Click for text of The Independent obituary
Click for The Independent obituary on-line (published March 15th 2002)
Click for report of wake and funeral
Click for directions to John Wieners' grave
Click for photographs of grave
Click for Vancouver Poetry Reading, among others
Click for Jack Kimball's "On the Rugged Path with John Wieners"
click on image for larger picture
click on image for larger picture
Two photographs by Jim Dunn, forwarded by Robert Creeley
Click for With Meaning from Selected Poems, 1958-1984,
Black Sparrow, 1986.
Click for With Meaning from Selected Poems, 1958-1984, Black Sparrow, 1986.
There had been a party last Sunday on Beacon Hill somewhere, small number, and John had enjoyed it -- then decided to walk back to his place, had some sort of seizure on the way, got as far as a parking garage, and they called and got him to Mass General where he was for some days sans identification. But something on his person got them his address, and so they finally connected with Jim Dunn (who called) and Charlie Shiveley, both of whom got to hospital in time to see John got last rites. I think that all happened yesterday. Jim said fact of John's being the few days in hospital sans anyone's knowing were hard to think of -- but they did get there, and he died with friends there -- and god willing had little consciousness beyond fact of walking home after pleasant evening.
(Robert Creeley, in an e-mail, March 2nd 2002)
Here is a re-cap of what I know.
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
(Jim Dunn, Boston, e-mail to Robert Creeley)
A single petal.
(Curtis Faville, Compass Rose Books)
Wake at Molloy Funeral Home just over the Dorchester Lower Mills/ Milton line in Milton. About twenty family and friends gathered. A shaven, pink John looking like he had been freshly molded out of Topps baseball card gum lay, hands crossed in his casket. On the rim of the propped up lid the family had placed a copy of The Blind See Only This World facing out. It would be buried with John as would be a copy of Clive Matson's book Squish which had been inscribed toi John on March 1st and arrived the day of the funeral. Odor of flowers (one bouquet sent from San Francisco signed Berkson, McNaughton, Nemi Frost and others whose names I could not make out) and sick/sweet perfume I'm sure is pumped in through AC system. Bowls of candy on side tables. John's cousins the Walter Phinneys, Walter, jr., who handled John's finances and with whom I've dealt, a 94 year old aunt, a Boston College classmate of John's and his sister, a neighbor of John's from Elliott Street childhood home, several woman whose connection I did not get, poets Ed Barrett, John Mulroney, Charley Shively, Jim Dunn, Jon Landry, Joe Torra and a young woman poet who had not known John and whose name I did not get--were in attendance. The priest, a big, solid, take-charge in a very assured way guy read the prayers out and plans were made for the funeral.
We--Dunn, Shively, Barrett, Corbett and Jim Behrle--were at Molloy's at nine. A smaller gathering. Priest read a few prayers and we were escorted out so that the funeral directors could close the coffin. Oh, the priest asked me about the title The Blind See Only This World. I told him why we had chosen it and what I thought it meant. He said he saw religious significance in it. I cheered him on. On the way out Jim Dunn took one of the funeral home's tacky calenders because, he said, John would have taken one. St. Gregorys is a big brick church resembling an Italian church sans art. John's parents had been married in it and so had the Phinneys. The funeral director's men hauled the coffin out and placed it on a velvet covered gurney. Walter, Jr., Dunn, Shively, Corbett, Behrle and Landry walked the coffin up the aisle as pall bearers. Dunn and Shively read Bible texts, "I know that my redeemer liveth" and… I can't remember what Charley read, but later both of them said that they had changed a word here and there and were surprised when the priest asked for their texts. Walter, Jr. read a prayer in which he thanked the EMTs who found John, the hospital, people who had helped John through his life including the poets Jim, Charley, Bill, Bob (Creeley) and the last name escapes me. The priest stood and delievred. He began with an anecdote about going to a poetry reading in the West of Ireland and moved to The Blind See Only This World which thoughts about he made the focus of his homily. There were maybe thirty people in the church, some soft weeping and a good feeling of contentment. For my part I thought John had been well served by Jim, Charley, Walter and the priest who admitted that he had not known John then, and this is rare in my experience, talked as if he had a sense of the man. Then communion and we walked John out to the “Ava Maria” sung by a soloist.
After we loaded him in the hearse and were walking to our car, a woman stopped Jim Behrle wanting to know if he was “albie” Jon's brother's kid. No. She then told us that she still had the valentine's card “Jackie” had given her even though she hadn't saved any of her husband's. She did not seem to have seen John since high school but had clear memories of their sledding down Elliott Street. At the Wieners family plot in the Milton Cemetery — surely an Irish only cememtery, stones decorated with shamrocks, Irish flags flying above graves — the priest spoke a prayer, Charley Shively read John's poem Broken Hearted Memories, "Jim Dunn read A Poem for Trapped Things and an unpublished poem of John's about his visions of the Virgin Mary. Everyone laughted to hear that the VM had put on a little weight. (Later Jim said that John had once told his nephew Walter that the Virgin had appeared to him. Walter wanted to know if she had said anything. No, John said, she doesn't know how to speak. He paused, “But she's learning.”) Then to the Phinneys for food and talk, and after that home for me, very tired, to begin planning a memorial reading for John which will take place at MIT Thursday May 2nd.
(Bill Corbett, Boston, March 10th 2002)
The American poet John Wieners, who has died at the age of sixty eight, was a key figure in the poetic renaissance of the late 1950s and 60s. 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.
Of Irish descent, John Wieners grew up in Milton, Massachusetts, where he now lies buried. He graduated from Boston College in 1954, though his education as a writer would take place over the following two years at Black Mountain College, North Carolina. Here the composer John Cage, painters such as Robert Rauschenberg, poet Charles Olson and other dissidents who are now considered grand masters, had kept alive through force of will rather than any more tangible resources the most liberal of arts colleges. Although Wieners would always depict Olson as his mentor, he shared more common ground at Black Mountain with Robert Duncan, the overt Romanticism of whose work, in stark contrast to 1950s orthodoxy, would find an echo in Wieners' more perfumed and occult pieces.
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 debut 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 SUNY Buffalo, actor and stage manager at the Poet's Theater in Cambridge, and author of three plays performed in New York. However, the poet struggled with mental illness for much of his life, and was institutionalised several times. Although the Asylum Poems of 1969 make reference to this burden, Wieners never exploited his condition, as had Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath in their more smoothly-turned declarations of suffering.
Nerves (1970), his first publication in the UK, shows Wieners at the height of his powers. Imagist snapshots such as 'Times Square' - 'a furtive queen/hurrying across a deserted thoroughfare/ at dawn' - are set alongside longer meditations such as 'Feminine Soliloquy'. Words such as 'tomb' and 'bomb' are half-rhymed in the same line, a sense of loss balanced by a growing anger at social isolation.
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 remainder 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 twentieth century, a two hundred page whirlwind of paranoid fury, hilarity, outrageous theatricality and ventriloquism. In one poem 'Gerald Ford' writes to Wieners following his confirmation as Vice-President, of 'the penalties of Ezra Pound inflicted upon a younger member of another generationÉ As the piano died out, and its accompanying voices, while a car motor started up inside.' Elsewhere Wieners asks 'Where was I as Greta Garbo? Where had/ my house gone, my clothes, my booksÉ'. Here the damaged self turns itself into a laboratory for future understanding, a position of acute vulnerability, but one with precedents in the English Romantic movement, and the poetry of Walt Whitman. Treated with silence or alarm by those American writers of Wieners' own generation who were now winning prizes and producing their Collected Poems, Behind the State Capitol was read carefully by British poets such as John Wilkinson. Wieners' punishing and punished refusal to control his lyrical flights became a bequest to younger writers.
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 the poet'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 by Black Sparrow Press as Selected Poems 1958-1984 and its successor Cultural Affairs in Boston. 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.' In person he was a shy and gentle man, courteous in an old-fashioned way, though with the same verbal flights and gifts of the poetry. A book of tributes, The Blind See Only This World, was published in 2000, and included contributions by John Ashbery, Paul Auster, Amiri Baraka and Thom Gunn. The poet died after suffering an apparent stroke while walking home early from a party in his beloved Boston.
John Joseph Wieners, poet, Jan. 6th 1934 - March 1st 2002
(Geoff Ward, UK. Obituary for "The Independent" newspaper)
Click on image for Gary Sullivan graphic
From Boston, take Route 93 (Southeast Expressway) South to
Exit number 10- Squantum St., towards MILTON.(0.09 miles)
Merge onto SQUANTUM ST. (0.24 miles) Turn RIGHT onto ADAMS
ST. (0.21 miles) ADAMS ST becomes CENTRE ST. Signs for
Milton Cemetery will be on your left. Proceed to the far end
of the cemetery for entrance. Bear left and wind around past
the maintenance house until you reach Maple -- turn right
and several hundred feet on the right you will find the
Wieners/Burley headstone of the family plot. John's grave is
immediately by the roadside.
(Ben Watkins, Boston)
Click for "a real dream," Keefer Cards no. 6, Keefer Street Press, 846 Keefer Street, Vancouver, B.C. (Used by permission of Robin Blaser and Peter Quartermain.)
Click for "Ladders"
Click individual images for photographs of John Wieners' grave, Milton, March 10th. 2002
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