On the Rugged Path with John Wieners
1. Ostrich feathers
When I think I'm normal I can do a lot of things to my mind. I can turn to a classical Chinese scale for ideas about poetry. This is elite appearing. Though submitted to Walter Rainbow and innately pursuable, the scale is a hierarchy's hierarchy of bare refinements that can be described, controversially, as ladder-like matrices. The lowest step-thru is poetry of wit, subsuming broad swaths of comic relief, milieu- and text-conscious techniques, irony. A second rung would be predications of irony beyond self- and parochial interests, and in this instance one can point to humane lament of many sorts, including geopolitical.
Consider Su Shi:
Families, when a son is born,
Want him to be smart.
Only I, who have lived by my wits
and ruined my life,
hope the child will
grow up ignorant and dull.
This way he'll learn
the even-tempered life
and become a Cabinet Minister.
The ladder sets some telology to aesthetic development, but the matrix / matrices trope demonstrates the potential of craft to trigger interactivities within the telos-driven steps or stages. First questions, then, are wit and something else. Does the poem entertain? and what else? And here let's grant Su Shi the comedian his impulses toward what T. Mann regards as "high spirits." T. Adorno argues that nothing "can prevent the side the work of art shows its beholder from giving him [sic] pleasure, even if only in the formal fact of temporary freedom from the compulsion of practical goals." As a principle of craft, when I or one does a lot of things to one's mind one first prefers appeals to pleasure vis-a-vis pathos, say, as Adorno suggests the former is primary since a "moment of pleasure, even when it is extirpated from the effect of work, constantly returns to it." Surely Su Shi's conventional lament -- the kind of protest that if voiced in today's China might prove life threatening -- would be less effective as a grouch without the deadpan delivery.
Higher steps -- on the scale -- take us to portable allegories and inventions of layered philosophy, poetry that emanates from wit, lament and bracing interpretations of moral outrage. The lower extremity of this next step-away comprises cant, nostalgia and other blindsighted beliefs. The top end achieves a nonpiety. Here is John Wieners's.
Cool breezes round my forehead
Cool liquors in my throat
So what if in years to come
No one hears a single note.
Cool breezes on my forehead
Cool liquors down my throat
So soon if in years to come
Someone hears a single note.
Let's avoid exegesis, refusing to dwell on this poet's 'anxious' seduction of influential verse makers in the future; and let's not get into the post-bebop, pre-Stonewall contexts embedded in bingeful prepositions like "round" and "down" and in supine lexical multiples. Beyond Wieners's patricidal lament, what we feel is depiction of inconsequence, inconsequence substantiated and so transformed in what some call pure soul-baring. Then there are Wieners's intimations -- nonpious, I emphasize -- toward chant, which we all know as prayer. (Prayer is the highest rung, by the way.)
2. Let's do talk
JK: I once scribbled out of matchbook ashes and X-acto blades a big Air Force tableau for a poet I love. It took up a wall in my room. Willow grew to live there. You were in it.
JW: Ennui to Ann Dyvorak
A Bill of Divorcment
lost one red gambling
chip, a sunken
ship, at the crooner's stealing
JK: "Chip," yes. The X-actos. And what happens to Bill?
JW: The Queen can grant no mercy, no clemency
for she is owed permanently too much money
JK: Let's talk about Behind the State Capitol and in particular your "FAMILY CRITIQUE."
JW: In particular! The Rolling Stones and T h e P R o c e s s a n s
threw myself down. Drank incessantly. Fear still that stuff.
Journalists of new enlightenment, when in reality, if there is
such a thing for any of those who have been horsed with such
an inane insignificance -- unworthy beyond the furtheset
belief, suckers of gay publicity in its worst sense of orgiastic
aggression upon women, a better house, white skin, more clothese,
hooch and jade divorcees. What causes this?
JW: Its enforcement from publicservants that I freely admit,
defend, proclaim, die, champion for that this world, new city
on both sides of the Charles train the ordinary citizen to be;
pillars of authority's dicta.
JK: Whooa! You're critiquing the new-slipcover for the coach?
JW: Look, Steve preached poetry. We moved in, it was not
a hard job. I brought my books out from Milton again. Dana
moved in my Lynn. He had given up our 7 room Fifth floor
Suite on Numbered Irving Street, and for that summer when I
was away, worked in the SWampscott Public Fire Department
nearby Lynn, Massachusetts. He was after Nine L O N G years
of Shore Patrol out of the United States Navy Active Overseas:
where I had high-jacked found him, later reunited. Look, Jack Spicer
accused me of buying lampshades, moving to suburbia.
Which in truth I was, had leased our own entrance, on the second-
floor, off a tiny* winding-staircase. Filligreed virginian hallway,
immaculate and spotless, There were keys to the Spartan front
door. And only three apartments, including a pannelled den be-
low, whose occupant, Lady Rex, worked at Elizabeth Arden's on
New bury Street, doing the hair of such celebrities as Tina
Louise and Arlene Dahl.
JK: That does it for family. It comes down to your love and burgeoning in particular -- that phrase -- attentive poets, near-celebrities, an "immaculate" geography of summer. Yes?
JW: Beauty is mine, perhaps some day you shall find it.
JK: And the "bitter wine" of Jonas's poetry, that left its mark?
JW: How can a poor person matter in this world? Rising, out of an
uneducated environment, bearing the resentment of his parents
toward all he meets and resting upon a religion that fosters
guilt and repression, where in what hope may he escape?
JK: Good question. Even still I forgo dwelling on the world's unfortunates.
JW: Who could say wealth provides security, when the truth of one's
lies upon inferiors [...]
JK: Let's just say there are survivors and they are coded, spaced out transvestited.
JW: Surviving as with Ebbe Borregaard's Quest, hasta la Vista, or
whirrs to that effect of helicopters as "Conradian symbolism brings down
the movie but still the lead, carrying Natalie Wood, cuts through the
parallelism looking for guys lost in the jungle we only see the shadows of."
JK: You don't approve of the Borregaard revival?
JW: I was not much of a lover in my youth.
JK: "I CANNOT Move through my hallways." What do you mean?
JW: Pages 135, 155, 156.
JK: "I'm shaking from another man
but remembering beating you
on Sunday evening, a pal of
solitude as Veruschka before..." Who's that?
JW: GUSTA WITH MADAME SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR [.]
JK: Rhymes before. Got it. I notice Doug Crase some twenty years ago referred in a piece about Ashbery's prophecy to Ashbery's "view of our culture" as one in which "the individual's experience of reality [is] fragmented and inauthentic."
JW: Death is an unforgiven
That's what we have in common
language an act of sharing words
JK: Sharing connects you to Ashbery, or Crase's Ashbery?
JW: Birds of paradise float in green lagoons,
while painted canopies stretch over Chinese couples
JK: Sunning themselves in silk FEATHEred gowns
palms from The Orient flower on banks of miniature islands.
JW: I trust only the polished stone.
JK: Ah, back to Crase: "...to opt for a poetry [opposite to Ashbery's] that polishes one Incan rock...would be to renege altogether on the vatic enterprise." Had he you in mind? Had he this moment right now?
JW: Where there's smoke
THERe's a suitcasebr
fairies never change
JK: You're pressing charges?
JW: The polished Bronk.
JK: You owe very little to male poets.
JW: Did I swing in downtown bistros
as a black girl, what would my ancestors say,
even in Africa I was punished
JK: Oh, the batteries're dying here...
3. No play
Blue songs of The poetess' heart In this moon-lit room above the city, having risen out of darkness and obscurity being witness to two decades of drunken futility I have spent each day in fealty to beauty still some loneliness lingers as sickness's vapor -- is it jazz, or late-night musing by the harbor, unemployment with an empty head in the library merely only poverty, or could it be inability to hold a man, or woman as my own property? Whatever it is, I am sick of sickness in the heart, having no part in the world, being only a victim to time, money, and machines made by men other than I. There is no security, only a vague feeling, learned from other men, that it is within yourself confidence lies, the means required necessary seen in Nico and other men of her ilk, to relieve this misery. Oh, we can't go on; why try, even monopoly competition alone kills Despite fur coats, and banquet tables, single ear-rings, poetry readings across the country, ideal communities and overseas, the spacious mists pall boulevards to lone candles in the little moon-lit rooms above the city. I am tired of success, and literary acclaim if only by a coterie to name just a few in poetry; I know the answer, it's a womanish heart growing old alone above the city, parallel horiziontal to the show wrapping herself up in the dreams of other men Have no mercy, they cry on the Fenway, their mesmerized eyes burn in the darkness, pushing herself on to the exhausation of love for a short eternity.
Not that old, in his forties, Wieners captured an essence of energy and abroad a silent movement in this, what seems a self-appointed 'silver age' of verse. Here the flattering bed pillows of a younger audience had already been snapped away -- straight-talking anthologists had to slink in, adjust the equipment, relaxed in their no-drinking, -dancing, -seduction. On the minus side, Wieners's future biographers and anthologists may know none of his commonly-sourced embarrassment -- despite Elton John's, David Bowie's and, even, The Stones' parishwide sensations -- all that glamor that Wieners trucked with had birthed tragedy and no further writings. His poems' arguments in Behind the State Capitol, for example, are sustained polemics against corn, punky minimalism, the lites in town, a controlling apparatus cloistering winners-take-all lesser contemporaries -- and without knowledge of their own misapplied ethics, we are very likely to miss Wieners's point.
Why the inattention? Of all postmoderns Wieners comes closest to seventeenth-century intellectual laws, paying tribute in denial of pure patented mystique, free will, final causes. Wieners's trashy lack of modernity has been only one motive for slackened interest. The recondite subject of, say, sixty five year old's bio, now, by Joe Handsome -- where's the contract (respected press, employment) in that? The contract's in the mail but not in this economy, Wieners would say, if he could speak with itchy palms, with "Nancy Cissela with meaning or the monks from mourning Charlemagne's mortuary." Freedom from goals Adorno will say commits Wieners to high spirits in that less-spirited-by-the-hour shade of Boston. "Not as bad as you are," Wieners will say to not just Boston.
Perhaps someday you shall find me,
as I blow smoke out of my mouth
While you walk the riverbank
in the rain on Sunday evening.
Looking for jazz, hearing love's bellows
Beauty is mine, perhaps some day you shall find it.
Who are the Joe Handsomes that team up in Wieners's prayer league? Late millennium, only Joe Ceravolo competes with Wieners for the title owed the champ imp obscurant, while he, Ceravolo, misses O'Hara's or Creeley's gregariousness (thus these guys in the jungle are not obscure), only their shadows "couched from under acquaducts," couching "bound across velvet" on which Wieners weeps civicly, still for reasons of public privacy, private ways coursing "to go back for years on aird, rugged paths." One reaches for the duckboard Trilce for the next Joe, outside of English. Due esteem, Behind the State Capitol reserves all rights printed in the United States of America.