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Poets’ Interviews: Who Would Win??

By Ange Mlinko

johnwienersvintage.jpg
John Wieners’s A Book of Prophecies is brand new from Bootstrap Press, and only exists for general consumption because the young poet Michael Carr found this unpublished journal in the Wieners archives online, requested a photocopy, sought permission from the literary executor, and published it out of pocket. [Update: see comments box] This is from a 1984 interview with Wieners — you can find it in Cultural Affairs in Boston (Black Sparrow):


Raymond Foye: What made up your mind to attend Black Mountain College?
John Wieners: They sent me train fare.
RF: Recently I was reading some of your juvenilia, poems written as a student at Black Mountain.
JW: Those were not supposed to be published.
RF: I was surprised to find you writing in a very long line — Whitmanesque. Because your first book, The Hotel Wentley Poems, is exceedingly spare. What precipitated that shift?
JW: I was starving, so I wrote lean poems.
RF: Were you living at the Hotel Wentley?
JW: For a summer. And hanging out in Bob’s room. [LaVigne -- ed.]
RF: Was he away?
JW: No, he was there.
RF: It seems to have been a productive period.
JW: Not really, I was reading, mostly, and watching Bob paint. It’s hard to remember the follies of one’s youth.
RF: Do you ever miss San Francisco?
JW: Not a day goes by that I don’t think of it.
RF: I noticed some tiny maps on your bedroom wall, of San Francisco, of Buffalo …
JW: It’s funny how these cities die when we leave them.
RF: Who are the early influences on your poetry?
JW: Edna St. Vincent Millay was the first. Later it was Charles Olson.
RF: And at the time of the Wentley poems?
JW: Olson, until 1973.
RF: And who since then?
JW: The Virgin Mary.
RF: There aren’t many books here, but I notice you’re reading Melville.
JW: He must have been wonderful company in those wooden frame houses!
RF: I also saw the memoirs of Blaze Starr…
JW: … from which I’m borrowing heavily for my own autobiography.
RF: In assembling your Collected Poems, you’ve been reluctant to reprint much of your early
work.
JW: They’re old faces I don’t care to see again.
RF: You’ve always spoken to me quite highly of Robert Creeley’s work.
JW: Oh yes, I’m mad about obtuseness.
RF: I once saw a photograph of you, walking in San Marco in Venice, between Olson and Ezra Pound. Rather exalted company.
JW: To say the least.
RF: What was Pound like?
JW: Oh, he was a mama’s boy.
RF: You once recommended to me translation, as a valuable exercise for a poet.
JW: In teaching contrapunctus.
RF: Can we talk about writing poetry?
JW: I’m just the co-pilot.
RF: Do you have a theory of poetics?
JW: I try to write the most embarrassing thing I can think of.
RF: Have you ever been bored by your great technical facility?
JW: Yes.
RF: Have you a preferred working method?
JW: Confusion, usually.
RF: In your opinion, who among contemporary younger poets are doing interesting work?
CB: Jennifer Moxley is still the woman to beat.
Oh, wait, that’s not in the original! The “needlepoint” faction regrets the error…

Comments (4)

  • On August 2, 2007 at 10:37 pm Michael Carr wrote:

    Just to give credit where it’s due, it was Derek Fenner & Ryan Gallagher of Bootstrap Press doing the publishing-it-out-of-pocket part.

  • On August 6, 2007 at 2:33 pm Ange wrote:

    Apologies to Derek & Ryan — I corrected the text above. Kudos to all three of you for bringing this book to light.

  • On August 7, 2007 at 8:52 am Cherryl wrote:

    Ange,
    you know, lately when i read interviews, it is a true revelation to read only the interviewers questions/comments without the interviewees responses. often, it is an enlightened reading, to say the least.
    as a reader, you detect a between-the-lines sense of motive and focus. you can almost see, sometimes, the *research* habits and literary dispositions that are often unspoken in the course of the interview. in this Foye-Wieners exchange, for example, there is so much illumination that enters the discussion when i reach this question: Can we talk about writing poetry?
    thanks for sharing this.
    light!
    ~Cherryl

  • On August 8, 2007 at 10:37 am Ange wrote:

    Cherryl: Isn’t that the truth! “Can we talk about writing poetry” is the question the interviewer was just waiting to ask, and the one that risks alienating Wieners. You can feel the trepidation, the fear of rejection…


Posted in Uncategorized on Sunday, July 29th, 2007 by Ange Mlinko.