archivo deja respirar originales
puedes falsificar con Archivo
es una cosmología rara
—Anne Waldman, Letanía Archivo de GOSSAMURMUR

How is every event entangled, collectively perceived? How can subtle decisions interact within a political frequency? Poetry is news, I once heard Anne say. Like a device for panoptical vigilance, looking at the world in the third-person. Her poetics are experimental epistemology, reporting from the inside out, tracking the world of the mind and what adheres to it. And her poems are the result of an expansive political message threaded in the realms of an echoing imagination, whispering a hybrid plea to reconstruct our traces as humanity. Each poem a meeting place where the optics of remembrance create an ontological archive, a sketch for memory in the path of becoming, delineating a world next to the image of the world: the offworld.

Mundo Aparte / Offworld is a recent bilingual collection of poems by Anne Waldman translated by the Spanish writer Mariano Antolín Rato. The book is the product of a collaboration between Pinsapo Press and the Granada-based press Sonámbulos Ediciones. Edited by Öykü Tekten, and with an illuminating introduction by poet, scholar and critic Ammiel Alcalay, Mundo Aparte / Offworld gathers a carefully curated selection of poems spanning a couple decades, previously published in other books. Some of these works are Offworld, Manatee / Humanity, Streets of the World, Patriarchus, Archive Litany, Problem-Not-Solving. Mostly written in experimental prose, they become a sort of tool that is able to track a nuanced zeitgeist where ecological, sociopolitical, and historical actions unfold in multiplicities.

Mundo Aparte / Offworld was printed in Spain in May 2019. The book launched at Howl Happening in the LES in New York City at the beginning of 2020, before the restrictions brought about by the pandemic, when we could still enjoy a performance in real life. The evening began with a screening of Crepuscular, a film by the multimedia artist No Land, based on Waldman’s poem of the same name. Waldman was later joined for a performative bilingual reading by Mexican poet and translator Mónica de la Torre, poet and musician Janice Lowe, as well as Devin Brahja Waldman and James Brandon Lewis. An eclectic, collaborative piece took place through the entangled adrenaline of musical and lyrical power.

So much of Waldman’s poetics explores the intricacies of specific sociopolitical contexts and relation, as well as the contradictory fluxes of our human and non-human mind(s). Yet, how can context be translated? Alcalay posits this question in his prologue. If translation is always a transcreation, becoming inevitably “something else” along the way, we could say that the interrelated tapestry of memory and history evolves with it. We don’t need a decade to evolve; our context and our shared semiotic reality transform every minute, as well as our bodies and our consciousnesses.

Holding a book that is able to embrace two languages creates a dialogue where, as mirror-opposites, a co-creation is able to grow and leak into a new symbolic sphere. Mariano Antolín Rato’s work in translation becomes an act of trans-positionality, where new synapses are activated in the mind of Spanish readers—cultural and political synapses that might not be available in the original language. This act of transmutation is made possible because of the context’s trans-relation, becoming alive in semiotic flows and communicative contextual interactions, available only in these new creations, between languages.

In his prologue, Alcalay delicately traces Waldman’s trajectory as a cultural activist and poet, explaining how one of her central concerns is to embody contradiction in all its intensity, to be able to disrupt, contest, and keep the question of WHAT IS POETRY alive, going against America’s hierarchical position in a globalized cultural world infested with power relations.

Alcalay interestingly unwraps the more hidden schemes of “institutionalized” poetry, art, and culture in America and the policies they entail—for instance, in their production of subjectivity and the resulting exportation of chaos and misery. Furthermore, he unearths Waldman’s continual opposition to these schemes in culture and poetry, not to become a representative of “the good manners of vampires,” as Ammiel writes. And I would add that Waldman’s concerns stretch across a wide network that stems from this impulse, present not only in her work and “career” experience, but in its integral devotion to a life of poetic possibility and collaboration, creating in and out of the nooks and crevices of poetic interaction. How to crack the walls of the empire and “wake up the world to itself” using your own consciousness as a device? Through her poetry, Waldman explores not only “unofficial” culture and forgotten memory, but a kind of “unofficial time” as well, inscribing it into the immaterial archive of the world and providing an astounding sagacity where densities live and interact in the ecology of expanded consciousness—real, desired, imagined, and neglected events breathe together on the page through the potentia of her syntax, threaded in a deep offering for collective transformation.

#265 — Summer 2021