Black Mountain College, Black Mountain, NC 28711
Milton Cemetery Milton, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, USA
John Joseph Wieners (January 6, 1934 – March 1, 2002) was an American poet.
Born in Milton, Massachusetts, Wieners attended St. Gregory Elementary School in Dorchester, Massachusetts and Boston College High School. From 1950 to 1954, he studied at Boston College, where he earned his A.B. On September 11, 1954 he heard Charles Olson read at the Charles Street Meeting House on Beacon Hill during Hurricane Edna. He decided to enroll at Black Mountain College where he studied under Olson and Robert Duncan from 1955 to 1956. He then worked as an actor and stage manager at the Poet’s Theater in Cambridge, and began to edit Measure, releasing three issues over the next several years.
From 1958 to 1960 Wieners lived in San Francisco and actively participated in the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance. The Hotel Wentley Poems was published in 1958, when Wieners was twenty-four. Subsequently, he was a contributor to Donald Allen's seminal New American Poetry anthology.
Wieners returned to Boston in 1960 and was committed to a psychiatric hospital. In 1961, he moved to New York City and worked as an assistant bookkeeper at Eighth Street Books from 1962-1963, living on the Lower East Side with Herbert Huncke. He went back to Boston in 1963, employed as a subscriptions editor for Jordan Marsh department stores until 1965. Wieners’ second book, Ace of Pentacles, was published in 1964.
In 1965, after traveling with Olson to the Spoleto Festival and the Berkeley Poetry Conference, he enrolled in the Graduate Program at SUNY Buffalo. He worked as a teaching fellow under Olson, then as an endowed Chair of Poetics, staying until 1967, with Pressed Wafer coming out the same year. In 1968, he signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War. In the spring of 1969, Wieners was again institutionalized, and wrote Asylum Poems.
Nerves was released in 1970, containing work from 1966 to 1970. In the early 1970s, Wieners became active in education and publishing cooperatives, political action committees, and the gay liberation movement. He also moved into an apartment at 44 Joy Street on Beacon Hill, where he lived for the next thirty years.
In 1975, Behind the State Capitol or Cincinnati Pike was published, a magnum opus of “Cinema decoupages; verses, abbreviated prose insights.” For the next ten years, he published rarely and remained largely out of the public eye. In 1985, he was a Guggenheim Fellow.
Black Sparrow Press released two collections edited by Raymond Foye: Selected Poems: 1958-1984 and Cultural Affairs in Boston, in 1986 and 1988 respectively. A previously unpublished journal by Wieners came out in 1996, entitled The Journal of John Wieners is to be called 707 Scott Street for Billie Holliday 1959, documenting his life in San Francisco around the time of The Hotel Wentley Poems.
At the Guggenheim Museum in 1999, Wieners gave one of his last public readings, celebrating an exhibit by the painter Francesco Clemente. A collaboration between the two, Broken Women, was also published.
Wieners died on March 1, 2002 at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, having collapsed a few days previously after an evening attending a party with his friend and publisher Charley Shively.
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