IN MEMORIAM JOHN WIENERS

January 6th. 1934 — March 1st 2002


Even tho all the pencils break and all the typewriters hang in The Pawnshop Window, words go on. And their instruments with them. Today I am one of them and I dress in a red robe.


(John Joseph Wieners, Journal, 1958/59)


Click for link to video of John Wieners reading


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.


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)



John Wieners died last night. He collapsed Sunday on the street and was brought to Mass. General. He suffered some kind of aneurysm and was put on a machine to help him breathe. Last night he was removed from the machine. John had no ID whatsoever on him and it was only thru the persistence (and insistence) of a nurse that a prescription in his pocket was traced at a nearby pharmacy. A social worker entered his apartment and was able to contact John's nephew and sister. Charles Shively and Jim Dunn were with him when he died.
(Daniel Bouchard, Cambridge, MA — forwarded by Charles Bernstein)



Here is his bio note from the "Selected Poems 1958-1984" volume (Black Sparrow Press, 1986): JOHN WIENERS was born in Milton, Mass, in 1934 and received his A.B. from Boston College in 1954. He studied at Black Mountain College under Charles Olson and Robert Duncan from 1955 to 1956. He returned to Boston where he brought out three issues of a literary magazine, Measure, over the next several years. From 1958 to 1960 he lived in San Francisco, and was an active participant in the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance movement. He returned to Boston in 1960, and divided his time between there and New York City, over the next five years. In 1965 he enrolled in the Graduate Program of the State University of New York at Buffalo, and worked as a teaching fellow. He has worked as an actor and stage manager at the Poet's Theatre, Cambridge, and has had three of his plays performed at the Judson Poet's Theater, N.Y. Since 1970 he has lived and worked in Boston, where he has been active in publishing and education cooperatives, political action committees, and the gay liberation movement.
(from Pierre Joris, Albany NY — forwarded by Charles Bernstein)



Dear Tom,
Sorry to hear about John Wieners' death. He was one of those poets whose very existence was a challenge to the status quo (literary and social). Lee Harwood introduced me to his work in 1970. I'm sorry to say I've seen nothing of his in recent years.
Love,
(Doug Lang, Washington, DC, March 3rd 2002)



Sad news about John Wieners' death yesterday. There'll be a Hotel Wentley poem at the very end, tomorrow night… The Selected that came out from what is it, Grossman maybe?, the one with the railroad track on the cover, is a lovely book. Sometimes when I'm thinking about these things I go from Kenneth Rexroth's 100 Poems from The Chinese directly to John Wieners. Although for some reason he unSelected Poem for Benzedrine, a curious omission. Last time he came to San Francisco, it must have been ten or fifteen years ago, he read for some reason at the Roxy Theater, and absolutely sold it out. I went with Joanne, who nervously arranged her shawls as we approached the door, wondering aloud whether John would remember her at all. And there the poet stood, next to the narrow right-hand entry to the theater off the tiny, packed lobby, with an armload of books and papers, tenderly regarding his audience. Before Joanne could say anything, he bowed most courtly. "Miss Kyger...."
(Jim Nisbet, San Francisco, March 3rd 2002)



Been feeling down ever since news of Wieners's cold death came over the transom. A true lyric genius through the thick and thin of it. Sometimes I feel his facility for stunning closure allowed him to get away with middling middles of poems, but then again, the closes are really so good it's more a delicate assymetry where in retrospect the rest of the poem's floated at all seems the real skill.
I'm thinking of "A Poem for Trapped Things" (in Ace of Pentacles) where the "I" watches the trapped butterfly all morning long, "with my hand over my mouth."
(Of course there's plenty of work solid right through, as in "A Poem for Painters," where no punch is pulled . . . )
Well, it's more likely a miracle Wieners lasted as long as he did. Last time I saw him he was reading a tender poem at a memorial for Herbert Huncke at the Quaker Meeting House on the East Side in 1996 or 97. He seemed a dishevelled ghost back then; at the same time hearteningly real once he got down inside the poem.
(Jonathan Skinner, Buffalo, March 5th 2002)



I have attached another picture of John that I found in one of my journals. It's fuzzy and out of focus, but it has a certain tender quality. Also, as I was going through a notebook that John gave me Friday night, I found a beautiful touching piece that I typed up and have attached below.
(Jim Dunn, Boston, forwarded by Robert Creeley)



Dear Bob,
Early Monday and I am still a bit shaken. I went out to Grendel's last night in Harvard Square with Bill Corbett, Joe Torra, Dan Bouchard,, and Jim Berle raising a glass to John and reading his poems in a circle. I think he would have been touched. Here is all the information I have: there will be a wake Wednesday from 7-9 PM at Molloy's funeral home in Dorchester, MA. Thursday morning at 9 AM, the viewing will continue from 9 - 10. The funeral will be at 10:00 on Thursday at St. Gregory's in Dorchester. Evidently, John's sister, Marion, left very specific instructions for John's funeral. She even had his obituary written( which doesn't appear in the Globe today, maybe tomorrow)over twenty years ago. He will be buried with his mother, father and brother in Milton, not too far from Eliot Street where he grew up.
I spoke to Raymond last night and relayed all the information to him. Bill is putting together a memorial that will take place in May at MIT, as you may already know.

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 worry-free.
Love, Jim
(Jim Dunn, Boston, e-mail to Robert Creeley)



About 1971 I saw John Wieners in Temple Bar bookstore in Cambridge and was getting up my nerve to tell him I loved his poetry when he came over and said, "Did I meet you at Georgia O'Keefe's? Are you a Medici?" What generosity there.
(Ruth Lepson, Watertown, MA)



I first read his book Nerves when I was a student here in the early seventies, and was so helped by his poetry to see fresh alternatives to prevailing modes. His work still blows me away. I wish he had known how many fans he had.
(Brenda Hillman, Iowa)



If I knew anyone to tell it to I would say Wieners was some kind of miracle. I discovered him quite by myself in the late 1960's--probably a copy of Ace Of Pentacles dropped into my hands in some small college bookstore, and what I then made of it is nobody's business (as the particulars of such instances fade reliably), but over the years in his later collections, and mercifully in a brief correspondence I had with him (certainly a daydream upon the Elysian Fields both in manner and content), he was a symphony of fluttering, passionate sounds and night-cries that affected me deeply both in my work and my continuing feelings about gender, love and pain. It is painful too now to realize that he is not in the world, despite (and including) his soft incoherences and fade. A gift to the world. So that we now do "still" have his work, here, everywhere, forever.

A single petal.
(Curtis Faville, Compass Rose Books)



I got to sit on a bench right next to John Wieners in North beach Pizza last time he came thru here, several years ago, and there was such a feeling of delight in him, he just seemed so alive in the moment, in his poor person's old sweater, after that delightful reading he'd given, what a wonderful moment for me — I felt like giggling (and probably did) — what a sweet soul!
(Sarah Menefee, San Francisco)



Have been thinking about him constantly, as just about every week (at least) over the past twenty odd years. Listening last night, and will be bringing in for my students today his 1965 reading at Berkeley Poetry Conference, introduced by Creeley and opening with Chinoiserie
Watching right now his reading for 20th anniversary Poetry Center 1973 at the SF Museum, John has walked off-mike (reading from the Grossman Selected & what would be Behind the State Capitol ) & the piano-player has paused… John declamatory— audience utterly silent.
(Steve Dickison, San Francisco)



The one time I spoke with Charles Olson( for an eight hour stretch) among the first things he said was if he were starting to write then 1969? he would like to write like John Wieners or Amiri Baraka or Ed Dorn or Ed Sanders.
I'm very happy you included the link to With Meaning, John wanted to be the gay Amiri Baraka.
I saw him read this poem at Boston College, at an anti-war benefit, Ginsberg had read, Denise Levertov maybe read A Tree Telling of Orpheus, Creeley had read, there were over a thousand people in the audience, how could John Wieners follow this Mount Rushmore of Poetry? He read Rise Shining Martyrs and the entire audience stood, applauding for what seemed 5 minutes.
(Billy Little)



Bob: We buried John yesterday and everything went spendidly. The priest, who did not know John, made The Blind See Only This World the focus of his homily. He found religious significance in the line and why not. The family placed a copy of the book in John's coffin. At graveside Jim Dunn, Charley Shively and I read. Oh, after the service a woman told me that she still had the valentine's card “Jackie” gave her in grade school! I'm putting together a memorial reading at MIT. Date — May 2nd. Bill.
(William Corbett, Boston, to Robert Creeley, March 8th, 2002)



John Wieners Wake and Funeral, 6-7 March

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)



JOHN WIENERS

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
(Geoff Ward, UK. Obituary for "The Independent" newspaper)




Click on image for Gary Sullivan graphic
(Gary Sullivan, New York City)



DIRECTIONS TO GRAVE

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.)
(Robin Blaser, Vancouver)




Click for "Ladders"
(John Wilkinson, Cambridge, England)




Click individual images for photographs of John Wieners' grave, Milton, March 10th. 2002
(Ben Watkins, Boston)



I bought the Selected Poems immediately after … came across a poem called September Eleventh; ends with the phrase “Bat Spicer billions.”
(William Fuller, Chicago, March 19th 2002


Tom: A packet of John stuff is in the mail to you. At Thursday's memorial reading at MIT: thirty-four readers and musicians. A wide range from Ed Sanders to Frank Bidart, Anne Waldman to Gail Mazur. Other readers: Jim Dunn, Charlie Shivley, Jawn P., Patricia Pruitt, John Mulroney, Raffael de Gruttola, Lewis Warsh, Ed Barrett whose daughter Caitie Barrett sang a capella Yeats's "Sally Gardens" and brought down the house, Damon & Naomi, Steve Prygoda, Chris Sawyer-Laucanno, Fanny Howe, Geoff Young, Jim Behrle, Joe Torra, Jack Powers, Simon Pettet, Elizabeth Willis, Peter Gizzi who read Frank O'Hara's poem to John "A Boy's Life", Dan Bouchard, Jack Kimball, John Landry, Mike County, Gerrit Lansing, Carol Weston, Michael Franco, Askold Melnyczuk. Not a dud in the bunch. Not a slough in the night and no one of them hogged the microphone. Too many high points to do right by them all. Over fifty of John's poems were read in so many different voices that those in the audience who knew his work heard it again in new ways and those new to his work learned what all the fuss was all about. The astonishing thing was the audience of 250-300, HUGE for Boston, larger than many of the readers had ever read to, who stayed, most of them, through the 2 hours and 45 minutes the evening lasted. Then eighty or so came back to 9 Columbus Square charged up by the success of the evening and ready to drink, eat and talk their fill which they did until after 2 a.m. John had one helluva a send off. All Love to you, Bill.
(William Corbett, Boston, May 3rd 2002)


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