01-06-1934

Poet John Wieners

On this date the American lyric poet JOHN WIENERS was born (d. 2002). From 1954, when he graduated from Boston College with an A.B. in English, to 1970, when he published Nerves, Boston-born poet John Wieners was thoroughly immersed in the art, culture, and turmoil of the time. He spent 1955-1956 at Charles Olson’s experimental Black Mountain College in North Carolina, studying writing with Robert Creeley and Robert Duncan. Wieners journeyed to San Francisco where he published his breakthrough Hotel Wentley Poems in 1958, at age twenty-four.

Wieners returned to Boston in 1959 to be institutionalized, in part because of drug abuse. In 1961 he moved to New York City with the help of a grant from Allen Ginsberg’s Poetry Foundation. He worked as an assistant bookkeeper at the Eighth Street Bookshop from 1962-1963. Wieners went back to Boston in 1963 and worked as a subscriptions editor for Jordan Marsh department stores until 1965. In 1964 Robert Wilson, of The Phoenix Bookshop, published Wieners’s second book, Ace Of Pentacles.

In 1965 Wieners moved west, spending time in Los Angeles and at the Berkeley Poetry Conference where he met up with his old friend, Charles Olson. Olson, then an endowed Chair of Poetics at S.U.N.Y. Buffalo, invited Wieners to enroll in the graduate program there, which is where he stayed until 1967. Pressed Wafer (1967) was published chronicling those years.

In 1967 Wieners’s lover left him and went to Europe with a mentor of his, but not before aborting his child first. In late 1967 Wieners, back in Boston, resorted to further drink and drugs. In the spring of 1969 Wieners was again institutionalized, resulting in The Asylum Poems (For my Father), published later that year.

Wieners published Nerves in 1970, which contained his work from 1966 to 1970, including all of the Asylum Poems. In the early 1970s, despite brief periods of institutionalization, Wieners taught a course entitled “Verse in the U.S. Since 1955” at the Beacon Hill Free School in Boston. He was also involved in the antiwar movement, crusaded against racism, and campaigned for the rights of women and homosexuals.

In 1975 Wieners published Behind the State Capital, or Cincinnati Pike, a book of letters, memoirs, and brief lyric poems. He has published little new work since 1975 and has remained largely out of the public eye. In 1986 he produced a retrospective collection, Selected Poems, 19581984 with a forward written by Allen Ginsberg. In 1996 he appeared with Ed Sanders at Stone Soup in Boston for what would have been Jack Kerouac’s 76th birthday celebration. Also in 1996, The Sun and Moon Press released an edited and previously unpublished diary and journal by Wieners documenting his life in San Francisco around the time of The Hotel Wentley Poems. The book, The Journal of John Wieners is to be called 707 Scott Street for Billie Holiday, 1959, contains prose, poetry, and assorted musings from Wieners at age twenty-four at the dawn of the Sixties.

Wieners died on March 1, 2002 at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, having collapsed a few days previously after an evening attending a party with his friend and publisher Charley Shively. Kidnap Notes Next, a collection of poems and journal entries edited by Jim Dunn, was published posthumously in 2002. A Book of Prophecies was published in 2007 from Bootstrap Press. The manuscript was discovered in the Kent State University archive’s collection by poet Michael Carr. It was a journal written by Wieners in 1971, and opens with a poem titled 2007.