Poetry News

Looking at The Selected Correspondence of John Wieners and Charles Olson

By Harriet Staff

Isola di Rifiuti is at it again—we just reposted John Latta's thinking on Denise Riley, George Stanley, and Joanne Kyger—and we'd like to point you today to a post on John Wieners and Charles Olson. Latta is reading the Lost & Found Series III; we're grateful for his historicizing of the books thus far. An excerpt from his look at “the sea under the house”: The Selected Correspondence of John Wieners and Charles Olson:

A kind of reckless joy in sheer dispersal and otherness evident, bonds forged in refusal of the post-WWII consumerist glut and imperium. Wieners, in the excitement of deciding to do Measure (“300 copies . . . for $163”) is brash and pure and “wide open, and that don’t mean ‘deviated’!” (letter of 8 February 1957): “I have no reputation to lose, nor none to make. And I am ignorant which is good.” And: “I fit here, this use of energy, and feel behind me all the little creeps who sat down and decided they would publish a little magazine. No matter what, I have their strengths.” Uncommonly refreshing that stance, in an era of rampant opportunism and routinely made measurements of potential cultural capital. Among the “kinds of excitements potential” Wieners is witnessed in a letter dated “August 19 [1957]” planning for Measure III—“a striving after pitch” (what I’d call “reach”):

Start off with a city ‘survey’

From Kyoto, from Fairbanks, from Mexico city, from seattle, San Fran, Boston (me & marshall who I kept out of Two for this reason) Toronto (souster?) London (Turnbull) NY? more than the pansy voice, I want.

Namely a striving after pitch, I even wrote M Moore this AM asking if she’d write a walk back from Grocery Store, for her pitch, I am hooked that bad . . .

Astounding. No sign, albeit, of Marianne Moore’s reply (nothing in the 1997 Selected Letters).

A poem, seemingly uncollected, Wieners sent to Olson in the 8 February 1957 letter, subsequently (with minor changes) printed in The Floating Bear #10 [Ed. note: cf. image above], a number filled with Wieners’s early poems. (Di Prima says she gathered the work “from manuscripts that he had left around at different people’s houses where he had stayed at one time or another. The really early stuff, from his Black Mountain days and right after, he had left at Frank O’Hara’s house years and years ago. Frank just laid the manuscript on me. John also stayed at LeRoi’s and left stuff there, and when I came out to the West Coast, I was given poems that he had left at Wallace Berman’s pad when he’d been living with him on Scott Street in San Francisco (period of The Hotel Wentley Poems). There’s a huge stack of unpublished John Wieners floating around somewhere . . .”)

Originally Published: November 14th, 2012