Gossamurmur by Anne Waldman
Penguin Books, USA, 2013, 140 pages, paperback
Review by Stephanie D’Adamo
Take a moment to reflect of your day. You may have went to work. Drove your car. Argued passionately over the upcoming election. Told someone you loved them.
But, did you take the time to wonder why you did these things? Did you wonder how much of your day is spent hurling “hello-s” and “so-sorry-I’m-running-late-s” in the same instinctive, unquestioning, way the squirrel stores his seeds?
Anne Waldman encourages us to meditate on the habitual and reflexive social constructs we so often take for granted with her new publication, Gossamurmur. A sprawling reflection of the consequences of culture on individual identity, this collection reads more like a refreshingly twisted short story than a series of poems.
The primary action revolves around a female protagonist who is split into two distinct identities existing in “two simultaneous and alternating realities” and her pursuit of a physical proof for the ephemeral world of language and feeling (4). In fact, all she desires “in the mundane world” is “the survival and oral archive of an excellent poetry and record of a temporary autonomous zone from which it emanated, close to a high-altitude Divide” (5).
However, the character, her duplicate, and the author herself all share the same name. Though the medium of “Anne”, Waldman takes up a chorus of voices residing across history that are able to both mirror and possess her readership.
But obstructing the path of “Anne” are agents of the mundane. These “Deciders took Anne apart organ by organ, sinew by sinew. And they copied these parts into the husk of the new Anne with skill and dark intent….They made their copy, a mockery of Original Anne, undoing the manna of Original Anne, who they cast into a virtual prison while they went about their plot of alienating humans from their linguistic natures. Language would become separated, torn from its vital dwelling place. Humans would be living out history and a life of unrelenting State without poetry. The Archive of the multiple voices was endangered…” (29).
This theme of nefarious Deciders outside ourselves is an overwhelmingly tangible fear in an age where identity theft, drone strikes, and rampant consumerism are common, while “Poet” is viewed as a disappointing career choice. Ultimately, Waldman’s finely crafted lines are spun into a web of commentary on the myriad of identities we must daily use to navigate through the social, ethical, and political moors of the 21st century.
This novella-eqsue collection of poetry, with its references to both worldwide mystic and natural phenomenon, will sit nicely on my shelf between well-worn copies of the I-Ching and Lies My History Teacher Told Me.