both a beat writer and a practitioner of the "projective verse" of Charles olson and the black mountain poets, Wieners combined the poetic with the political and personal in his lyrical free-verse (see prosody and free verse); as he once said, "Lyricism is still a quality of a political career" (112). Donald Allen's groundbreaking 1960 anthology The New American Poetry (see poetry anthologies) includes Wieners among new poets "who have evolved their own original styles and new conceptions of poetry" (xiii). Similar to Hart crane, Wieners is considered le poète maudit, a poet who is cursed by the penetrating vision that allows him to see the alienation and loneliness inherent in his society.
Wieners was born in Boston, and graduated from Boston College. After hearing Olson read, he attended Black Mountain College for a year, then returned to Boston, where he published the literary magazine Measure. He moved to California in 1957 and connected with Robert duncan, the painter Robert LaVigne, and other members of the san Francisco renaissance. He was involved in antiwar and antiracism movements, and he defended the rights of women and homosexuals. Wieners was hospitalized periodically for drug and mental problems. His first book of poetry, The Hotel Wentley Poems, was published in 1958; his other works include Ace Of Pentacles (1964), The Asylum Poems (For My Father) (1969), and Behind the State Capital (1975). His Selected Poems 1958-1984 was released in 1986.
Wieners's poetry is often confessional, echoing the sensibility of a person who despises the way he is, yet who celebrates his differences from conventional society. It reflects a deeply personal engagement with the world and with the reader, at times, eloquently, yet brutally frank. Like many of the beats, Wieners finds his subject in what he sees as the debased and decadent elements of life—poverty, drugs, homosexuality, insanity, despair, violence—but he also celebrates the joy of creation and of art itself. In "A Poem for Painters" (1958), he laments "Our age bereft of nobility," but he attempts to recover what is lost by turning to love and art. He crafts the poem like a painter, creating images with words, "Drawing the face / and its torture." His creative act is one of redemption that expresses the struggle of artists to work with the material they have. His later writing delves into the darkness of the human condition; in "Children of the Working Class" (1972), he describes the "poorhouses, the mad city asylums and re- / lief worklines" rather than the American that Walt Whitman wandered. The poem gives voice to the marginalized, to those who have been excluded from the rewards of modern society, and Wieners's personal despair reflects the emotional cost of bearing witness to such public suffering.
Allen, Donald M, ed. The New American Poetry 1945-1960.
New York: Grove Press, 1960. Howard, Richard. "John Wieners: 'Now Watch the Windows Open by Themselves." Iowa Review 1.1 (1970): 101-118. Wieners, John. "A Talk with John Wieners," by Robert von Hallberg. Chicago Review 26.1 (1974): 112-116.
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