Marriage: A Sentence
2000 • 96 pages • ISBN: 978-0140589221 • $15.95
Anne Waldman’s new collection is a set of high-spirited poetic meditations on the delights and pitfalls of marriage in all its guises–traditional marriages, same sex marriages, the nuclear couple in the contemporary context. Marriage: A Sentence weaves together folklore, autobiographical detail, a meditation on the first five days of the marriage of famed modernist dancer Nijinsky, memory, dream, politics, and the play between opposites and dualities. The work is based on the traditional form of the “haibun,” in which a prose-like poem is coupled with a condensed lyric poem of the same theme. The overall drive in this innovative work is an impulse to restore and maintain the spiritual life of marriage in all its diverse manifestations. Lyrical and “berserk,” this is Waldman’s most exciting, energetic, and accessible work yet.
In a book-length series of haibun, a Japanese form in which prose pieces are juxtaposed with verse responses, Waldman (Fast Speaking Woman; The Beat Book; etc.) energetically invokes and explodes a plethora of marriage-related myths, histories and traditions. The Native American Berdache, the biblical Lilith, the Ngerorod kidnap-wedding of the Balinese and even Vaslav Nijinsky’s exploits stand shoulder to shoulder with Waldman’s own, often hilarious, marital experiences in ’60s New York: “The father-in-law disappears & goes on a bender invoking Ho Chi Minh long may he win he sobs, he fought an honorable war.” The haibun form works excellently for Waldman, setting up a call-and-response rhythm via the alternating contrasts of prose and verse, and through stretched-to-the-breaking-point repetitions. At times the fierceness of the prose sections-“how many billions a planet can hold as the residue on the sleeve lasts chanting I do I do I do I do I do I do I do I do I do I do I do I do I do I do do I & I do lasts & I do not last I am impermanent in the name of Buddha”–overpower the more ethereal and meditative verse sections: the verse response to the vivacious prose-poem “stereo”unsuccessfully invokes the Pygmalion and Galatea myth with too-flat lines like “ornamental/ presence/ sculpted// ivory/ or virgin flesh.” But at their best, the verse responses offer mythological depths and elegant counterpoints to the prose fireworks. This collection is a valuable and compelling companion to Waldman’s epic Iovis books, which delved into male personae. Its innovative use of a “married” form–two forms responding continually to each other–makes poetry that dynamically and provocatively questions a still-evolving institution.