Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Selected Poems 1958-1984
I came to Wieners' poetry kind of late. I knew of him. I remember hearing stories about a reading he gave at the Boston experimental poetry festival one summer. And I remember here the sad tale of his death, which is what I think prompted me to start reading his poetry.
It was not long after this that Creeley left Buffalo. He came back in the spring of '03 to be honored by Just Buffalo Literary Center at a ceremony at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. We'd had a broadside printed by Kyle Schlesinger featuring one of Creeley's later poems called "Place To Be." He was staying at the home of Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian in Buffalo. I drove over one morning with a stack of about two hundred broadsides for him to sign.
We sat on stools in the kitchen, talking while he went through the pile, signing each one in black ink in the lower right hand corner beneath his printed name. We got to talking about what were reading and I told him that I had started reading John Wieners. I said, as if I had made an important discovery, "What a great poet!" Creeley stopped writing for a moment, looked up at me and said, simply, "Yeah." There was no sarcasm in his voice at all, but I could almost hear the thought that followed, "No shit, Sherlock. Where the hell have you been?"
This is one of my all time favorite poems, btw--
from Selected Poems 1958-1984
Children of the Working Class
from incarceration, Taunton State Hospital, 1972
gaunt, ugly deformed
broken from the womb, and horribly shriven
at the labor of their forefathers, if you check back
scout around grey before actual time
their sordid brains don’t work right,
pinched men emaciated, piling up railroad ties and highway
blanched women, swollen and crudely numb
ered before the dark of dawn
scuttling by candlelight, one not to touch, that is, a signal panic
thick peasants after the attitude
at that time of their century, bleak and centrifugal
they carry about them, tough disciplines of copper Indianheads.
there are worse, whom you may never see, non-crucial around the
spoke, these you do, seldom
locked in Taunton State Hospital and other peon work farms
drudge from morning until night, abandoned within destitute
crevices odd clothes
intent on performing some particular task long has been far
there is no hope, they locked-in key’s; housed of course
and there fed, poorly
off sooted, plastic dishes, soiled grimy silver knives and forks,
stamped Department of Mental Health spoons
but the unshrinkable duties of any society
produces its ill-kempt, ignorant and sore idiosyncrasies.
There has never been a man yet, whom no matter how wise
can explain how a god, so beautiful he can create
the graces of formal gardens, the exquisite twilight sunsets
in splendor of elegant toolsmiths, still can yield the horror of
dwarfs, who cannot stand up straight with crushed skulls,
diseases on their legs and feet unshaven faces of men and women,
worn humped backs, deformed necks, hare lips, obese arms
distended rumps, there is not a flame shoots out could ex-
tinguish the torch of any liberty’s state infection.
1907, My Mother was born, I am witness t-
o the exasperation of gallant human beings at g-
od, priestly fathers and Her Highness, Holy Mother the Church
persons who felt they were never given a chance, had n-
o luck and were flayed at suffering.
They produced children with phobias, manias and depression,
they cared little for their own metier, and kept watch upon
others, some chance to get ahead
Yes life was hard for them, much more hard than for any blo
ated millionaire, who still lives on
their hard-earned monies. I feel I shall
have to be punished for writing this,
that the omniscient god is the rich one,
cared little for looks, less for Art,
still kept weekly films close for the
free dishes and scandal hot. Some how
though got cheated in health and upon
hearth. I am one of them. I am witness
not to Whitman’s vision, but instead the
poorhouses, the mad city asylums and re-
life worklines. Yes, I am witness not to
God’s goodness, but his better or less scorn.
The First of May, The Commonwealth of State of Massachusetts,