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