For a period during the 1950’s, Robert Duncan, along with the poets Charles Olson and Robert Creeley taught at Black Mountain College in North Carolina (In) 1954 John Wieners, the founder and editor of the magazine Measure was a student of Robert Duncan’s at Black Mountain. Weiners work deeply reflects that exploration which is so common to the work of Duncan, Creeley and others, the very personal inward exploration of the mind and body of love.
John Wieners reads from his ”Address of the Watchman to the Night” (1965)
“To explore those dark personal personifications of the night world, the prostitute, the dope addict, thief and pervert/These were the imagined heroes of my world and what they stood for, how they lived, what they did in the daytime were the fancies of my imagination. And I had to become every one of them until I knew. Until I know now that they are only deprivations of the self, not further extensions of being: manifestations of want, denial and betrayal.
They assumed no dream-like poses or positions of the hero, they expressed no noble sentiments, they banded together out of fear and in need. The night was their palace, their working ground, its neighbor was the dawn and that never to be known. Daylight was only to be endured. And the night war never ended. There was no declaration of peace or armistice And love only a casual accident. When it occurred, salvation and a change of life for the instant. But it never seemed to be of any permanence. And one went on shunning mirrors and the sun.
Love was to profit by, a night’s warmth, a new suit, a week’s lodging, a full meal, a soft pillow under the head,
but to the heart and brain only a remembrance or memory out of childhood a tune played on a tinny piano in somebody else’s house.
Morning found us sick, dawn exhausted, night an exhilaration and excursion. Who wanted to be seen in the daylight, when the drudges were out, lazy to do their lives justice.”The lames”, Tom called them, abound on weekends, so use them. find them out. and rob them, their villages and houses, of money, furs and jewels. Yet such it was, we became who let live exhaust us, so that by 30 or before we felt burnt out, and truly were, only to be rekindled later, we hope, by rest, relief and the redemption of love in the form of a poem with its order, expression and release
RD: What about the world of The Hotel Wentley Poems and the world…..
Announcer; For a brief period the Hotel Wentley in San Francisco had a quite remarkable clientele, including Allen Ginsberg, John Wieners, and other poets and painters. It was here that Wieners wrote his widely-acclaimed Hotel Wentley Poems. The hotel is now burnt-out and undergoing construction.
[RD: Oh it has?
JW: The building burnt down.
JW: Oh it was closed down by the authorities
RD: And the Hotel Wentley then, that will be a poem that is burnt out? There is debris – solid enough to erect a wall again.
What was the first poem of The Wentley Poems?
JW: It would be,,it would be this one, the “Poem For Painters”
“Our age bereft of nobility/How can our faces show it?/I look for love./My lips stand out/dry and cracked with want/of it./ Oh it is well/My poem shall show the need for it./ Again we go driven by forces/we have no control over. Only/in the poem/comes an image that we rule/the line by the pen/in the painter’s hand one foot/away from me./ Drawing the face/and its torture./That is why no one dares tackle it./Held as they are in the hands/of forces they/cannot understand./ That despair/is on my face and shall show/in the fine lines of any man./ I had love once in the palm of my hand./See the lines there./How we played/its game, are playing now/in the bounds of white and heartless fields./ Fall down on my head, love,/drench my flesh in the streams/of fine sprays. Like/French perfume/so that I light up as/mountain glorys/and I am showered by the scent/of the finished line./ No circles/but that two parallels do cross/And carry our souls and bodies/together as the planets,/Showing light on the surface/of our skin, knowing/ that so much of it flows through/the veins underneath./Our cheeks puffed with it./The pockets full.
II – Pushed on by the incompletion/of what goes before me/I hesitate before this paper/scratching for the right words./ Paul Klee scratched for seven years/on smoked glass, to develop/his line, LaVigne says, look/at his face! he who has spent/all night drawing mine./ The sun also/rises on the rooftops, beginning/w/ violet. I begin in blue/ knowing why we are cool.
III – My middle name is Joseph and I/walk beside an ass on the way to what/Bethlehem, where a new babe is born./ Not the second hand of Yeats but/first prints on a cloudy windowpane./ America, you boil over
IV – The cauldron scalds./Flesh is scarred./Eyes shot./. The street aswarm with/vipers and heavy armed bandits./There are bandages on the wounds/but blood flows unabated. The bath-/rooms are full. Oh stop up/the drains/.We are run over.
V – Let me ramble here./yet stay within my own yardlines./I go out of bounds/without defense,/oh attack.
VI – At last the game is over/and the line lengthens./Let us stay with what we know./ That love is my strength, that/I am overpowered by it:/desire/that too/is on the face: gone stale./ When green was the bed my love/and I laid down upon./ Such it is, heart’s complaint,/You hear upon a day in June./And I see no end in view/when summer goes, as it will,/upon the roads, like singing/companions across the land./ Go with it man, if you must,/but leave us markers on your way./ South of Mission, Seattle,/over the Sierra Mountains,/the Middle West and Michigan,/moving east again, easy/coming into Chicago and/the cattle country, calling/to each other over canyons,/careful not to be caught/at night, they are still out,/the destroyers, and down/into the South, familiar land,/lush places, blue mountains/of Carolina, into Black Mountain/ and you can sleep out, or/straight across into States/ I cannot think of their names/. This nation is so large, like/our hands, our love it lives/with no lover, looking only/for the beloved, back home/into the heart, New York,/New England, Vermont green/mountains, and Massachusetts/my city, Boston and the sea./Again to smell what this calm/ocean cannot tell us. The seasons./Only the heart remembers/and records in words/of works/we lay down for those men/ who can come to them.
VII – At last. I come to the last defense./My poems contain no/wilde beestes, no/lady of the lake music/of the spheres, or organ chants,/yet by these lines/I betray what little given me./ One needs no defense./Only the score of a man’s/struggle to stay with/what is his own, what/lies within him to do./Without which is nothing,/for him or those who hear him/And I come to this,/knowing the waste, leaving/ the rest up to love/and its twisted faces/ my hands claw out at/only to draw back from the/ blood already running there./. Oh come back, whatever heart/you have left. It is my life/you save. The poem is done.
[RD to JW] : Well, we’re sort of really in the ruins of this room. What was it like when you were here? – We’re here, after a fire, where the place has been.. (here) in the debris of the place, and…. [tape concludes]