When not hunting, the Jaguar would meander through the jungle in search of a vine; once the wild cat had found what it was looking for, it would eat the vine, purge and sprawl out spread-eagle on the jungle floor for hours, eyes wide. The hunters witnessed this and wondered just what was happening to the great hunter of the forest. . . . They gathered the vine and took it with them. This is how Yagé was discovered. –Angel Dominguez
In Jaguar Harmonics: Person Woven of Tesserae, published by The Post-Apollo Press, Anne Waldman takes dictation from the vine.
You want to stay insulated
Nary scold a child-woman made of
of what? of person!
a Person woven of psychotropic-shards, fur and bone
a Person woven of glimmer, of cure . . .
a Person woven of malachite ritual
where pestles grind the vine . . . .
Person woven of sound.
Who is this person? The poet, the vine, the god, the song, the harmonics of a visionary occasion.
In an interview with Alystyre Julian and Mariana Luna, Anne says:
“Something had been manifest. Poems often come out of ritual and are rituals themselves. They are rituals that can be redone and redone. That’s what ritual is. It came out of an all-night practice with an entheogen and note-taking during an accretion of sounds and images and language that was coming to me during the night. It’s not about ecstasy particularly but a very lucid understanding of the interconnectedness of everything, deep, deep understanding of karma and caretaking. It seemed endless from one perspective and then too short from another. You want to stay, to linger in the care of a tradition of people and guides who are great teachers, manifestations of this particular wisdom. Time is elongated then there are moments when it’s very very quick. I’m full of the god! I’m full of the god!”
She recalls the Yage Letters of William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, “their complicated and haphazard journeys, their own quest for a wisdom tradition, knowledge, understanding of the universe and one’s place in it. There are central parts where Ginsberg is describing his vision and where Burroughs is also recounting his vision and the terror he felt and the ugliness that he saw at the time. I incorporated some of their language into the last section of the poem . . . . They were precursors in a way, in the tradition of investigative poetry . . . the dark time we’re in, not being stewards of our world, our being, our psyche, our awareness, not being fully awake.
“There are people whose lives and cosmologies developed out of translating from the intelligence of other minds that are not speaking our language. Archetypal jaguar is part of this tradition, can manifest in vision or idea. . . . The harmonics of the occasion, the night rhythms.” (quoted in Julian)
Harmonics comes from the Greek harmonia meaning joining, joint, agreement, concord of sounds. In the physics of sound, a harmonic is a tone whose rate of vibration is a precise multiple of that of a given fundamental tone. Pythagoras worked this out with a single vibrating string, 6th century BCE; this was foundational for acoustics and became the basis of music theory. Harmonics are the component frequencies of naturally occurring sound. Any given pitch consists of a “fundamental” and a mathematically related “harmonic series” of other pitches that occur in a particular set of ratios “above” the fundamental. The timbre or tonal color of a particular musical sound, for example that of a violin versus a flute playing the same pitch, is largely a matter of the mix of harmonics peculiar to the respective instruments.
Jaguar Harmonics: Person Woven of Tesserae invokes mixed metaphors, which in this context seems apt, synaesthesia being native to the plant visitation and the visionary poetics we inherit from the Metaphysicals, Symbolists, and Surrealists.
I ask Anne about her title: Why tesserae? Do you mean mosaic tiles?
“Yes mosaic but under yage heard the breakup of particles there was a bounce bounce of the shaman’s harmonica (only instrument played that night) and was the sound of soft bubbles, that bounce, moving up and down very delicately in space and insect sounds and the buzz of the rural setting . . . those tingling sometimes metallic and gut sounds & the gremlins! Lots of pieces in the weave ‘person woven of it all” and a kind of mosaic rapture in the fabric of the Nightwatch.”
To speak of “person woven of sound” and “the harmonics of the event” is to equate self and song. I’ll come back to this. First I want to say something about weaving.
Surely weaving was learned from plants, the vine as original threader of space.
The weaving of threads figures prominently in the work of Cecilia Vicuña. (I once saw her fill an art gallery with hundreds, thousands of feet of yarn, weaving the space into a kind of fractal maze.) She notes that sutra, a sacred text, and suture, a sewing together, derive from the Sankrit root for thread. She quotes the Kogi: “The spindle is the axis of the world and to weave is to think”; “Thoughts are threads and the strand we spin is our thought.” She says, “The sum total of our thoughts creates the world” (1997: 98; 33).
World and person are woven of threads of thought, of language.
“I” is the subject of a sentence. Linguist/psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva says, “the ego constitutes itself only through the operating consciousness at the time of predication; the subject is merely the subject of predication, of judgment, of the sentence” (1980:130). The “I” exists in utterance. It is persistent because we never shut up, but I is not constant because there are spaces between words. I is rhythmical, musical, as are its troubles, its neuroses, its stories, its insisting.
That language constitutes person was teased out of Marx by his latter day interpreter Louis Althusser, who pointed out in the 1960s that just as the government, the courts, the police, and the law “reproduce” (create, shape, and maintain) the material means of production (property, capital, industry, etc.) so the church, the schools, the family, media and the arts reproduce the person-as-worker or ideal subject for the given relations of production. A set of relations is an ideology, a vocabulary, a language. Language is mutable.
Allen Ginsberg used to say, “a change of poem is a change of mind.” A change of mind is a change of reality. William Carlos Williams said the purpose of poetry is to move the century forward a few inches. In his Investigative Poetry, Ed Sanders says that lawyers have an expression when they are trying an important case. They say they are “making law.” He says that in a similar way poets “make reality” (9).
Kristeva speaks of poetic language. By this she means language that calls attention to itself as such. The elements of poetic language — rhythm, vowel music, alliteration, perhaps rhyme — destabilize consensus reality. “Musicalization pluralizes meaning,” she says (1986: 116). Rhythm, rhyme, music in language trouble structures of meaning, including the meaning subject. This is why, in periods of great social turmoil and change, poetry or literary language goes musical. (One example would be the sound experiments of the Russian Futurists at the time of the Russian Revolution.) “The poetic function . . . makes of what is known as ‘literature’ . . . the very place where social code is destroyed and renewed” (Kristeva 1980:132).
Where psychology theorizes the role of language in reality, poetry tries it.
A through-line in poetics since ancient times, down through the Renaissance and the Romantics and now resurgent in our current era has been the idea that language is magical. We believe that the pictographs found in the caves at Lascaux were not intended as mere representations of large edible mammals, but were a magical language integral to the hunt.
All religions assume the magic of language. Religious practice is substantially the practice of magic through language in an effort to change reality. This is why Novalis said “religion is really practical poetry . . . poetry is the original religion of mankind” (Paz 217; Vicuña in Waldman and Wright 242).
Language was the religion of the American Romantics, Emerson, Whitman, and Dickinson more than the churches that they each in their own way found inadequate.
“Folks expect of the poet to indicate more than the beauty and dignity which always attach to dumb real objects . . . they expect him to indicate the path between reality and their souls.” (Whitman, 1855 Preface to Leaves of Grass).
The sense of language as enchantment resurges in American poetics in the 1950s with the work of Robert Duncan, whose upbringing among Theosophists predisposed him to a magical view.
“Modernity had realized itself in a social world of drastically constricted possibility. Its collective imagination of its own ‘virtue’ gave it permission to impose a strict sense of ‘normalcy’ . . . on the community. Part of that normality is a given world without depth, what some have called a disenchanted world.” (Duncan)
“That one image may recall another, finding depth in the resounding, is the secret of rhyme and measure. The time of a poem is felt as a recognition of return in vowel tone and in consonant formations, in stress and in pitch of a melody, of images and meanings. It resembles the time of a dream, for it is highly organized along lines of association and impulses of contrast toward the structure of the whole. The impulse of dream or poem is to provide a ground for some form beyond what we know, for feeling ‘greater than reality’.” (Duncan)
The moderns wanted magical sight. Joyce called it epiphany. Wait five thousand years for the moment when the baby Jesus is revealed as God incarnate or, less dramatically, wait five minutes till the kettle sounds the ave maria. If to live is to make, in Greek poein, then life is poema, a made thing. “It is to live that I find myself returning to the poem” (Duncan).
In his poem “Wichita Vortex Sutra” Allen Ginsberg wrote,
“On the bridge over the Republican River almost in tears to know how to speak the right language– on the frosty broad road uphill between highway embankments I search for the language that is also yours– almost all our language has been taxed by war.”
War employs the magic of language to magnetize thought, behavior, and reality to itself. In a linguistic economy of war, the ideal person is constituted variously as “patriot,” “victim,” “defender” or “hero.” To resist this is to challenge a naming, to struggle in language, to enter a “Contest of Bards” (to invoke one of Ginsberg’s later long poems).
The linguistic economy of war uses language to magically invoke the belief that language is incapable of magic, that, in fact, there is no magic. The war economy magically invokes the absence or impossibility of magic, thus covering its own tracks and presenting itself as the only reality. The secularization of language in the bourgeois era reduced it to the capacity for instrumental reason only. Poetry has sought to reclaim magic for language. In a sense, this is the root of the Romantic movement in the arts.
Now, song is once again a caring, a curing.
Maria Sabina, the Mazatec curandera renowned for her work with psychedelic mushrooms, has been a powerful influence on Anne Waldman’s poetic/performance practice since the 1970s. Rhythmic chant, the repetitions of syllables and phrases are a practice of curandismo.
“For a time there came young people of one and the other sex, long-haired, with strange clothes. . . . ‘We come in search of God’ they said. It was difficult for me to explain to them that the [mushroom prayer] vigils weren’t done from the simple desire to find God, but were done for the sole purpose of curing the sicknesses that our people suffer from.” (Maria Sabina quoted in rogerkgreen)
The ancient thread that says art is a cure tends to be derided by contemporary aestheticist purists as “therapeutic,” uninteresting for art or simply not art. ART is supposed to be above worldly concerns, like the priests and kings and bourgeois who financed its development. Aesthetics is separated from ethics when unethical relations need to mask themselves in transcendence.
And it’s not an either/or situation. We need it all — cool detachment and care. The postmodern poet claims her art as a practice of healing. What if the botanica really is teaching the singer a song that heals? We can’t take a chance on dismissing that anymore.
A ‘person woven of sound’ speaks to the poet and us: ‘now you are quick, soon you will be dead’; ‘you can’t just go around killing and conquering persons’. And the poet asks herself, can we hear the ‘mammal stealth’ of these warnings? ‘The suffering on this land, what done to the indigenes?’ ‘Men miss out in the mission in the fission if not listening.’ Her listening creates a tesserae of sounds and languages for ‘poetry (to) blink you awake.’ A masterful web that compels us to ‘put away the scriptures of doom’ and ‘breathe in this world this time of cosmic night.’ (Cecilia Vicuña quoted in Jaguar Harmonics)
Duncan, Robert. The H.D. Book. Berkeley CA: The University of California Press, 2012.
Julian, Alystyre and Mariana Luna. “Jaguar Harmonics Interview.” January 15, 2014. http://www.annewaldman.org/interviews/
Kristeva, Julia. “Revolution in Poetic Language” in Toril Moi, ed. The Julia Kristeva Reader. NY: Columbia UP, 1986.
__________. “From One Identity to an Other” in Desire in Language. NY: Columbia UP, 1980.
Paz, Octavio. The Bow and the Lyre. Austin TX: University of Texas Press, 1973.
rogerkgreen. “Psychedelic Aesthetics Lecture 8: Soma Sacrifice, Maria Sabina, Anne Waldman.” http://thoughtsandmusic.wordpress.com/2014/07/24/psychedelic-aesthetics-lecture-7-soma-sacrifice-maria-sabina-anne-waldma/
Sanders, Ed. Investigative Poetry. San Francisco: City Lights, 1976. http://woodstockjournal.com/pdf/InvestigativePoetry.pdf
Vicuña, Cecilia. “What’s Poetry to You” in Anne Waldman and Laura Wright, eds. Cross Worlds: Transcultural Poetics, an Anthology. Minneapolis MN: Coffee House Press, 2014.
____________. Quipoem/The Precarious: The Art and poetry of Cecilia Vicuña. Hanover NH: the University Press of New England, 1997.
Waldman, Anne. Jaguar Harmonics: Person Woven of Tesserae. Sausalito CA: The Post Apollo Press, 2014.
Waldman, Anne and Laura Wright, eds. Cross Worlds: Transcultural Poetics, an Anthology. Minneapolis MN: Coffee House Press 2014.