Reviewed by Chris Faatz
Anne Waldman is an amazing woman. Long the fire and light behind Naropa University's Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, she's the author of over 40 books, the recipient of countless prizes and grants, and has most recently been elected to the Board of Chancellors for the Academy of American Poets. She's travelled everywhere, knows everyone, and has done everything. And now she's produced her magnum opus, a huge, sprawling, 1,009-page book called The Iovis Trilogy: Colors in the Mechanism of Concealment.
Iovis is broken down into three books, the first of which is called "All Is Full of Jove," the second "Guardian and Scribe," and the third "Eternal War." Each book is subsequently divided into several smaller sections, with titles like "Broke the Talk Down," and "Devil's Working Overtime." Each of these smaller sections includes an introductory overview, and then -- shazam! -- you're smack dab in the middle of a veritable poetic overload, where Waldman takes you by the collar and slams you down with language, image, and message, leaving you breathless and shattered in the aftermath of her incantatory vision.
He is telling the story, telling a story
on the hour
leaving on the hour
the hour if I can hide it
leaving on the hour
to arrive in the context
of another hour
He is telling the revelation of St. John
& the four stages of my apocalypse
prepare the stage, o women the end is at hand
nothing has been changed
the demon speaks the language of your tribe
The poems repeat themselves, wrap around themselves, glide through linguistic holes that only the poet herself could have seen. They trumpet, blare, and whisper vision upon vision of a world gone crazy with war and patriarchal mores, then proceed to share another vision, one of healing and peace and coming together as a community filled with wild love and vibrant wonder and gratitude at what together we might achieve.
Form in Iovis is a treacherous thing. Some of the poems are in blank verse, many are prose poems, some are written as letters, many as screeds in the face of evil. And they are all beautiful and verging on the mysterious.
sleep little one
what's worth clinging to: the rise of the moon, it never set
spoils of a long war
texts that will tell the story but whispered here
Vishnu, the creator, sleeps in a pool of water
the elements wrestle with their shadows
People tend to categorize Waldman's work as either Beat or New York School, and while it certainly contains aspects of both, a careful reader is bound to encounter something that goes beyond names and schools, to something that arises out of them all and claims a new voice for itself. That is the beauty of Iovis: its utter originality and its fearless criticism of patriarchy, war, and the horrors our species is capable of perpetrating upon itself.
Iovis is not a book to be read cover to cover. Far from it. It's, rather, a book to be dipped into occasionally as a gift to yourself, as an incitement to memory, as an act of atonement or commitment. This is a book of action, a poetic clarion call. Huge and weighty, it will be compared to The Cantos and Paterson. It is neither. It is Iovis; it is an act of incendiary love, and it stands alone.
Books mentioned in this post