Poems in the world: the ecopoetics of Anne Waldman’s Life Notes

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This essay argues that Anne Waldman’s 1973 selected poems, Life Notes, articulates a vision of the environment as positively and reparatively enmeshed with language and culture. Embracing the paradox at the heart of the best environmental writing, Life Notes reveals our natural environments to be once legible and unknowable, and embodies this through experimental forms, language, and typography. The collection, which has yet to be paid significant critical attention, artfully mediates the relationship between word and world, giving voice, shape, and form to what we might call the poet’s ‘ecology of knowing’, in Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s formulation. Through a sustained process of imaginative eli-sion of the human and nonhuman, I argue, Waldman illuminates the ways in which the ‘natural’ world is almost always touched by the human, and refutes the widely-held cultural fantasy that nature is self-evidently re-storative or redemptive and thereby somehow at a remove from human-kind. Life Notes, I suggest, is a ‘dissipative structure’, critically entangled with the everyday environment out of which it emerges and with which it remains ‘involved in a continual exchange of energy’ (Waldman).
Original languageEnglish
Article number50
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 12 Mar 2021


  • Anne Waldman
  • ecopoetry
  • ecocriticism
  • green reading
  • Beat women
  • New York School
  • New American Poetry
  • poetry
  • reparative reading
  • environment
  • environmental humanities
  • Black Mountain


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