‘Ahead of Trump’s ‘terrible inauguration,’ celebrated American poet finds ‘heaven’ in Jaipur


By Saket Suman 

Jaipur, Jan 19: As US president-elect Donald Trump prepares for his swearing-in on Friday, celebrated American poet Anne Waldman has said that she finds solace and happiness amid the power-packed literary gathering here.

Waldman was delivering the keynote address at the 10th edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), after one of India’s most reputed lyricist and poet Gulzar.

Trump’s swearing-in, in Waldman’s own words, is a “terrible inauguration” and she finds “such a heart-warming feeling” in the company of numerous writers and literary figures who have come from different parts of India and the world to participate in the festival.

“I am so happy to join the Jaipur Literature Festival ahead of the terrible inauguration in my own country,” Waldman, an active member of the Outrider experimental poetry movement, said.

“It is an extraordinary festival. The gathering of so many writers and book lovers makes me feel comfortable. I have found heaven here before the terrible inauguration ceremony in my country,” she added.

Waldman also used the platform to voice her support for “those thousands of men, women and children”, who will be protesting in different parts of America on Friday.

“I support children, women and men of my country who will be marching in protest in different parts of America. We are facing a war on our imagination,” added Waldman, who along with Gulzar delivered the keynote address of the festival, one of the high-points of the five-day literary carnival.

The second half of Waldman’s address was more of a poetic performance, marked by sheer grace, punctuality and careful choice of diction. This too, however, seemed to symbolise a troubled state of mind as her carefully chosen words — darkness, atrocity, chaos and ghosts — resounded with what the celebrated poet pointed out at the beginning of her address.

In one verse, Waldman screamed and then paused to look patiently at the response of the audience. “Looked into the crystal ball/what did I see/ghosts of my children coming after me,” Waldman recited passionately.

Midway during her speech, Waldman travelled back to Trump’s inauguration.

“We do not need to take part in that drunken dark show. There are enough people taking care of it already,” she said.

Born in Millville, New Jersey, Waldman grew up in Manhattan on Beat poetry and jazz.

Early encounters with leading poets and singers drew her attention to the full range of musical possibilities in poetry, as did her reading of poets such as Allen Ginsberg and Gertrude Stein.

“We must look into the darkness of the world around us. Darkness is something that turns directly towards us,” said Waldman, adding: “But a true contemporary is someone whose eyes are struck by that darkness.”

Her recital was replete with dark references, while the poet, with her brilliant elocution skills urged the audience, as many as four times during her speech, to “push, push against the darkness.”

Waldman has now joined the likes of American actress and singer Meryl Streep, who have criticised Trump, after his victory, at high-profile events. Streep had taken a dead aim at Trump’s controversial rhetoric while accepting her Lifetime Achievement Award at the 74th annual Golden Globes earlier this month.

Waldman’s publications include “Fast Speaking Woman” (1975), “Marriage: A Sentence” (2000) and the multi-volume Iovis project (1992, 1993, 1997). Her work as a cultural activist and her practice of Tibetan Buddhism are deeply connected to her poetry.

(Saket Suman is in Jaipur at the invitation of Teamwork Arts. He can be contacted at saket.s@ians.in)