Friday, July 31, 2009

FUCK THE MOON it's 40 years of Asylum Poems! 

"Summer is a communion, don't forget it, / Be a poet to handle it." So writes John Wieners in his book Asylum Poems (Angel Hair, 1969). These acute, absorbing poems lend space for the reader's own vexing: present, past, presumed future, of or of not one's own time schedule for the wrath of Decent People. Ah, the Decent People. As Quentin Crisp once said, "Decency must be an even more exhausting state to maintain than its opposite. Those who succeed seem to need a stupefying amount of sleep."

In the summer of 1969 while the hippies were at Woodstock, and Neil Armstrong was walking on the moon, poet John Wieners was a patient at Taunton State Psychiatric Hospital, where he wrote the poems known today as Asylum Poems. While these poems do appear in The Selected Wieners, WHEN and HOW do we get THE COMPLETE John Wieners in print? This book Asylum Poems, was published later in the same year by Anne Waldman and Lewis Warsh's Angel Hair Books. Does anyone know if Waldman and Warsh named the press after the hair of angels, or for the substance called Angel Hair, which is said to be the residue left behind by UFOs? Oh, and oddly enough, also found at sightings of the Virgin Mary! I attended a Crop Circle conference at the Edgar Cayce Institute a few years ago where an incredibly handsome nerd held a glass jar over his head and announced, "I HAVE THE REMNANTS OF ANGEL HAIR IN THIS JAR!" The crowd murmured. This is before I knew about UFO angel hair and I sat thinking, "Did this HOT nerd kill and scalp an angel!? MY GOD I'M IN LOVE!" But then someone told me what he really meant. But I was still in love. Angel Hair Books, what did they mean? Frank Sherlock said, "Maybe the pasta?"

I had to order the book through Interlibrary Loan, and my fingers were crossed that it would actually arrive, since there were ONLY 200 COPIES PRINTED. Wow, only 200 copies. There's a marvelous George Schneeman drawing on the cover of a hand holding a flower WHICH APPEARS TO BE A DAISY on the verge of opening, petals still upright. And I wonder if Mr. Schneeman drew this right before publishing? Because it could be an early mum, which would make it a little later in the year, but it looks like a late summer daisy. There's very delicate pink onion-skin end-paper that made me hold my breath when I saw it, not wanting to damage 1 OF ONLY 200 COPIES IN PRINT! The Angel Hair address is in the back: Box 257 / Peter Stuyvesant Station / New York City 10009. Makes me want to hold this copy next to the old POBox (I'm sure it's now being used by a tax collector or US Marshall) and photograph it, with a sign saying, THIS MAILBOX THROUGH WHICH THIS AMAZING BOOK DID SQUEEZE!

This particular copy came from UMASS / BOSTON LIBRARIES, and I'm grateful the world of libraries is still functioning as the world of libraries should, and that I could get my hands on this rare treasure. It arrived JUST as I had hoped, JUST around the time he was writing the poems, 40 years ago this summer. In celebration of its 40th anniversary I've retyped 4 poems from the book below. While reading the book today from cover-to-cover, I kept STOPPING to imagine what Wieners was feeling and doing when writing them. The poem, below, "MORGANA LA FAY" in particular made me wonder these things, as Morgana la Fay, also known as Morgan le Fay, was the great healer of Arthurian Legend, and she is said to have carried King Arthur to Avalon after his battle at Camlann. She was as her name says, fairy folk shape-shifted into the form of an enchanting woman. In the poem Wieners writes, "The first time going to the museum / alone, on to the library / walking Newbury Street after / the rain, and dining out," a bit of the healer alone, out there, a season of waywardness when healing is clearly IN NEED, especially at Taunton State Psychiatric Hospital.

How lucky for Wieners to have been a poet with good friends to prevent him from disappearing down the long corridors of the institution for good, as it did make people disappear in his day, as it still often does in our own time. (makes me think of Janet Frame on the verge of receiving a lobotomy THEN RECIEVES A LITERARY AWARD, wow, a lobotomy rescued by an award! what a stupid world where patients who didn't get an award got the lobotomy instead) How lucky for us Wieners wrote, and was published by the good publishers at Angel Hair, and that the UMASS librarians don't mind sticking it in an envelope and mailing it off to Philadelphia, OR YOUR CITY next if you choose to go through Interlibrary Loan as I did. But when reading Asylum Poems it made me happy that Wieners had the community, and the love he had to aid him in his time of illness. It's in the poem "SUISSE," where he writes to us "Summer is a communion, don't forget it, / Be a poet to handle it." Yeah, "Be a poet to handle it." I'm grateful Mr. Wieners could handle that summer of 69, but then again he was a poet, so of course HE COULD!

My thanks to Jack Krick for inviting me to help put together a long overdue John Wieners EPC page, spurring me into getting all his books and digging into them.

(see the 4 poems below from the book)


I sit in the evening, not on it
this time the back porch of building, designed in 1933,
the year when conceived, enjoying clear twilight breeze.
Finished a bottle of coke, and my last cigarette, before retiring,
a blind man stumbles out, tapping his cane loudly.



Your lips in a cloud
the spirit that visited
before I died
still assigned to the dead

the cyanide garments
that spirit vented
with tears in payment
from provincial rent

Without personal burden
only refuge denied
such taking allowed
as federal government



the sensation
of 10 assorted dancers
in a crowded dining room

moving as one person
in unison
to a popular tune

daring late afternoon
hip and thighs beat
with sparkling feet

over the stucco floor
before an open door
how fortunate, how poor

we were without the sign,
symbol of recurrence
or occurrence

by buff walls
it was not a waltz

only a standard rock
song, much as students
speak in rejoinder

to a classroom; the same decibels
happening in a bookstore I rose
using the newspaper I had as a fan;

the leaves of clover
fluttering these three
unities I have known

as a tone to a bell's
gong, none of them
lasting longer

than 10-12 seconds
pressing history, light
in memory reckoned.



The return of
again is it
love we look, not
nearly so, only

the absolute inde-
prudence of youth, in
expectation, despite
Charles Dickens.

The first time going to the museum
alone, on to the library
walking Newbury Street after
the rain, and dining out,

visiting New York City on the late evening
train. These things she thought
as the rain pelted the
trees on Long Island during the day,

and thought of F. Scott
Fitzgerald, how he lived still
and his Long Island, always the place
to return, trembling alone

his and Zelda's Babylon
at Christmas, now living in a motel, this evocation
contained in the embrace of phantom love, and
to slip a peg, Lester Young on Times Square

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