How the text might be read anew through a queer lens.
John Wieners’ life and work is often framed within the ‘New American Poetry’ and attendant literary communities. Yet though he appeared in Donald Allen’s influential 1959 anthology, and was friends with major figures among the groups famously named in it, he is often painted as something of a tragic outlier: his experiences with drug addiction, mental illness and homophobia rendered him poète maudite or ‘outsider artist’, a supreme poet of loneliness, cut off from social sustenance.
As I aim to demonstrate, this narrative is inadequate, particularly when Wieners’ work of the 1970s is considered, produced within the orbit of the little-studied, Boston-based activist collectives Fag Rag and the Good Gay Poets. Working-class, politically radical and containing early manifestations of ‘genderfuck’, these currents offered an alternative to the dark side of identity politics and the internalised homophobia and transphobia they perpetuated. Good Gay Poets published Wieners’ Behind the State Capitol: or Cincinnati Pike1 in 1975, and it’s my contention that this much-misunderstood book is a crucial document in the history of gender non-conformity, and present trans and non-binary rights movements, as they emerged from within the class and gender bifurcations of early Gay Liberation Movement activism. Focusing on the importance of publication contexts and revisions to Wieners’ work, this article thus seeks to restore what has hitherto remained a cult classic to its rightful place at the centre of American queer writing.
Since his emergence into the late 1950s literary scene, Wieners had published hundreds of poems in little magazines, but only a handful of full-length collections. So in December 1975, when State Capitol was published,expectations were high: released in a hardback edition of 100 and a paperback of 1500, each numbering some 204 pages, the book collected together much of the highly prolific Wieners’ poetry from the previous six years and was his longest publication to date. Wieners’ last full-length book, the 1972 Selected Poems, had been primarily retrospective, and the new volume promised to update readers on what had been a productive first half of the new, post-Stonewall decade. Yet State Capitol would prove to be in some ways ‘both the capstone of Wieners’ career and the book that would sink his reputation’.2 Receiving little notice at the time, the book’s failure saw Wieners essentially disappear from public life. Though he continued to write in private, Wieners published little and gave few public readings after around 1976, famously claiming, ‘I am living out the logical conclusion of my books.’3
According to Jim Dunn, ‘When [State Capitol] was published in 1975, the silence and lack of response […] was deafening. Of the few reviews the book received, two of them were by writers involved with the printing and publishing of the book [Charley Shively and Alan Davies]’.4 As well as much new work, State Capitol contained revised versions of poems that had appeared in magazines throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. Yet Wieners was not interested in preserving, collecting or reproducing. The book is subtitled ‘Cinema decoupages; verses, abbreviated prose insights’: earlier poems are treated as material to be collaged and revised alongside newer, more experimental material, challenging Wieners’ reputation as a writer of standalone lyric poems in favour of a tonally broad, gender-fluid and generically unstable poetics. For George Butterick, the revisions to previously published work were ‘in almost every case […] for the poorer’. They eliminate ‘the spoken directness and accuracy of the original’. These changes ‘are simply strange if not inept’, he continues, ‘and they are endemic throughout the volume. The poet has forsaken his own genius and the stark simplicity of the original statements, so forthright they cannot be doubted or denied.’5 Wieners’ friend Robert Duncan, who’d favourably reviewed Ace of Pentacles a decade previously, was apparently incensed, believing that the Good Gay Poets were trying to destroy Wieners’ reputation. Likewise, William Corbett, with whom Wieners, Lee Harwood and Lewis Warsh had edited The Boston Eagle magazine, felt that ‘something had happened’ to the lyric poet of Ace of Pentacles, Nerves and Asylum Poems, and that the book was ‘a record of disintegration’.6 Though contemporary critics ostensibly praise the book, misinformation still spreads: that it was ‘famously, typeset from [Wieners’] drafts with nearly no editorial correction’, and that its ‘typos, irregular stanza formation’ and ‘interminable sentences that do not parse’ are ‘the epitome of a form of “outsider writing”’.7
As I will show, the actual process of production was far more collaborative than this characterisation suggests. Wieners actively embraced error as a key principle of his poetics, and rather than placing Wieners’ work within the problematic lineage of ‘outsider’ writing, it’s this work’s relation to community that I want to emphasise here: from the young, queer Boston poets of the 1950s and 1960s (Wieners, Stephen Jonas, Ed Marshall and others) whom Gerrit Lansing called the ‘occult school of Boston’, to the emergence in the 1970s of gay Fag Rag and of younger writers and activists, such as Charley Shively, who idolised Wieners as a pioneering queer voice of earlier decades, currently producing his queerest and most formally experimental material. Without losing one’s sense of its sheer strangeness, State Capitol is best read as a work that emerged from and in dialogue with a (number of ) queer social context(s), as well as a groundbreaking influence on queer writing to come, perhaps most notably the predominantly San Francisco-based New Narrative writers, many of whom idolised Wieners and paid tribute to him throughout their work.8
Given this, viewing Behind the State Capitol through the lens of publication history and revision serves as a contextual corrective and suggests how the text might be read anew through a queer lens. The term ‘revision’ should here be understood not only in terms of revisions to existing poems (the target of Butterick’s critique), but in Wieners’ understanding of poetic language itself as a constant process of collage, revision and performance. I’ll begin by setting the book’s publication in the context of Wieners’ friendship with Shively and participation in the Fag Rag collective in the early 1970s. The article will then discuss Wieners’ gender identifications and textual performances as forms of revision in themselves, contrasting Wieners’ queer, ‘genderfuck’ personas with subsequent critical misreadings. It will conclude with an examination of Wieners’ status as a psychiatric survivor, resituating questions of revision and publication in the context of mental health institutions and the web of homophobia, classism and neurotypical violence which tried to silence Wieners’ poetic voice(s).
‘New Love, Encountered between Strangers’: Wieners and ‘Fag Rag’ in the 1970s
Following the appearance of the foundational, openly queer Hotel Wentley Poems in 1958, Wieners had undergone a troubled 1960s. Repeatedly institutionalised, often at the behest of his parents, who were alarmed by their son’s gender non-conforming behaviour and bohemian lifestyle, he suffered the debilitating effects of intensive recreational drug use and the ‘treatments’ he received in asylums. This might be electroshock ‘therapy’ or heavy and debilitating doses of pharmaceuticals (‘in early morning / insulin comas, convulsions, fifty-one thousand injections’, as one poem has it).9 Wieners was sustained through such traumatic experiences by a community of queer fellow writers and friends who, like him, have often fallen through the cracks of mainstream literary history and even alternative canon-building. Charles Olson’s influence on Wieners’ earlier work has often been remarked: less noted is the sustaining atmosphere of the Boston ‘Occult School’ and its San Francisco accomplices. A key document here is the Boston Newsletter of 1956, put together by Wieners, Joe Dunn, Jack Spicer, Robin Blaser and Stephen Jonas with instructions to ‘post whatever pages of it poke you in the eye in the most public place you can find – i.e. an art gallery, a bohemian bar, or a lavatory frequented by poets.’10
Outside of Boston, Wieners also maintained important friendships with other gay poets such as Frank O’Hara, Allen Ginsberg and Michael Rumaker, and was open about his sexuality with bi- or heterosexual poets like Amiri Baraka or Ed Dorn, establishing himself as a key figure in the New American Poetry and spending time in New York and at SUNY Buffalo. Despite his travels, Wieners was very much a Boston poet, his work attesting to the queer subculture and sharp class divisions that marked the city and to what Maria Damon calls ‘the matrix of Massachusetts institutions’ from the Charles Street Jail to Taunton State Hospital and the titular State Capitol, the State’s seat of government.11 While interned in Central Islip State Hospital following a 1969 arrest on a forgery charge in New York, Wieners received a letter from the poet Charley Shively. Establishing a tone of respectful flirtation, Shively impressed the older Wieners with his knowledge of his poetry and Wieners relished the encounter with a younger representative of a newly flourishing queer, activist sociality after his isolation in the academic enclaves of Buffalo, writing ‘I am 5’9” and some, blue eyes,12 teeth left, bad eyesight, etc. Your life sounds fruitful enough for a friendship.’12 The correspondence began concurrently with the Stonewall Uprising: Shively, four years younger than Wieners and a professor at Boston State College, was also an anarchist and an early pioneer of the Boston gay rights movement. Upon his release, Shively took Wieners to meetings and social events of the Boston Student Homophile League, introducing him to a new circle of younger queer activists which rejuvenated his work.13
Through such friendships, Wieners found himself part of a new, post-Stonewall surge of gay publishing and activism in Boston, whose radical critique of American society and its institutions had been suggested in the bohemian circles of 1960s American poetry, but was now given an internationalist and intersectional orientation within an explicitly queer context. Though there could be gendered tensions between gays and lesbians, and the whiteness of the Gay Liberation Movement received criticism, links were being drawn between older gay male traditions and emerging intersectional politics of Third-Worldism and feminism to expressions of queer, trans and ‘genderfuck’ identity.14 In 1971, a group including Shively, Wieners, Michael Bronski and John Mitzel formed the Boston gay newsletter Fag Rag. With Shively at the centre, the collective was run on an anarchist, cooperative basis, with a core of members, as well as visiting or occasional participants. It was in Boston that the Combahee River Collective was formed in 1974 by a group of Black lesbian feminists who would play vital roles in the development of a new politics focused on the hitherto neglected role of queer women of colour, and the Fag Rag collective shared offices at 22 Bromfield Street with Gay Community News, members of whom were also involved with the Combahee Collective.15 Mirroring the publishing processes of the Women’s and Black Arts Movements, Fag Rag was part of a nationwide network of papers in Detroit, San Francisco and New York. Brightly coloured and militant in both its politics and aesthetics, the magazine featured essays, letters, activist reports, poems and visual art which often bordered on the pornographic. Seen as too trashy and working class for some – Susan Sontag apparently said that the magazine needed to reach a broader audience – Fag Rag was at one point described by New Hampshire governor Meldrim Thomson as ‘the most loathsome publication in the English language’.16 But Wieners – listed as a collective member in some issues, though his exact contribution is unclear – revelled in appearing in such company, his poems, essays and other unclassifiable texts frequently appearing under the name Jacqueline Wieners.
In 1972, members of the Fag Rag group, again with Shively at the centre, started the Good Gay Poets, the name a pun on Walt Whitman’s famous designation as the ‘Good Gray Poet’.17 Their second publication was Wieners’ joyous poem ‘Playboy’, recording the visit made by members of the Fag Rag collective to the 1972 Democratic Convention in Miami and delineating the new context Wieners had found. ‘I delight in sharing group feeling. / Evening vigils, drag queens, movie actors, marijuana’, he writes, linking this socialised vision of love to the personal and social love of the 1950s: ‘New love, encountered between strangers / maybe or it’s old love come back.’18
Typesetting, Labor, and Queer Collaboration
Such contexts gave Wieners’ work a new political charge, as his poems began to articulate a class-conscious, psychiatric survivor identity suggesting the need for revolutionary change.19 But the queer politics of this work also operate in terms of form, when it is at its most obtuse, as well as when it is direct. Around 1969, Wieners had begun experimenting with form, typography and voicing in ways not seen in his work since his earliest, generally unpublished poems.20 Raymond Foye, who would go on to edit Wieners’ next two books, noted in 1984:
[H]e’s after a reductive, abbreviated expression … If a typo creeps in, he insists it stay. If I mistakenly break a line while typing up a new poem, that must stay, too. If I can’t decipher a word & ask him what it is, he looks into the aether and pulls down a word that is as much of a non sequitur as possible. It’s all an open-ended flux.21
Wieners worked closely with Charley Shively on Behind the State Capitol, a process Shively later documented in the essay ‘JohnJob’, published in the 1985 Wieners issue of the magazine Mirage.22 As Shively notes, when Good Gay Poets published State Capitol, ‘the work signalled an emerging energy and possibility of gay publishing, which had yet to be realised’. Despite the appearance of gay poetry anthologies such as Winston Leyland’s 1975 Angels of the Lyre, large-scale collections of explicitly queer poetry like Wieners’ were few and far between. As Shively writes, ‘in 1974 & 75 we were only beginning to create our own medium’.23 Wieners could have published with more established presses, and would later publish two full-length, career-spanning books with Black Sparrow. But, as Shively suggests, after the manuscript was turned down by Jonathan Cape, who’d published his previous Selected Poems, Wieners ‘looked to the Good Gay Poets because it was not established, because it represented a coming to flower of newly released and previously unrehearsed energies.’24
Inspired by underground publications of the 1960s mimeo revolution like Ed Sanders’ Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts, a complete run of which Wieners gave to Shively as inspiration, Shively saw Fag Rag and the Good Gay Poets as a way to ‘bring total freedom to authors, allowing each of us to write whatever and however we wished. What we needed most was not respect from the straight world but respect for each other’s work.’25 This goes completely against accounts that saw State Capitol as an embarrassing example of mental disintegration – which included not only those of Black Sparrow publisher John Martin, with its veiled homophobia, but of Wieners’ friend and queer poetic colleague Robert Duncan.26 Wieners wanted his work to appear this way.
State Capitol emerged in close collaboration with the publishers, its juxtaposition of lyric poetry, multiple voices, queer collages, class consciousness, gossip and high camp and – in particular – its visual appearance clearly reflecting the Fag Rag aesthetic. The ‘cinema decoupages’ of the book’s subtitle refer both to the book’s collages – collaborations between Wieners, Shively and John Mitzel – and to the poems in which words, letters and phrases are ‘cut out’, creating new juxtapositions and ambiguities. Wieners had worked on the manuscript for some years with an intern from Boston College: ‘hacking, stuffing and reshelving’ rather than making ‘improvements’. This process of revising earlier, previously published texts reflected Wieners’ general practice for years afterwards of annotating and decoupaging his own copies of his published books, from which he would improvise at public readings (Shively notes Wieners reading in this way at St Mark’s Poetry Project as early as 1968). The cheapness of the book’s design, resulting from the relative lack of resources for a grassroots publisher, happily merged with Wieners’ own aesthetic practice and with the collective, collaborative nature of its publication.
Wieners’ longest book to date was produced in conditions of ephemerality that were embraced in creative ways. Using a rented IBM machine, the collective learned on the job. As Shively notes, ‘Everyone struggled through learning the machine; those who knew how to use it passed what they had learned on to others.’27 Alan Davies initially typeset the book on a compugraphic machine, but because the fluid was stale, the text literally vanished in the hot summer weather. Following this disaster, Rick Kinam reset the work flush left on the IBM typesetting machine, creating a series of chance line breaks in poems with longer lines which Wieners, liking their ‘random and jumpy quality’, insisted on retaining. Shively would take each variant spelling or spacing to Wieners throughout the process. Wieners found this irritating – as he put it, he would hold it against the publishers if there were no mistakes in the book.28 He also revised conventional spellings to provide additional layers of meaning – thus, ‘exhaustion’ becomes ‘exhausation’ in order to emphasise breathlessness. The boundaries between ‘intentional’ and ‘unintentional’ variants – all held against a normative standard of grammar and spelling and typesetting – were deliberately broken down. Whether or not Wieners ‘intended’ such variants when he initially wrote the poems, retaining them reflected an adherence to error dating back at least as far as 1963, when he had written to publisher Robert Wilson: ‘Tell the printer that everything in the book is as it should be. Mistakes in grammar, punctuation and spelling: (surrended, for surrendered) are intentional, or absolute as this is what the poem demanded.That is true to the experience of the poem.’29 As Alan Davies comments, ‘He holds that the inspiration of the writing is principal and should survive beyond formal consideration. Errors are a sign of human activity, perhaps inspiring trust or sympathy, instead of misunderstanding or derision.’30 This defence of error is a lovely way of putting it. If the reader acts with a feeling for the poem’s mood, an ear to its humour, its love and its terror, this becomes a collaborative process. The book’s dizzying fantasy logic – in which movie stars become family members or friends or politicians, all of whom can also become the poet – was read by some as a solipsistic record of a mind closed off from the interactions of the real world. But it’s more helpfully read as a kind of hypersocialised individuality: the visible emergence of the social into the individual, or the explosion of the two, in the (sexual, pathological, communitarian) refusal of boundaries. Valued as tenets of canonical modernism, such aspects are pathologised and dismissed in the work of a queer, gender non-conforming, working-class poet like Wieners.
The Good Gay Poets’ collaborative, creative approach to typesetting relates to the often-feminised labour of typesetting in general, on which Sam Solomon writes illuminatingly in a recent essay on Bay Area lesbian feminist and socialist poet Karen Brodine, herself a typesetter. As Solomon notes, during the 1970s, changed employment practices, effected by shifts in typesetting technology, saw the increased hiring of ‘de-skilled’ and lower-paid feminised employees, with the by-product of ‘tolerance’ for non-normative sexual identities, an attitude Brodine sarcastically ventriloquises: ‘it’s so laid-back we don’t have to dress up / & they don’t even mind gays working here’.31 At the same time, access to new modes of printing technology enabled the flourishing of LGBTQ+ small-press literary production during the 1970s and 1980s, operating on collective, low-cost principles, even as such ventures were constantly at risk from the very features that enabled them (racialised and gendered diversifi cation of the labour force, changes in technology and precarious conditions).32 Brodine’s poem ‘Line Corrections’ has marked visual similarities with Wieners’ work from State Capitol, even if its tone is rather different. Taken from an interview with ‘Leola S’ (typesetter Karen B), the poem consists of lines corrected from an interview transcript on labour history and workplace struggle, the resultant collage effect adding to its poetic urgency. Each stanza ends with a single word spaced across an entire line, an eff ect used to often disorientating purposes in Wieners’ work. Thus, Brodine:
In both cases, attention is drawn to the material fact of typesetting itself. Wieners deconstructs names so that readers pay attention to the social construction of (and performed by) language, linking the death of the immensely wealthy heiress Ailsa Mellon Bruce to capitalist exploitation more generally. The poem is preoccupied with the letter of the law – the language that enables the ‘will’ of the wealthy while denying that of the poor – while ‘testament’ recalls the class character of testifying under compulsion (from the Lavender Scare and McCarthyism to the police station and the asylum). For her part, Brodine emphasises both the character of labour described in the interview and the (gendered, racialised and classed) labour of typesetting that must be done to the transcript itself. This is a queered materialism, as both writers denaturalise the processes of labour, language, publication and revision that too often go unremarked.
Of course, such work rarely conforms to the standards of bosses, critics or heterosexuals. What Shively calls ‘the intense scrutiny of the poetry police’ is anticipated in State Capitol itself. Wieners ventriloquises:
Get him out of my head, now they quote
he’s a GREat poet, put him back to hbed.
Get rid of him.35
In July 1982, the run-down office building shared by Fag Rag, Gay Community News and the Good Gay Poets was firebombed by a group of laid-off firemen and policemen who had set a number of arson attacks in the city, ‘protesting’ cuts to the emergency services. On witnessing the fire, Shively, Bronski and others suspected a hate crime relating to a recent demonstration calling for the abolition of the city vice squad, in conjunction with real estate developers seeking to ‘redevelop’ the area. Given the frequent homophobic attacks on the offices – in Shively’s words, ‘mysterious break-ins, bullet holes, phone threats of death and fire so frequent, soon our back windows were totally gone, replaced by aluminium and then iron bows intended to keep out the storms’ – such fears were entirely reasonable (and worked in favour of both police and real estate, whatever the culprits’ immediate motivations).36 All but a few hundred of the remaining copies of State Capitol were destroyed in the fire, an event Shively would later interpret in the pages of Gay Sunshine as the book’s ‘definitive exegesis’: ‘Here was revealed the void, the ashes, the destruction, the devastation. John Wieners had lived it first in his mind, in his poems, in his body.’37 For Shively, the very real violence faced by the book’s publishers is of a piece with the violence of erasure and dismissal afforded Behind the State Capitol and Wieners’ later work in general. This article will now examine how such violence suffuses both the book itself and its critical reception through Wieners’ gender identity and his experience of incarceration within mental health institutions.
‘As the Most Beautiful Woman in the World’: Naming, Performance, and Gender as Revision
To the conservatives and bigots, the state psychiatrists, the entrapment police, these gender switches must seem like ultimate perversions.Robert Peters39
Throughout Behind the State Capitol, Wieners celebrates and performs ‘as’ female celebrities, first ladies, heiresses and film stars such as Lana Turner, Greta Garbo, Billie Holiday, Marlene Dietrich, Barbara Hutton, Ailsa Mellon Bruce and, perhaps above all, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis (‘REAd […] to 400 listeners by The Voice of Greta Garbo, 1974 / P L A Z A’).40 Revision here reads as the re-vision (re-seeing) of gender identity, whether in the book’s visual collages, or in the way the texts themselves juxtapose different voices through experimental typography, elaborate puns and verbal free association. The femme identifications of Wieners’ work post-1969, in particular, are only now being acknowledged as ‘proto-trans’.41 Yet within those queer communities that offered the few extant contemporary responses to such work, such identities were already understood, explored and expressed. This was because publications like Gay Sunshine and Fag Rag took full advantage of the post-Stonewall liberation of sexual and gender identification, exploring in visuals and words ‘genderfuck’, drag and trans identities. Robert Peters’ 1976 ‘The poet as drag “Quean”’, an early review of State Capitol, explores the full range of Wieners’ female voicings, from ‘high camp’ performances which display their own artifice (such as an ‘imaginary interview’ between Simone de Beauvoir and ‘Great’ Garbo) to ‘genderfuck’ manifestations such as the impersonation of Billie Holiday in ‘Gardenias’.42 As Peters writes, ‘not only is [Wieners] homosexual […] but unlike most gays (contrary to the clichés) he feels more female than he does male’.43 Likewise, Shively’s ‘What happened to the mind of John Wieners?’, published in Gay Sunshine in 1977, responds to the pathologisation of Wieners and his work partially through noting its gender non-conformity. De-essentialising gender, Shively notes Wieners’ rejection of the ‘callus [sic] male principle’, preventing feelings of love and affection, and encountered in Wieners’ unrequited crushes or affairs with closeted, married ‘heterosexual’ men, and focus on qualities associated with the feminine, including Marian devotion and the figure of the mother. For Shively: ‘The woman-identified poet is rare even among women and perhaps unique among men. This identification gives a special cast to the gayness of John Wieners.’44
Yet subsequent assessments of this work have failed to grasp Wieners’ gender identity. Correctly eliding its experimental technique with its gender non-conformity, critics do so in a borderline homo-/transphobic manner, their scrutiny paralleling that of the mental health professionals who policed Wieners’ speech, bearing and behaviour, plying him with electroshock and heavy doses of drugs with damaging and debilitating side effects. The characterisations pile up: Wieners manifests ‘male hysteria’; his female ‘drag [is] tacked onto an evidently male canvas’; his ‘transvestite sensibility’ avoids ‘the social cost of actually being a woman’; ‘Wieners articulates an infantile position’; he presents ‘another screen, a defenceless persona whose theatricality itself served as a form of defence’. Here is an excerpt from one such reading of Wieners’ prose poem ‘Woman’(1970):
‘Wieners speaks, finally, like any queer postmodern, from a transvestite sensibility about WOMAN, without the social cost of actually being a woman who functions inside systems of male privilege and masculine ideologies.’
For this critic, Wieners’ text exemplifies ‘masculinities’ that can ‘be ephebic, get feminine, dress in drag at will’, without facing the ‘social cost(s)’ of an assumed, essential femininity. Leaving aside the assumptions about ‘actually being’ a particular binary gender, some background on the ‘treatments’ prescribed to gay people in the mental institutions of the time will quickly disabuse us of this notion of ‘social cost’. ‘Aversion therapy’ involved the administration of electrical shock to the genitalia of patients when they became aroused upon being shown queer pornography: combined with the homophobic prejudices of talk therapists, the practice is memorably satirised in poet Judy Grahn’s 1964 ‘The Psychoanalysis of Edward the Dyke’.45 Wieners was repeatedly ‘treated’ with electroshock, lithium, insulin injections and other forced medication that severely damaged his memory and sense of creativity, and threatened with ‘electrical catheter treatment’, as painfully attested by letters written to Charles Olson and other friends in 1961, desperately pleading that they help him get released from Medfield State Hospital, to which his parents had forcibly committed him – a 40-day stay had turned into a six-month incarceration.46 Visiting Wieners during another institutionalisation (this time in Central Islip Hospital, Long Island) at the end of the decade, visitors Anne Waldman and Bill Berkson were horrified to see the heavy administration of drugs and the regimented and crowded sleeping conditions. As Waldman noted, it was astonishing that anyone could write poetry at all in such surroundings.47 As Charley Shively would later write, ‘The authorities […] have blasted his brain with chemicals, electricity, and outright demands that HE NOT WRITE. Having done nothing to ease his life, they have failed to silence his voice.’48
When exploring this work, the reader discovers the horrific violence faced by feminised subjects within a patriarchal, homo- and transphobic institutional apparatus. The critics who condemn Wieners’ apparent male privilege appear to overlook such treatment in favour of going after their victim. It’s worth noting, too, that this line of criticism is very much part of the growing transphobia of the time, culminating in Janice Raymond’s notorious The Transsexual Empire, a book which emerged from her dissertation, supervised by Mary Daly at Boston College, and published in 1979 by Boston-based radical publisher Beacon Press. For Wieners, by contrast, in lines at once defiant and despairing:
I don’t know anything about being a man, or a woman.
Only about being a poet, in love with one man,
no youth, future, or past. I speak to you off the network49
In the face of intensive surveillance, punishment and gender policing, Wieners’ insistent feminine identifications are acts not of ‘appropriation’, but of courage.
Placing this work in the context of the gender politics expressed in publications such as Fag Rag and Gay Sunshine further undermines the borderline-transphobic readings to which it has been subjected. In a 1974 essay called ‘Genderfuck and its delights’, published in Gay Sunshine, Christopher Lonc carefully distinguishes between drag performers, tolerated or mocked within the ‘straight world’, and ‘genderfuck’ as a rejection of gendered social roles in general, expressed in particular (but not only) through clothing. Lonc details the abuse faced, not only from the usual homophobic sources, but also from those in the Gay Liberation Movement:
One of the most common things people shout at me on the street is: ‘Are you a boy or a girl?’ I hope that people listen to themselves. That is exactly what my life is all about. It is my choice to not be a man, and it is my choice to be beautiful. I am not a female impersonator; I don’t want to mock women. I want to criticize and poke fun at the roles of women and of men too. I want to try and show how not-normal I can be. I want to ridicule and destroy the whole cosmology of restrictive sex roles and sexual identification.50
Extending beyond ideas of drag as humorous parody – dismissed by heterosexuals and accused of sexism by sections of the gay and feminist movements – Lonc’s concept of ‘genderfuck’ identifies those who cross gender lines as the most militant faction within the queer movement because they are the first to ‘get their heads bashed in’ and the least able to remain ‘closeted’. Lonc’s work is an important part of the history of non-binary identity as it existed before currently available terminology. Emphasising the presence of non-binary, working-class queers in the key moments of Gay Liberation, such as Stonewall, it rewrites conventional feminist and queer accounts which refuse to take into account non-binary gender identities.
Wieners’ gender non-conformity is also clearly present from his earliest work: examples include poems concerning drag queens – ‘Ballade’ (1955), or ‘Times Square’ (1969) – and those concerning his own gender identification such as ‘The Woman in Me’ (1959), ‘Memories of You’ (1965) and ‘Feminine Soliloquy’ (1969).51 Yet these elements are virtually absent from critical reception. Anecdotes of Wieners’ penchant for feminised dress and femme outrageousness rarely politicise such actions, tending from the sympathetic (Amiri Baraka, Bill Berkson) to the pathologising, such as Hilary Holladay’s portrait of bohemian degeneration (‘His eyes heavy with mascara, he would stroll up and down the streets in a drugged torpor’).52 In fact, there were immense risks to such gender non-conformity. Basil King recalls an occasion when he and Wieners – the latter ‘all gadded out in high heels’ – had to flee a bar near Black Mountain College. In King’s words: ‘Both of us realized that if we were running and they caught us they’d kill us.’53 Whether outright murdered by homophobes, or having committed suicide in despair, lives like Wieners’ were intensely vulnerable, as recorded in the heartbreaking ‘Ballade’, first published in the Boston Newsletter, in which the drag queen Alice O’Brien ends up hanged in her jail cell.
In order to understand his own gender identity, Wieners at times appears to deploy the vocabulary of ‘inversion’ that earlier queer writing had inherited from Krafft-Ebing, Edward Carpenter and Havelock Ellis (‘I have a woman’s mind / in a man’s body’; ‘there’s a certain kind of men / born to suffer as women’54). Yet Wieners’ texts of the 1970s in particular exceed such categories; they are much closer to ‘genderfuck’, or to what Trace Peterson calls ‘proto-trans’. Aspiring to be, and often ventriloquising, a wealthy female film star or heiress, Wieners critiques naturalised modes of gender performance and autobiographical explanation, quipping to Raymond Foye that he is ‘borrowing heavily for my own autobiography’ from the memoirs of stripper Blaze Starr.55 Frequently, the connective ‘as’, in the manner of film credits, links one person’s performance ‘as’ another character. ‘Where was I as Greta Garbo?’, asks one poem, and Wieners ‘signs’ an early version of ‘Ailsa’s Last Will and Testament’ with ‘Gusta L. (Garbo) Gustafson’, fusing in this signature the original and stage names of a notoriously reclusive Hollywood star. Doing this additionally destabilises the idea of authentic legal record, since Garbo appends her own name to heiress Ailsa Mellon Bruce’s will.56 Wieners’ film-star fascination emerges from the pages of movie magazines and gossip columns, texts which are all about the interplay of private and public: transgressing the boundaries, revealing what lies behind the curtain, offering readers a privileged, aspirational glimpse into the lives of the rich and (in)famous which might also mean voyeuristic access to abjection. Wieners often focuses on female celebrities whose glamour has faded, fodder for occasional gossip column exposés in women’s and movie magazines with titles like ‘What happened to the mind of Jennifer Jones?’ These texts bring out the visceral disgust of such fascination, in which the collapse of an ‘ideal’ body must be hidden from sight, yet, precisely thanks to its hiddenness, becomes the subject of a kind of fascinated horror. ‘Alida Valli’ begins as a parodically complimentary movie magazine profile of the Italian actor (‘the woman who I worshipped for thirty years’), before shifting to Valli’s physical ‘decline’.
[…] What is wrong with Valli, anyway?
10 days, and I have been intermittently pondering, earlier
my cause for her mind and anatomy to chalk up, as
below par. The reason?
Hepatitus [sic], too many writhings owing from child-bearing,
world-position pertinently, worst assumption verified. The
Hispanic child-rack. A particular punishment, inflicted
upon higher primates resulting in deterioration.57
The tone here can come across as waspish and cruel – or as a satire on the waspish and cruel. While Wieners doesn’t explicitly identify as Valli here, it makes sense to place the text’s judgment on ageing in the context of his own life. Charley Shively would later note the importance of recognising this work as that of an ‘ageing quean’ – Wieners, who’d burst onto the scene while barely in his twenties, was now approaching middle age (he was nearly 42 when the book came out), physically marked by years of drug use, electroshock and poverty leading to the loss of most of his teeth: ‘Most gay poetry tends to concentrate on the young: first love, break-ups, the sheer hedonistic delight in the feelings of romance, the dangers, fears and triumphs of gayness. Little has been seen said about the ageing quean. What Happens Twenty Years Later might be another subtitle to this book – a sustained meditation on ageing in the gay ghetto.’58
Collaging the memories of his past – a high school graduation photo, a poem written in 1952, old letters, reminiscences of youth in Boston or New York – with the present, and identifying with the ageing Valli, Lana Turner and Garbo, Wieners understands the beauty standards pressed upon feminised people, whether through the heteronormative expectations of child-bearing faced by Valli, or of youthful beauty within gay groupings. Further, Wieners understands that the construction of glamorous Hollywood identity, through clothes, make-up, plastic surgery and media coverage, may serve to alter the body painfully in a manner of which the ‘rack’ of childbirth is, in a sense, merely the inverse. Like many queer people, Wieners’ Hollywood spectatorship is hardly simple: identifying with its images of idealised femininity, while aware of their cruel costs, and seeking to subvert the social codes they enforced through appropriative, camp and experimental strategies of his own. The lives of ‘the rich and the super-rich’ offer a sometimes painful contrast to Wieners’ own sufferings as a ‘child of the working class’, and the two modes – desperate poverty and the apparent luxury of the rich – are used to undercut each other in the interests, ultimately, of a communal, queer aesthetic. This will render the movies’ fantasies of pleasure more than their simply being pipe dreams underwritten by suffering, violence and decline.
‘The Problem of Madness’: Wieners as Psychiatric Survivor
As we’ve seen, much of the critical reception of Wieners’ 1970s work rests on pathologising assumptions concerning gender identity. To conclude, I wish to examine Wieners’ reaction to his incarceration within mental ‘health’ institutions, which he understood to be closely related to questions of gender and sexuality. In a 1973 interview with Shively, Wieners argues that the asylum violently enforces gender conformity, with patients punished if their behaviour does not conform to gender norms (arguably the reason many patients are in there in the first place):
I would say that the homosexual is repugnant, repelled by others, even in the insane asylums. They’re looked on as somewhat apart, more extravagant in gestures and mannerisms. Most of the women are oversized, usually with masculine characteristics. And the men seem to be underdeveloped as to an ideal manhood. I suppose they are in those institutions just because we have created stereotyped roles of what people should look like; what they should wear; how they should converse. Because these individuals fill none of these roles, they’re incarcerated.59
Wieners protests such conditions both in explicitly political ruminations and in more disjunctive lyrics. In 1974, two short poems called ‘Survivor’ and ‘8 Verses’ appeared in the Poetry Project Newsletter, and were subsequently reprinted in State Capitol as a single piece entitled ‘E Doneilson’.60 The original title to the first poem (see below) seems to pick up on the emergent discourse, spearheaded by Judi Chamberlin and the Mental Patients Liberation Front (MPLF), of patients and ex-patients as ‘psychiatric survivors’ (Wieners likely attended meetings of the Boston MPLF branch).61
Coded; spaced out;
transvestited; in doubt
invert; Emily’s skirt
no felled behaviorp.22
Travelled the border.
as exhibitions’ route,
This seems to be a description of the state of the patient – ‘coded’ and ‘spaced out’. The psychiatrist tries to read the ‘code’ of the patient’s words, often to reveal what they think they already know – that the patient is mentally ill, delinquent, sexually deviant. Wieners hallucinated ‘coded’, punning associations during his breakdowns, but these also characterise poetry’s sound-based logics (here, for instance, the internal rhyme that leads from ‘invert’ to ‘skirt’). ‘Transvestited’, a typically deft and complex pun, hangs somewhere between ‘travestied’, ‘transvestite’, ‘transvested’ (a rare back-formation of transvestite), and ‘invested’ – both cross-dressing and being clothed with authority – leading to ‘invert’, with its echoes of the Krafft-Ebing model of homosexuality. Potentially, these first three lines read as though addressed to the psychiatrist-critic: [if you are] ‘in doubt’ as to my gender identity, ‘invert’ or reverse it. ‘Emily’s skirt’ might suggest Emily Dickinson – the ‘transvestited’, feminised poet wearing Dickinson’s skirt, taking on her identity, assuming her authority but also her marginalisation, doubting and being held in doubt. (Note, too, that Dickinson was a key part of the pantheon of ‘women poets’ – Edna St Vincent Millay, Sara Teasdale, Elinor Wylie and H.D. – to whom Wieners ‘responded first’ as a young poet, attracted to ‘their observations of nature, to their love feeling, and to an abbreviation of expression.’62)
Following the stanza break, the apparent non-sequitur ‘no felled behavior’ perhaps refers back to the titular idea of survival – the survivor will not be felled, will stand tall. Meanwhile, ‘travelled the border’ suggests going close to an edge – of madness, of what’s acceptable gendered behaviour. Combining with apparent found text – ‘as exhibitions’ route, // p.22’ – there is a sense of being on display, exhibited, forced to follow a particular path, as well as of a voice from elsewhere. Through its dense, elliptical puns and ‘abbreviat[ed] expression’, the poem has much to say about being on display, performance, clothing and perception, as these relate to gender and mental health. Its grammatical compression – deliberately missing words, so that the link between subject, object and action is almost always unclear – becomes a way of resisting the normative gaze, while also speaking in code, of one’s gender or neuro non-conformity.
Whether or not this poem was written from psychiatric incarceration, that experience hangs over it, because and not in spite of its obliquity. During Wieners’ frequent incarcerations, the very act of writing a poem became something to be wrested from the hands of, or from under the noses of, the authorities, and one might (without overstretching the point) read such obscurity as in part a reaction to such censorship. But Wieners was also writing more obviously political poems denouncing the mental health system. The most famous of these is undoubtedly ‘Children of the Working Class’.63 The poem was written on May Day 1972, ‘from incarceration, Taunton State Hospital’. Wieners sent the poem to Douglas Calhoun, editor of Athanor magazine, but was forced to change the original version after reading the poem out loud in group therapy. He amended ‘Taunton State Hospital’ to the word ‘Staid’ – an ironic verbal echo on ‘state’, meaning ‘sedate, respectable, unadventurous’, as well as being the past tense of the verb ‘to stay’, thus also meaning the condition of confinement – which defies enforced linguistic silencing through an ironised self-description of the process. Wieners wrote the poem on the institution’s typewriter, so could not prepare the poem to send to Calhoun without making this change – in the end, he managed to keep the original (and crucial) location marker by means of a phone call. Calhoun paints a vivid picture of these conditions, in which authorial control and enforced revision were closely related to institutional suppression: ‘Wieners called three or four times, odd hours. Picture him in some corner of the hospital, a deserted office, making calls, glancing over his shoulder, about poetry’.64
In the piece quoted near the beginning of this article, George Butterick, from whom the story about the poem’s composition is drawn, criticises the typographical choices made when the poem was reprinted in Behind the State Capitol. Butterick, who compiled a bibliography of Wieners’ extant work which was published alongside the poem in Athanor in 1972, feels that Wieners’ recent editors have done a disservice to his work, spoiling its previous ‘rough genius’ and ‘naivete’.65 He zooms in on the start of the second stanza – ‘there are worse, whom you may never see, non crucial around / the / spoke’. For Butterick, removing ‘the’ to a line on its own is entirely random, and depletes the rhythmic force of the poem’s long lines. The ‘spoke’ puns on Boston’s nickname as ‘the hub’ – but ‘spoke’ obviously relates to speech as well. As John Wilkinson notes, the stuttering pause created by placing the definite article on its own emphasises the poet’s doubleness. Wieners is both the speaker of the poem – the one who ‘spoke’, in an act of confession – and as a psychiatric patient, is ‘the always spoken for’.66 Moving ‘the’ onto its own line may simply have been the result of what Shively notes – the shunting over of words on to the next line, sometimes even their splitting, as a result of the flush left typesetting (this is seen later in the poem with the line-breaks on words with ‘o’ – ‘blo/ated, t/o, g/od, n/o’). Yet it also assumes a function as a combination – and does it matter? – of accident and design, on the precipice of the spoken and the textual, in the midst of the institution. Such speech, in the context of the asylum, also links to the poem’s second line: ‘gaunt, ugly deformed / broken from the womb, and horribly shriven / at the labour of their forefathers’ (a reference to Catholic confession) – the Church and the State apparatus of the asylum unite to persecute the working-class mental patient. To ‘shrive’ is to present oneself to a priest for confession, penance or absolution; so to be shriven is to have confessed. The asylum is infantilising: like the Church, it requires confession, in an atmosphere of shame, secrecy and surveillance.
There’s a pun here too on labour as birth and labour as class identity – remember that the poem was written on May Day – and the poem as a whole constructs a despairing lineage of the exploited, the downtrodden and the mental costs they suffer. The opening dedication, ‘to Somes’, puns on mathematical sums, anticipating the later line-break on those who are ‘crudely numb/ered before the dark of dawn’. Wieners elsewhere writes about the debt his parents incurred from his hospitalisation, and there too ‘sums’ highlights the economic conditions in which patients are treated as statistics, or as broken parts of sums who must be ‘added up’ into normative subjects. And, as ‘Somes’, they are also explicitly ‘some’ and not ‘others’ – their situation is particular to their class. Wieners describes the patients ‘locked in Taunton State Hospital and other peon work farms’. Institutional peonage was a widespread practice of employing patients to perform productive labour associated with the maintenance of the asylum, such as housekeeping or laundry duties, without adequate compensation. It was initially seen as vocational, a tool for assimilation back into society when patients were released, or as therapeutic, but as the State’s underfunded asylums expanded, with more patients and fewer staff, it increasingly became an exploitative way of treating patients. As with the original meaning of peonage – a form of indentured or peasant labour practised in South America and the Deep South – asylum patients were essentially forced to perform free labour to pay off their debts. In this practice, the Victorian vocabulary of labour as productivity and moral worth justifies the exploitation of those who are supposedly being protected, encapsulated in the term deployed: ‘moral therapy’.67 As with prison labour, the 13th amendment to the Constitution could be circumvented in carceral circumstances. Growing outrage over this practice – and the activism of mental patients’ groups, or, as they began to describe themselves, ‘psychiatric survivors’ – led to its abolition in some states during this period, but many cases remained mired in legislation for decades afterwards. In his May Day poem, Wieners, who knew this condition of indebtedness well, acutely links the ways in which class and labour play into the exploitation of mental health patients.68 Wieners is not just arguing that conditions of poverty and shame make the children of the working class more likely to suffer from mental illness, but that those same children are also exploited for their labour within the asylum, exacerbating conditions of familial debt in a vicious circle, based on the institutions of work and mental health. Within State Capitol, the poem is placed immediately after ‘For What Time Slays’ – a poem written the day before Wieners’ release from incarceration in 1961 – and before ‘By the Bars’, which links familial prohibition, class and mental illness. This placement contributes to a class-conscious, highly politicised argument that belies the apparent ‘chaos’ of the book’s organisation, even if that logic is only partially revealed.
As a child of the working class, Wieners has been cheated from the rewards of his rightful labour; he has been cheated by his traumatic home life; and he is forever excluded from Whitman’s vision of a democratic America and from a vision of Christian divine love. The poem ends:
[…] I am witness
not to Whitman’s vision, but instead the
poorhouses, the mad city asylums and
relief worklines. Yes, I am witness not to
God’s goodness, but his better or less scorn.
This is a critique without resolution. The individual is a victim of both God and State, subject to divine scorn and left out of the vision of a democratic, inclusive America. Yet Wieners nonetheless refuses the asylum’s vicious interpellations. The poem is an act not of ‘confession’, but of witnessing, of defiance. Rather than being observed, he observes, taking the power of language back into his hands, even as the asylum authorities try to stop him writing.
Wieners’ involvement in ‘mental patient liberation meetings’ saw him take part in a movement in which patients and ex-patients perceived themselves as ‘psychiatric survivors’, as active subjects, rather than passive objects of ‘treatment’ and punishment, working to organise within and challenge the authoritarian aspects of mental health institutions.69 Particularly influential here was the work of Judi Chamberlin, leader of the MPLF, whose book On Our Own posits alternative methods of care.70 Influenced by Chamberlin, Erving Goffman, Michel Foucault, Thomas Szasz and, in particular, the controversial ‘anti-psychiatrist’ R.D. Laing, the process of de-institutionalisation of the 1970s was one way of challenging the oppressive nature of mental health institutions: for instance, institutional peonage was legally abolished the year after Wieners’ poem was written, requiring that any work done by patients must be properly remunerated. Yet much of the exploitation that took place in the asylum continued elsewhere. Away from the repressive, disciplinary apparatus of both State and private institutions, patients were still vulnerable. This indicates some of the problems of challenging and dismantling institutions in general: what to replace them with, how to change society when the overall balance of power – whatever the particular institutions it manifests in – remains the same.
Likewise, the cooperative printing and organising enterprises of the Good Gay Poets, with their militant, often utopian energies, gave way to the desperate urgencies of Aids-era organising in the 1980s. As Michael Bronski remembers, ‘reading through these journals and anthologies, it’s impossible to not think about how many of these poets are now dead.’71 For his part, Wieners lapsed into near silence, continually writing and supported by a network of close friends such as Shively, Jack Powers and Jim Dunn, but only rarely publishing or reading from his work. The poems of Behind the State Capitol, like much of Wieners’ other poetry about the asylum experience and about the poverty which ‘has nearly ripped my life off ’, sometimes attest to despair, and the book’s experimental processes of revision, typesetting and publication can make for difficult reading.72 Yet this book is also reparative, utopian as much as despairing. These poems are acts of salvation, using humour, camp, non-sequiturs, ‘genderfuck’ identifications, movie-star performances, political screeds and heartbroken laments to challenge the exclusion and suppression of Wieners’ class and gender identity within a rapidly gentrifying city. Such poetry is a space of solace, then and now: a true gift, for activists, queer scholars, poets and readers, if they’ll have it, and one with much still to teach its readers about the ways in which class, gender and sexuality serve as both tools of oppression and beacons of hope.
- ‘A Gay Presence’ is the subtitle to Wieners’ 1972 pamphlet Playboy (We Were There: A Gay Presence at the Miami Democratic Convention) (Boston, MA: Good Gay Poets). I gratefully acknowledge the support of a British Academy postdoctoral early career fellowship in conducting this research. Many thanks to Michael Bronski, Raymond Foye and Michael Seth Stewart and to the anonymous peer reviewers for their helpful comments. Thanks also to Nat Raha for sharing critical work which had a crucial impact on some of the ideas here discussed.
- Geoff Ward, The Writing of America: Literature and Cultural Identity from the Puritans to the Present (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2002), 92.
- Raymond Foye, ‘A visit with John Wieners’ (1984), in John Wieners, Cultural Affairs in Boston: Poetry and Prose 1956–1985 (Santa Barbara, CA: Black Sparrow Press, 1988), 17 (henceforth CAIB).
- Jim Dunn, The Mesmerizing Apparition of the Oracle of Joy Street: A Critical Study of John Wieners’ Life and Later Work in Boston. Master’s thesis, Harvard Extension School.Online <http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:33826277>, 3–4. Dunn here refers to Charley Shively, ‘What happened to the mind of John Wieners?’ [rev. of Behind the State Capitol], Gay Sunshine 32: 27–8, spring 1977; and Alan Davies, ‘An hardness prompts literature’, Poetry Project Newsletter, 1976, repr. in Mirage: John Wieners Issue, 30–7, 1985.
- Quoted in Dunn, Mesmerizing Apparition, 37.
- Quoted in Dunn, Mesmerizing Apparition, 43. Corbett later revised his opinion: see ‘William Corbett: “Charity Balls” by John Wieners’. Video footage from A Legacy Celebration of John Wieners, St Mark’s Poetry Project, 6 Apr. 2016. Online <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3-UOrQiIM0>.
- Brian Kim Stefans, Word Toys: Poetry and Technics (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2017), 131.
- See, in particular, Mirage: John Wieners Issue, ed. Kevin Killian (1985).
- ‘To the bad debts in the United States depts. of the treasury. Secret Service duration’, Behind the State Capitol (Boston, MA: Good Gay Poets, 1975) (henceforth BTSC), 98.
- Boston Newsletter (carbon copy, Jack Spicer papers, Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library, Emory University). Heartfelt thanks to the late Kevin Killian for providing me with a digital copy and to Nick Sturm for the original discovery.
- Maria Damon, ‘John Wieners in the matrix of Massachusetts institutions: a psychopoeticgeography’, Journal of Beat Studies, 3: 69–92, 2014.
- Michael Seth Stewart, ‘For the Voices’: The Letters of John Wieners (2014). CUNY Academic Works. Online <https://academicworks.cuny.edu/gc_etds/292> (456).
- Stewart, ‘For the Voices’, 490–1.
- See, e.g., Allen Young, ‘Gay women and men: how we relate’, Gay Sunshine 21: 8–9, spring 1974; Christopher Lonc, ‘Genderfuck and its delights’, Gay Sunshine 21: 4–16, spring 1974; Charley Shively, ‘Fag Rag: the most loathsome publication in the English language’, in Insider Histories of the Vietnam Era Underground Press, Part 2, ed. Ken Wachsberger (Ann Arbor, MI: Michigan University Press, 2012).
- Charley Shively, ‘Sequins and switchblades: in extremis exegesis. A reading of John Wieners’ Selected Poems, 1958–1984’, Fag Rag 44: 28–33 (29), 1984.
- Shively, ‘Fag Rag…’, 2012.
- Shively, ‘Fag Rag …’, lists the original group as including ‘Aaron Shurin, Ron Schreiber, myself, David Eberly, Charles River, and John LaPorta’, to which Michael Bronski adds Sal Farinella, Walta Borawski, Rudy Kikel and David Emerson Smith (author’s interview with Michael Bronski, London, Dec. 2019).
- CAIB, 124.
- SP, 17–18.
- For this early poetry, see the eight uncollected poems in Floating Bear, 10, 1961; ‘A Proposition’ (unpublished poem, May 1957), in Letters, with Poems, to Michael Rumaker, 1955–1958’, Battersea Review, online <http://thebatterseareview.com/critical-prose/218-letters-with-poems-to-michael-rumaker-1955-58>; and ‘End chapters in autobiography’ and ‘The bridge word’, Chicago Review, 12 (1), spring 1958.
- Quoted in Andrea Brady, ‘“Making use of this pain”: the John Wieners Archive’, Paideuma 36 (1–2): 131–79, 2007–9.
- Charley Shively, ‘JohnJob: editing Behind the State Capitol or Cincinnati Pike’, Mirage: John Wieners Issue, 78–82, 1985.
- Shively, ‘JohnJob’, 78.
- Dunn, Mesmerizing Apparition, 43.
- Shively, ‘JohnJob’, 80–1.
- Ibid., 81.
- Stewart, ‘For the Voices’, 324–5. ‘The book’ refers to Ace of Pentacles.
- Alan Davies, ‘An hardness prompts literature’, 36.
- Karen Brodine, ‘Opposites that bleed one into the other or collide’, Heresies Magazine Issue #7: Women Working Together, vol. 252–3, 1979, repr. in Woman at the Machine, Thinking (Seattle, WA: Red Letter Press, 1990).
- Sam Solomon, ‘Off setting queer literary labor’, GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 24 (2): 239–66, 2018.
- Brodine, ‘Opposites that bleed’, 16, 1990.
- BTSC, 128. Compare the original printing of the poem in Fire Exit 3, eds. William Corbett and Fanny Howe, 29, 1973, in which statements are ordered within a clear, three-line stanza structure, full or near-rhymes, and syntax contained within line breaks. The original reads simply: ‘Let it be said Mellons make money, without reason, / though attenuation begets square dollar crust.’
- ‘S E Q U E L T O AP O E M F OR PAINTERS’, BTSC, 77. Spellings and capitalisation as per original.
- Shively, ‘Sequins and switchblades’, 30.
- Ibid., 33.
- Title of an uncollected poem published in Fag Ray/Gay Sunshine: Stonewall 5th Anniversary Issue, 25, summer 1974.
- Robert Peters, ‘The poet as drag “Quean”’, Mirage: John Wieners Issue, 75–7 (77).
- ‘To the bad debts’, BTSC, 98.
- See Trace Peterson and T.C. Tolbert, Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics (New York: Nightboat Books, 2013), 21. See also Nat Raha, ‘Queer labour in Boston: the work of John Wieners, gay liberation and Fag Rag’, in Poetry and Work: Work in Modern and Contemporary Anglophone Poetry, eds. Jo Lindsay Walton and Ed Lukers (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), 195–243. Wieners can be read as a trans identity, retaining masculine pronouns.
- BTSC, 168–70 (62).
- Peters, ‘The poet as drag “Quean”’, 76.
- Shively, ‘What happened to the mind of John Wieners’, 1977.
- On such techniques, see Don Jackson, ‘Dachau for queers’, Gay Sunshine 1(3), Nov. 1970.
- Stewart, ‘For the Voices’, 268–9.
- Waldman, quoted in Dunn, ‘Mesmerizing Apparition’, 22; Berkson, Since When: A Memoir in Pieces (Minneapolis, MN: Coffee House Press, 2018).
- Shively, ‘What happened to the mind of John Wieners’, 3.
- ‘White Slavery’, BTSC, 84.
- Lonc, ‘Genderfuck and its delights’.
- Boston Newsletter, n.p.; S P, 117; The Journal of John Wieners is to be called 707 Scott Street, for Billie Holiday (Los Angeles, CA: Sun and Moon Press, 1996 ), 20–1; CAIB, 58–9; SP, 159.
- Hilary Holladay, Herbert Huncke: The Times Square Hustler Who Inspired Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation (Tucson, AZ: Schaffner Press, 2015). See also Bill Berkson, Since When, and Amiri Baraka and Ed Dorn: The Complete Letters, ed. Claudia Moreno Pisano (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2014), 120. For an exception to this critical norm, see Raha, ‘Queer labour in Boston’.
- Quoted in Stewart, ‘For the Voices’ 10.
- ‘Memories of You’, CAIB, 59; ‘Yours to Take’, BTSC, 133.
- CAIB, 15. This fascination went back to Wieners’ earliest writing: see the early, unpublished poem ‘A Proposition’ (1957) (Stewart, Letters, with Poems to Michael Rumaker).
- Wieners, ‘Trying to Forget’, BTSC, 72, and ‘Ailsa’s Last Will and Testament’ , Fire Exit, 3: 29. A revised version of the latter poem appears in BTSC, 128e.
- ‘Alida Valli’, BTSC, 16.
- Shively, ‘What happened to the mind of John Wieners’, 1977.
- S P, 293.
- Wieners, ‘Survivor’ and ‘Eight Verses’, Poetry Project Newsletter 13, 1 March 1974; repr. as ‘E. Doneilson’, BTSC, 58. My best guess to the title is that it refers to Barbara Deering Danielson, widow of Atlantic Monthly editor Richard Danielson, and Boston patron of the arts, but also a long-time member of the corporation of Massachusetts General Hospital, in whose psychiatric wing Wieners was institutionalised. (See Danielson’s obituary, UPI, 1982, online <https://www.upi.com/Archives/1982/11/28/International-Harvester-heiress-Barbara-Deering-Danielson-has-died-following/2804407307600/>).
- See Raha, ‘Queer labour in Boston’, 146, 236–7; SP, 293.
- SP, 296.
- BTSC, 34–5.
- Calhoun, quoted in George Butterick, ‘Editing postmodern texts’, Sulfur 11: 129–30, 1981.
- Butterick, ‘Editing postmodern texts’.
- John Wilkinson, ‘A superficial examination of the work of John Wieners’, Mirage: John Wieners Issue, 110–15 (112).
- On institutional peonage, see F. Lewis Bartlett, ‘Institutional peonage: our exploitation of mental patients’, Atlantic Monthly, June 1964.
- On debt, see SP, 226 and BTSC, 98.
- SP, 293.
- Judi Chamberlin, On Our Own: Patient Controlled Alternatives to the Mental Health System (New York: Haworth Press, 1978).
- Author’s interview with Michael Bronski, London, Dec. 2019.
- ‘New Beaches’, CAIB, 158.
Chapter 1 (7-31) from Queer between the Covers: Histories of Queer Publishing & Publishing Queer Voices, edited by Leila Kassir and Richard Espley (University of London, 06.21.2021), published by OAPEN under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license.