Civil Disobediences

civil-disobediencesPoetics and Politics in Action

Edited by Anne Waldman and Lisa Birman

2004 • 485 pages • ISBN: 978-15668915-8-5 • $18
Coffee House Press

As cultural absurdities, apathy-inspiring ambient noise, and political and ecological disasters threaten the 21st-century world, art’s role in engaging society and coalescing dissent becomes more apparent and more urgent. Civil Disobediences offers a manual for understanding poetry’s history and enacting its ultimate power to dismantle and recreate political and cultural realities.

Composed of essays, lectures and teaching materials by leading contemporary poets and scholars, this anthology explores the craft of poetry, as well as the history of poetic/political action in the U.S. and abroad, the development of ancient and modern poetic forms, the legacy of world-renowned poets, and the intersections between poetry and spirituality. It also provides concrete advice about bringing poetry into your local community and ensuring that “poetry is news that stays news.”

Contributors include: Helen Adam, Ammiel Alcalay, Amiri Baraka, Ted Berrigan, Robin Blaser, Reed Bye, Jack Collum, Robert Creeley, Samuel R. Delany, Robert Duncan, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Alan Gilbert, Allen Ginsberg, James Grauerholtz, Barbara Guest, Bobbie Louise Hawkins, Anselm Hollo, Laird Hunt, Pierre Joris, Joanne Kyger, Ann Lauterbach, Harryette Mullen, Eileen Myles, Alice Notley, Michael Ondaatje, Sonia Sanchez, Edward Sanders, Eleni Sikelianos, Gary Snyder, Cole Swenson, Arthur Sze, Steven Taylor, Robert Tejada, Lorenzo Thomas and more.


The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado was founded by poet Waldman and Allen Ginsberg in 1974; it functions as a non-academic pedagogical laboratory (Waldman prefers Hakim Bey’s phrase, “temporary autonomous zone”) for synthesizing the energies loosed by the Beats, the poets of the Black Mountain School and other proponents of the literary counterculture, both ancient and modern. Its many teachers over the years have included Ted Berrigan, Robert Creeley, Joanne Kyger, Alice Notley and Michael Ondaatje, all of whom are represented in this culling of 40 presentations and colloquia from the school’s famous Summer Writing Program. With a conscious nod toward Thoreau, Waldman in her introduction attempts to articulate a varied poetics of engagement for our time. The various essays, lectures and teaching materials are divided into six sections (including Ancestral Presences, Dharma Poetics, Revolutionary Poetics, and Gnosis & Aesthetics) and cover a wide range of subjects (including gender, the environment and Buddhism) in ways that are refreshingly theory-free and conversational (many of the pieces were first presented as talks), while remaining erudite and informative. Highlights include a transcription of Ted Berrigan’s motormouth advice on “how to be a poet” from a workshop class in 1978, Peter Warshall’s presentation of the findings of the Maniacal Naturalist Society on the subject of “together living” or symbiosis, and James Grauerholz’s essay on William Burroughs and Zen. Taken as a whole, these various texts reaffirm the intersection of poetry and politics as a point where word and action can fuse powerfully.
—Publisher’s Weekly

“A valuable and inspiring collection that explores the cross sections of culture and politics and the art of dissent.”
David Barsamian

“Here, finally, is a book I can teach year after year without fear of its becoming dated. The intense pursuit and practice of poetry at Naropa University is astonishingly fresh and alive in this collection by the crème-de-la-crème of the avant-garde. Students, poets, and, for that matter, anybody interested in ideas can spend a useful eon dreaming herein. As my old master, Ted Berrigan, says ‘You can to be true, and you owe everything to your feelings, and you have to make sure you get them right.’ This book doesn’t just get them right, it puts them to work in the fantastic universe, in gorgeously erudite, playful, and painful explorings.”
Andrei Codrescu

“Here is the true Department of Peace. Intellectual though and devotion to poetry as activist goodwill. Prayers for the warmongers.”
Thurston Moore

“This is a book one can feast on, an exciting collection of poetry, ponderings, interviews, reminiscences, by a brilliant assemblage, including Allen Ginsberg, Michael Ondaatje, Amiri Baraka. The extraordinary piece by Sonia Sanchez and Ed Sander’s ‘A Tribute to Sappho’ are alone worth the price of admission.”
Howard Zinn