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Bringing John Wieners Back: Revisiting 707 Scott Street


In 2001 I printed a small book, Negative Capability in the Verse of John Wieners, an outtake from my thesis for the Poetics Program at New College of California. I wanted it to look like a mini-manifesto, a small pamphlet reminiscent of Walter Jackson Bates’s Negative Capability: The Intuitive Approach in Keats-- something that could pass as an offering to further the dialogue with others close to my thinking.

Around then I picked up John Wieners’s journal from the 1950s 707 Scott Street and quickly held it in such high regard as Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell and Baudelaire’s Intimate Journals. Since I lived nearby the address, I rushed over and arrived with my usual curiosities: who lives in the house now, what poems were written inside, etc.

From Robert Duncan and Jess’s on 23rd, to Jay DeFeo’s on Fillmore, to Jack Spicer’s on Polk, I always feel like my arrival will usher some sort of psychic transmission. It’s like holding that Black Sabbath, self-titled album. The one with the witch standing in the morning weeds, by the tree that’s either burnt orange or vivid cerise, by that pond with the white barn behind it? There’s a sense that something heavy is going down and you’re a part of its lineage, aware or not.

Two years ago I walked by 707 and finally saw someone standing next to those large gold numbers on the door. Within minutes I was talking about John’s book, Wallace Berman and Semina and his prophetic radio-hand collages, John selling amphetamines out of matchboxes while wearing eyeliner, and those who inhabited its rooms, from Joanne Kyger, Philip Lamantia, David Meltzer, Michael McClure, etc. When I asked about Kenneth Anger living at the “Russian Embassy” across the street, the lady I was talking to said, “didn’t you know there’s a shooting range in the basement? It connects to a tunnel that leads to other houses.” I was then offered a quick tour of 707.

In the front was a generous living room connected to a long dining area, and to my delight, children's portraits circled a poster of Tupac on the wall. Behind it was a bedroom connected to a large kitchen. The second floor held many locked rooms and the front had stretched windows that faced Alamo Square park. On the third was a large attic that no one lived in. I didn't get to see it, but I knew it was the perfect room for composition. I was asked to return the following Sunday.

For over a decade I had wanted to bring John’s book back inside. The only copy I had was color-coordinated to match passages of Keats’s letters. Green for divine sympathy; blue for the temple of maiden-thought; red for the night palace. I decided to also bring books with pictures of 707, those centered around Wallace and his circle: Secret Exhibition, Support the Revolution, Semina Culture, and Wallace Berman: Photographs.

When I arrived I was handed a glass of champagne then led to the back room where an elder man sipped brandy and smoked. We sat on his bed and flipped through the books, stopping at a photo of Jim Dunn and Tosh Berman in the kitchen. It had been remodeled years ago but still had the same muted, yellow light. We paused at others and matched the house’s inner architecture. Then we descended to the basement. It had become a hip-hop recording studio. Floor to ceiling bookshelves housed vinyl records that formed a wall around the recording area. Inside it was an opium-like den with a triptych of skateboards strung across the wall. The middle was a Tommy Guerrero deck, one of my favorite skateboarders from the 80’s. As I was leaving I traced my way back to the smoking room and gave John’s book to the elder man with the brandy. It was his birthday and he asked me to sign it.

I can’t recall a more ecstatic occasion than bringing John’s words back into the house where he received them. And to bring those photographs, with their faces the same. That 707 generated so many various acts of creation and still does a half-century later leads me to my usual list of labyrinthine thoughts and curiousities: how long will the house keep making its music, what does it require of one, did Wallace hand crank Semina in the basement, did John write in the attic?

Walking by 707 last night these lines of John came to mind, “On the back deck behind the room which she said is 'a witch’s castle.' Only a choice of words. It is a castle, we know that. Anywhere is everywhere. The universe expanding as we do daily. But why this talk of cosmos.” And later “…I reveal nothing / here but / the wind is a guitar a wave that washes / against the shore / of this house, 707 / Scott Street. / Stoned.


Originally Published: April 2nd, 2013

Poet Micah Ballard was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and earned an MA and MFA from the New College of California. He studied with poet Joanne Kyger and has written about John Wieners; the influence of the San Francisco Renaissance poets can be seen in his work. He has published...