What I Can Use: Notes on Waldman and Birman’s Civil Disobediences

“Emerson was not a systematic reader, but he had a genius for skimming and a comprehensive system for taking notes…. He read rapidly, looking for what he could use.” p. 67

“He read widely in every field that interested him and he was always pushing into new fields. He read, as he wrote, rapidly. He read actively, as a writer does, looking for what he could use.” p. 99

“Not only must one have the courage to appropriate freely whatever one recognizes as one’s own, one must have the much greater courage to resist and refuse everything that is not one’s own material.” 174

—Robert D. Richardson, Jr., Emerson: The Mind on Fire


29 January 2016 Notes from Anne Waldman and Lisa Birman, eds., Civil Disobediences: Poetics and Politics in Action

This work is helpful for re-looking at Dear Layla, ideas for classes, stimulus to various practices.

Dear Layla is, literally, specifically, “an essay.”  [What is his genre? —- “Treatise, memoir, travelogue, elegy, novel, dance of the dead… the books seem built of elements of all of these and of none.”  —Hunt, on Sebald, 394]

Dear Layla —“Sentiment at realizing you’ve arrived at the thing that will penetrate through  your own core to other people’s core, and do it through the real world. Describing the real world in such a way as to find the pattern of the real world.” —Ginsberg,  265

Dear Layla —“Writers and intellectuals bear great responsibility for this because if one gives up the right to narrate or intervene, both at home and in other parts of the world, that vacuum will be filled by the discourses of ‘experts.’” —Alcalay, 451

Dear Layla —“Invoke Investigative and Documentary Poetics. Know the score! Know the history!”  —Waldman, 329



Read lots of books all the time

Write lots of poems all the time … write three poems a day .. write all the time, every minute

When your poems don’t work, put a lot more in. — Ted Berrigan, 44

Read 20 of Pound’s New Directions books

“The great libraries in this country is where this used to happen. And the conversations of the ages between, for instance, Greek philosophers and great 19th-century poets—I mean that eternal conversation still goes in in libraries. And I question whether you can’t learn more just going to the library every day for eight hours. But nobody wants to do that anymore.”  —Ferlinghetti, 114

Go around reading aloud Akhmatova’s poem every day for a month.

“I keep a small daily notebook for jotting down the endless “things to do” list. The day’s date at the top of the page. This  is the notebook that accompanies me wherever I go during the day. When traveling I find it especially useful to jot down any information, names, phrases, directions, thoughts that enter the mind. Otherwise they’re gone, whether trivial or important. It solidifies all the ephemera of daily interaction, observations.” —Joanne Kyger, 293

“And it’s that nonjudgmental condition for writing that is so appealing. You are writing for yourself, and if you can’t read your own writing back, it’s time to find out what or how you want to write things.” —Kyger, again, 293

“the point is to light up the mind, to make the mind shine, to make the mind smile, to make the mind laugh, to make the mind laugh with what? Understanding. Recognition.” ___________, —Amiri Baraka, 297

“Check out the Warring God Realm of everyday existence. … You know where your dollars are?” —Waldman,  330

“Discriminating Awareness Now!…” “Poets & artists: make your own lists of sane trustworthy language measures….” —Waldman, 330

Stay vigilant. —More Anne.

Vipassana = clear seeing.

“It was also hard to take the hackneyed generalizing rhetoric heard at the various demonstrations mounting in the land. More identity politics, the same slogans, inflamed hectoring.” Waldman,  337

“You must continually kill the poet you are, to erect the poet you’ve yet to be.” —Robert Hunter,  366

“attention to detail and relative originality of image and syntax”  —Jack Collum, 428


Some Themes

Buddhism: “Notice my own mind, perception, emotions” —AG, 254

Buddhism: “You got to have that bodhisattva heart going out of yourself into the world and giving yourself to the world.”  —AG, 265

Buddhism: “Form cadres of bodhisattvas for meditation, for true compassionate (not self-serving) action. And bands of articulate poet-warriors!” Waldman,  331

Context: 20th century = massive social and political upheaval, revolution, failure of revolution, counter-revolution, war after war after war, globalization, enormous economic imbalance, mass demographic shifts, famine, war, deconstructionist pyrotechnics, the creation and use of atomic weapons, war, massive exploitation of natural resources, war  —Laird Hunt, 395-396

Gnosis: It has to be a genuine cause of the difference between what you know with your senses and your feelings and your friends, as distinct from what the common consciousness is in the newspapers, etc.  —AG, 254

Jewish: “When you go searching for your identity. When you write about yourself and your struggle. When you begin a journey of identity for liberation, you find yourself and others who have been vanished too or who have hidden their eyes from themselves.” —Sonia Sanchez, 11

Jewish: “What have you lost that you’re just glimmering with, what do you want to reclaim?” —AG, 260

Poets: Poets for countless centuries have had a pulse on the ebb and flow of the “polis” and can speak for the “tribe” and for CHECK sentient beings. We invite you to join in this discourse.  —Sonia, 4

Poets: Yeats says the great poetry is not between a quarrel with the world, but with a quarrel with oneself, or a breakthrough of one’s now integral feelings that had been repressed.  —AG, 258  [Ginsberg elsewhere: “Quarrel with yourself. Your quarrels with yourself often make the best poems. Tell yourself your own secrets, and reveal yourself. The purpose of art is to provide relief from your own paranoia and the paranoia of others. You write to relieve the pain of others, to free them from the self-doubt generated by a society in which everyone is conniving and manipulating.”]

Poets: “The whole occupation of poet, if it does exist as an identity in the current society, is one that has to do with a spiritual, cultural practice of words, and can’t be ‘bought.’” —Kyger, 292

Poets: “We can be legislators, antennae, guardians.”  —Waldman, 337

Reading: “what I loved in reading was that all the time I felt I was suddenly companied.”  Robert Duncan, 67

Best Part

Ginsberg’s Revolutionary Poetics

Quotable Passages

“I’ve been training myself for thirty or forty years not to believe anything anyone tells me.” —Alice Notley, 92

“Writing at all means making some sort of choices. But NO DOCTRINES.”  Notley, 93

“Can you imagine Shelley giving a poetry writing class? And going to one?” —Ferlinghetti, 114

Dogen Zenji: We study the self to forget the self, when you forget the self you become one with the ten thousand things.   24

Pound: “only emotion endures”  264


Lifetime: Poetics of engagement = inquiry, contemplation, investigation into history and fields of gnosis

Writing: The main character is someone named “I” you have to create that character in the poems  Berrigan, 33

Writing: Do long free writing for hours

Writing: “Get your ass to work”

Writing: “When I went to Australia with [Allen Ginsberg] he would just take down—write in his notebooks–everything in sight.” —Ferlinghetti, 119

Writing: “Can you write and bespeak what nobody else can say? Can you formulate the situation to break through mass consciousness and media consciousness so that it’s a proclamation of a common consciousness—common understanding, common grief, common suffering—that will wake  people up to their own suffering or their own hidden consciousness? Or the silent consciousness that’s known and not hidden but only spoken to each other, or the self, except it’s too scary to speak it abroad, because of either secure police or common conditioning and repression, or just sort of buried under television news or something.” — Ginsberg, of course, 251-252

Writing:” The ideal would be to weep while writing. I do when I write something that I know is the truth. So I’m sure Keats and Shelley and many people wept while they wrote—for the realization.”  —Allen, again, 265

Writing: “Usually the more specific and detailed the writing is, the more grounded it feels later on, when memory has faded.”  —Kyger, 293

Writing: Jot away the day


Baraka on Constitution: “Everyday I find some reason to be  very upset. What counters that is my belief that those founding principles are, in fact, sound.” —Lorenzo Thomas, 352

Breakthrough: “… that it reminds you that you’re human and that somewhere there is some sense of emotional reality which gives you a glimpse of the emotional delusion we all live in all the time.”  Allen, 263

USA: “But you cannot speak an American sentence without going from Europe to Native America to Africa and AfroAmerican, you can’t do that. Because we’re one people, even though the social-political-economic oppression keeps us separated and sometime shameful and not understanding of each other. But still we’re one people—wild, wild thing—who have the history to kill each other off. To kill each other off or to learn to be human beings, now that’s the way it is.”  —Baraka, , 299

Whitman: Whitman changed the poetry of all the countries of the world, Allen

More To Read

Read biographies of poets
see book by Ignatius Donnelly on Shakespeare
Study the Renaissance
Yeats and Pound
Neruda, Residence on Earth
Akhmatova, Requiem, the greatest poem of the 20th century written in Russia
Mandelstam, Hope against Hope
Bella Akhmadulina
Whitman, Song of Myself—read every year
Madam Ginsbourg, mother of Aksyonov, the Kerouac of Russia
The Russians: Voznesensky, Yevtushenko, Akhmadulina
Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folks
Whitman, Williams, Pound, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Snyder
Read back to back Sappho and on to Emily Dickinson
Paul Robeson, Selected Works
Ammiel Alcalay
Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom
“What to the American Slave is the Fourth of July?”  341
Gertrude Stein, Making of the Americans
Bosnian poet  Semezdin Mehmedinovic
Lebanese-American poet  Etel Adnan
William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, Gertrude Stein, Robert Creeley

To Do

Memorize Psalm 137 … because that text runs through American literature as an often-quoted text for many, many reasons. 339


Civil = polite, dignified, conscientious, decentralized
Privilege = the choice not to see
Soul: compassionate awareness to oneself, of oneself. 262

Writing Topics

how to become an adept
one has to  make a greater vow not to be discouraged from the activist path  3
Never give in or up
What’s the shape of my poems
Polyglot or die
His mistress’s white hair  250
The desire that’s forbidden
It’s not naming what’s wrong, it’s naming what’s right. Can you name what you desire?  255
What I’m Blind To
All the toxins we consume
Ist Personal Plural
What it’s it in yourself that you’ve had to deny? 260
critique of Lyle on “access to the truth”  261
Reclaiming lost insight
What’s deeper than your anger?  263
Why our tears are important  263
Age 45, 2 books, 37 notebooks, …

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