DC's

The blog of author Dennis Cooper

John Wieners Day *

* (restored)


Photo credit: Jerome Mallmann

 

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Intro
‘John Wieners was a key figure in the American poetic renaissance of the late 1950s and 1960s. In his work a new candour regarding sexual and drug-induced experience co-existed with both a jazz-related aesthetic of improvisation and a more traditional concern with lyric form. In 1958 his first book, The Hotel Wentley Poems, appeared. Taking its title from a bare-bulb flophouse in San Francisco’s Polk Gulch, this rhapsodically Bohemian début begins by quoting the title of an album by Bud Powell – “the scene changes”. In pieces such as “A Poem for Tea Heads” and “A Poem for Cocksuckers”, the poet presents a mental world at once kaleidoscopic and imprisoning.

‘An unexpurgated edition was not available until 1965, by which time Wieners had embarked on the most publicly successful phase of his career, becoming a teaching fellow at the State University of New York, Buffalo, an actor and stage manager at the Poet’s Theater in Cambridge, and the author of three plays performed in New York. However, he struggled with mental illness for much of his life, and was institutionalised several times. Although Asylum Poems (1969) makes reference to this burden, Wieners never exploited his condition, as had Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath in their more smoothly turned declarations of suffering.

‘Returning to Boston in 1970, Wieners became involved with publishing and education co-operatives, political action committees and the burgeoning movement for gay liberation. A fifth-floor, walk-up apartment in Joy Street, in the winding Beacon Hill area, would be home for the rest of his life. But settled quiet and conventional success were not on the agenda. Behind the State Capitol; or, Cincinnati Pike (1975) is one of the great books of the 20th century, a 200-page whirlwind of paranoid fury, hilarity, outrageous theatricality and ventriloquism.

‘His poetic career effectively finished at this point. It was not a case of unfulfilled promise but of a life’s work that developed rapidly and led with its own determined, internal logic to a natural conclusion. In the 1980s Wieners’s editor Raymond Foye embarked on a quest to gather unpublished poems. With the help of Allen Ginsberg and Robert Creeley, who remained unswerving in their support, the results were published as Selected Poems 1958-1984 (1985) and its successor Cultural Affairs in Boston (1988). In an interview with Foye, the poet had answered a query as to his theory of poetics in eminently practical terms: “I try to write the most embarrassing thing I can think of.”‘ — Geoff Ward, The Independent

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Resources
The John Wieners Page @ EPC
Archive of John Wieners mp3s @ Penn Sound
In Memorium John Wieners
Pamela Petro’s ‘The Hipster of Joy Street
CAConrad on John Wieners
Douglas Messerli remembers John Wieners
The John Wieners Facebook Page
‘The Blind See Only This World: Poems for John Wieners’
Watch four videos of John Wieners reading his poems
‘Kidnap Notes Next’
John Wieners’ books @ Black Sparrow Press

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News

‘After John’s passing, Jim Dunn and I went through the notebook (red leather with gold trim) which Bill Berkson had given John who was locked up in a Long Island asylum in 1969. (Wieners wrote his Asylum Poems from that unhappy place.) With the notebook in hand, Jim and I (with great help and encouragement from John Mitzel) sought to identify unpublished complete poems from that red book. We sent photocopies to Raymond Foye whose great care, love and attention produced the Black Sparrow editions of Selected Poems, 1956-1986 and Cultural Affairs in Boston: Poetry and Prose 1956-1985. Now Jim Dunn has transcribed and scanned Wieners remarkable notebook to bring us [a book of ] previously unpublished poems (A New Book from Rome), perhaps worked into something of a stained glass window version reminiscent of the chapel of St. Louis IX in Paris.’ — Charles Shively


ORAL HISTORY INITIATIVE: On John Wieners | Woodberry Poetry Room

 

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Media


John Wieners – April 2001 – Boston Improv


USA: Poetry Episode Robert Duncan and John Wieners


Basil King: A Story about John Wieners at Black Mountain College


John Wieners – Hyannisport, MA – 2.21.02 – Last Public Reading

 

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The End
‘John attended a party with Charlie Shiveley Sunday around 7:30 PM. Charley drove from Cambridge and picked up John even though the party was just across Cambridge Street. Charley stopped at the drugstore first and bought John some medicine, a box of candy, and an inhaler. The host of the party had a cat and John was feeling slightly under weather because he was allergic to cats. Charley thinks John left the party around 9:30 or 10. He was found in a nearby parking garage by the parking attendant and was admitted to the ICU at Mass General at midnight that night. John tried feebly on Monday morning to breathe on his own, but to no avail. He was put on the respirator machine. An MRI was taken that showed little or no brain activity. Friday, the doctors took another MRI and it confirmed that he was brain dead. Also, as he was lying in the hospital, there was a social worker who doggedly pursued finding John’s identity. If it wasn’t for her and the nurses at MGH, he may have never been ID’d. John’s cousin (Walter Phinney’s mother) stopped by after she was contacted by the hospital Friday afternoon. John was pronounced dead at 5:11 on March 1st. I arrived at 5:30 and Charley arrived an hour later. John was still breathing on the machine and his heart was still beating. Charley and I spent some time with him and then summoned the on-call priest to administer last rites. The priest said an “Our Father”, and anointed John’s forehead and hands. Around 8:00, the technician arrived and removed the breathing tube and shut down the respirator. Charley and I stood by. I had my hand on John’s chest as his heart fluttered. We watched as his blood pressure dropped and his heart rate decreased from 111 down incrementally to 28 and then to X. His heart stopped beating at 8:16 PM. Immediately at that moment, the lights over the sink and the hospital supplies began flashing on and off in a strange rhythm. I pointed it out to Charley saying, “Look it’s John”. Charley responded, “He must have gotten into the electrical system” It was a strange, sad and beautiful moment. We said our final good-byes and left him looking peaceful, serene, and almost heroic – eyes closed , full beard, and worry-free.’ — Jim Dunn

 

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10 poems

TWO YEARS LATER

The hollow eyes of shock remain
Electric sockets burnt out in the
skull.

The beauty of men never disappears
But drives a blue car through the
stars

 

ACT #2

I took love home with me,
we fixed in the night and
sank into a stinging flash

1/4 grain of love
we had,
2 men on a cot, a silk
cover and a green cloth
over the lamp.
The music was just right.
I blew him like a symphony,
it floated and
he took me
down the street and
left me here.
3 AM. No sign.

only a moving van
up Van Ness Avenue.

Foster’s was never like this.

I’ll walk home, up the
same hills we
came down.
He’ll never come back,
there’ll be no horse
tomorrow nor pot
tonight to smoke till dawn.

He’s gone and taken
my morphine with him
Oh Johnny. Women in
the night moan yr. name.

 

DAVID ASPELIN

died at 16
put a rifle in his mouth, and laid across his bed at night.
After he held my hand on the way home and said
I will be dead tomorrow.

 

A POEM FOR VIPERS

I sit in Lees. At 11:40 PM with
Jimmy the pusher. He teaches me
Ju Ju. Hot on the table before us
shrimp foo yong, rice and mushroom
chow yuke. Up the street under the wheels
of a strange car is his stash–The ritual.
We make it. And have made it.
For months now together after midnight.
Soon I know the fuzz will
interrupt, will arrest Jimmy and
I shall be placed on probation. The poem
does not lie to us. We lie under
its law, alive in the glamour of this hour
able to enter into the sacred places
of his dark people, who carry secrets
glassed in their eyes and hide words
under the coats of their tongue.

 

COCAINE

For I have seen love
and his face is choice Heart of Hearts,
a flesh of pure fire, fusing from the center
where all Motion are one.

And I have known
despair that the Face has ceased to stare
at me with the Rose of the world
but lies furled

in an artificial paradise it is Hell to get into.
If I knew you were there
I would fall upon my knees and plead to God
to deliver you in my arms once again.

But it is senseless to try.
One can only take means to reduce misery,
confuse the sensations so that this Face,
what aches in the heart and makes each new

start less close to the source of desire,
fade from the flesh that fires the night,
with dreams and infinite longing.

 

TWO YEARS LATER

The hollow eyes of shock remain
Electric sockets burnt out in the
—–skull.

The beauty of men never disappears
But drives a blue car through the
—————-stars.

 

TO CHARLES ON HIS HOME

Death is an unforgiven
That’s what we have in common

language an act of sharing words.

Coming tears will do it

Where there’s smoke
THERe’s a suitcase

fairies never change

into fire

It’s so hard to get to the top.

Death is a failure

there are so many of them.

Dont trust her
I don’t care how old the races are.

And I never have.

for Cher.

 

A POEM FOR RECORD PLAYERS

The scene changes

Five hours later and
I come into a room
where a clock ticks.
I find a pillow to
muffle the sounds I make.
I am engaged in taking away
from God his sound.
The pigeons somewhere
above me, the cough
a man makes down the hall,
the flap of wings
below me, the squeak
of sparrows in the alley.
The scratches I itch
on my scalp, the landing
of birds under the bay
window out my window.
All dull details
I can only describe to you,
but which are here and
I hear and shall never
give up again, shall carry
with me over the streets
of this seacoast city,
forever; oh clack your
metal wings, god, you are
mine now in the morning.
I have you by the ears
in the exhaust pipes of
a thousand cars gunning
their motors turning over
all over town.

 

A POEM FOR TRAPPED THINGS

This morning with a blue flame burning
this thing wings its way in.
Wind shakes the edges of its yellow being.
Gasping for breath.
Living for the instant.
Climbing up the black border of the window.
Why do you want out.
I sit in pain.
A red robe amid debris.
You bend and climb, extending antennae.

I know the butterfly is my soul
grown weak from battle.

A Giant fan on the back of
——a beetle.
A caterpillar chrysalis that seeks
a new home apart from this room.

And will disappear from sight
at the pulling of invisible strings.
Yet so tenuous, so fine
this thing is, I am
sitting on the hard bed, we could
vanish from sight like the puff
—–off an invisible cigarette.
Furred chest, ragged silk under
wings beating against the glass

no one will open.

The blue diamonds on your back
are too beautiful to do
—–away with.
I watch you
all morning
—–long.
With my hand over my mouth.

 

THE ACTS OF YOUTH

And with great fear I inhabit the middle of the night
What wrecks of the mind await me, what drugs
to dull the senses, what little I have left,
what more can be taken away?

The fear of travelling, of the future without hope
or buoy. I must get away from this place and see
that there is no fear without me: that it is within
unless it be some sudden act or calamity

to land me in the hospital, a total wreck, without
memory again; or worse still, behind bars. If
I could just get out of the country. Some place
where one can eat the lotus in peace.

For in this country it is terror, poverty awaits; or
am I a marked man, my life to be a lesson
or experience to those young who would trod
the same path, without God

unless he be one of justice, to wreack vengance
on the acts committed while young under un-
due influence or circumstance. Oh I have
always seen my life as drama, patterned

after those who met with disaster or doom.
Is my mind being taken away me.
I have been over the abyss before. What
is that ringing in my ears that tells me

all is nigh, is naught but the roaring of the winter wind.
Woe to those homeless who are out on this night.
Woe to those crimes committed from which we
can walk away unharmed.

So I turn on the light
And smoke rings rise in the air.
Do not think of the future; there is none.
But the formula all great art is made of.

Pain and suffering. Give me the strength
to bear it, to enter those places where the
great animals are caged. And we can live
at peace by their side. A bride to the burden

that no god imposes but knows we have the means
to sustain its force unto the end of our days.
For that is what we are made for; for that
we are created. Until the dark hours are done.

And we rise again in the dawn.
Infinite particles of the divine sun, now
worshipped in the pitches of the night.
—-

 

 

*

p.s. Please welcome back John Wieners Day from long ago. Thanks!

5 Comments

  1. I knew John as a child. We lived under the same roof in San Francisco in the late 1950s, and he stayed with us I think for a couple of weeks in Beverly Glen (Los Angeles). A remarkable and really great poet.

  2. Hey Dennis,

    Hope you had a good Easter weekend. I spent the weekend further building bridges with my younger brother and his family. I hadn’t seen him for years, and when I made the post that severed a lot of ties with my dad’s side of the family and mum’s, I didn’t think I’d ever really have any form of meaningful relationship with him again – he was the only one of my younger siblings that I really got on with. Long story short, he’s always followed and supported my writing career, and his girlfriend invited me over to visit and I accepted. So in February I had the initial “meet up” to build the foundations and settle the air a bit. That went awesomely, so this weekend I took Seb to meet them and they loved him. This for me was an important step in building our future relationship as it was the first time someone from my dad’s side actually acknowledged one of my partners positively, and it was also important for me that Seb got to meet these “new” family members that will hopefully be playing an important role in my life going forward.

    I was going to message after the “Kip Kinkel Day” as it resonated with me in such a way that it made me think about my past and how if I’d been in a different location things could have gone differently. Reading the extract from his journal, it mirrored mine from when I was 15, even down to the use and order of specific words; add to this the fact that we both started hearing voices around the same age – 12 for him, 13 for me – and our reasoning for not talking about them was again the same, not wanting another reason to feel more isolated and outside than we already did.

    I think what hit me the most about him was how his loss of hope is what broke him, and I totally understand that, as “hope” is the reason why I’m still here, that same hope that things will get better tomorrow. The only time I’ve lost hope was when I was in therapy on Risperidone and ended up suicidal at rock bottom, but the post got me thinking about what could have happened if I had lost hope when I was a teenager consumed by anger. I mean, I once took a dog’s choke chain into high school with the specific reason to use it on some guy who’d pissed me off, and certainly when all the shit went down in college there was a few people then I wanted to see dead, but even with all that anger, I never lost hope and used the anger to focus it. It’s scary to think of the alternative.

    In other news, I’ve been writing away on my new book, editing up a novella I wrote a few years back and felt ready to return to. I’ve also returned to making music, which has been made me remember why I love it as a creative outlet. The last full piece of music I worked on was The Red Devil Incident’s “The Heart of Darkness” back in 2012. So, I’m excited about where this musical journey will take me… I’m planning out a new RDI EP, but also have produced the first none-RDI related music in well over a decade.

    As part of this new musical output, I’ve created a new playlist on my YouTube for my soundtrack work – I hope you don’t mind, but I wrote alternative soundtracks for the trailers for “Like Cattle Towards Glow” and “Permanent Green Light”, as I thought they’d be interesting challenges to try.

    The playlist can be listened to here if you have a spare moment to take a peek:
    https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLHpJxTI5lp8NpxpR1KH87SBy7yuaeftRc

    How’s everything with you? I hope you’re well. I might not comment much lately, but I still follow the blog religiously. Hopefully see you soon,

    Much love and hugs as always,

    Dom

  3. So Charlie Shively was with John Wieners when he died. Shively died not too long ago also after a long struggle himself.
    Nobody to take these people’s places. Fucking hell!

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