Colin Herd - A treasure trove of razzle-dazzle stylings, superfine wit, charismatic discretion, and a vacuuming tenderness
"Colin Herd is invincible in lemon, wants to be famous in two years—à la Charles Henri Ford—and his dad dresses like Roland Barthes. He’s not scared to introduce Simple Minds to Schopenhauer, nod to Oulipian lists, or throw in ‘old .at’ puns with real ones: ‘4 Lorne Street.’ That’s not a joke. Colin’s words, not mine (the poems are so engaging, and rooted in the poet’s life, that you feel able to use his forename). This playful first collection is a faux-real wide-eyed stare at the normal and the uncanny in everyday life. Herd evokes Brautigan when he writes ‘crumple this.’ Don’t. At least, read it first." — nick-e melville
"Colin Herd's 'too ok' is a treasure trove of razzle-dazzle stylings, superfine wit, charismatic discretion, and a vacuuming tenderness. Herd's gift for words is exquisite and adventurous and armed to the teeth, and these poems are its perfect measurements.' — Dennis Cooper
Colin Herd, Like, Knives Forks and Spoons Press, 2011.
"• I LIKE the way found-texts are written which aren’t quite found-texts
• I LIKE the voice
• I LIKE the alleviated status of the trash written about without that puke-ingusting feeling that you are ‘viewing everyday objects in an extraordinary way’
• I LIKE the condemnation of capitalism
• I LIKE the grotesque & squiggy imagery; esp the mushyness of George Bush Sr. Do sculptures at Madame Tussaud’s get melted down like the Wicked Witch of the West or do they go into storage at the Tate Gallery?
• I LIKE the way the art criticism is done here
• I LIKE the juxtaposition of magik and humanism: see Franz Kline poem
• I LIKE Franz Kline any day of the week
• I am sorry Denise Levertov was so mean to Colin Herd but kinda glad also
• I enLIKED to hear him growl. Thank you so much for teaching me how to growl
• There is this woman I LIKE a bit (she’s so naff), who I’ve seen advertising non-aging cream, but I had never heard of Jane Rafter before but I am GLAD that I have done now
• Just LIKE Colin Herd I enjoy watching crap TV sometimes and I LIKE to satirise it. Crap TV is one of many things that needs to be satirised and is evidence enough to agree with Adorno’s threadlike arguments
• I LIKE Colin Herd’s poem about Eva Longoria even though I don’t know who the hell she is: I’m not going to google her but will no doubt get told who she is subsequent to this review
• I LIKE to laugh; laughter is both the happiness and sadness of the people, our escapism and our warning
• I LIKE the way Colin Herd does détournement
• I LIKE to start my day with Nescafe (LIKE hell I do)
• I LIKE ‘LIKE’" - James Davies
read my lips
i’m such a fan of madame tussauds
that i have a favourite wax-sculptor
and could recognize his work in a
tv-style police lineup. i think i might
anyway. his name’s paul bainbridge
and he did ringo and george but not
paul or john. the way mrs t works, it’s
a team-project, but paul’s input is
distinctive. if the person is shifty, he
sure as anything makes them look
shifty. you should see his al gore.
his princess juliana of the netherlands
is excellent too but his masterwork is
george bush sr and i would rate it
as one of the finest works of political
art, the way the lip slides up at the right
as if he’s saying, like you just did:
my throat’s now closing up, fantastic.
Llorenç Villalonga - A testament to the eternal attractiveness of the libertine, and the lengths to which we go in justifying our own worst impulses
"A classic of contemporary Catalan literature, and a haunting and satirical portrait of a vanishing age, Llorenç Villalonga's The Dolls' Room concerns the decline of Don Toni and Dona Maria Antònia Bearn: aristocrats, cousins, husband and wife, and members of the decadent, age-old ruling class of a town that bears their name. Their story is told by the naïve family priest, Don Joan, who was taken under Don Toni's wing as a schoolboy. Describing the shabby grandeur of his benefactors’ lives in their ancient, rundown family mansion, their grand but ruinous excursions to Paris and Rome, and the mysterious events that lead to their deaths, the humbly devote Joan is continually challenged, and perhaps titillated, by Don Toni’s impious personality, his defiance of church authority, and his scandalous affairs. Partly condemning and partly admiring his devilish mentor, the pure-minded Don Joan’s lurid "biography" of the Bearns is a testament to the eternal attractiveness of the libertine, and the lengths to which we go in justifying our own worst impulses."
"It is a puzzle that this masterpiece has been so long in reaching the English-speaking world." - Publishers Weekly
"Villalonga is surely one of the best-loved writers in the Catalan language." - World Literature Today
"Since you never came to Bearn, I must explain that it is a mountain estate located near a small village of about four hundred souls also called Bearn. Whether the estate took the name of the village or the village that of the estate remains unknown. Year after year, on the day of Sant Miquel, the patron saint of Bearn, the preacher mentions that these lands have belonged to the Senyors since the Conquest. It may be true, although there are no documents to prove this fact. 'Our lineage', Don Toni said, 'is so old that it can't be dated. It's lost in the darkness of time.' However, the oral tradition that made them respectable and irreproachable has had no official recognition. There is a good reason: the documents are missing. All the Senyors except for Don Toni, who was a francophile, were always quite indifferent as far as erudition was concerned. Even within the past century and a half, one of his great-great-grandfathers, also called Don Toni, was such a primitive soul that he was the object of many tales of mischief, although they probably exaggerate what he actually did. The old people remember the following rhyme:
Our Lord Jesus is in Heaven
and in Moorish lands, the heathen.
The Devil lives deep down in Hell
and in Bearn Don Toni dwells.
The Senyor found it all very amusing. 'At least,' he said, 'he didn't waste any time.' His other ancestors were more sensible. They lived in the country, and either ignored or looked down upon the refinements of city life. The City, in turn, ignored them.
From the village to the estate is about an hour's walk, but due to the mountainous terrain one cannot see the estate until one is practically on top of it. Bearn is thus, figuratively speaking, a lost cause. The land is poor, with only pine and oak growing between jagged rocks. It will soon be thirty-eight years since I came into this world, the son of a labourer and a farm girl. I have no recollection of my parents. I have heard that my mother was very beautiful and had jet-black eyes. When I was seven, I was sent to work as a swineherd, but the Senyor decided almost immediately that I was to be sent to school in the City. I can remember it as if it were this very moment. It was a summer afternoon and I had taken the herd over to S'Ull de Sa Font when the Senyors went by. They would spend long periods in the City, and when they returned, my respect, my fear or my embarrassment made me run off and hide every time I saw them. I barely dared to look at them anywhere but in the village church, on the day of Sant Miquel, when they sat in two red velvet-covered chairs next to the altar.
Dona Maria Antònia was very beautiful, and Don Toni, thin, graceful, and rather slight, resembled her despite his ugliness. They were first cousins. Although they almost always smiled, they were imposing because they appeared to be made of a different substance from that of the peasants, something newer and more luminous; not even now could I explain it. The way they dressed undoubtedly had something to do with it, but I do believe it was a less material, almost magical quality that surrounded the feudal and pastoral name of Bearn, revered every year from the pulpit on the holiday. Usually around Sant Miquel it rains in the mountains, and the history of the old family is as closely associated with the beginning of the cool weather and the joyful green of the first pastures as it is with the deeds of the conquerors in the battlefield.
'Look at that boy, Tonet,' said Dona Maria Antònia. 'Have you noticed his eyes?'
The Senyor stared at me and did not reply. Dona Maria Antònia was lost in thought.
'He reminds me of someone . . . I'm not sure who,' she said.
He remained silent. The following day I was sent to the Theatine school. I returned for the Easter vacation. My benefactors were not at the estate. Madò Francina told me that 'the Senyor was off travelling' and that Dona Maria Antònia was at the townhouse of Bearn, a stone house by the church. I thought I sensed some mystery in her words. Indeed there was: everybody was talking about it, whispering to each other, and no matter how much I listened, I could not understand a thing. Besides, whatever I could have understood would only have been the outside appearance of the matter. Years later, the Senyor, who was unreserved with me and with almost everyone, unveiled the psychological mechanism behind it in a series of long conversations which truly resembled a confession. Although I do not know to what degree they could be considered as such, despite their sincerity, and I understand that you may be shocked, as I myself am, to think that to this date, after all my years as the family priest, I cannot honestly state that he ever made a single confession.
His soul was as transparent and ever-changing as glass. Precisely because he was such a sincere man, you could never know what he was really like, just as you cannot know what images will be cast by a piece of crystal. It is strange that those people who refuse to lock themselves into a system, perhaps so as not to neglect any aspect of reality, are the ones who appear to be most dishonest. If you add to that the fact that noblemen are trained from an early age in the art of kind words that are not to be taken literally, and yet always are by those less educated, we find another reason why people mistrusted Don Toni. Ordinary people believe that only the tactless are sincere, because they are incapable of interpreting the conventional values and the things that are taken for granted in good manners. For example, I believe I already told you that he used to wear a white wig and the habit of a Franciscan. Those who compared his past and his conversation, not always edifying, with those robes, saw nothing but the disparity which undoubtedly existed, but they might also have seen the similarities (his secluded life, his love for matters of the soul) that were no less real. People who only spoke one language admired this man who spoke several. The Senyor was basically well-meaning, although some of his actions may have been disastrous; he believed that disasters were caused by errors of intelligence rather than by voluntary evil, which he refused to accept.
"Llorenç Villalonga (Palma de Mallorca, 1987-1980), was a writer who had also studied medicine, specialising in psychiatry (1919-1927).
He worked as a doctor in Palma, first as a private consultant and subsequently in the city's Psychiatric Hospital. He was also Secretary of the Balearic Islands Medical College.
Villalonga began his literary career by writing for the Palma-based newspaper Día with a series of articles that were notable for their clear anti-Catalanist and anti-republican sentiments. Not long afterwards, he published his first novel Mort de dama (Death of a Lady, 1931), under the pseudonym of Dhey. This work, which is markedly caricaturesque, caused a huge controversy in the provincial society of Mallorca, whose members felt they had been unkindly lampooned. With time, the book became a classic of Catalan literature, along with another work, Bearn o La casa de les nines (which was published in Catalan in 1951 and in English, in the translation of Deborah Bonner, as The Dolls' Room (London, Andre Deutsch, 1988)), winner of the National Critics' Prize and undoubtedly one of the most widely-translated novels of twentieth-century Catalan literature. Besides these two emblematic novels, he wrote a number of other works that gave shape to the myth of Bearn, especially after the 1960s. In these books, Villalonga intelligently and nostalgically portrays the swansong of the old Mallorca aristocracy. Hence his work, Bearn in particular, has been compared with Il gattopardo (The Leopard) by the Sicilian writer Giuseppe di Lampedusa, which Villalonga translated into Catalan in 1962.
Also of note are his plays, Fedra (Phaedra, 1932), Silvia Ocampo (1935) and Desbarats (Defeats, 1965), and the collection of articles Centro (Centre, 1934)."
Read it at Google Books
Wayne Koestenbaum combines the mad genius of 'Pale Fire' with the florid outlaw sexuality of Jean Genet (narrator has to relieve 20 erections daily)
"Five years of breakdown separate pianist Theo Mangrove's last recital in Europe from his planned comeback in Aigues-Mortes, "the town of dead water." At home in tiny East Kills, NY, Theo begins jotting in 25 notebooks, purchased all at once and addressed to his mother. Theo's wife, aside from servicing two of Theo's twenty daily erections, will have nothing to do with him. The other eighteen—taken care of by male hustlers, random strangers in YMCA locker-rooms and naked piano students—contribute to Theo's sense of dissolution as his "comeback" approaches. Overcome with the belief that Moira Orfei, queen of the Italian circus during the 1960's, must perform with him, Theo begins to write to her and to pen what may or may not be her cryptic replies into his notebooks. In a fugue of notes and troubling memories, Theo prepares for Aigues-Mortes, struggling with Moira's guidance towards one final, full celebration of "the partial, the flawed, the almost, the not quite."
Peopled by piano playing relatives, prostitutes, muses and manipulators; poet and cultural critic Wayne Koestenbaum's first novel shines a hot light on the treacherous crossroads of sex, death, family and popular culture."
"Pianist Theo Mangrove's planned comeback is imminent, but he's losing his nerve. While restlessly counting down the days until a performance in the French town of Aigues-Mortes, he becomes strangely convinced that Moira Orfei, a 1960s Italian circus queen, must perform with him. As he begins to turn his displaced creativity and relentless sexual energy on a series of male hustlers, random strangers, and music students, Theo wonders whether he will be able to channel his passions into one final celebration of "the partial, the flawed, the almost, the not quite." Peopled by pianists, prostitutes, muses, and manipulators, this debut novel by noted poet and cultural critic Wayne Koestenbaum hums with obsessive energy and examines one artist's choices at the crossroads of sex, death, and creativity."
"Written in the style of a surreal fever dream, Wayne Koestenbaum's first novel records in brilliant poetic vernacular the swan song of Theo Mangrove, a dissipated concert pianist and debauched sexual adventurer obsessed with the Italian circus star Moira Orfei... The story of Koestenbaum's all-too-human freaks of nature is delivered in willfully, at times hilariously debauched deadpan and makes for irresistibly twisted magic. How could a reader not delight in the fiercely rendered hallucination of it all?" — Bookforum
"Wayne Koestenbaum, a writer of mature and accountable linguistic genius, has, in Moira Orfei in Aigues-Mortes, taken up the fabulist form and mastered it absolutely, giving us in the narrator's fire-eating, dotted-rhythm negotiation with the mesmerizing eponymous heroine - a post-modern re-incarnation of Lola Montes - the fever chart of a hallucination that in the agility, strength and beauty of its daredevil walk of the signifier across the tightrope of the significant is in every way a match for its most illustrious precedent, the hallucination recorded in Nabokov's Pale Fire." — James McCourt
"Wayne Koestenbaum's dazzling new novel chronicles a dying polysexual pianist's obsession with Moira Orfei, a stunningly beautiful circus artiste who may not exist. If Debussy and Robert Walser had collaborated on an opera, it would sound like this." — John Ashbery
"Brilliantly imagined, bitterly funny, and emotionally overwhelming, Moira Orfei in Aigues-Mortes is a mordant, exquisite ode to 'the authentic and paralyzing distance between us.' Insignificance is transformed into magnificence, inspiration is disfiguring, and desire is desecration: rapture becomes indistinguishable from rapture. A deep aesthetic and intellectual pleasure." — David Shields
"From poet and cultural critic Koestenbaum, a first novel made up of the lunatic rantings of ailing concert pianist Theo Mangrove. It's quite a load for any man to bear. The doomed narrator is saddled with the prospect of tragic artistic failure, an Oedipal fixation on his mother, Alma (whose international fame as a pianist eclipses his own), a passing sexual interest in his sister Tanaquil (whose dream is "to be a madam in an important bordello"), and a polysexual perversity that requires him to relieve 20 erections daily, a feat he's aided in by street hustlers, students and teachers (of all ages and both sexes) and also, astonishingly, by his wife ("Unsurprisingly," he tells us, "I present HIV symptoms," yet, surprisingly, both he and his generous supply of partners have a consistently cavalier disregard for protection.) Naturally, there's a great deal of description of sexual entrances and exits of all sorts, much of it coated in an oddly nonsensical lyricism ("After an intense orgasm we produce voice from our head rather than our chest"). Koestenbaum is best known for his booklength rhapsodies on iconic women (Jackie Onassis, Maria Callas, etc.) and the gay men who love them. Thus, Theo, too, has an obsession with an icon: the Italian circus artist Moira Orfei, with whom he is determined to collaborate on a "comeback" recital to be given in the small French town of Aigues-Mortes. The novel, written in the form of "notebooks" addressed to Theo's mother, includes letters to Moira and what may or may not be her own replies, written in the same inscrutable diction as a semiotics student after a three-dayecstasy binge: "My needs and destiny exceed yours. I command more land, more syntax." Koestenbaum may be reaching to combine the mad genius of Pale Fire with the florid outlaw sexuality of Jean Genet, but his narrator has neither the wit of the former nor the nuance of the latter." - Kirkus Reviews
"Wayne Koestenbaum’s Moira Orfei in Aigues-Mortes is written in twenty-five notebooks – a first person diary of sorts – and for the first time in a long time I felt I befriended a book. Usually there is some sort of emotional connection (either positive or negative), but there are some books that I am sad to see finished. Like waving goodbye at a train station, there is a brief moment where you wish you could hold that moment for just a little while longer, wishing for just one more chapter, paragraph, something that doesn’t mean goodbye forever. Again, here I am being my melodramatic self; I know I could read Koestenbaum’s other books or even reread this one – but I can never recreate the first time I came across Theo Mangrove.
Koestenbaum has created an illuminating character in these notebooks. Theo Mangrove is a pianist struggling to plan a glorious comeback career. He spends most of his time with male hustlers, writing in his notebooks, writing to Moira Orfei – a famous Italian circus star – (whether this correspondence is real or imagined doesn’t matter – either way it is stunningly poignant), arguing with his sister and his wife, having secret rendezvous with aunt, and discussing anything and everything with his mother, Alma, who is also a famed pianist spending most of her time touring South America. Theo is also dying of AIDS. His illness and his folie de grandeur make his narration unreliable. But as with any unreliable narrator – although I am not sure if narrator is the right word since nothing really happens; the notebooks are a photograph of time passing – what is said, or isn’t said, or any untruths can be just as revealing:
'Moira Orfei is my ideal woman if I imagine myself ten years ago watching someone in Les Baux watching us walk hand-in-hand to a bistro with a corner banquette which we regularly claim; seated there under this person’s jealous surveillance, we order our usual negronis. (Alma once told me that negronis were the cocktail-of-choice for the Abstract Expressionists. Moira Orfei’s beauty embodies the Abstract Expressionist mandate to combat entropy.)…Moira Orfei is my ideal woman if I imagine someone watching me help her pick a belt and apply jasmine eau de toilette behind the neck at a department store counter in Paris. I needn’t merely imagine this scene: it happened, the last time Moira and I were in Printemps together.'
Koestenbaum creates an unforgettable voice in Theo. The writing is steeped in emotional intellectualism and the balance between the two is constantly shifting:
'Gertrude Guadalquivar’s [Theo's recently deceased grandmother] ghost has entered my studio; she hangs, a trapeze artist, from the chandelier. I am an amateur spiritualist. Why did I not repair Alma’s amorality and push her in an ethical direction? Now Gertrude’s spirit crouches atop the plaster bust of Brahms and enters my spinal cord. Her doctrinal ghost is warm, like a down sleeping bag, and wet, like a deep sea fishing trip, or an essay.'
Although I cannot directly relate to being a bisexual man with a terminal illness, the self-analysis that Theo maintains throughout the notebooks is so familiar that I shudder to think what lies in the depths of some of my own old notebooks. The novel is rich, frightening, bizarre, and most certainly human." - Two Umbrellas
Read it at Google Books
Wayne Koestenbaum, Hotel Theory, Soft Skull Press, 2007.
"Hotel Theory is actually two books in one: a meditation on the meaning of a hotels, and a dime-novel (Hotel Women), featuring Lana Turner and Liberace. (In the novel, the articles ďż˝a,ďż˝ ďż˝an,ďż˝ and ďż˝theďż˝ never appear.) The two books, fiction and nonfiction, run concurrently, in twin columns.
The nonfiction ruminations on hotels are divided into eight dossiers, composed of short takes on the presence of hotels in the author's dreams, in literature, in film, and in history. Guest-stars in the nonfiction portion of the book are Oscar Wilde, Walter Benjamin, Jean Rhys, Jane Bowles, Colette, Gertrude Stein, Martin Heidegger, Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo, Siegfried Kracauer, Paul Auster, and many, many others. Hotel Theory gives voice - in divided fashion - to an aesthetic of indifference, of stupor, of hyperaesthesia, of yearning. The lassitude of the hotel-dweller (and, of the postmodern subject), in Hotel Theory, finds expression and a momentary soapbox. The book is an oblique manifesto for a philosophy of being-here, being-anywhere. Hotel Theory is also a book about the disappearance of writing, in particular, of Walter Benjamin's suicide in a hotel room in Portbou, Spain. Hotel Theory is the place where writing disappears; it is also the locale where a new mode of theorizing (in fiction, in fragment, through quotation and palimpsest) makes itself felt."
Wayne Koestenbaum, Humiliation (Big Ideas//Small Books), Picador, 2011.
Wayne Koestenbaum, Double Talk: The Erotics of Male Literary Collaboration, Routledge, 1989.
Wayne Koestenbaum, The Queen's Throat: Opera, Homosexuality, and the Mystery of Desire, Poseidon, 1993.
"Koestenbaum, who is gay and teaches English at Yale, calls himself an "opera queen" because he is addicted to opera, fetishizes records, tries to befriend divas and keeps lists of his opera "highs." A literate amalgam of speculation, gossip, reminiscences and historical lore, his confessions are one fan's passionate love letter to the opera, illustrated with photographs and memorabilia. But Koestenbaum ( Ode to Anna Moffo and Other Poems ) strains to find reasons for the reputed affinity of gay men for opera. He views singing as analogous to gays' coming out of the closet and relates the diva's body movements, vocal attack and public persona to "a style that gay people, particularly queens, have found essential . . . a camp style of resistance and protection." He presents 12 psychosocial explanations for the "gay cult" of Maria Callas. One chapter, "A Pocket Guide to Queer Moments in Opera," analyzes 28 opera highlights from a gay perspective." - Publishers Weekly
"A brilliant book - an ecstatic book - inevitably, an elegiac book. And one which - like some operas, certain voices - has the capacity to provoke - in this reader and opera-lover, anyway - admiration, rapture, identification." — Susan Sontag
"A high-spirited and very personal book... laced with moral reflections and warmed with comedy... A work of formidable and curious learning...A dazzling performance." — New York Times Book Review
Wayne Koestenbaum, Jackie Under My Skin: Interpreting an Icon, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1995.
"Jackie Under My Skin is a passionate investigation of the ways Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis transformed America's definition of celebrity, identity, and style. In a gallery of fantasies and tableaux, Wayne Koestenbaum explains the late first lady’s hold on Americans by examining the myths and metaphors that we've attached to her. An exuberant paean to a great star, Jackie Under My Skin is also a meditation on fame, mortality, and the difficulty of defining desire."
"The same kind of serious play that distinguished Koestenbaum's earlier book, The Queen's Throat, a highly regarded study of opera and homosexuality, shapes the Yale English professor's scrutiny of the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis-and, more exactly, of the highly charged gap between the private woman and the public icon she became. In brief chapters, her signature sunglasses and scarf, her coiffure (``battle gear of a woman of means''), even the ``O'' of her name occasion manic, inventive and sometimes wildly funny ruminations. In ``Silent Jackie,'' Maria Callas is quoted as saying that Onassis ``spoke like Marilyn Monroe playing Ophelia''; in ``Jackie as Housewife,'' Onassis is at once the devoted helpmate of powerful men and the star whose allure obscured them; ``Exotic Jackie,'' always conscious of her public role, was ``in exile from herself, a bemused visitor to her own body.'' Though some will undoubtedly find the book hopelessly irreverent, those fascinated by the cult of celebrity will find Koestenbaum's analysis of an enduring American icon a compelling contribution in cultural studies." - Publishers Weekly
"The same kind of serious play that distinguished Koestenbaum's earlier book, The Queen's Throat, a highly regarded study of opera and homosexuality, shapes the Yale English professor's scrutiny of the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis?and, more exactly, of the highly charged gap between the private woman and the public icon she became. In brief chapters, her signature sunglasses and scarf, her coiffure ("battle gear of a woman of means"), even the "O" of her name occasion manic, inventive and sometimes wildly funny ruminations. In "Silent Jackie," Maria Callas is quoted as saying that Onassis "spoke like Marilyn Monroe playing Ophelia"; in "Jackie as Housewife," Onassis is at once the devoted helpmate of powerful men and the star whose allure obscured them; "Exotic Jackie," always conscious of her public role, was "in exile from herself, a bemused visitor to her own body." Though some will undoubtedly find the book hopelessly irreverent, those fascinated by the cult of celebrity will find Koestenbaum's analysis of an enduring American icon a compelling contribution in cultural studies."
Wayne Koestenbaum, Cleavage: Essays on Sex, Stars, and Aesthetics, Ballantine Books, 2000.
"According to Koestenbaum, culture is all around us: in movie magazines, paparazzi, Robert Mapplethorpe's photos, Princess Di's dresses and, of course, Liz Taylor. After deconstructing gay men and opera (The Queen's Throat) and prominent first ladies (Jackie Under My Skin), the ever-observant Koestenbaum has assembled in these 49 reprinted essays an idiosyncratic overview of the state of U.S. popular culture as well as his own mind. His charm and power as a writer reside in his ability to wed his own obsessions with the most serious and the most frivolous of cultural manifestations. For him, a meditation on Oscar Wilde's trial prompts the statement, "I... believe that desire is extreme and anti-social." An essay on Elizabeth Taylor moves easily from her looks to his own gender identity: "After watching Elizabeth Taylor movies I feel eerily masculine. Her beauty shoves me out of maleness and compresses me back into it." In a less astute or self-aware writer, such leaps might read as simple narcissism or miscalculated post-modern posturing, but Koestenbaum is able to combine personal writing and cultural analysis in a way that advances both with poise and intelligence. While some of the pieces are less substantial--such as his quirky short essays on envy and masochism--Koestenbaum delivers when he writes most personally. "The Aryan Boy," an introspective essay on masculinity, homosexuality and Jewish identity, shows the author at his best: moving, insightful and fueled by his ability to shock, provoke and challenge." - Publishers Weekly
"Sex and aesthetics are all well and good, but its stars who claim pride of place in this miscellany by academic gadfly Koestenbaum. Though its divided into six parts on topics ranging from Dress and Undress to Reading, this collection of occasional pieces, whose original provenance ranges from Parnassus to Allure, breaks down into two larger units: unabashed celebrations of popular culture and cultish figures like Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, and more gnomic, cryptic analyses, or replications, of the tensions of contemporary culture. In these latter piecesespecially in the 12 prose poems of The Locomotive EmpressKoestenbaum is often opaque, banal, or portentously playful, but he is never staid. His unapologetic delectation in himself, the dreams he constantly retails, and his reactions to cultural marginalia (I consider sexual liberation to be a subset of fashion liberation, he remarks at one point, and later confesses: I am afraid of my underwear) gives his profiles of stars from Liz Taylor to Dawn Upshaw a canny infatuation compounded equally of postmodern irony and Rex Reed. He revealingly tells Alec Baldwin: I feel a burning need to meet stars, and its easy to see why: His worship of icons from Melanie Griffith to Gertrude Stein, like his graphic fantasy of himself as Bill Clintons lover, validates the star-struck persona he delights in discovering in the most unlikely contexts (I am a woman of Dada... I am exhibiting a hectic, touristy relation to my own passions). Koestenbaum even manages to find himself in the mandarin Stein, whose austere demands on readers couldnt differ more from his own eagerness to please himself and everybody else. Logorrhea is the hallmark of contemporary discourse, rules Koestenbaum. Readers who arent frightened by that prospect will enjoy passing the odd hour with this latest collection from the Donald Barthelme of the nonfiction aisle." - Kirkus Reviews
Wayne Koestenbaum, Andy Warhol, Lipper/Viking, 2001.
"With at least two full-scale biographies in addition to his own voluminous writings in print, it might seem that there is little new to say about the life and career of mass market voyeur Warhol. Koestenbaum, a poet and author of fabulously rococo books on opera (The Queen's Throat) and Jackie Onassis (Jackie Under My Skin), seems acutely aware of this, and gives us a Warhol who is anything but the removed observer of most popular accounts, finding Warhol's own eros and mourning spilling everywhere into his art. The result is an intensely personalized psychologizing of the work; the more philosophically inclined will be horrified, while those looking for a way under "Andy's" implacable surfaces will be fascinated. The famous Brillo boxes become "boxes without openings [that] seem simulacra of Andy's body a queer body that may want to be entered or to enter, but that offers too many feints, too many surfaces, too much braggadocio, and no real opening." Koestenbaum is most trenchant in the sections devoted to Warhol's little-seen films, bringing their shattering experiments in sexual cinema vividly to life, freely and directly relating his own reactions to them … la Pauline Kael at her best. Warhol's achievement in film, while clear to cognoscenti, certainly gets its best popular treatment here. Throughout, Koestenbaum's engagements with Warhol's life and art, tinged with poetic brilliance and surgical dispassion ("these accessories gave [Warhol] an alien aura, as if his vital fluids and gases had been evacuated"), feel very high-stakes indeed, making this book an engrossing battle of wills. (Sept.)Forecast: Koestenbaum, an engaging speaker and notoriously marvelous dresser, should attract fans to his five-city author tour. This book may be a little too queer for the average fan of the Warhol silk screens, but its audacious bodily insistence should win it plenty of reviews and admirers. Theory-heads should check out Andy Warhol, a collection of essays edited by New York University cinema studies professor Annette Michaelson, and including work by the likes of Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, Hal Foster and Rosalind Krauss." - Publishers Weekly
Wayne Koestenbaum, Ode to Anna Moffo and Other Poems, Persea, 1990.
"In the title poem and centerpiece of this debut collection, 1989 "Discovery"/ Nation poetry award co-winner Koestenbaum writes, "Mired in low culture, / I was aching to reach the high." But it is precisely the low that allows him to exult in the lavish heights of the Metropolitan Opera, idolizing a diva who rises above the mundane only in her performances. Koestenbaum's own performances are formal and fluidly elegant: "I think that Anna / Moffo sings, / to this day, in a second, / parallel Met, a hologram of the original / projected in air, / where failing voices continue / to thrive amidst a system of strange geysers / and girders, cables / linking the golden prompter's box / to a sky that burns directly on the stage." His wit can become self-conscious, his metaphors heavy, but the unifying strength of the poems is Koestenbaum's burgeoning awareness of being gay, with all its emotional ramifications: "Thinking I was invisible, I wore the peacock / Blue and found I was too visible. I wanted to shock / My public into cheers, until I learned that they were primitives... / When Carla put her hand on Ricky's knee / I saw my future's blueprint. I was wearing pants of lapis lazuli." - Publishers Weekly
"Half operatic libretto, half slangy conversation, Koestenbaum's first book of poems interweaves sophisticated urban wit with a sense of lost happiness ("I am a landlord of a sadness"). With Anna Moffo, well-known coloratura soprano (born in 1932 in Wayne, Pennsylvania) as muse and "favorite," Koestenbaum explores role-playing, sexual identity, friendship, homoeroticism, and art as a refuge from psychic discontinuity. Through his rapid-fire digressions and formally rhyming arpeggios emerges a longing for elusive interpersonal realities "in which the secret life is fully seen." "I read/ these urgent things too quickly, as if I were not fixed/ By what occurs, as cats, cards, and elections/ Are fixed." Koestenbaum's extravagant fantasies nurse "a foolish daydream" of opera as a metaphor of life. "I mail/ this letter,/ addressed to Miss Moffo, care/ of the mind's Met, where Broadway joins forgotten avenues." - Frank Allen
Wayne Koestenbaum, Rhapsodies of a Repeat Offender: Poems, Persea, 1994.
"Koestenbaum's second volume of poetry reads like a catalogue of immediacy, of mystical and erotic ecstasy so emotionally charged that one cannot quite call it confessional--the energy gathered into these poems creates a voice of its own. The book is comprised of a series of poems caught between two long vertiginous works, both aptly entitled "Rhapsody." The first recollects, with lyrical precision, his childhood, his first lies ("My mother is pregnant") and his first apprehension of "atoms exploding in fission" incarnated in a terminally ill young boy named "Baldie" who, with "molten collision," refuses to be tormented by a school bully. When Koestenbaum recalls his piano lessons, he seemingly slips in his own ars poetica: "I can't / depend on pressure for crescendo, but / must dement the rhythm so it / stumbles, hesitates expressively, the line / opening its heart in quick crotchets." (The utterances that make up the last poem do exactly this.) He seeks to "ambush" his self-conscious side, which has kept him from "the inspiration to speak without error or apology!" So, speak he does - improvising, questioning and probing with a directness that doesn't so much draw you in as recklessly push you along. If less ambitious readers find they need a break from these brilliantly exhausting works, they can turn to the poetry that falls between the pillars of his two "Rhapsody" poems, and find Koestenbaum focusing on his homosexual awakening and his relationship to classical music. This magnetic collection, once started, is difficult to put down. And once finished, readers may find themselves turning to page one and starting all over again." - Publishers Weekly
"If beauty and truth are the hallmarks of quality verse, then Koestenbaum has climbed the pinnacle and raised his arms in triumph with this work. His poems center on the power of the word, to which he surrenders; he is thereby liberated to "say something clearly and pack [his] voice away." The reader is taken on a journey through music, mortality, sexual revelation, and a young man's affinity for the leading ladies of the silver screen. However, the masterpiece of the volume, a book in itself, is the poem "Rhapsody," in which Koestenbaum uses his love for music (an extension of the word) to take the reader on a nine-part expedition that is intimate, yet not confessional; improvisational, yet not reckless; fantastic, yet not garish. This may well be the best long poem since John Berryman's Homage to Mistress Bradstreet. Koestenbaum succeeds because he possesses the poet's true courage: he has composed "a poem [that] should be the letter you dare not write or send." Highly recommended." - Tim Gavin
Wayne Koestenbaum, The Milk of Inquiry, Persea, 1999.
"I don't want to know what I'm forging, I want to glide/ past obligations ampler than I've guessed..." Slack, odd and ravishing, Koestenbaum's poems take spectacular risksAconstantly self-lacerating, curtly erotic and courting of clich?: "father has big tanned tennisplaying nose/ I'd like him to be my shrink/ maybe strip him...." A pervasive flatness of tone matches the poet's laconic, self-proclaimed lack of sensation, one that is uncannily effective in conveying a desperate ennui, yet coyly manages to place itself within a particular pantheon: "Hollywood single bed in a letter by O'Hara/ decrescendo in a sonata by Beethoven/ blankness in a life by me." The 28 lyrics of the book's first section are perhaps Koestenbaum's best, complexly disclosing his relationships to family, lovers, books, music, life: "I miss how slow the world used to be,/ before I ruined it, this morning, with my crazy deliberations./ I miss the poisoned, old momentum of last night." Relentlessly name-droppyA"I like dropping their names/ it's as if I'm dropping their whole oeuvres"Athe long poem "Four Lemon Drops" recalls the title poem of Rhapsodies of a Repeat Offender in its unflinching, poetically reflexive self-examinations, coming this time in jagged, accretive quatrains. Wildly (Wilde-ly?) ambitious if less successful is a section of 115 sonnets, "Metamorphoses (Masked Ball)," where Medusa, for example, can speak as Mae West, Ronald Firbank or Walt Disney, and Echo as Rosa Luxemburg, George Platt Lynes or John AshberyAand many others. A poet, cultural critic and curator, Koestenbaum, in his third book of poems, presents scarily seductive surfaces, only partially concealing a concern with the very deepest questions." - Publishers Weekly
"From poet, academic, cultural journalist, and all-around gadfly Koestenbaum comes this third collection, a book both sublime and contravening, musical and mildly repulsive. It's dominated by the 115-sonnet "Metamorphoses (Masked Ball),'' which has all of the poets mythic heroes and heroinesWallace Stevens, Elizabeth Taylor, Patty Hearst, and many othersspeaking as Echo, Medusa, Proserpina, and other figures of Greek myth. While the series is brave and relentless in its ribaldry (Robin Hood as Echo says, "I think my penis was larger than his; Stevens as Echo says, "I acquired new pine teeth. / My forte was a custardy willingness to chat''), Koestenbaums autobiographical libidinal musings are far more remarkable. His poems have the appeal of frank gossip about strangers ("how difficult it must be to masturbate in a house occupied by smart mother and father'') and social self-mockery ("I wish off the bat I could list three hundred people who know me / or just three hundred people periodDavid Cassidy. Shirley Jones Bille''). The best lines have the logic of dreams ("I left my mother's body / to enter a duplex'') and ("I miss how slow the world used to be, / before I ruined it, this morning, / with my crazy deliberations''). Strange, milky delicacies indeed." - Kirkus Reviews
Wayne Koestenbaum, Model Homes (American Poets Continuum), BOA Editions, 2004.
"Wayne Koestenbaum knows how to drop the language in the blender of the imagination and hit frappe! The 13 ottava rima cantos in Model Homes present a neo-Freudian tale of the goings-on in the poet’s present home and various events from his childhood. Modulating a voice that is urbane and ribald, melancholic and wry, Koestenbaum puts a memorable spin on the status quo notion of domestic arrangements."
"In the "Warm-Up" to this Don Juan-inspired paean to domestic life, Koestenbaum laconically substitutes "I lack a subject" for Byron's "I want a hero." Stanza, in Italian, means "room," and Koestenbaum throughout takes up abode in Byron's famous eight-line rhyming iambic pentameter. Through 13 cantos comprising varying numbers of stanzas, Koestenbaum runs through a California childhood, rubdowns by New York bodyworkers, piano practice, fear of inadequacy, meals mundane and elaborate, imaginings of origins ("I hear my own conception/ when Mother felt the gush from Dad's erection") and blissful union with partner Steve. That Koestenbaum's jokes are purposefully flat ("I've erred. Now, Steve is marinating a steak./ To help peel Yukon Golds, I'll take a break") is only part of the ways in which he separates himself from his 19th-century precursor. An even more constant presence here, though, is the poet's mother, a poet "who has a grief-prone heart,/ Who bore four children, gave up her art/ At least until I was in high school," and whose moods and modes the poet knowingly carries as further model homes, if involuntarily. At its best, this lovely, ambitious long poem most resembles A.R. Ammons's baggy, daily Tape for the Turn of the Year, but it's still Byronic enough to lodge itself "Between a Pagliaccio and a Puck/ Dying to give King Oberon a suck." - Publishers Weekly
Wayne Koestenbaum, Best-Selling Jewish Porn Films: New Poems, Turtle Point, 2006.
"Poetry. Provocateur and interrogator of American cultural forms, Wayne Koestenbaum's latest collection, BEST-SELLING JEWISH PORN FILMS, showcases his characteristic urbane melancholia and ribald wit at its very best."
"These latest poems reach swoony, unforeseen heights of mental raucousness and worshipful style" — Dennis Cooper
"With a nod to Woody Allen's story 'The Whore of Mensa' Koestenbaum proffers that largest of sex organs—the mind—and entices with erudite and smuttily trenchant wit. Charming, teasing, brainy and slightly Seder-Masochistic, this collection asks that age-old question, 'Is Crisco Kosher?' The answer might surprise you" — D. A. Powell
"Acclaimed for work in queer studies and queer theory that includes books on opera divas, Andy Warhol and Jackie Onassis, the New York-based Koestenbaum is first and foremost a poet (as well as an accomplished pianist). His fifth book of verse ranges widely, entertainingly, sometimes bizarrely through fears, loves, tastes and obsessions: movie stars, middle age, cats, social theory, the meaning of cool and the significance of the poet's mother (the poet Phyllis Koestenbaum), who often appears in his dreams ("Sometimes I call my mother `Bob' "). Koestenbaum's many short poems and shorter stanzas pivot between the quizzical and the chatty, between the simply fabulous and the merely strange, achieving, at best, a campy bravura with an undertone of dismay: "I love art/ history," he exclaims, "if only/ I were/ not exploding!" Admirers of Koestenbaum's early excursions may have a hard time putting these smaller, spikier pieces together; those who like their verse both cryptic and charming might consider them just the ticket." - Publishers Weekly
Interview with Peter Halley
Wayne Koestenbaum with Bruce Hainley
Listen Péter Esterházy & Wayne Koestenbaum in Conversation
Hannah Weiner – Clairvoyant poetry, experimental mysticism: I started to see words and they were all over the place, coming out of my hair
Hannah Weiner's Open House by Hannah Weiner and Patrick F. Durgin, Kenning Editions, 2006.
“HANNAH WEINER'S OPEN HOUSE beckons us into a realm of poetry that bends consciousness in order to open the doors of perception. Weiner is one of the great American linguistic inventors of the last thirty years of the 20th century. She created an alchemical poetry that transforms the materials of everyday life into a dimension beyond sensory perception. The pieces collected here are as much conceptual art as sprung prose, experimental mysticism as social realism, autobiography as egoless alyric. Patrick Durgin has brought together touchstone works, some familiar and some never before published. HANNAH WEINER'S OPEN HOUSE provides the only single volume introduction to the full range of Weiner's vibrant, enthralling, and unique contribution to the poetry of the Americas.” - Charles Bernstein
“HANNAH WEINER'S OPEN HOUSE, edited by Patrick Durgin, is one of the most lovingly assembled and attractively designed selected works collections I have ever seen. If you have only seen the few samples of Weiner's work included in anthologies like IN THE AMERICAN TREE and POSTMODERN AMERICAN POETRY, this is an excellent way to get a fuller sense of the scope of her total production. Pieces like "Radcliffe and Guatemalan Women," which combine discursive strains from different contexts, cohere into a sober and sometimes savage clarity of satirical and/or tragic vision, in ways that might come as a surprise to those who are familiar mainly with the more flamboyantly "clairvoyant" graphic arrangements of the more well-known poems.” - K. Silem Mohammad
“They shut me up in Prose,” wrote Emily Dickinson, loudly and silently and privately and indelibly, and yet they didn’t—not in prose or otherwise. The same is true for Hannah Weiner, who, twenty years after the end of her schizophrenia-riven, psychic, art-committed life, continually exceeds well-meaning attempts to preserve her. Her own prose, occupied as it is by the voices of hallucinated “silent teachers,” continually tests and knocks against the visual boundaries of text as it attempts to create an audial-visionary experience no conventional prose could hold. The Internet, with its capacity for assemblage, co-authorship, and multiple media may be the best mode for hosting Weiner, who made the hosting of corporeal and non-corporeal collaborators the mainstay of her art. “We have unknown collaborators,” she wrote in an early piece.
Weiner’s ceaseless effort to find a format adequate to her experiences as a psychic medium resulted in the ever-changing forms and surfaces of her work. As a result, her friends’ and advocates’ efforts to build her a legacy make for a series of exhaustive, self-sacrificing labors that, while failing to fix a monument, create something better: a living zone in which Weiner emerges from between and among the Web sites, essays, and books assembled in her honor. Hannah Weiner’s Open House is the latest of these efforts, a labor of love on the part of Kenning Editions editor Patrick Durgin and poet-critic Charles Bernstein, Weiner’s close friend and executor who encouraged Durgin to take up this and earlier projects working with Weiner’s archival materials and published texts. For this new volume Durgin has assembled press releases, artist statements, early lyrics, and published texts, including the naval code-script for Weiner’s code poem performances, which were staged with the U.S. Coast Guard. Durgin also includes excerpts from her clairvoyant or “clair-style” journalistic poems in which she replicated via typewriter the commands and commentary she saw written on her body, clothing, walls, furniture, and other surfaces. While the book lacks much of the chronological apparatus and contextualization that a go-to introduction to Weiner would require, it enriches the collective multimedia work-in-progress that is Weiner scholarship.
The title of Hannah Weiner’s Open House refers to an early performance piece in which various artists and poets opened their homes to the public over two days in October 1969. In Weiner’s account of the event, “From 3 to 26 people showed up at different places. We sat around kitchen tables, or on the floor and talked and smoked or had a party. I met new friends.” As this project suggests, invitation is one of Weiner’s distinctive early modes, but invitation to what? What is an enclosure when it’s “open”? What is private space when it’s made public? Interestingly, although this piece involved such prominent figures as Vito Acconi, Bernadette Mayer, John Perreault, Abraham Lubelski, Marjorie Strider, and Japanese painter and performance artist Arakawa, it’s Weiner’s name that’s in the title. Its performance converts “Hannah Weiner” from a proper name, a signature, to something that does not refer to Hannah Weiner merely, but also to some 30 people.
The ways a name can become a term of ambiguity, the self an other in a spectrum of others, are also explored in the March 1970 happening “Hannah Weiner at Her Job.” In the event’s press release inviting the public to visit Weiner at her studio on New York’s West 33rd Street, where she designed underwear for the A.H. Schreiber Co., Inc., she remarked, “I am my object, a product of the process of self-awareness.” Similarly, the invitation puts in question whether “Hannah Weiner” or the “bikini pants” she is creating is in fact the “product.” These performance pieces, imagined retrospectively through text and from a distance of four decades, propose multiple Hannah Weiners—one as impresario, one as object on display, and any number of other witting and unwitting participants in the performance of Hannah Weiner. The pieces, apparently proposing personal contact with the artist, reconfigure personhood as a site one can visit.
Related to the motif of invitation in Wiener’s work is the motif of signaling; this, too, is apparent from her early performance pieces, the “Street Works,” and particularly “Street Works IV” (1969), about which Weiner writes:
I hired a frankfurter wagon to give away free “wieners.” This was a pun on my name. Anything or anybody can have anything or anybody’s name. Hot dog wagons are everywhere part of the street environment. Unfortunately wieners (and pastrami, bologna, preserved meats) contain sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate: one a coloring agent for otherwise gray meat, one an embalming fluid. Both have a depressing effect on the mind.
A sort of inside-out version of the later clair-style journals, this piece, with its occult puns and palindromic qualities (the perverse twins “nitrite” and “nitrate”), emphasizing the slipperiness of that supposedly most fixed species of language, the name, shows language as the site at which reality clusters, folds and intensifies. In “Streetworks IV,” the hashmarks of language are made visible in “the street environment,” rather than on the page.
Most luminous and suggestive amid these performance poems are the “Code Poems,” which Weiner created by limiting herself to the phrases allowed by the “INTERNATIONAL CODE OF SIGNALS for the Use of All Nations,” a “visual signal system for the ships at sea.” In this code, a set of three letters, signaled by flags, lights, or Morse Code, stands for an understood phrase, such as “PCF—The ice is so solid I cannot break through; send help” or “CST—Where are they?” By means not related in this volume (and one wonders!), Weiner was able to orchestrate performances of these striking poems in New York City with the U.S. Coast Guard providing the lights and foghorns. Such events are wonderful to imagine, but the page-bound versions of the poems are already quite animated, enacting as they do both literal dialogues and conceptual dialogues between letter and symbol, code and content, page and voice. In “QRD LIGHT”:
LRG Will you carry a light?
MPD Will you make land tonight?
LRM I will carry a light
GDW I see the land, land in sight
GDV I have just lost sight of the land or light
MQC Anything in sight?
The rhymes and lyric cadence of these questions and answers, as well as their non sequitur arrangement (the statements may answer the questions, but only after a delay or a remove) fascinates in itself, as do the three letter codes at the beginning of each line: are they to be read silently, providing an empty “beat” for the line, seen but not read, or read aloud as a kind of opaque aural symbol? The matter is complicated further by the fact that this text is accompanied by a visual representation of the light pattern corresponding with these letters; the poem, then, is a secondary “decoding” of the text of lights. In performance, the light signals would appear to be signaling an audience, and also to be signaling each other, multiplying the would-be “dialogue” of the poem. (The audience, presumably, would not be expected to signal back.)
The very term “audience” is something of a misnomer here, given that it refers to a group watching (rather than listening to) a system of silent signals. The problem of fitting aural into visual is itself signaled in the introduction to these pieces, in which Weiner notes “Although Morse and light signals were used in performances, only visual signals are included (we omit radio) in this book.” The book, then, represents only a partial version of the code poems. At the same time, by rendering itself back into page-bound visual media, the book version of the poems comes full circle back to the printed codebooks Weiner worked from to produce these texts. Unlike the performances, these written versions are fully de- and re-codable.
The problem of “Trans-Space Communication” continued to occupy Weiner. In a text of that name she articulated her interest in “exploring methods of communication through space: considering space as space fields or space solids; through great distances of space; through small distances, such as the space between the nucleus and the electrons of an atom” and invited the reader to “send replies” to her queries on the subject to a P.O. box. Where, when, or whether this statement was published anywhere is unclear from this volume, but at some point, perhaps in response to all this quandarying, the infamous “silent teachers,”—usually characterized as symptomatic of her schizophrenia—began signaling to Weiner. (Happily, we have Weiner’s own accounting and recounting of this experience in statement after statement as well as in the notebook-style volumes called Clairvoyant Journals.) She appears in a memorable photo by Tom Ahern with the phrase “I see words” written on her forehead (an approximation, presumably, of her visionary experience), and some version of this phrase became a tag surfacing in text after text, a descriptor Weiner applied to herself so often that it almost became her name—a sentence in motion, instead of a name.
Meanwhile, her own name was anagrammatized, visually broken down and pushed around by the spectral words, even as they continually addressed her. In Sixteen:
who is like me seen
on slant anyway
Hannah one sip put it in that you drank tasted a little
coffee saw oh juice oh boy one line below
Hannah that’s little book not mention names
significant prose write some lyrics for
us baby and
we’ll sung yaThis text, as in the even more visually haywire Clairvoyant Journals, creates the illusion of a kind of real-time, an act of writing wherein the words advise and revise ”Hannah” as she attempts to make her way to the bottom of each page. The text reads, rereads, spells itself, develops motifs, interrupts and revises itself, comments on the materiality of its writing, seems absorbed in its moment and yet refers to a whole complex world of people and events adjacent to its page. Weiner, for her part, tried to keep track of this streaming discourse by using the typewriter’s various capabilities. In a portion of the essay “Mostly About the Sentence” subtitled “A Short Interlude to Discuss Voices,” she recounts:
I bought a new electric typewriter in January 74 and said quite clearly, perhaps aloud, to the words (I talked to them as if they were separate from me, as indeed the part of my mind they come from is not known to me) I have this new typewriter and can only type lower case, capitals or underlines (somehow I forgot, ignored or couldn’t cope with in the speed I was seeing things, a fourth voice, underlined capitals) so you will have to settle yourself into three different prints. Thereafter I typed the large printed words I saw in CAPITALS, the words that appeared on the typewriter or the paper I was typing on in underlines (italics) and wrote the part of the journal that was unseen, my own words, in regular upper case.
It turned out that the regular upper and lower case words described what I was doing, the CAPITALS gave me orders, and the underlines or italics made comments. This is not 100% true, but mostly so.
The “mostly” of this and all her accounts—indeed, of the clair-style method of writing itself—reflects a grappling, a struggle, a volley of proximate activity that drives these poems forward, each day’s effort shuttling into the next. The effort is not merely a spiritual or philosophical one, despite the teacherly metaphors Weiner uses to describe her visions, but one of materials. Weiner almost has to sculpt the page with her typewriter, depressing it, inking it, rotating it, to create this poetry, which only “mostly” transcribes her vision. Indeed, the words that appear to her are entirely visual; her visions are in fact textual, and yet describing them she sometimes calls them voices. Here we have the reverse predicament of the code poems: rather than losing media, the text seems to have inadvertently gained an audial dimension when it entered the page, since the lyric page, ironically, is usually taken as a representation of speech. Our tendency to discuss the schizophrenic as “hearing voices” here colludes with literary habit to rewrite Weiner’s textual visions as aural—a rewrite she herself performed on the text in directing an electrifying audio recording of the work that included Sharon Mattlin, Peggy De Coursey, Regina Beck and Rochelle Kraut (excerpts of these recordings may be heard online at PennSounds). The contradiction between these different perceptual models is evident in the titles of her books such as Spoke, Silent Teachers / Remembered Sequel, and We Speak Silent.
In his fruitful if cautious introduction, Durgin takes pains to locate Weiner amid a pantheon of innovators, invoking David Antin, Scott Burton, Phillip Glass, Meredith Monk, John Perreualt, Carolee Schneeman, and Andy Warhol and to claim that her innovations were somewhat akin to those of Jackson Mac Low. At the same time, he carefully embeds his own editing projects within those that have preceded him, most directly Barret Watten’s original setting of the Clairvoyant Journals, and he presents his assertions about Weiner as in accord with an interpretive party line. Yet Durgin’s instinct to shut both Weiner and himself up in scholarly lineage, his admirable humility, seems well-intentioned but misplaced. Hannah Weiner’s Open House is a vital contribution to a lively, mixed-media conversation that in its multiplicity captures Weiner’s own indefatigable zeal for formal inquiry and her effort to reproduce in various media the many voices in her life.” - Joyelle McSweeney
“Perhaps the most shocking revelation in Hannah Weiner’s Open House, out this past spring from Kenning Editions, comes in the very last sentence of Patrick F. Durgin’s excellent introduction. It’s not the fact of just how many of Weiner’s books are out of print, nor how lucid & unpsychotic Weiner’s pre-“clairvoyant” writing is, nor even how lucid & unpsychotic some of her later work is (Cf. “If Workshop,” a proposal it would seem from the late 1980s), not even how little actual space, just ten pages from 156 given to her work, that the excerpt Clairvoyant Journal, Weiner’s signature volume, takes up in this impeccable version of a selected works.
The real shocker is that Patrick F. Durgin never met Hannah Weiner, who’s been gone now for only ten years. This is a shocker because Durgin would appear to have become the best friend Weiner ever had. Durgin has done more than anyone to make her writing accessible, thus to enhance her reputation. Now with Hannah Weiner’s Open House, he gives us the big picture, the book that shows the overall arc of this remarkable poet’s entire career. It’s a wonderful collection, even tho (or perhaps because) it’s going to send many of its readers to AddAll or Abebooks.Com to find whatever remains available of the original texts.
In the past I’ve characterized Weiner as a militant & precise realist of a distinct reality, one conditioned by her schizophrenia. Nothing in HWOH makes me want to step back from that description, tho this volume does a far better job than any of her previous books in placing Weiner’s writing and its development into a larger framework, one that includes the downtown Manhattan performance scene of the 1960s & ‘70s, and the New York School, particularly its second generation.
One might have expected Weiner to have been closer, in fact, to the first round of the New York School poets, born as she was in 1928, just one year younger than John Ashbery, two than Frank O’Hara. But with the exception of Barbara Guest & Bunny Lang & a few painters, that was never a generation particularly open to women as such. And Weiner appears to have been a late bloomer, first performing her Code Poem works at the age of 40. A Brandeis grad who had gone through a marriage to, I believe, a psychoanalyst, Weiner was a successful lingerie designer when she performed the first work documented here, “Hannah Weiner at Her Job,” at the A.H. Schreiber Company on West 33rd Street, room 1200. She was successful enough that Simeon Schreiber, her boss, participated in the event, which included one pair of bikini bottoms “made especially for this show by August Fabrics and A.H. Schreiber.“
Weiner was even slower to begin publishing, with her first book, Magritte Series appearing in 1970. Clairvoyant Journal, the volume that made Weiner famous (or at least notorious) with its claim to have had portions of the text transcribed from language Weiner saw on people’s foreheads, on walls, or simply hovering mid-air, at times in elaborate textures, such as dog fur, is published by Angel Hair in 1978. It’s only her second book – Weiner was already 50.
This is a problem as much of the performance art scene as it was a question of the difficulty women still had getting into print in the 1970s. Jackson Mac Low, Weiner’s friend in that scene who likewise later gravitated toward language poetry, didn’t publish his first big book, Stanzas for Iris Lezak, until he was 48. It was only his fourth book.
Happily, both writers are now acknowledged as the major poets they were, and with HWOH, we finally have a good first step toward presenting her work in print in the same kind of comprehensive & intelligent fashion that has so transformed Jack Spicer’s influence & reputation in the four decades since his death. Durgin has done an especially good job dealing with the typographical challenges presented by Weiner’s texts, which can included many an undotted i and uncrossed t, can slide down the page or over other type. He treats the page as Weiner did, as a compositional field, reproducing some texts directly from books where Weiner herself had an opportunity to approve the final setting, and setting others “with comparable but uniform typefaces.” It’s the antithesis of the disaster than Duncan’s setting of Ground Work: Before the War was in its original edition, using a typewriter to set the page, tho in fact both books are attempting to accommodate the same dynamic, a page where the visual dimension is crucial but created with a technology that doesn’t translate well to contemporary standards.
Patrick Durgin here has accomplished something major. It makes you realize just how much a poet like Duncan could also benefit from his own Patrick Durgin. Weiner’s Durgin is not likely to get any rewards for this, just as the first generation of Spicer scholars¹ discovered that a specialization there was a ticket to adjuncting sans benefits for life. At best. But poets do, I think, recognize just how vital, even world-changing, such labor can be. For this, we must bow deeply in the direction of Patrick Durgin & offer our thanks.” – Ron Silliman
“Silent Teacher Remembered: Hannah Weiner\'s Open House” by Thom Donovan
Hannah Weiner, Weeks, Xexoxial Editions, 2010. (1989.)
“At one point in her life this clairvoyant author saw her books on her forehead. This book, however, is a hearing of the world as it happens, one writing per week. One quickly learns by reading that there is no logic to disaster or everyday life. Of special interest to mediaglots.”
"My friend, the writer Barbara Rosenthal, gave me a page-a-day diary last Christmas to encourage me to write. Not seeing words anymore, I looked for another source. I found it in the TV news, which accounts for the bulk of the material. I typed it up week by week, which
accounts for the title." - Weiner on the origin of Weeks
"Weeks, in its extremity, represents the institutionalization of collage into a form of evenly hovering emptiness that actively resists analysis or puncturing. In Weeks, the virus of news is shown up as a pattern of reiteration and displacement, tale without teller . . . Weiner's Weeks is a shocking cul de sac to a tradition of the found in American poetry – a tradition that includes, by any brief accounting, Charles Reznikoff's Testimony, Sterling Brown's ethnographic
encounters with the black oral tradition, William Borroughs' cut-ups, Jack Spicer's "received" poems, Jackson MacLow's processing of source material, or Ronald Johnson's erasure of Milton in radi os" – Charles Bernstein
or at Google Books
Hannah Weiner, Clairvoyant Journal 1974, Angel Hair Books, 1978.
“Avant-Garde Journalism: Hannah Weiner's Early and Clairvoyant Journals” by Patrick Durgin
“Psychosocial Disability and Post-Ableist Poetics: The “Case” of Hannah Weiner's Clairvoyant Journals” by Patrick F. Durgin
On Clairvoyant Journal
Hannah Weiner, Country Girl, 1971.
“The lyric genius is conscious of a world of images and symbols – growing out of [her] state of mystical self-abnegation and oneness. This world has a coloring . . .” – Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy
“The more I understand the auras the less I need the signals.” – Hannah Weiner, Country Girl
Both companion and sequel to Hannah Weiner’s enduringly popular first journal, The Fast, Weiner’s similarly absorbing Country Girl has received far less critical attention, presumably because of its relatively limited availability to trade. Written in 1971, Country Girl remained an unpublished manuscript for three decades. It was published as a chapbook (in a run limited to one-hundred copies) by Kenning Editions in 2004, and that same year Weiner’s typescript pages for the journal were uploaded onto the UCSD Mandeville Special Collections website. While The Fast has been marvelously explicated in sustained considerations by Caroline Bergvall, Corina Copp, and Johanna Drucker, there is in fact no critical discourse on Country Girl. This oversight is, unfortunately, somewhat characteristic of discourse on Weiner, which has tended to revolve mostly around her magnum opus Clairvoyant Journal, sometimes to the exclusion of other works in her impressively diverse oeuvre. In this talk I hope to move towards correcting this trend, by offering a reading of Country Girl that considers this remarkable text on its own terms while also situating itself within a broader redescription of Weiner’s overall project. While their status as undercited works by Hannah Weiner would seem reason enough to me to renew our attention towards books like Country Girl or Weiner’s late masterpiece Page, it seems doubly useful to do so for the potential new readings of neglected texts pose for recalibrating our awareness of Weiner’s total accomplishment, as well as our senses of the texts we know well. Country Girl was composed during an intriguing interval in Weiner’s art career, after the emergence of her clairvoyant faculties and before she famously began seeing words. Although by its own diminutive appraisal on manuscript pg. 10 the journal is nothing more than a “boring account of colors and food,” Country Girl is a striking narrative of literary apprenticeship as absolutely absorbing and surreal as The Fast. This second of the early journals also provides evidence for reading Weiner’s later “clair-style” poetics as a distinct mode of experimentation in lyric as well as in what I will call “presentist” modes of writing – two positions which dramatically enhance our sense of the heterogeneity of practices consolidated under the banner of Language writing, as well as our sense of Weiner’s own capacious role as a bridge figure connecting the usually disparate worlds of conceptual/performance art, New York School poetics, and Language writing.
Composed near the one-year anniversary of Weiner’s fast, Country Girl extends the conceptual bases of her first journal in documentation and body-work, while reversing two of the constraints: this second time around the poet is (as the book’s title would indicate) in the country and not the city, and she is experimenting with eating rather than fasting. Like The Fast, the reader is with Country Girl immediately immersed within a veritable phantasmagoria of overwhelming clairvoyant experience. Polychromatic energy fields, auditory “hallucinations,” and intense emotional affects surround Weiner here as much as the seen words and domestic debris which later manifest in Clairvoyant Journal, with the difference in Country Girl that Weiner is still trying to process and make sense of this new universe of illegible and understandably frightening psychic and somatic experience. An almost sinister sense of approbation – as well as escapism – frames the journal, as Weiner treats her phenomenal surround semiotically, and commits to the improvisatory enterprise of interpreting all manner of clairvoyant phenomena as signals or instructions to be guided by or misread only at risk of the very real peril of her bodily health. The text’s first paragraph firmly establishes the conditions of this enterprise, as well a sober, present-tense tone of immediacy and diaristic candor that Weiner will maintain throughout the manuscript’s eighteen pages:
I am in the country. Whether or not the spirit, which is what I called my mind at that time, approves. I cried a little when I put the deposit in the mail. Please I want to be well. So many negative visual signs on the above paragraph. I am now trying to be guided by my experience in what I’ve learned from the spirit, instead of just following advise. It is now I who make the decisions and the spirit gives a yes or no on all things. He, she, it, is so active. I do not always listen.
This first paragraph quickly foregrounds a cluster of conditions that will structure Weiner’s text, and forms something of a tutorial matrix by which we as readers are initiated into the journal and into this new mise en scène of Weiner’s work.
Weiner’s stubborn decision to sometimes not listen to the “sprit” underlines what Judith Goldman has called her invention of “reverse discourse” – i.e., her “clair” tendency to invert the normal subject positions of apostrophic, lyric poetry. Weiner’s location in the country – a condition which is conspicuously foregrounded in the work, not only providing its title but also the content of its declarative first line – is far from an arbitrary detail, as it only serves to further establish this engagement of Weiner’s work (even the early journals) with traditional constructions of what William Fitzgerald might call “lyric positionality.” For the lyric has had a peculiar and specific fixation with the locus of the country historically, whether from investing it as a “rustic” foil for the Roman notions of urbanity and culturedness which get performed in the maledictions of Catullus, or to its modern construction as a nobly savage site of authenticity and “real” vernacular in Wordsworth’s “Preface” to Lyrical Ballads. Like her earlier decision to lock herself inside her apartment for three weeks while fasting, Weiner’s decision to now leave the city sets up a controlled condition by which she can investigate peak affective states of her body, locating her in the country as in a laboratory of somatically intensive emotions, pains, colors, clothes, and foods. In this sense it is useful to note how all of Weiner’s domestic experiments disorder what Kathleen Kete has called the bourgeois “syntax of the home” – i.e., “the omnipresent arrangement of the imaginary in ordinary life.”
Although Weiner’s first-person obviously isn’t inflected with the sense of guilt which trademarks banal confessionalism – with the journal reading much more like lab notes or a traveler’s log – the word “I” is ever-present in her early her journals, and in fact a distinct sense of anaphora accumulates in Country Girl, as the pronoun begins every sentence for long sections of the text. While contributing to our sense of Weiner as a poet creatively engaged with historically performative tropes of the lyric – as well as with the interest in documentation then trending in the world of New York conceptual art – the early journals also give the lie to the observation that some commenters (e.g., Ron Silliman) have made that the frequency of the first-person in Weiner’s later clairvoyant texts like Sixteen or Nijole’s House represents a sudden and newfound phenomena in her work.
Even more striking to me than Weiner’s unorthodox lyric and performance-art self-positioning, however, is the extent to which Country Girl assembles a narrative of the poet’s literary-clairvoyant apprenticeship. As the journal’s first lines indicate, Weiner’s primary concern while in the country is to better understand the “advise” and information she experiences herself receiving from her “guiding” “spirit,” while simultaneously synthesizing its counsel with her personal intuition by reasserting her own “experience” and subjectivity against her clairvoyance’s penchant for whimsy, self-contradiction, and misdirection. Country Girl charts this complex and fraught negotiation, as Weiner seeks though her fatigue and emotional sadness to be a keen and autonomous apprentice of her clairvoyant-affective experience. This hyphenated linkage between psychic-somatic experience is all too real for Weiner, who suffers misreadings of the clairvoyant signals, or censures of her autonomous decisions, as acute and enervating physical pains: “Sometimes when the spirit is really serious a shot of pain goes to my knee. That is a definite no,” she writes on page 1. This clairvoyant semiotics of pain informs and monitors all of Weiner’s activity in her country house, and is explicitly linked in the poet’s understanding to what she conceives of as the mutually overlapping and coextensive enterprises of her life and writing: “I wish I could understand the signals. Perhaps the book would be clearer too. My life would be.” While Weiner explains that “when I hit upon a truth I see a bell if my eyes are closed,” the clairvoyant signals bemusingly disagree with one another – a fact which is further complicated by the psychological tricks of recollection and repetition. Weiner knows “that some of the images I see are not meaningful signs, just the memory repeating itself in visual images.”
In an obituary for Weiner written for the St. Mark’s Poetry Project Newsletter, Charles Bernstein observed that Weiner refused “to accept any characterization of herself as mentally ill.” This is an important qualification of Weiner’s clairvoyance that is certainly borne out in this early scene of the phenomena, as Weiner’s concern here is instead definitely fixed on a catalog of collectively debilitating physical ailments that her degree of understanding of the clairvoyance transacts with and alternately amplifies or assuages. While Weiner attributes a short list of negative psychological “tensions” including “fears, anger, anxiety” to “city problems” which happily evaporated during her relocation, Country Girl’s third manuscript page gives a succinct portrait of these physical pains and of her interpretative effort relative to them. She writes:
The struggle goes on to learn the care and feeding of arthritis, sciatica, muscle tension, poor circulation, ulcer, plus getting over 40 years of the American way of life. The yoga and yogurt really work. During yoga I can see the deeper colors leave the areas of tension and disease . . . The truth shall set you free. The truth will be a relaxation, a clarity, a certainty that I will experience though the mind. So it is this I must aim for. To try to experience what is true. And to try to know what that is for myself. On these thoughts I experienced (saw) a light flash. So I know that is in the right direction.
Weiner’s rhetoric of “care and feeding” here comically queers a certain cultural construction of nurturing and motherhood, just as the high-pitched fixation on food and eating in Country Girl and The Fast both parodies as it coordinates with the diary’s reputation as a convention-bound and securely gendered genre. More to my point, however, Weiner’s focus on the readerly work of clairvoyant interpretation in Country Girl recalibrates our sense that Weiner’s visions – including the words she would later see – are for her only so many contentless signs which meaninglessly float about her daily life, as something like writ demonstrations of Language writing’s preference for the “materiality of the signifier.” To the contrary, Weiner intuited that the signs had enlightening and instructive reference, and understood herself to be on a path towards interpreting them which held high stakes: not only the integrity of her own physical health, but beyond that the noble endeavors of artistic practice, truth-seeking, and psychic elevation through a surprising aesthetic of claritas. In one moment Weiner ironically notates, “I just said to myself ‘I’m a philosopher’ and heard a voice say ‘genius.’ It was the faint voice, however, that’s been saying a lot of things”; although in another she is so frustrated by the enormity and missteps of her pursuit that she apostrophically sighs, “oh fuck signals.” “Too much information is confusion,” she laments.
The curricular quality of Weiner’s interface with her clairvoyance in Country Girl is lucidly illuminated by Gilles Deleuze’s efforts to assemble an affective theory of aesthetic apprenticeship in his early monograph on Proust, a gorgeous but undercited text in literary studies that mobilize Deleuze. Rereading Proust’s famous crescendos of involuntary memory less through a logic of epiphany than one of semiotic apprehension and artistic self-transformation, Deleuze redescribes In Search Of Lost Time as a narrative of affective-phenomenological literacy and artistic becoming; the simple objects which trigger Marcel’s recollective associations are for Deleuze signals guiding the narrator on his path towards coming into, after three thousand pages, his vocation as a writer. Deleuze holds the creative capacity of the human as the highest of all its mental faculties, and for him Marcel’s signs emerge from and guide the artist back towards univocal ontologic essence. While a rehearsal of Deleuze’s metaphysics is mercifully well outside the bounds of this talk, its essential aspect in this context is that Deleuze’s one substance of being is an immanent field which acts as a kind of difference engine. For Deleuze, the very substance of the universe is a self-differenciating virtual field, but the habitus and conformity of our normal “image” or model of thought severely limits our capabilities for thinking and our capacity to produce difference. When this “original essence” is confronted an “encounter” occurs which cracks the image of thought, loosens difference, and tests the very bounds of one’s subjectivity and self-identity; for Deleuze, Marcel’s madeleines are apertures onto this encounter.
Using an orientalized rhetoric of Egyptogly to separate the artistic endeavor of sign-reading from a Greek topos of rationality and logic, Deleuze explains the coordination of artistic or “sensuous” (i.e., affective) signs with the encounter of essence:
The mistake is to suppose that the hieroglyphics represent “only material objects” [Proust]. But what now permits the interpreter to go further is that meanwhile the problem of art has been raised and has received a solution. Now the world of art is the ultimate world of signs, and these signs, as though dematerialized, find their meaning in an ideal essence. Henceforth, the world revealed by art reacts on all the others and notably on the sensuous signs; it integrates them, colors them with an aesthetic meaning, and imbues what was still opaque about them. Then we understand that the sensuous signs already referred to an ideal essence that was incarnated in their material meaning, But without art we should not have understood.
For Deleuze art triggers a “discord” and “chain of force or fuse” along which human faculties are ignited from the from torpor of their conventional circuitry and thought-patterns. “Truth [i.e., difference] is never the product of a prior disposition, but the result of a violence in thought,” Deleuze writes, for “Truth depends on an encounter with something that forces us to think and to seek the truth.” Weiner’s country-house escapade is a vivid laboratory for this extraordinary form of artistic truth-seeking and subjective self-renunciation, and Deleuze rightly recognizes the radical and depersonalizing effort this enterprise represents, as well the fact that it invites real hazards along the way. He writes:
Each line of apprenticeship undergoes these two moments: the disappointment afforded by an attempted objective interpretation, then the attempted remedy of this disappointment by a subjective interpretation in which we reconstruct an associative series . . . . [But] It is the essence that is the last word of the apprenticeship or the final revelation . . . The worldly signs, the signs of love, even the sensuous signs are incapable of giving us the essence; they bring us closer to it, but we always fall back into the snare of subjectivity. It is only on the level of art that the essences are revealed. But once they are manifested in the work of art, they react upon all the other realms; we learn that they already incarnated, that they were already there in all these kinds of signs, in all the types of apprenticeship.
The psychic-somatic torments Weiner suffers in her early efforts to alternately assign her signs either objective or subjective meaning are the growing pains of her depersonalizing becoming as a clairvoyant poet, and the hallmarks of the struggle to disrupt the image of thought. That Weiner’s, as well as Proust’s, literary apprenticeships are so linked to ingestive repetitions of foods and drugs underlines the radical, total-body nature of Deleuze’s “chain of force,” and imbues the artistic apprenticeship with a vivid, nearly biopolitical valence. In one moment of interpretative indecision, Weiner recalls:
I was feeling down and wanted to open one of my birthday presents which are sitting out in their ribbons and decided upon one that jingled, and sounded like a toy. I saw a picture of the wrapping on my left arm. I felt I should open that one, and then asked myself (or the spirits) if I should and get [sic] a negative and confused answer. I opened it anyway and was glad I did for it was a little pumpkin with which I can celebrate Halloween. I thought “The squash is done. Take it out.” I asked myself if it were and I got a negative answer. Later I went to the squash and it was almost ruined. The first time was right.
Elsewhere, Weiner discovers that “Fish has a blue aura, eggs red, cheese blue, wheat germ purple, with milk blue, avocado purple, dried peaches, acid green glowing red, dried apricots, red.” She turns “bright red after eating fish for 3 or 4 days and eggs and fruit,” and resonantly wonders, “Does everyone who develops clairvoyance go through this?”
Another way of thinking Deleuze’s artistic encounter with “original essence” is through Nietzsche’s heterodox, asubjective logic of the lyric. Untroubled by the usual association of “that little word ‘I’” with the irritating narcissism of bourgeois subjectivity so familiar from facile forms of lyric criticism, for Nietzsche the lyric poet is in fact she who radically surrenders her subjectivity in the hellish process of artistic creation, merging herself with “primordial” being in a painful, self-abnegating process. “The ‘I’ of the lyricist therefore sounds from the depth of [her] being,” Nietzsche writes, “its ’subjectivity,’ in the sense of modern aesthetics is a fiction.” He goes on:
the images of the lyrist are nothing but [her] very self and, as it were, only different projections of [herself], so [she], as the moving center of this world, may say “I”: of course, this real self is not the same as that of the waking, empirically real [woman], but the only true existent and eternal self resting at the basis of things, through whose images the lyric genius sees this very basis.
It is indeed in this sense of art’s capacity to break through the snares of subjectivity and momentarily presence the world’s eternal, ontologic basis that we should understand Nietzsche’s famous dictum – formulated in this same discourse on the lyric – that “it is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified.” It is in this same sense that Thom Donovan has productively read Weiner’s sometimes discomfiting engagement with the American Indian Movement in her later clairvoyant writing as a Nietzschean ethic to live inside history, with Weiner transacting with and even inhabiting Native subject positions not as identities to be colonized or heroically absorbed into the magisterial being of the poet, but as affective states she embodies in a way that empathizes with rather than effaces their subjectivity. If, as Barrett Watten maintains, Weiner is indeed the “test-case” for Language poetry, her status as a “lyric genius” is absolutely confirmed by Nietzsche’s crystal-clear test for this other genre as well: “At bottom, the aesthetic phenomenon is simple,” he writes, “let anyone have the ability to behold continually a vivid play and to live constantly surrounded by hosts of spirits, and [she] will be a poet.” – Robert Dewhurst
Hannah Weiner, We Speak Silent, Roof Books, 1996.
“Poetry. In WE SPEAK SILENT, an opus of the quirky relationships between people and their words, Hannah Weiner becomes the vessel for the emotional spectrum of the human comedy. It is a continuing adventure in language.”
“sweetheart please the torture of meeting someone new
is impossible they ask you how old you are and what
you do for a living
silent teaching is a disgrace maw really a disgrace can
you put this in a paragraph book form
should i give more instructions sweetheart like could
i meet ya late tonight
Hannah Weiner is the author of numerous books of poetry and prose in a publishing career dating from the mid-60’s. From The Code Poems (1968), her work displayed language-like signal flags waved from ships at sea. With the publication of Clairvoyant Journal (1974), she began writing words outside the mind, building the most vivid lexical pantheon in contemporary writing. Her politics in Little Books/ Indians, published by Roof in 1980, confirmed her inside-out project by inscribing the subliminal messages she receives from her characters. We Speak Silent, is Weiner’s most recent work, an opus of the quirky relationships between people and their words. In We Speak Silent, Weiner becomes the vessel for the emotional spectrum of the human comedy. It confirms hers as one of the most unique and fascinating of oeuvres, a continuing adventure in language.”
Hannah Weiner, Little Books/Indians, Roof Books, 1980.
“Weiner, who died in 1997, culled from what she considered a psychic ability -- she literally saw words on the foreheads of her many New York friends and transcribed them like extrasensory conversations -- to create her typographically distinctive books of poetry. But there is nothing naïve about what Weiner was doing: she was a self-conscious, sophisticated artist, a close friend of the great innovator Carolee Schneemann, and has long been considered a central figure in Language poetry. Weiner's oeuvre reflects a complex, totalizing investment in the properties of words as they permeate and conflict with the self and the imagined "other," and Little Books/Indians, long out of print, is both a visual treat and an engaging read.”
MARCHyou can alwaysoveride yourfathers disciplinarytactics
your mother is NOTESinsistentsometimesSENTENCE
you can always replace yourown mindwith a MACHINE
I still have a problemsubmitting to agricultureHORMONES
I still have a problem at GOODRICHnight withmy 4-8sleeping underlines interrup
dont continue to across screensee RACESWITH THIS
- from LITTLE BOOKS/INDIANS
Read it (pdf)
Hannah Weiner, Page, Roof Books, 2003.
“Hannah Weiner’s Page is the final, major, unpublished work of the notorious, clairvoyant poet who died in New York 1997. Completed in 1990, Page uses Weiner’s combination of family, TV cartoon, and high-art diction to weave a unique view of the individual interacting with society. The reader gets the sense that the poet is just barely hanging on, tenaciously, tenuously, and touchingly. Hannah has the ability to make you sympathetic and needy, exposing your humanity to you in every phrase. Hannah Weiner was born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1928 and died in Manhattan in 1997. Page, completed in 1990, is the first posthumous publication of her work.”
Perhaps no one else but Hannah Weiner has written of the human psyche with such grace — written in it, by it, alongside it, through it, and persuasively as it. I would make this argument of Jackson Mac Low’s work as well. As Ron Silliman once remarked, Mac Low is in some sense the ‘first American poet to throw over the so-called Problem of the Subject, showing it to be a mere sum of the writing’ (40). But obviously this and more must be said; the sum of the writing becomes a too-vague common denominator without an irreducible quality, one which Weiner extends to the page, a technique she called ‘large-sheet poetry’ (Weiner, quoted in Bernstein 187).
Being less than roughly the same age, and being explicitly located in the New York avant-garde of the sixties and seventies, Mac Low and Weiner share, if nothing else, respective peculiarities the literary historian has yet to call to account. In this sense, so much for the sum of the writing. What has been so compelling about their respective works has been less a vindication of formalist critical terminology on either side of the procedural and processural divide, but rather the way these authors showed that divide to be opportune and even decisive.
Although oft-cited, that various band of tendencies associated with what Dick Higgins called ‘intermedial’ or what I would call ‘indeterminate’ artists ranging from Claes Oldenburg, Morton Feldman, and Mac Low to Weiner herself is yet to be usefully given its due — specifically in the narrative that runs from Olson’s New American project directly, via deliberate rupture, to Language Poetry. This is the binge and purge cycle by which USAmerican avant-gardes are thus named. For those familiar with Weiner’s work, a tempting trajectory will be the one reinforced by John Perrault’s review of the 1978 publication of The Clairvoyant Journal in the St. Mark’s Poetry Project Newsletter.
Many were trying to do it; few could. For various reasons we wanted to get poetry off the page... media crossover... Off the page and into the dustbin of history. It was the 60s, so everything seemed possible. The poetry reading became the poetry event became the performance. And Hannah Weiner was in the middle of it... And what is left of these works? Hannah Weiner burned all her documentation and became a clairvoyant poet. (8)
More recently, readings of Weiner’s clairvoyant writings have oscillated from brusquely limiting discussions of trauma (viz. the author’s supposed neurological condition) to unabashedly doctrinaire Derridian discourse — ultimately poised to recuperate an oeuvre that can hardly be said to have been lost in the first place (Damon, Goldman). It seems to me a good idea to return to Mac Low’s jacket blurb, on the back cover of my copy of the Clairvoyant Journal.
Hannah Weiner is the only clairvoyant I know, or that I’ve ever known, as far as I know. She is also the only person on record — or so she believes as a result of her extensive investigations into both medical & parapsychic literature — to have experienced the particular phenomenon this journal represents, that of being ‘spoken to’ by several persons, most of them seemingly external to herself, by means of printed words in various colors & sizes that appear both on other persons & objects & on her own forehead (in such a way that she can perceive them from within). Hers, however, might have been but a ‘remarkable case,’ were it not for the fact that she is an artist. Her achievement — & it is a considerable one — lies in her having developed a specific literary form through which to convey her remarkable experience.
Unless one registers the import of this statement, while refusing to reduce the page to the subject, and the subject to ‘a mere sum of the writing,’ Weiner’s ‘grace,’ as I see it, will be very much beside the point. But if that is the point, let’s get to it.
Twelve years after completion of a fair copy, and six years following her death, the publication of Weiner’s Page is opportune. Foremost, it is an opportunity for pleasure — the book is exemplary of a newer USAmerican lyricism that mobilizes the grace of the human psyche without entailing humanist predispositions that allow us to toss off phrases like ‘the lyric poem.’ This grace is specifically an aesthetic grace, as Mac Low points out, not a disingenuously transparent case-record of perverse pathological states. What is important here is, yes, a kind of craft. Weiner writes clairvoyantly. This is a procedural and a processural technique.
She also writes ‘large-sheet poetry’ which, one can now see, may in fact have been, as much as possible, perfected as form in Page (though The Clairvoyant Journal remains exemplary in many ways). But ‘large-sheet poetry’ is primarily a technique, not a form. ‘hannah I just sign my name put origin’ (Page 121). This deceptively simple, apparently involuted lyric address is typical of Weiner’s clairvoyant writings. But it contains its own impersonation — not ventriloquism, not its own opposite — being resolutely on and about that perhaps waning index of the talking book we have, for centuries, called our lives: the page.
For Weiner, we are / were radically on the same page. Determined to explore the phenomena of astrals, e.s.p., and other communal psychic techniques of, as she put it in an unpublished writing workshop syllabus, ‘awareness and communication,’ Weiner had gone well past Spicerian ‘dictation’ and proceeded to try and demonstrate the social event per se. She figured it as clairvoyance, which as a trope denotes prediction, but as a technique denotes a holistic pedagogical technique, a ‘silent teaching.’ Late works, such as We Speak Silent, present a confluence of voices which impersonate the mastery of originality through the voices of her friends and peers, Andrew Levy, Jackson Mac Low, and Bob Dylan among them. Page is comparatively more ‘lyric’ in terms of address. Charles Bernstein, Weiner’s literary executor, offers the deaths of Weiner’s mother and aunt in the mid-1980s as ‘the backdrop of the poem’ (134).
That Weiner’s brand of clairvoyance is not simply a quasi-mystical trope for the lyric realization of the subject in the staid machinations of history is indicated in her cover letter, printed with the book, and addressed ‘Dear hero.’ Weiner writes,
Three sections: PAGE (44 pages), ARTICLES (53 pages), SAME PAGE (19 pages). If you want to disorder them complete you obediently you stuck confident. So clear I didn’t number in order. In order sequence written honest. Be terrific. Same written be careful overconfident historical submit. 116 page sacrifice omit [...]
That the ‘Dear hero’ letter serves as jacket blurb here is a wise move. Given the provision for overconfidence and sacrifice, in light of the ‘stuck confident’ sequence of pages offered, the onus rests on how ‘clear’ and ‘honest’ the materials can be in this exchange. What, in this rendition of the social event, is being exchanged is pages. In preparing this first posthumous collection by Weiner, the editors have chosen, just as wisely, to refrain from making ‘corrections.’ This is not the mystical promise of capital exchange elevated to a poetry ‘written honest’ — honest for its dictatorial narcissism. But neither is it a social microcosm, like Spicer’s Berkeley or North Beach.
These pages allow for the sort of melancholy the ‘backdrop’ suggests, running throughout the poem in the most obvious case of addresses to ‘sis’ — or, in the preface, ‘Hannah Weiner Statement,’ ‘Mother teaches simple see introduction enclosed’ — but the vivid interruptions and mingling of social material loses nothing for all these things may claim for the poem. Moreover, the first page seems to squelch the alienating sense of clairvoyance as ‘power’ Weiner put forth about this time in a brief statement for the Poetics Journal’s ‘symposium on the person,’ ‘Other Person,’ while amplifying Weiner’s commitment to silent teaching despite the ‘fear’ and ‘loss’ indicated.
oh I was finish a article youre joking
poor stupid stop correctly it wouldnt
hurt stop names somebody watching feelings
publish this article whens a period have you a
publish page make this a article book some other
subjects do you have a reading well it
cancels it just us sis it lasts ten days
in our silence well we dont cancel this girls
page this little book returns sis Im
writing return watch the weather plus I
get young girl my headache sometime
well you had the news plus the article book
sis it makes it clear conscientious like this
book make the fast publish it says it has
two periods make more complete sis it says
something did you invent sis it hurts
itself reading the book well you get stuck
she puts it in the mail sentence because
I fear a mistake question dont feel ques you
lost sublime your power not complete
this sentence page uncomplete on this page end
surprise he hero subject watchful thats
end sentence which is it a paragraph (3)
What, then, is the struggle of the line, sentence, paragraph, and page (a continuum methodically explored through Weiner’s career with the richness of Gertrude Stein’s similar commitments)? Or, what’s at stake in this struggle? The final page, a ‘SAME PAGE,’ contains this ‘large-sheet’ subtitle, ‘sis struggle with content should be contrseeobhanqucontroltwopages’ (133). But this is far from soapboxing on the form / content debate, whose terms are quite illusory in this context.
same name omits providenceity same line continues
mother sincerity big publisher destroy
confidential destroy private comply editorial
very better languagecenterwriting control obvious
I repeat literature getoffthepageconnectwordssilent
sismotherwords getprivatecompany get
off spell connecting WORDS HINTING (132)
Part of the struggle is with our refusal to hold the center. So what if it does not hold? It was never asked to do any such thing. ‘literature’ is merely a failure of intention: ‘seen words with it should be in provide’ (133). And indeed, what is at stake is all in your mind:
When I see words I am also able to know, by reading or handling a book, as example, if an author is a friend, what her illness is, what books she prefers, whether she knows what to do for herself, whether to read her at all. ... clairvoyantly I am the other to myself ... In my nonclairvoyant work there is no person. (‘Other Person,’ 98)
The ‘SAME PAGE’ section, which closes the book, is characterized by the saturation of the page with keystrokes — the book is set in a courier-style font emulating Weiner’s actual typescripts — ‘pleaseconnectwordsofficepresidentkidyourselfofficegetofftheconnect’ (132). The large sheet is not a trace of a ‘lost sublime’ communion dictation might repair. ‘Control,’ the title given to many pages of this book, tends less to binary extremes of a dialectical pursuit than to the reader’s entirely unambiguous invitation, ‘publish,’ ‘provide.’ For Weiner, there could be no knowledge without the pimary communicative condition: gratitude. There is no other heroism. The canny grace of Weiner’s parting words is hard to miss.” - Patrick F. Durgin
Hannah Weiner, The Book of Revelations
Hannah Weiner, The Magritte Poems
Read it (pdf)
Hannah Weiner, Pictures and Early Words
Hannah Weiner, Big Words
“HANNAH WEINER has been so much a part of my life as a writer that I find that her death hasn’t ended my relation to her but moved it into another dimension. I don’t mean anything supernatural about that — I always played the resolute skeptic to Hannah’s more heterodox beliefs; but I never doubted that she was a visionary poet, and I found her insistence on her clairvoyance to be a welcome relief from the heavy-handed rhetoric of poet as prophet that she so utterly rejected.
Hannah Weiner While Hannah befriended, and was admired by, many poets of my own generation, her poetry begins to make a different sense when considered in the context of some of the poets of her own generation. Like many of these poets, she was deeply influenced by Eastern thought and in search of a poetry of everyday life. In this, her project resonates with Ashbery, Mac Low, Guest, Ginsberg, Eigner, Creeley, Wieners, and Schuyler. Like Jack Spicer, she understood that if the heart of poetry were a radical foregrounding of the medium of writing, then this would also mean that the writing, and possibly the writer, became a medium. But a medium of what, for what? One of Hannah’s most enduring achievements as a writer was her unflinching, indeed often hilarious, inclusion of what, from a literary point of view, is often denigrated as trivial, awkward, embarrassing, silly, and, indeed, too minutely personal, even for the advocates of the personal in writing.
For Hannah Weiner, nothing was too minute to merit recording, but she decisively rejected all the extant literary models for recording personal thoughts or feelings — from the single-voice lyric to the narrative-driven diary. The motivation for Hannah’s charting of her personal space was not primarily self-expression — any more than the motivation for Descartes’s meditations were primarily self-expression. Rather, she used her self as the most ready-to-hand site for her experiments on the relation of language to consciousness. Hannah’s work is an unrelenting synthesis of radical formal innovation and intensely personal content. Her best-known work remains The Clairvoyant Journal (Angel Hair, 1978), where she used a three-voice structure to record not only her own diaristic impressions and notations but also — scored in italics — a voice commenting on what she had written and — in capital letters — giving commands to her. This highly original fugal structure — an explicit alternative to the more conventional monologic forms — found vivid realization in the three-person performances that she gave in the 1970s and 1980s.
Hannah Adelle Finegold was born in Providence, Rhode Island on November 4, 1928. She graduated from Classical High School in 1946 and went on to Radcliffe College, class of 1950 (magna cum laude), where she wrote a dissertation on Henry James. After several jobs in publishing, she became an assistant buyer at Bloomingdale’s. In the meantime she married a psychiatrist; the marriage ended in divorce after four years. Subsequently, Weiner got a job designing lingerie. She began to write poetry in 1963. Her best known work of this period is The Code Poems (Open Studio, 1982), written using the international code of signals (nautical flag signals). These works were also the basis of performances she gave in the 1960s and she was a participant in the downtown performance scene of the time. After 1970, she devoted herself to writing, emphasizing that all her works written after 1972 were based on ‘seeing words’. As she says in an epigraph to The Clairvoyant Journal: ‘I SEE words on my forehead IN THE AIR on other people on the typerwriter on the page." Her other books include Little Books/Indians (Roof Books, 1980), Spoke (Sun & Moon Press, 1984), Silent Teachers / Remembered Sequel (Tender Buttons, 1993), and We Speak Silent (Roof, 1997).
It is an irony, perhaps, that the writing that Hannah will be best remembered for coincided with a period in which schizophrenia made her everyday life increasingly difficult. Hannah’s illness was often shrugged off as eccentricity, as in we’re all a little crazy after all. But few us suffer from our craziness in the way Hannah did and her schizophrenia was not merely metaphoric, despite the fact that Hannah did not accept any characterization of herself as mentally ill. Surely there was the fear that since Hannah’s work was predicated on hearing voices and seeing words, her identification as schizophrenic would discredit the achievement of a poetry in which the very idea of a stable, expressive lyric self is exploded into what might, indeed, metaphorically be described as a kind of schizophrenic writing. This may be less a problem for work such as James Schuyler’s, where mental illness is explicitly figured, or for writers like Holderlin, in his late poems, or Wieners, where the lyric voice may be read as a kind of sanctuary from schizophrenia. In any case, Hannah Weiner’s work is not a product of her illness but an heroic triumph in the face of it. Her personal courage in refusing to succumb to what often must have been unbearable fear induced by her illness, her persistence in writing in spite of her disabilities, is one of the legacies of her work. And if her schizophrenia gave her insight into language, into human consciousness, into the nature of how everyday life can be presented rather than represented in writing — well, we all have to start from where we are.
While Hannah’s last few years weren’t easy, she continued to produce amazing writing, pushing her own poetry and the possibilities for poetry into new zones of perception. What else are poets for?” - Charles Bernstein
Caroline Bergvall: “BODY & SIGN: Some thoughts around the work of Aaron Williamson, Hannah Weiner, and Henri Michaux”
Maria Damon: “Hannah Weiner Beside Herself: Clairvoyance After Shock or The Nice Jewish Girl Who Knew Too Much”
Judith Goldman: “Hannah=hannaH: Politics, Ethics, and Clairvoyance in the Work of Hannah Weiner”
Thom Donovan: “Every Name in History is Hannah”
Rodney Koeneke: “Hannah Weiner and Basic English”
Hannah Weiner web page
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