Born in Milton, Massachusetts, Wieners attended St. Gregory Elementary School in Dorchester, Massachusetts and Boston College High School. From 1950 to 1954, he studied at Boston College, where he earned his A.B. In 1954 he heard Charles Olson read at the Charles Street Meeting House on Beacon Hill during Hurricane Hazel. He decided to enroll at Black Mountain College where he studied under Olson and Robert Duncan from 1955 to 1956. He then worked as an actor and stage manager at the Poet’s Theater in Cambridge, and began to edit Measure, releasing three issues over the next several years.
From 1958 to 1960 Wieners lived in San Francisco, California and actively participated in the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance. The Hotel Wentley Poems was published in 1958, when Wieners was twenty-four.
Wieners returned to Boston in 1960 and was committed to a psychiatric hospital. In 1961, he moved to New York City and worked as an assistant bookkeeper at Eighth Street Books from 1962-1963, living on the Lower East Side with Herbert Huncke. He went back to Boston in 1963, employed as a subscriptions editor for Jordan Marsh department stores until 1965. Wieners’ second book, Ace of Pentacles, was published in 1964.
In 1965, after traveling with Olson to the Spoleto Festival and the Berkeley Poetry Conference, he enrolled in the Graduate Program at SUNY Buffalo. He worked as a teaching fellow under Olson, then as an endowed Chair of Poetics, staying until 1967, with Pressed Wafer coming out the same year. In 1968, he signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War. In the spring of 1969, Wieners was again institutionalized, and wrote Asylum Poems.
Nerves was released in 1970, containing work from 1966 to 1970. In the early 1970s, Wieners became active in education and publishing cooperatives, political action committees, and the gay liberation movement. He also moved into an apartment at 44 Joy Street on Beacon Hill, where he lived for the next thirty years.
In 1975, Behind the State Capitol or Cincinnati Pike was published, a magnum opus of “Cinema decoupages; verses, abbreviated prose insights.” For the next ten years, he published rarely and remained largely out of the public eye. In 1985, he was a Guggenheim Fellow.
Black Sparrow Press released two collections edited by Raymond Foye: Selected Poems: 1958-1984 and Cultural Affairs in Boston, in 1986 and 1988 respectively. A previously unpublished journal by Wieners came out in 1996, entitled The Journal of John Wieners is to be called 707 Scott Street for Billie Holliday 1959, documenting his life in San Francisco around the time of The Hotel Wentley Poems.
At the Guggenheim Museum in 1999, Wieners gave one of his last public readings, celebrating an exhibit by the painter Francesco Clemente. A collaboration between the two, Broken Women, was also published.
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.
His papers are held at the University of Delaware.
John Wieners, 1990, by Robert Giard (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/brbldl_getrec.asp?fld=img&id=1124089)
American photographer Robert Giard is renowned for his portraits of American poets and writers; his particular focus was on gay and lesbian writers. Some of his photographs of the American gay and lesbian literary community appear in his groundbreaking book Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers, published by MIT Press in 1997. Giard’s stated mission was to define the literary history and cultural identity of gays and lesbians for the mainstream of American society, which perceived them as disparate, marginal individuals possessing neither. In all, he photographed more than 600 writers. (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/digital
Selected Poems: 1958-1984 by John Wieners
Paperback: 317 pages
Publisher: Black Sparrow Press (April 1, 1986)
Amazon: Selected Poems: 1958-1984
"It is thrilling to watch the drama develop!" --Allen Ginsberg
So quoth one of the 20th century's most well-known poets - and not about the latest piece of manufactured pop culture suspense, be it from John Grisham or Jerry Bruckheimer, but about the poetic work of John Wieners. Wieners, unknown to so many today, was schooled at the famed Black Mountain College and, taking his cue from contemporaneous poets, focused his art on such themes as drugs, sex, and homosexuality.
Considered by many to be a most undeservedly unrecognized genius, in this collection "Wieners' glory is solitary, as pure poet" (Ginsberg). Certainly, Wieners has the capacity, as great poets must, to heighten and change one's consciousness of the world; this collection brings the pains and joys of a unique man, the Weltanschauung of one who has seen more than most, to the willing reader.
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 the Dead I Know")
707 Scott Street: The Journal of John Wieners (Sun & Moon Classics) by John Wieners
Paperback: 110 pages
Publisher: Sun & Moon Press; 1st edition (April 1, 2000)
Amazon: 707 Scott Street: The Journal of John Wieners
San Francisco 1958-9, prefaces by L Warsh & F Howe
The Crimson Letter: Harvard, Homosexuality, and the Shaping of American Culture by Douglass Shand-Tucci
Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; First St. Martin's Griffin Edition edition (June 1, 2004)
Amazon: The Crimson Letter: Harvard, Homosexuality, and the Shaping of American Culture
In a book deeply impressive in its reach while also deeply embedded in its storied setting, bestselling historian Douglass Shand-Tucci explores the nature and expression of sexual identity at America’s oldest university during the years of its greatest influence. The Crimson Letter follows the gay experience at Harvard in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, focusing upon students, faculty, alumni, and hangers-on who struggled to find their place within the confines of Harvard Yard and in the society outside.
Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde were the two dominant archetypes for gay undergraduates of the later nineteenth century. One was the robust praise-singer of American democracy, embraced at the start of his career by Ralph Waldo Emerson; the other was the Oxbridge aesthete whose visit to Harvard in 1882 became part of the university’s legend and lore, and whose eventual martyrdom was a cautionary tale. Shand-Tucci explores the dramatic and creative oppositions and tensions between the Whitmanic and the Wildean, the warrior poet and the salon dazzler, and demonstrates how they framed the gay experience at Harvard and in the country as a whole.
The core of this book, however, is a portrait of a great university and its community struggling with the full implications of free inquiry. Harvard took very seriously its mission to shape the minds and bodies of its charges, who came from and were expected to perpetuate the nation’s elite, yet struggled with the open expression of their sexual identities, which it alternately accepted and anathematized. Harvard believed it could live up to the Oxbridge model, offering a sanctuary worthy of the classical Greek ideals of male association, yet somehow remain true to its legacy of respectable austerity and Puritan self-denial.
The Crimson Letter therefore tells stories of great unhappiness and manacled minds, as well as stories of triumphant activism and fulfilled promise. Shand-Tucci brilliantly exposes the secrecy and codes that attended the gay experience, showing how their effects could simultaneously thwart and spark creativity. He explores in particular the question of gay sensibility and its effect upon everything from symphonic music to football, set design to statecraft, poetic theory to skyscrapers.
The Crimson Letter combines the learned and the lurid, tragedy and farce, scandal and vindication, and figures of world renown as well as those whose influence extended little farther than Harvard Square. Here is an engrossing account of a university transforming and transformed by those passing through its gates, and of their enduring impact upon American culture.
Queer Beats: How the Beats Turned America On to Sex by Regina Marler
Paperback: 248 pages
Publisher: Cleis Press (August 3, 2004)
Amazon: Queer Beats: How the Beats Turned America On to Sex
Among the unconventional attitudes of the Beat writers as they rebelled against the conformism of the late 1940s and 1950s was their relaxed stance on sexuality. At a time when gay people were considered mentally ill or criminal, the Beats celebrated spontaneity and freedom in thought, word, and action. They were queer in the fullest sense of the word: their fluid sexuality challenged all sexual and romantic conventions. Combining fiction, letters, and poetry, Queer Beats explores the sexual pulse that throbbed throughout the Beats' writings - from the perverse "cut-up" prose of William S. Burroughs's Naked Lunch and the homoerotic poetry of Allen Ginsberg to Jack Kerouac's letter to Neal Cassady in which he declares (despite sexual encounters with Ginsberg and Gore Vidal): "Posterity will laugh at me if it thinks I was queer." This collection also includes writings by Diane di Prima, Frank O'Hara, Herbert Huncke, Elise Cowen, Robert Duncan, and others.
More Particular Voices at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Particular Voices
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