On Being Changed by a John Wieners Poem

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AFTER DISCOVERING the writings of Boston- and San Francisco-based poet John Wieners (1939– 2002), I was left with a sense of literary regret: Where have you been all my life? I knew that, from then on, my writing would not escape Wieners’ influence. My poetry would aspire to pay homage to his subtle style, which embodies postmodern detachment while painting emotionally rich symbolic landscapes in a modestly understated light.

            The forward in Wieners’ Selected Poems: 1958-1984was written by Allen Ginsberg. So, inevitably, I found myself comparing Wieners’ poetry to that of Ginsberg, particularly to Howl. Many of Wieners’ much sparser poems evoke all the personal and political struggle of Ginsberg’s work. A perfect example is Wieners” pithy poem “Two Years Later,” which reads in full:

The hollow eyes of shock remain
Electric sockets burnt out in the
                  skull

The beauty of men never disappears
But drives a blue car through the
                                            stars.

With its impeccable phrasing and powerful juxtapositions, this compact poem paints vivid images of the nightmarish experience of homosexuality, mental illness, drug experimentation, and institutionalization in mid-20th-century America.

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Stevi-Lee Alver, currently based in Brazil, is a poet whose work has appeared in Australia and the U.S. Her chapbook Cactusinwas published in 2016.

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