Helping the Dreamer

helping-the-dreamerNew and Selected Poems: 1966-1988

1989 • 210 pages • ISBN: 978-0918273505 • $11.95

Coffee House Press

Waldman’s poems are best heard aloud or, if read, viewed as stream-of-consciousness depictions of a modern urban mind, of a “fast-speaking woman” who celebrates her awareness of the many roles a woman plays with incantations of contemporary flux. Director of St. Mark’s Church In-the-Bowery Poetry Project from 1968 to 1978, this female Frank O’Hara is a reader-performer, a manic public voice whose poetry joins graffiti, collage, jazz, and conversation. Here represented by selections from ten books of poetry (1966-1988) and 19 new poems, this tough multimedia innovator-entertainer infuses her poetry with anti-literary, MTV-like electronic energies: “The refrain swells: No more, no more tears:/Then stretches to the edge of the ignoble lexicon/ Where words collide out of igneous rubble.”
—Library Journal, Frank Allen, Regents Coll., Albany, N.Y.

Nineteen new poems and selections from 12 earlier collections (e.g., Skin Meat Bones ) permit readers to appreciate both the subtle variations in Waldman’s unique style and the risks she takes in her most recent verse. The oldest pieces (written during her early 20s) evince a carefully calculated naivete, with quotidian details grounding a surrealist perspective. Fast Speaking Woman , published in 1975, marks her transition to a poetics based on chant and repetition. Such works as “Distance Traveled” prove her capable of a short, poignant lyric unhampered by pretense. “Because my mother died I can speak these things,” Waldman says in one long, new poem (“From Iovis Omnia Plena”), and this freedom enables her to attempt a deeper exploration of femininity, family and mothering: “Barren this time /You grow hard under me mother / You push me off your belly / I thought you were soft / You rip the nipple from my mouth.” From there she progresses to “The Stick,” powerfully envisioning the ferocity of sons: “The mother wants to forget the day / The boy came of age with all his heart / It was a stick beating her heart.”
—Publishers Weekly