Friday, November 19, 2010

BEVERLY HILLS HOUSEWIFE




BEVERLY HILLS HOUSEWIFE
by Douglas Messerli

On Saturday, January 3rd, 2009 the world lost one its "great ladies"—as Earl Powell III, the former director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art once described Betty Freeman. She died in her Beverly Hills home at the age of 87 of pancreatic cancer.

Born as Betty Wishnick, the daughter of a wealthy chemical engineer, Betty grew up in Brooklyn and New Rochelle, New York before studying music at Wellesley College. Upon graduating, she married the investor Stanley Freeman, moving with him to Los Angeles, where they had four children.

Like so many wealthy citizens of Beverly Hills, Betty could have easily spent the rest of her life as the "housewife" type as David Hockney had portrayed her, a woman living in relative ease in her well-appointed home. And, in fact, Betty remained in that famed house for the rest of her life.

Yet Betty was anything but the iconic image Hockey had portrayed in his 1966 painting. In 1964, two years earlier, she met the American composer and inventor of unusual instruments, Henry Partch, who was living in his car. Freeman provided him with a studio and covered his living expenses for ten years until his death in 1974. She had already taken a great interest in contemporary music, and in 1961 contributed to the bail out of Fluxus composer La Monte Young, who had been arrested on marijuana charges in Connecticut. He responded by dedicating a work to her.

The same year that she encountered Partch, she became the producer of a new music series at the Pasadena Museum of Art (now the Norton Simon Museum of Art). In 1969, she underwrote Partch's opera Delusion of the Fury at the University of California, Los Angeles. And so began a philanthropic endeavor that included support to most of the great experimental composers of her time, including Elliott Carter, Philip Glass, John Cage, Pierre Boulez, Harrison Birtwistle, Steve Reich, Lou Harrison, Kaija Saaiaho, and John Adams, whose opera Nixon in China was dedicated to her.

While producing a documentary about Partch in 1972, she was asked to help with the photographs, which resulted in a new career of photographing noted musicians, works later shown in galleries and published in several books.

In the early 1980s Betty began celebrating her musician friends through salons in her Beverly Hills home. My companion Howard and I attended several of those events, including one for John Adams, an event celebrating a series of pieces written for singer Joan LaBarbara, a performance of works by Gordon Getty, and others. Being able to hear the composer and performers in the intimate space of a large living room was a memorable experience, and Howard and I always felt saddened when we were unable to attend. After these Salotti, Betty's second husband, the Italian artist Franco Assetto, would serve up large bowls of pasta and salad, accompanied by various drinks. Guests would mingle, discussing what they had just heard with one another, the composers, and performers. It was at one such event that I first met director Peter Sellars. The salons ended with Assetto's 1991 death.

Over the years Betty became a dear friend who, at times, would invite us over for small dinners, usually with one or two others. I recall one evening she invited us upstairs to her bedroom to listen to Nixon in China.

While Freeman was a magnanimous individual, with the ability to inspire a true dedication to the new, she was not without her eccentricities. People who attended more traditional concerts with her found her intolerant of older work. And in the last years of her life she had seemingly abandoned American composers for contemporary European figures, the fact of which understandably upset many friends.

In October or November of 2006, Betty called me, suggesting a luncheon to discuss some new projects she was considering publishing. The day of the luncheon she called, saying she had just broken her foot! We met, accordingly, at her home a few weeks later on December 28.

The glorious Beverly Hills home had been radically altered. We dined on excellent carry-in food, but the kitchen was overwhelmed by piles of dirty dishes. Obviously, the maid had not been in for several days. The grand hallway was filled with piles of photographs and various applications for musical aid.

She took me upstairs to her study. She had three books which she was interested in publishing. One was a semi-critical study of the art of her friend Sam Francis, the second a collection of interviews by music critic Alan Rich of the figures who had appeared in her Salotti, and the third a book of reproductions of visually entertaining faxes sent to her over the years by director Robert Wilson.

I explained to her that I was not the right publisher to do the Francis book, but that the other two were interesting projects, particularly the interviews with the musicians. She seemed, however, more engaged in placing musicians within the context of her salons (each section was introduced by the salon invitation, often hand-corrected and of little visual interest) than in Rich's interviews with the artists.

A call to Alan Rich revealed that he had been somewhat frustrated by Betty's focus, and that he would rather move ahead with the book without her. I had lunch with him a few weeks later, and we signed an agreement for the work in which we would explain the context of these interviews in an introduction rather than reproduced invitations.

Betty was still interested, however, in publishing the Wilson book—which she wanted to be published in the size of the large 8 x 12 faxes (an idea from which I tried to dissuade her)—and called me in late March of 2008 proposing another meeting which, unfortunately, because of my procrastination and my own illness soon after, never took place.

Our last encounter with Betty was at the opening on May 9, 2007 of "Dan Flavin: A Retrospective" at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Betty, in a wheelchair propelled by a young man, was radiating with joy from the artist's fluorescent tubes of blood-red lights. "Isn't this just glorious?" she rhetorically asked. She literally glowed against the banks of Flavin's lights, convincing me, in fact, that everything was glorious. I leaned over to kiss her as she almost giggled with delight.

Betty has one of the most gracious women I have even known, a woman who had a passion for life, and who was a grand and original philanthropist who contributed to music and art not only with money, but with her heart.

Los Angeles, January 13, 2009
Reprinted from Green Integer Blog (January 2009).

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

FROZEN IN THE ACT


Thomas Eakins, "The Swimming Hole," 1884-1885


George Bellows, "42 Kids," 1907
Thomas Eakins, "Salutat," 1898
Cathy Opie, "Josh," 2007
Cathy Opie, "Football Landscape #5," 2007

Thomas Eakins Manly Pursuits: The Sporting Images of Thomas Eakins, Los Angeles County Museum of Art / July 25 - October 17, 2010
Cathy Opie Figure and Landscape, Los Angeles County Museum of Art / July 25-October 17, 2010

One might well argue that all representational portraiture is a kind of frozen art, a work documenting a second in the life of the individual or individuals portrayed. Even surrounded by the objects and costumes of a entire lived life, or represented with emblems that suggest the ideals or behavior of that life, such painting is, as the early abstract experimenters so entirely perceived, basically "dead." Yet there is something about the works of American artist Thomas Eakins as gathered in the titled "Manly Pursuits: The Sporting Images of Thomas Eakins," brilliantly curated by Ilene Fort, that particularly evokes a sense of freezing instantaneousness of that moment that makes one almost want to look away because it is so revealing of the painter's own sensibilities.

Eakins, as we know, was also a photographer, and that obviously effected his paintings. But it is not just the snapshot quality of the paintings here on display, but what lies behind these images which all, in one way or another, represent the male body at the moment of its greatest beauty and muscular display in the form of swimmers, boaters, wrestlers, and other male pairings and groupings, most represented as images of male desire and, symbolically speaking, lovemaking itself.

One need only compare the mix of young and older swimmers in Eakins's The Swimming Hole (1884-1885) with George Bellow's 42 Kids of 1907. For Bellows the children, painted as something closer to sticks than real-bodied beings, represent a series of ideologically-loaded statements, including their social status (these children have no pool in which to swim), their pastoral enjoyment in the act, and the simple joys of being children. Eakins' is a far more complex image in that the bodies are most definitely men of flesh and blood, and gathered as they, young and old together, the artist flirts with numerous suggestions of sexual interconnections. In the Bellows' painting the children gather in a near-mass forward-leaning motion as they ready to throw themselves from the broken-down pier. Only two of Eakins' figures have dived into the waters, the rest gradually wading in or standing almost relaxed poses upon the solid brick wall, demonstrating their beauty and prowess, one rising figure seemingly reaching out for another's ass.

The latter is basically a study in youthful innocence, while the Eakins is a representation of a kind of Arcadian world in which the men and boys enjoy not only the water, but one another's company and, by extension, their bodies. In short, while Bellows' work may freeze the motion of the energetic children, Eakins' painting catches them in a moment that is closer to something suggesting love or even lust.

Similarly, the far more innocent moments, such as those depicted in The Biglin Brothers Racing, captures the sexual energy of James and Bernard Biglin against the backdrop of the large number of spectators the brothers drew to their events. In one race these world champions gathered a crowd of more than 20,000 to watch their physical expertise. So attracted was Eakins to the brothers that he painted them in a series of eleven works.

So too is the crowd essential to Eakins painting of 1898 Salutat, where a handsome boxer salutes the mostly male gatherers with a joyful extension of the hand, somewhat like a Roman gladiator, influence obviously by Eakin's teacher, Jean-Léon Gérôme. Here, the homoeroticism of the scene is made even more apparent, particularly given the water boy's attentive gaze upon the boxer's buttocks, and the overall joy of all the attending males for the gifts evident in the boxer's thin physique.

Wrestlers, acquired recently by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, even more clearly demonstrates what I am attempting to describe. In this work Eakins actually addressed the action of the event as he had done in The Biglin Brothers, but here the highly homoerotic grappling of the two fighters freezes them in the sportive act that might just as easily be perceived as a sexual embrace. In short, he has fixed them in the "act" itself, however one wants to define it. But there is no question that in these manly pursuits, there is little separation between body and act, the fact of which Eakins clarifies. To love the sport one must love the embodiment of the sport, the man. It is not just that these paintings point to Eakins' homoerotic desires (anyone who has read his biography and seen his many photographs can attest to that); rather what matters in these works is that in freezing the image of these sportsmen's bodies he makes that desire apparent; he clarifies what all the attention and the applause is truly about.

The act or action about which I am speaking, accordingly, is always simultaneously a representation of the sport and of the body, the object of love. That he accomplished this within a Puritan culture terrified of the body itself, speaks volumes about his own lack of recognition in his life.

A smaller "sideshow," one might call it, consists of a series of photographs by Los Angeles artist Tad Beck, strongly influenced by Thomas Eakins as a representative of queer history. Like Eakins, particularly in his Grafly Album, Beck arranges his male nude students in various choreographed scenes that suggest both an enactment of sports and, even more apparently than in Eakins' work, homosexual gatherings. Here the photograph is not only "frozen in the act," but frozen in time, representing a nostalgic look back upon the American artist and his period. Like Eleanor Antin's photograph representations of a nurse in the Crimean wars, so Beck's aesthetized images contain an element of camp in their own restatement of Eakins' more subtle depictions.

Accompanying these shows is photographer Cathie Opie's show "Figure and Landscape." Her images, mostly of young high school football players, are also about "manly pursuits," and cover much of the same ground as Eakins. But in the direct stares of her young players we do not see their sexuality as much as their adolescent fragility. These boys, particularly in photographs such as Adam and Josh, may wish to see themselves as sex heroes or at least highly masculine beings, but their youth and the immediate ferocity with which they face the camera belies deeper confusions and fears. Unlike Eakins, I would argue that here, even if caught "in the act," so to speak, the emphasis is on the spectacle, on the group rather than the numerous individuals we witness. Each individual presented appears fragile out of the crowd, so to speak, while Opie's larger images of the games themselves, all lit up against the nighttime landscapes, provide the true image of these games and their theatrical settings against the backdrops of small-town America. The several individual portraits portray boys caught "outside the act," and, accordingly represent males filled with confusion and doubt. It is only when they join the others "in the act," that their performances gather meaning, perhaps even a veneer of sexuality.

Los Angeles, August 30, 2010

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A TORN CURTAIN


Brian Evenson The Open Curtain (Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 2006).

Brian Evenson’s new novel, The Open Curtain, begins with what increasingly has become an almost predictable plot: a basically good boy—in this case the son a Mormon widow—at puberty begins to explore the past along with new ideas that gradually alter his personality. In this case the young Rudd uncovers a letter sent to his father by an unknown woman, claiming that he was the father of her son. Rudd’s father—who later committed suicide by slitting his own throat—denies any paternity, and when Rudd confronts his mother with the letter, she can only repeat the denial, claiming to have no knowledge of any such event.

The incident is forgotten for a while, but as some time passes, Rudd looks up the address written on the letter, uncovering his half-brother Lael. At first the boys, radically different from one another, do not particularly get on. Indeed, Rudd is frustrated by Lael’s lack of communication skills and, more importantly, his manipulation of Rudd as he maneuvers the two of them into increasingly dangerous situations. In one instance, for example, Lael determines that they drive Rudd’s scooter far beyond the point in which they will run out of gas and be forced to walk several miles in return. But it is precisely Lael’s going beyond the limits that both attracts and repels Rudd; being the psychologically weaker of the two, he cannot resist his brother’s entreaties. Rudd clearly feels a sense of near-powerlessness around Lael, with whom, as he rides clinging to him on the scooter, he seems gradually to develop an attachment that, if not actually homosexual, borders on the kind of relationship that one might compare to the famed Leopold-Loeb friendship, a love ending in a murder, explored from the various viewpoints of Hitchcock’s film Rope and Levin’s novel and play Compulsion.

It is not long before Rudd begins to lose faith in the church. An English class project for a research paper results in Rudd (and Lael, who joins his half-brother in later treks to the local university library) uncovering a turn-of-the-century murder of a woman, Anna Pultizer, by Mormon founder Brigham Young’s grandson. The murder, which implicates not only the young boy, Hooper Young, but his homosexual friend Elling, was also connected to a little known doctrine of Mormon theology—utterly denied by the church—of Blood Atonement, a doctrine that suggests when sinners have become so guilty of sin that they cannot be forgiven, a ritualistic murder (in which their throats are slit and blood, let to drain from their bodies) is not only justifiable, but that the murderer may be forgiven and awarded in the Mormon afterlife. With its mysterious story and its gruesome details, it becomes quickly apparent why two young Mormon boys, in a time of confusion and disbelief, might become fascinated with the tale; but the mystery surrounding the form of the murder and the relationship between Young and Elling attracts the boys in ways that might be inexplicable if Evenson had not carefully developed his story to suggest both their own relationship to one another and to their dead father. The books in Rudd’s father’s home library are marked, moreover, with marginalia on the very pages describing the Mormon Blood Atonement theory!

Before long, Rudd is having difficulties in school and, more importantly, in paying close attention to anything around him. He and Lael are somewhat involved in drugs, but what is even more horrifying are the long stretches of time in which Rudd later can remember nothing, periods which he describes as “blackouts” or “holes” in time. Part one of this sophisticated horror tale ends with the boys together on an adventure in the woods, with Rudd feeling “himself crowded out of his senses and into oblivion.”

The second section quickly shifts the action to the aftermath of a multiple murder of campers, their bodies placed carefully in positions suggesting a ritualistic act. There is only one survivor, a young boy whose neck has been severely cut. The daughter of the murdered family—who had stayed home during the camping trip—is strangely attracted to the survivor, a boy close to her own age, and watches over his comatose recovery. As the police are pulled away from his protection—the murderer still at large—the girl, Lyndi, pulls him into another room and watches over him until he finally awakens. The survivor is Rudd.

No perceptive reader observing the developing relationship between the daughter of the victims and Rudd can move forward in this tale without great discomfort, for we know instinctively that Rudd was in some way involved with the deaths. Strangely, we have no choice now but to hope that Lael—the evil twin, so to speak—is the guilty party, that Rudd will somehow be brought back into sanity. Rudd has, however, no memory of the events.

After a period in which Lyndi’s aunt encamps within the family home, hoping to cheer up her grieving niece, but having quite the opposite effect, Lyndi is only too happy to let Rudd, whose mother has forced him to escape his own home, move in with her; the two set up an awkward household outwardly, perhaps, suggesting a sexual relationship, but, in fact, consisting of a kind of brother-sister or roommate situation. Rudd is painfully confused, sometimes gentle and solicitous, clearly feeling the need to protect his new friend, but at other times he remains aloof, secretive and protective. He insists that she never enter his (formerly her sister’s) room uninvited. As time passes, the two grow further apart until Lyndi confronts him, ending in Rudd’s attempted suicide and his insistence that they get married.

The Mormon marriage ceremony described is perhaps one of the strangest passages in the book. As the couple, who have previously remained outside of church ritual, are taken through the various steps of the ceremony—the ritual washing, the awarding of a secret name, the various questions asked as they sit on opposite sides of a veil marked with symbolic slits in positions not unlike those in which Lyndi’s family were placed by their murderer—the reader feels nearly suffocated by being enwrapped in such ritualistic acts. The couple themselves seem about to flee, as Rudd, breaking with the ceremony, denies Lyndi the use of her “secret” name Rachel, insisting it is Elling—and, in so doing so, feels he has cheated the blessing of the church, has torn the veil.

But if Lyndi is merely confused by the event, we know that within Rudd’s mind the symbolism of that veil is interwoven with the events of both the 1902 murder and the murders of Lyndi’s family; and the two begin to converge in a way that becomes increasingly frightening. As Rudd and Lyndi attempt to begin life as a married couple, he retreats even further, ultimately moving into a kind of makeshift tool shed, the entrance of which he has now covered over in a veil—a real sheet that serves as a symbolic separation from the world at large. As Lyndi grows more and more troubled by the course of events, she explores the shed, realizing in the process that Rudd was indeed involved in her parent’s murder and discovering something that is too horrible for words.

The third section of Evenson’s unholy trinity relates a near-surrealistic series of events in which Hooper’s murder of Anna Pultizer, his determination to hide the body, and his attempt to send off her clothes in a large chest is played out again and again, as each time Rudd—living like a drugged man in a time warp—is coached by "Elling," actually Lael, apparently have returned. Gradually, the reader realizes that the seemingly murdered body is, in fact, Lyndi, still living perhaps, but bound and suffering as the boy enacts, again and again, the events from the distant past. When suddenly the deus ex machina return of Lyndi’s aunt interrupts this horrific passion play, Rudd refuses to let her enter, and Lael/Elling announces his departure. At that very moment, we suddenly are faced with the possibility that, in fact, there has been no Lael, no half-brother, ever in Rudd’s life (Lyndi has previously sought out the brother, who insists his name is Lyle—an incident repeated from Rudd’s first encounter with the boy—and that he has no knowledge of Rudd), or, even worse, he has been himself sacrificed to Rudd’s horrific myth. With the policeman in tow, Lyndi’s aunt gains entry to the house, but neither she nor we know what she may find. Even if Lyndi is still alive, we perceive that Rudd has lost his life to the demons of the past. We can only imagine that he sits somewhat like Psycho’s Norman Bates, wrapped in a sheet, living in a world from which he can never return.

Evenson has created a compelling horror tale that is not as much an indictment of Mormonism as it is a warning of the dark sides of all religions and the willingness to (con)fuse the power of faith with the power of controlling other people’s lives.

Los Angeles, September 21, 2006
Reprinted from
The New Review of Literature, IV, no. 2 (April 2007).

LOOKING FOR LOVE


Nathanael West Miss Lonleyhearts in The Complete Works of Nathanael West (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1957)

Preparing to teach an MFA course on American Satires at the Otis College of Art + Design in the Fall, I recently reread Nathanael West's Miss Lonelyhearts (1933).

I had remembered better than I thought I might. I had correctly recalled from a youthful reading that the major character, a male newspaper writer assigned the job of answering letters from the love-stricken and forlorn, becomes increasingly forlorn himself and ultimately becomes depressed as he attempts to honestly answer these anonymous epistles of distress. Moreover, I had remembered the spiritual demise of the "hero," as he becomes more and more entrapped in the cynical lies of his own world—a world partly of his own making, pointed up by the very fact that the feature editor, Shrike, Miss Lonelyhearts' boss, has assigned the job as a joke. In short if the newspaper's advice to a suffering public cannot be taken seriously, what can be said of its reporting of city and world events; are their reports also jokes? And if so, where does any notion of reality begin. It is no wonder that Miss Lonelyhearts falls deeper and deeper into despair until in a feverish vision he rushes out of his room into the arms of death in the form of a vengeful husband of a woman with whom our "hero" has (somewhat unwillingly) had sex.

But this time around, I also saw what I perceive as a somewhat deeper structure to the book. I kept thinking, as I moved forward in the plot, of a popular song (not one of my favorites) made famous by country western singer Johnny Lee. One phrase will suffice to remind the reader of the piece: "I was looking for love in all the wrong places / looking for love in too many faces." For that is just what Miss Lonelyhearts does throughout West's masterwork. It is almost as if the moment he has become assigned the job of responding to his audience's tales of heartbreak, that he himself begins to seek out love, while brutally rejecting it, failing just as miserably as do his readers.

His first vague encounter with the possibility of "love" is with the all-male gathering of fellow workers and friends at Delehanty's speakeasy after work, where Shrike and others mock his job:
Miss Lonelyhearts, my friend, I advise you to give your readers stones. When they ask for bread don't give them crackers as does the Church, and don't, like the State, tell them to eat cake. Explain that man cannot live by bread alone and give them stones.

Despite his superior's cynical advice and the writer's attempt to laugh at himself, Miss Lonelyhearts realizes: "He had given his readers many stones; so many, in fact, that he had only one left—the stone in his gut."

Still, he sits down with these men, attempting, if nothing else, to engage them in conversation, to participate in a kind of male camaraderie at the very least. Soon, as these men become drunker and drunker, they spill out onto the streets where they buy a lamb to sacrifice. The men only half-kill the poor beast and Miss Lonelyhearts, after begging them to put the lamb out of its misery, is forced to go back and crush its head with a stone. Almost immediately in this work, West reveals the violence behind almost all actions in this society, and the inability of more caring individuals, which Miss Lonelyhearts would like to be, to prevent it.

His second encounter is with Betty, his girlfriend, who it is clear is not at all suitable for the writer. As he describes her, she is "Betty the Buddha," a unmoved woman, smilingly and smugly judging his every act. What begins as an attempt to find some rapport, ends, once more, in a kind of violence, abusive language, followed by tears and the order for him to leave.

The next adventure in this "Looking for Love" tale is even more brutal as, once more with his speakeasy friends, he encounters an older homosexual man waiting in a public bathroom. The group entices the man to join them. After toying with him for awhile, joking about the psychologists Havelock Ellis and Krafft-Ebing, the men begin to get ugly, particularly Miss Lonelyhearts. As the man begins to sob, Miss Lonelyhearts falls upon him: "He was twisting the arm of all the sick and miserable, broken and betrayed, inarticulate and impotent. He was twisting the arm of the Desperate, Broken-hearted, Sick-of-it-all, Disillusioned-with-tubercular-husband." As the old man screams, someone hits Miss Lonelyhearts over the head with a chair.
It is not unusual, I should mention, for highly-closeted individuals such as Miss Lonelyhearts seems to be, to turn their frustrations and violence upon those who are more sexually open.

His next stop, a swing to the opposite sex, is to visit his arch-enemy's wife. Mary Shrike, hating her husband, is only too happy to accommodate him; but the sex is empty, and leaves him even more lonely: "Like a dead man, only friction could make him warm or violence make him mobile." Later Mary invites him back to the house, and he agrees to return, finding a diffident Shrike at home. The two, Mary and Miss Lonelyhearts go out on the town, but when they return she no longer will let him kiss her, and they are greeted at the door with Shrike in only his pajama top.

Within this dizzying spiral of failed love is Miss Lonelyhearts' meeting with one of his readers, Fay Doyle, a woman who literally entraps him and forces her love upon him.

A field trip and even a short stay in the country with Betty does not cure him. Upon his return, he meets with Fay Doyle's crippled husband, who—in the very language of Miss Lonelyhearts' letter-writing sufferers—pleads with him to help him regain some self respect, follows. That outcry finally begins to awaken something in the failed would-be lover; the newspaperman finally finds someone with who he can share his love:

...Doyle's damp hand accidentally touched his under the table. He jerked it away, but then drove his hand back and forced it to clasp the cripple's. After finishing the letter, he did not let go, but pressed it firmly with all the love he could manage. At first the cripple covered his embarrassment by disguising the meaning of the clasp with a handshake, but he soon gave
in to it and they sat silent, hand in hand.

It is only after this homoerotic experience that Miss Lonelyhearts is prepared to give in to the easy "normality" that stands as a false image of true love. He agrees to marry Betty, attended with all the legalistic decision-making of any new partnership: she agrees to have a child, he agrees to see a friend about a job. "...They decided to have three beds in their bedroom. Twin beds for sleep, very prim and puritanical, and between them a love bed, an ornate double bed with cupids, nymphs and Pans." It is clear that love will be more a symbol in that household than an everyday reality.

Once he has settled for this image of normality, however, a fever rises in him like a furnace to reveal what no one in this fiction has previously seemed to comprehend: the spiritual force (he names it as Christ) he has been searching for is life and light! His search for love has always been undertaken in confusion and the dark, never openness and honesty. In something close to a recognition of a new sexuality, Miss Lonelyhearts (who in an earlier draft was named, but in the final version is described only his female moniker) is prepared to rush down the stairs and embrace Doyle, who has just rung the bell.

God had sent him so that Miss Lonelyhearts could perform a miracle and be certain of his conversion. It was a sign. He would embrace the cripple and the cripple would be made whole again, even as he, a spiritual cripple, had been made whole.
He rushed down the stairs to meet Doyle with his arms spread for the miracle.

Confused and frightened by the rushing man, Doyle attempts to escape, but in their fall, accidentally it appears, shoots him with a gun he has wrapped within a newspaper. The false, the dark hypocrisy of that newsprint world of lies, wins yet again, destroying, evidently, any chance of life and light. And so ends West's brutal satire of love.

Los Angeles, July 19, 2010
Reprinted from
Green Integer Blog (July 2010).

Thursday, July 22, 2010

WEARING THE GRIN


from Wearing of the Grin

from Duck Amok

Michigan J. Frog

Michael Maltese (story), Chuck Jones (director) Rabbit of Seville / 1950
Michael Maltese (story), Chuck Jones (director) Wearing of the Grin / 1951
Michael Maltese (story), Chuck Jones (director) Rabbit Seasoning / 1952
Michael Maltese (story), Chuck Jones (director) Duck Amok / 1953
Michael Maltese (story), Chuck Jones (director) One Froggy Evening / 1955

With the death of film animator and director Chuck Jones on February 22, 2002, I decided to revisit several cartoon works by him, a joyful task which reminded me of my childhood, and gave me the opportunity to really watch these innovative and, often, abstract works of art.

Jones' long career, spanning work for Warner Brothers from 1933 to 1962, when his job was terminated for illegally working on the animated cartoon feature, Gay Purree, saw a complete transformation in the cartoon industry from realist-like images and cartoon characters to abstract and even surreal-looking backdrops and absurdist figures. From early characters such as Charlie Dog, Hubie and Bertie, and The Three Bears, Jones refined and transformed his art, creating such memorable figures as Claude Cat, Michigan J. Frog, Pepe LePew, the Road Runner, and Wile E. Coyote. Working with Michael Maltese, he also transformed the characters of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Elmer Fudd.

I watched about twenty of Jones' cartoons, but will focus on just a few in order to point to some of his remarkable transformations. In Rabbit of Seville (1950), for example, Jones and his staff took on the relationship of opera and animation more seriously than before as Bugs Bunny, chased by the gun-toting Elmer Fudd enter the domain, much like the Marx Brothers in A Night at the Opera, of an opera-going audience. The lyrics are a zany mix of nursery rhyme and doggerel:

[singing to Elmer outside the barbershop]
Bugs Bunny: How do?/Welcome to my shop/Let me cut your mop/Let me shave your crop/Daintily, daintily... Hey, you!/Don't look so perplexed/Why must you be vexed?/Can't you see you're next?/Yes, you're next, you're so next!

With manic shifts in character and scene, the two undergo battles of rising barber chairs, a scalp-massage timed to the music of Rossini, and numerous other hilarious interruptions as the befuddled conductor and orchestra blithely play on. As in other Jones cartoons, Bugs shifts in and out of gender, here ending the eternal battle between him and Elmer, briefly, by marrying him!

Wearing of the Grin (1951) features Porky Pig on his way to Dublin. In a heavy rain he finds himself still twelve miles away and decides to spend the night at the nearby castle, haunted, he soon discovers, by leprechauns, who eventually convene a court, trying him to "the wearing of the green shoes." Once Porky has put on the shoes, like Moira Shearer in The Red Shoes, he cannot stop dancing and quickly enters a surreal, dream-like world made up by terrifying Irish smoking pipes, pots of gold, shamrocks and other Erin icons that consume and taunt him. When he awakens to be invited again into the castle, Porky suddenly remembers that he has another appointment—with his psychiatrist!

In 1952's Rabbit Seasoning, Fudd is again on the road to murder, as the self-assured Bugs and the increasing confused Daffy Duck join together to create a chaos of visual and linguistic signs that flummoxes the slow-minded Elmer. Their "Shoot me now" routine, right out of Laurel and Hardy, further confuses the would-be hunter, who by the end cannot even recognize his prey.

Bugs Bunny: Would you like to shoot me now or wait till you get home?
Daffy Duck: Shoot him now! Shoot him now!
Bugs Bunny: You keep outta this! He doesn't have to shoot you now!
Daffy Duck: He does so have to shoot me now!
[to Elmer]
Daffy Duck: I demand that you shoot me now!
[Elmer shoots him.]
Daffy Duck: Let'sth run through that again.
Bugs Bunny: Okay.
[in a flat tone]
Bugs Bunny: Wouldja like to shoot me now or wait till you get home?
Daffy Duck: [flat tone] Shoot him now, shoot him now.
Bugs Bunny: [flat tone] You keep outta this. He doesn't hafta shoot you now.
Daffy Duck: [with sudden passion] Ha! That's it! Hold it right there!
[to audience]
Daffy Duck: Pronoun trouble.
[to Bugs]
Daffy Duck: It's not: "He doesn't have to shoot "you" now." It's: "He doesn't have to shoot "me" now." Well, I say he does have to shoot me now!
[to Elmer]
Daffy Duck: So shoot me now!
[Elmer shoots him]

Duck Amok (1953) is perhaps the quintessential Jones film. Here a slightly paranoid Daffy is delighted to have captured a role as a slightly mad musketeer, but the moment he attempts to enter the set, the scenery shifts, first to a farm, then to an igloo, later a Polynesian paradise, each with its own music. As he absurdly attempts to play along, things become even more impossible as, first the sound, then the scene, and, finally, he himself disappears. "Where am I?" he existentially pleads, trying to return the story to some semblance of order before being mixed and matched with all sorts of other figures dressed in outlandish mixes of costumes. A final frame reveals that the mad animator of this piece is none other than Bugs Bunny.
One of my very favorites is One Froggy Evening (1955) with the infamous Michigan T. Frog, who, discovered by a worker in a time capsule of a demolished building, suddenly springs to life singing and dancing—top hat on head, cane in hand—songs from ragtime and popular music. The amazed witness of this event suddenly envisions fame and money, and quickly runs off, time capsule in hand, to promote his new discovery. Yet every time he opens the box to others, the frog simply sits as a regular frog. Michigan will sing only for the man, who ultimately nearly loses his sanity before placing the box in the cornerstone of a new skyscraper.

After leaving Warner Brothers, Jones continued to work on his own, making the truly abstract cartoon, The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics and working with his friend Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) on How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966).

Jones' work. obviously, was simply funny to children, but his crazy battling characters, believing in the power of guns and all other forms of killing devices manufactured by the Acme Company, reveal to adults the kind of insanely absurd violence that dominated post-war America, helping us, perhaps, to laugh heartily at some of our deepest fears.

December 27, 2002

Monday, July 19, 2010

FLAGS AND LETTERS




FLAGS AND LETTERS

William Broyles, Jr. and Peter Haggis (screenplay), based on the book by James Bradley and Ron Powers, Clint Eastwood (director) Flags of Our Fathers / 2006
Iris Yamashita (screenplay), Clint Eastwood (director) Letters from Iwo Jima / 2006

True to my pattern of doing things, I saw Clint Eastwood’s magnificent diptych, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima in early 2007 in the reverse order from which they were released. After seeing Flags of Our Fathers (the second film of my viewing), I observed to my mate, Howard, that had I seen that film first, I might not have been so eager to see its companion. That is not to say that Flags is not a significant film, but simply that, without the context of the more coherent and darker second work, it functions in a much more scatter-gun, even disjunctive manner that is simply not as fulfilling to its audience.

Actually I believe Eastwood has made an important statement in the structural differences between the two films. Recognizing these two works as opposing representations of the same series of incidents—the battles at Iwo Jima occurring from February 19 through March 24, 1945—we quickly perceive that the American version, Flags of Our Fathers, is presented from the viewpoint of how Americans in general perceived the event at the time, as part of a grand heroic effort to defeat the Japanese.

Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal’s picture of six men hoisting the flag into position atop of Suribachi mountain quickly consolidated the actual battles into an icon of the hallowed values for which American soldiers were fighting. The three individuals in that picture who survived the Iwo Jima invasion, John “Doc” Bradley, Rene Gagnon, and Ira Hayes, accordingly, were immediately recognized as representatives of what most Americans sought, living manifestations of the heroism of their young men and women in World War II. Higherups, moreover, recognized these men as the perfect salesmen in the pitch for American War Bonds to raise monies desperately needed to continue the war effort.

The truth of these events was quite different. Forgetting for the moment that in a matter of 37 days nearly 30,000 men (6,891 Americans and close to 22,000 Japanese) had been killed and another 18,070 wounded, and focusing only on the famed photograph, there had in fact been two flag raisings, the first, a more instinctual act of claiming the island with a smaller flag tied with rope to a shell casing, the second, a military-ordered raising of a larger flag (to be rewarded to an observing congressman) carefully staged for the camera. Moreover, one of the men reported to have helped to raise the second, now iconographic flag, actually helped raise the first, and the name of a marine raising the second flag was omitted in military reports. The men who had survived the ordeal all recognized that there was little “heroism” in raising that second flag (or, for that matter, in raising the first), while the acts of all the soldiers—including their own—involved in actual battle represented what might really be thought of as heroic. Of the three survivors, Ira Hayes, of American Indian heritage, wanted nothing at all to do with the wartime pitch; the other two, medic Bradley and Gagnon—the latter presented as a naïve and somewhat dim-witted solider (assigned the position of a “runner”), participated with a sense of increasing disdain and distress for their ballpark reenactments and celebrity status.

In the American experience of the event there is little coherency. While the three soldiers relived nightmarish scenes from the battle, the public in general saw the battle only through the lens of a split-second photograph. The press conjured up “a truth” out of unrelated events (such as Gagnon’s marriage and Hayes’s apparent alcoholism) before completely dropping their coverage. It mattered little to the military, the press, or the public that these men’s lives had been utterly transformed or that perhaps their real heroism related less to the war than simply withstanding the onslaught of publicity heaped upon them.

Ultimately, it was left to their sons and daughters to piece together—through interviews and a book publication—any sense of reality of the Iwo Jima battle. Heroism, Bradley’s son suggests, was not a unifying force; it meant fighting with and saving, if possible, the men immediately closest to one in battle, protecting and saving one’s friends. For the individual soldiers, the public displays of nationalism were not what they had fought for. There is a strange (if predictable) homoeroticism to the young soldiers’ oceanside swim soon after the battles that Eastwood presents as the image of friendships behind some of these men’s heroic exploits.

The Flags version of Iwo Jima, accordingly, presented in disjunctive pieces and viewed from various angles and perceptions—from the viewpoints of individuals, friends, the military, the national public, the families, and history—is a narrative without the possibility of a unifying vision.

Contrarily, Letters from Iwo Jima reveals events primarily based on the letters of three soldiers writing their loved ones back home and other unmailed letters later discovered buried on the island, and for that reason presents a much more intimate portrait of military men, many of whom knew they were doomed to die in the battle.

Unlike the American presentation of the Iwo Jima slaughter, moreover, Letters has at its center two great military leaders, Lieutenant General Kuribayashi Tadamichi (stunningly portrayed by Ken Watanabe), commander of the Empire of Iwo Jima, and Baron Nishi.

Nishi, a great horseman, winner of the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, and celebrity of Japanese culture, knew English and had befriended, before the war, numerous American film actors such as Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.

Kuribayashi, assigned by Hideki Tojo to defend Iwo Jima, had spent part of his education in Canada, and, in 1928-29 served in the United States as a deputy military attaché, traveling throughout the country. Kuribayashi, accordingly, knew well the American state of mind, and through careful study of US military strategy, was able to determine on which shore the Americans would land. As opposed to the standard strategy of entrenching opposition soldiers near the landing point Kuribayashi catacombed the local mountains as a fortress, thus allowing for a longer survival time for his soldiers and a high ground from which to shoot and kill the American enemy.

Even though he was of samurai and aristocratic descent, and was one of the few soldiers who was granted an audience with Emperor Hirohito, Kuribayashi had opposed the war with the United States from the beginning and had fallen into opposition with numerous colleagues. According to scriptwriter Iris Yamashita and director Eastwood, moreover, he opposed the traditional self-immolation upon failure in battle, arguing that instead of destroying themselves, the troops should move forward or retreat to a place of better advantage.

One of the most terrifying scenes in both films is the reference to and depiction of the self-destruction of a Japanese platoon as, one by one, they discharge grenades against their heads or torsos. Two soldiers in that group do not choose to “die honorably.” One of the major figures of Letters, Saigo, formerly a student in Japan’s prestigious military school, along with Shimizu save themselves and, ultimately, rejoin Kuribayashi’s forces, only to be threatened with death by a lieutenant of the old school. Saigo’s and Shimizu’s lives are personally spared by Kuribayashi, representing, in Saigo’s case, the second of what will be three of Kuribayashi’s interventions on his behalf.

Eastwood painfully demonstrates the horrors of war when these two soldiers later determine to surrender. Shimizu escapes and is captured by the Americans, only to be killed by two American soldiers under whose protection he and another man have been assigned. Although there have been many films of the past that revealed the absurdity of war, the brutal killing of this young man by Americans reverberates in a way that can only call up similar shocking events in Viet Nam and our current Iraqi invasion. Americans, we have had to recognize, are not always the “good guys” we like to think they/we are.

In the United States it is amazing that Eastwood’s eloquently sympathetic presentation of enemy combatants has received so little negative reaction. Japan, one must recall, was one of the few countries ever to actually attack Americans on their own soil! Perhaps it is a testament to the director’s honesty and integrity. One wonders, moreover, how this film is being perceived in Japan, where it is still generally believed—although his body was never discovered—that Kuribayashi committed seppuku, the ritual suicide of the samurai. In Eastwood’s version the general dies before he can destroy himself, to be buried by the loyal Saigo, who, recognizing the general’s gun hanging from the belt of a conquering American, springs into his first actual attempt at combat with “the enemy” before he is quelled, to become one of the few Japanese survivors.

The letters, intimate communications between wives, sons, and others, create a coherency not to found in the American version of war. While the Japanese Kuribayashi goes to his death knowing that he has attempted to communicate with his beloved son Taro, for the American soldier Bradley, up until the last moments of his death, there is a feeling of having been dissociated from his own son, of having so buried the war within his own being that he has remained at a distance from one so loved. It appears, Eastwood suggests, that a culture that prefers flags to letters, a culture which offers up symbols as opposed to simple human expression—the culture of my own father—is doomed to estrangement.*

Los Angeles, January 19, 2007
Reprinted from
Nth Position [England], February 2007.


___
* One must recognize that Japanese culture is also highly involved in and enchanted by symbols, a point Eastwood brings up in his film. As a young military student, Shimizu is commanded to enforce the rule that all houses display the Japanese flag, an incident which, when he also is commanded to destroy the family’s dog—an order he disobeys—results in his dismissal from military college and in his being posted to Iwo Jima. It is particularly notable, therefore, that the three major figures of Letters from Iwo Jima spend their last days in epistolary communication.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

MIRROR IMAGE




MIRROR IMAGE

George Axelrod (screenplay, based on a novel by Richard Condon), John Frankenheimer
(director) The Manchurian Candidate / 1962

Other than the Visconti film I discuss later in this volume, few films reflect the theme of this year’s volume, “love, death, and transfiguration,” more fully than John Frankenheimer’s 1962 film, The Manchurian Candidate. Frankenheimer, who died on July 6th of this year, described the work as being centered around what he described as “double images.”And indeed, the film contains a good many of these, which I would prefer, however, to speak of as “mirror images,” images that, while revealing one reality also suggest or show its reverse, what might be perceived as the darker side of what the surface presents.

The return home of Raymond Shaw, for example, is, in one sense, the homecoming of a war hero, the supposed celebration of a man who has received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery in saving his patrol in the Korean War. Yet Raymond is clearly not at all approving of his step-father’s and mother’s “disgusting three-ring circus” to celebrate him, and we soon find out that, although described as a “hero,” a man referred to by his entire unit as “the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I have ever known in my life,” he was scornfully dismissive of his underlings, was a man aloof from his fellow men.

We already know, from the film’s very opening scene, moreover, that although he has been awarded the medal for saving his men from capture that his unit was captured in Korea
in 1952, as the men, against army strategy, marched along a path in single file. And we gradually discover that the “loveable Raymond Shaw”—as one of his fellow men sarcastically describes him—is not even a hero, but was brainwashed along with his fellow men, forced to strangle fellow-soldier Ed Mavole, shoot their young “mascot,” Bobby Lembeck, and programmed to do the biddings of his handlers, foes of the American government.

One of the most famed of the mirror images of the film is represented in Frankenheimer’s brilliant presentation of these American soldiers in enemy hands—recalled in a dream of intelligence officer Ben Marco—as they sit in what seems at first to be an elegantly decorated room among a gathering of a lady's garden club that, upon the camera’s second pan around the room, reveals a room closer to an observatory operating room, wherein sit numerous male Communist officials (both Chinese and Russian), discussing their success at reconditioning their captives.

At the congressional session wherein Marco is serving as public relations officer, we see one of Frankenheimer’s most brilliant mirror images. As senator John Iselin interrupts the hearings with McCarthy-like charges of governmental ties with Communism, we observe the drama in the room—which gradually is reduced to a shouting match—while at the same time seeing it replayed, from a slightly different perspective, on a television monitor—a mirror image that would later become a staple in such politically-centered movies.

Although Marco speaks of Shaw—like the others—as a good man, he has nightly dreams that convey another truth, and admits to his superior that “It isn’t as if Raymond‘s hard to like, he’s impossible to like. In fact, he’s probably one of the most repulsive human beings I’ve known in my whole—in all of my life!”

The discovery by Marco that Chunjin, the former Korean guide, is now a butler working in Shaw’s apartment and the revelation of a letter from Al Melvin, another of the army patrol members, that parallels his own nightmares, finally forces him to act, informing his superiors of his and Melvin’s dream, being asked, in response, to identify the villains from two simultaneously projected sets of photographs—these representing double images more than “mirror” ones—some of bouncers, thugs, and normal individuals, the others of high-ranking members of the Communist party.

If Raymond is acerbic and intellectually aloof, we also discover that, for at least one year, he was a true Romantic, having fallen in love with the daughter of his mother’s political rival, Jocie Jordan.

The mother’s determination to end that relationship draws one to conclude that she is also someone who is not what she pretends to be, that her evident devotion to protecting her son has yet another manipulative element that becomes clearer as the film proceeds, as we ultimately discover that she is not at all the upright American conservative that she pretends be, but is a member of the Communist party devoted to their takeover—albeit on her terms—of the American government.

The intense play of doubles or mirror images turns tragically-comic in the penul-timate scenes of Frank-enheimer’s work where Iselin, dressed as Lincoln—a man in real life who was 6 feet, 4 inches tall—attempts to bend under a limbo stick. Having revealed that Raymond’s obedience is triggered by the Queen of Diamonds in a deck of cards, Frankenheimer almost transcends believability by having Jocie attend the party dressed as that playing card!

Love seems to win the day once again, as Raymond and Jocie run off to be married, but by now we recognize that it cannot end well, and we are hardly surprised when, soon after, he is ordered to kill Jordan, and in the process murders Jocie as well.

By this time, Raymond’s identity has been lost in the hall of mirrors of his ever-shifting desires and commands. And finally, dressed as a priest, Raymond both curses and saves himself by reversing his role of the assassin, killing not the intended target, the presidential candidate, but the “Manchurian candidates”—the individuals who have ordered the murder: his mother and father-in-law—before turning the gun upon himself, simultaneously destroying both the surface and mirror images, and by doing so, breaking through the looking glass.

The movie that has begun with a loud American marching band celebrating the return of a hero, ends in a solitary whimper of profanity as Marco utters Raymond’s eulogy (presenting the opposite, in many respects, of what he has seemed to be), ending with the words “Hell. Hell!”

Los Angeles, August 19, 2002

Saturday, July 17, 2010

BETWEEN VISIONS




I printed a few paragraphs from the essay below in My Year 2004 in a piece devoted to Marjorie Perloff, in whose course I first encountered the work of John Wieners. The essay was one of my first attempts to discuss contemporary poetry, and it reveals the graduate-student environment in which it was written. The essay was written at a time when postmodernism was just beginning to have an impact on literary texts and my own notions of postmodernism, moreover, were highly influenced by the course for which I wrote the essay, which would ultimately result in Marjorie Perloff’s important study, The Poetics of Indeterminacy: Rimbaud to Cage.

Consequently, I had decided not to republish the piece until news came last week that Wieners had collapsed on a Boston Street and died a few days later, on March 1, in Massachusetts General Hospital. Without any identification upon him, he lay in the hospital for several days, hooked up to a machine, until a worker traced a prescription in his pocket to a local pharmacy. Soon after, the hospital connected with John’s friends Jim Dunn and Charles Shively, who sat with him as he died.

I first met Wieners in the mid-1990s when Raymond Foye, who had edited Wieners’ Selected Poems in 1986, introduced me to him at a small press book fair in New York. I had previously communicated with Wieners and had published some of his poems in my 1994 volume, From the Other Side of the Century: A New American Poetry 1960-1990, but I don’t believe John ever knew of the essay below. Nonetheless, he recognized my name, and, although he looked like a street derelict with his three-day beard and torn and ripped clothing, he spoke—as Fanny Howe described him—like a Southern gentleman: “Sir, it is so very nice to meet you,” he slightly bowed. The paradox was memorable, as if one were witnessing a true-life character out of a Damon Runyon novel.

I believe that I met him again a year later at the same affair, which I attended briefly for several years out of a sense of affiliation with these very small presses similar to mine years before. I believe Raymond invited him there each year—where he stood out as a sort of unexpected celebrity—to sell books and signatures that might bring the destitute Wieners a few needed dollars.

In 1996, Lewis Warsh sent me a manuscript which he had rediscovered in his files of Wieners’ 707 Scott Street, a mix of prose and poetry documenting John’s San Francisco life at the time of the legendary Hotel Wentley Poems. For the rights to that book, I paid Wieners $2,000—an exceptional sum for Sun & Moon Press to pay, given that we were always on the edge of bankruptcy; but I was pleased to be able to help John get by for several more months.

A year after its publication, I was invited by Boston poet Aaron Kiley to attend the first Boston Poetry Marathon, where I met Jim Dunn, who had been unofficially caring for Wieners. He, in turn, suggested that John and I meet, and I told him to tell John that I would take him to any restaurant he might choose in the city. Word came back, Wieners wanted to go to—Burger King! And so the three of us dined royally at his usual hangout—my treat!

I took several photographs of Wieners at the Burger King, but my camera’s battery must have been low, and none of them turned out. Soon after, Dunn took another photo of John at the same spot and sent me a copy, reproduced here.

It was hard to tell whether Wieners was extraordinarily coy and witty or simply uncomprehending and unable to verbally express himself. I chose to believe the former. Several times I tried to ask him if he had any other materials that remained unpublished, but each time he vaguely answered, brushing away any real response. Finally, upon the third try, he pointed up a hill, saying “There, there, I’m sure they’ve got some—all of my work. Up there!” Dunn explained that “up there,” was the publishing house, Houghton Mifflin!

As I have written elsewhere in these volumes, Wieners was an extremely important figure for me; it was while working on his poetry that I discovered the dozens of 1960s small presses and magazines in the Library of Congress that not only provided me with a history of small press publishing, but helped me to understand that I too might be involved in small press activity. And soon after, I began Sun & Moon: A Journal of Literature & Art, publishing my essay on Wieners in its second issue. Wieners’ poetry, with its mix of romantic idioms, gay slang, and postmodern techniques, struck a cord with my own poetic concerns.

Los Angeles, March 12, 2002
Revised July 2, 2008



BETWEEN VISIONS

John Wieners Ace of Pentacles (New York: James F. Carr and Robert A. Wilson, 1964)
John Wieners Selected Poems (New York: Grossman, 1972)

From the beginning of his career John Wieners has been a poet who experimented with poetic forms that we have come more recently to describe as Postmodern. As a student at Black Mountain College, Wieners, like other writing students, was inspired by Charles Olson’s influential Projectivist theories. In Wieners’ own poetry, however, Olson’s influence seems negligible. Rather, Wieners turned for moderns to the literary forbearers of Postmodernist poetic writing: Rimbaud, Stein, Apollinaire, Pound, and, to a lesser degree, Williams. In short, we can observe in both Wieners’ poetry and his few theoretical statements that he discovered a personal mode which grew out of a process of trial and error based on conscious imitation. In fact, Wieners’ early poetic attempts are fascinating, not only because they tell us something of the development of his own theory and art, but because they parallel much of the poetic development in the twentieth century which only in the past few decades have we come to see as a poetics which stands at odds and often in opposition to the theories and work of such men as Yeats, Eliot, and Stevens, all dominant writers of the first half of that century.

Wieners’ earliest poetry, for example, especially The Hotel Wentley Poems (1958), was written from a perspective akin to Rimbaud’s. In his 1965 “Address to the Watchman of the Night,” Wieners explains that the creative energy behind this early poetry had its genesis in a need

To explore those dark eternals of the nightworld: the prostitute, the dope addict, thief and pervert. These were the imagined heroes of my world: and the orders of my life. What they stood for, how they lived, what they did in the daytime were the fancies of my imagination. And I had to become one of them until I knew.

We perceive from the beginning that Wieners’ desire for a life ordered according to what he recognizes as an inverted world, owes much to Rimbaud’s “raissonné de tous les sens.” In this early poetry Wieners consciously sought out a world that would allow him to explore exactly that which Rimbaud asserts that the voyant must: “Toutes les forms d’amour, de souffrance, de foile.” The Wentley poems present a world of tortured homosexual love and drugged insanity that one cannot help but compare with Une Saison. We can hardly be surprised, therefore, that as recently as his 1972 preface to Selected Poems Wieners advocates a poetry “dependent of question, producing revelatory postures for men, animals and stars,” or, that he asserts that “the poet is one pastor of [a] distribution between two visions,” that he defines one of poetry’s forms as a “transformation by fire.”

All of these can be traced back to Rimbaud’s theory as expressed in his well-known letter to Demeny of 1871:

…the poet is truly the thief of fire. He is responsible for humanity, even for animals; he will have to have his inventions smelt, felt and and heard; if what he brings back from down there has form, he gives form; if it is formless, he gives formlessness.

However, in Wieners’ own poetry this comparison does not appear to be sustained. Whereas Rimbaud’s Saison creates a world so completely disorienting that the reader is forced to drop all previous notions of value, Wieners’ poetry relies for its effect upon the values the reader brings to the poem.

A poem such as “To H,” for example, depends upon the reader’s traditional expectations.

I like Sunday evenings after you’re here.
I use your perfume to pretend you’re near
in the night. My eyes are bright, why
can’t I have a man of my own?

Your wife’s necklace’s around my neck
and even though I do shave I pretend
I’m a woman for you
You make love to me like a man.

Even though I hear you say why man
he doesn’t even have any teeth
……………………………………
I make it up to you in other ways.

I will write this poem.

As critic Marjorie Perloff has noted of this work, “After the opening tum-ti-tum stanza, it comes as something of shock to learn that the person who wants a ‘man of my own’ is himself a man, that his lover is married, that the poet tries to impersonate a woman so as to attract her husband….” In fact, it is this “shock” effect which gives the poem its power. Through his use of hackneyed rhymes (“here,” “near,” “night,” "bright"), the sing-song rhythms of the first two lines and the lament of the fourth line, Wieners encourages us to expect that the rest of the poem will fulfill the requirements of a popular love song. Even when the “shock” occurs, we are not made to question our own values. Indeed, the poet asks us to remain within our own value systems as voyeurs of sorts, for it is only as somewhat disparaging observers that we can see the humor of the situation, and it is upon that humor which the poignancy of the last line and the poem as a whole relies. As Perloff perceives, “…any such impersonation is doomed to failure…” Thus we find the situation somewhat ludicrous, and as we do we are made to see the inevitable loneliness and sadness of the figure at the center of this work; and it is only through this perception that we come to sympathize.

“To H,” accordingly, has little of Rimbaud’s transformative power. In Wieners we are not made to participate in a deranged world; we are merely asked to listen to the self-disparaging cries and open our hearts to the figure caught in such a world. Wieners himself has since rejected the “là-bas” of which Rimbaud would have the poet write: “I know now that ‘the dark eternals of the nightworld’ are only deprivations of the self, not further extensions of its being: manifestations of want, denial and betrayal” (in Donald M. Allen and Warren Tallman, eds., The Poetics of the New American Poetry). Such a statement shows us that, as Gilbert Sorrentino recently suggested, Wieners is at heart much closer to Baudelaire than to Rimbaud. Nevertheless, Rimbaud’s influence should not be underestimated, particularly since Wieners’ mature work owes much to Rimbaud’s ability to transform objects and landscapes into an almost surrealistic world infused by process.

The most fascinating aspect of Wieners’ poetry, I would suggest, is not the question of whether or not he has been directly influenced by Rimbaud, but the fact that in this early period he was drawn to such poets and was in his personal life and theory influenced by their work while simultaneously embracing modernist values when it came to his own writing.

This is particularly apparent in Wieners’ “imitations” of other poets. In “The Windows,” the poet has taken Apollinaire’s “Les Fenêtres” and seemingly translated the French, concretizing the images and a few of the lines (for example, “Abatis de pihis” appears in Wieners as “A bat is pinned to a tree.”), changing some colors, adding an occasional negative (“Nous l’enverrons en message téléphonique” becomes in Wieners “We cannot take calls by telephone), and altering some personal pronouns, adjectives, etc. On the surface, it is exactly the kind of poem that literary historians love to point to as an “apprentice piece,” a work written in the formative years in imitation of a previous “master.” This can be said as well of Wieners’ “The Magic of This Summer June 23, 1963,” wherein a stanza such as

The sense of continuity entirely destroyed by many
new senses, continually destroyed by many new
shapes o continually destroyed, o many new sphere,
many life entirely destroyed, continued by
many spheres, entirely lost, o continually destroyed
many lost by more o continually new generation,

with its shifting repetitions, reads like a parody of Gertrude Stein. In poems such as “Times Square” or “A Dawn Cocktail,” we see obvious imitations of Pound’s Imagism, modeled after “In a Station of the Metro.” In each of these cases we can see Wieners’ experimentation with a poetry moving towards and defining something akin to what we now call Postmodernism.

Wieners’ poetry, accordingly, would seem to be exemplary of the contemporary poetics. In a poem such as “A Poem for Cocksuckers” we can see nearly all the elements by which critics such as Charles Altieri have defined Postmodernism: preference of “the direct, the personal, the local, the anti-formal, and the topical." These are particularly explicit in the poem’s first stanza:

Well we can go
in the queer bars w/
our long hair reaching
down to the ground and
we may sing our songs
of love like the black mamma
on the juke box, after all
what have we got left.

The narrative “we” directly presents us with a specific scene, a gay bar, and that specificity is established by a language which is at once colloquial and topical. Words such as “queer bars,” “black mamma,” “juke box,” and, in the next stanza, “fairies” and “nigger’s world,” and the informality of tone call up this scene. However, the specificity is of a type, not a particular. Indeed, we are given few visual images. Just as in “To H,” “A Poem for Cocksuckers” is a poem that calls for reader participation. We have been warned by the title itself that this poem is a poem “for cocksuckers.” Wieners presumes, obviously, that any reader is thereby included in the type. Indeed, the gay scene which we are now part of is established by stereotypes, by words charged with negative societal values, values which some of the readers, in fact, might bring to the poem. The few visual images with which we are presented only reinforce these stereotypes. “Our long hair reaching to the ground” is, quite obviously, a topical reference to the late 1950s and '60s when societal reaction to long hair was most vocal. Images such as “On our right the fairies / giggle in their lacquered voices & blow / smoke in your eyes….” Phrases such “It is all here between / powdered legs & / painted eyes of the fairy / friends….” are also emotionally charged in a way that necessarily brings up negative connotations. As part of this world, therefore, we are also stereotyped: we are “cocksuckers.” While we have been brought into this place, moreover, we are simultaneously alienated from it. We are made to see it truly as a “nigger’s world,” a world which is brought to detest itself.

Yet that is not at all the feeling we get from the rest of the poem. The second stanza tells us of the “gifts” that “do not desert us, / fountains do not dry / up there are rivers running / mountains / swelling for spring to cascade.” The poem has suddenly shifted to a more lyrical tone which draws us away from the specific scene and makes us think in a symbolic context that is very unlike the beginning. Here “gifts” represent both “our” mental abilities to transform this negative experience into something creative and suggests “our” sexual organs which await release. Even when we are brought back into the specific gay bay world with the lines, "friends who do not fail us / in our hour of despair,” the symbolic associations remain. Although , we are specifically pointed out the phalluses of “our” "fairy friends,” it remains purposely unclear whether it is the sex itself that saves us from despair or whether it is the experience
imaginatively recalled that gives us value—or both. But almost before we can ask this question, we are left alone as suddenly the poet enters the poem in the first person, and lyrically calls upon us to “…Take not / away from me the small fires / I burn in memory of love.”

The effect of this sudden emotional command is that the “I” which we have felt has been guiding us all along removes himself from the specific scene and leaves us there, almost as a jilted date. Wieners turns on us and calls upon us both as outsiders who would deny him his love through our stereotyped vision of him, and, now, as insiders who would take his “lover” away, imploring us like the “black mamma” of the juke box to let him live his life with the small pleasure he has left intact. This is a brilliant maneuver, but as a tactic it is far more Modernist than Postmodernist. This last outburst leaves the reader behind, while the poet, again in metaphorical language, states his meaning. The reader has been somewhat “manipulated” into participating; he has been “used” to say something rather than asked to share in the poem-making process.

The direct presentation, we must feel, has only been a sort of decoy to involve the reader in what is actually a tightly controlled construct.

Altieri has asserted that the philosophical foundation of Postmodernism is the belief that value and meaning are immanent in nature, “that God…manifests himself as energy, as the intense expression of immanent power.” For the Postmodern “…value is not mediated but stems from a direct engagement with the universal forces of being manifest in the particular….” This idea is close to what Pound expressed in his Imagist and Vorticist theories, and what Williams was later to summarize in Patterson as “no ideas but in things.” Having been brought up with these theories, Wieners, as we have seen, seemingly supports them. Ostensibly, it is the process of poem-making, not the finished product, with which Wieners is most concerned. “A poem does not have to be a major thing,” Wieners wrote in Donald M. Allen’s 1960 New American Poetry anthology. “Poetry even tho it does deal with language is not a more holy act / than, say, shitting.” Two lines later, however, comes a question which, I suggest, is at the heart of the contradictions we have thus far observed in Wieners’ work. He begins with the Postmodern assumption that poetry is a “Manifesting of process…,” but he is not sure of what process it is a manifestation: “Is it life? Or action between this and non-action?” He continues, “For to take up arms against the void is attack, and the price of / was / is high.” For a poet and theorist like Pound there would be little question here. Poetry was for Pound a manifesting of the process of life because it was life itself which was in process. But Wieners suspects a void. Wherein then does the immanence lie? From where does the process issue? The Postmodernist necessarily believes in the material reality of the world around him, for it is primarily that reality which gives meaning and/or value. Ideally, the Postmodern poet demonstrates, restates, or clarifies the process that is already active in the world of objects. Wieners seems to be inferring that it is in the poet alone that meaning is immanent, that the process issues not from the world but from the poet. We are getting closer here to a Modernist orientation akin to Wallace Stevens’ in which the poet imposes meaning upon an otherwise dead or meaningless universe.

This same pattern can be observed in Wieners’ imitations previously described. “The Magic of This Summer,” for example, has all the superficial characteristics of a Stein work. It is, as in most of Stein’s writing, a direct statement wherein what is stated is given a sense of process by the use of present tense, active verbs, and by shifting repetitions. This latter, especially, gives us the sense of a cubistic perspective, for each time an idea is repeated it is slightly altered—either the construction is changed or a word has been added or subtracted—so that it is given a slightly different emphasis. All of this is at work in Wieners’ poem, but, once more, he uses this Postmodern-like technique to present a dialectic between Modernist and Postmodernist issues, to discuss issues of form which eventually contradict the form itself.

Wieners’ question in this poem is, once again, “Where does meaning or value reside?” The poet begins with a seemingly Postmodern position: “Form to be given / declared at any moment by what lies outside of us, and within us”; “the form declares / shape, given, of any, this moment, everything / declares itself in the moment, hidden in the declaration / of life, this moment, remains entirely given.” Suddenly, however, he remembers an event from the past, and he realizes that “this means, you are to be given, at any moment, / the fragments of past life.” “It seems,” therefore, “there is nothing, entirely given over the any moment,” because the moment can return. This is indeed a troubling concept, for if “The hand of the maker carves everything to be,” then, “For its own being, will come our shape. Form declares / itself. / In the given moment / In every living being.” This means that there is nothing more to be declared “at any given moment.” In being, everything “is given over to the moment.” “…Life is not over,” but “There is not more to be given.” If this is true, Wieners perceives, he must surrender his constructs of value to being; he must give up his “castle in the sand, on the beach, o the castles surrendered, / in my air.” But how can it be that everything is given when “still my life, by back life given many more days?”

The rest of the poem, accordingly, is a struggle to find continuity between the past and being, between value immanent in nature-in-process and values that we impose on nature or are given to us from the past. By the end of the poem, Wieners has been able to unite them in the “continual reality; expressed in the afternoon window,” and the heat, trees, and sun. Although he has returned to nature here, to the idea of immanence in the object, we rrealize that in remembering he has brought a “new consciousness” to bear upon the object that certainly contradicts Stein’s admonition against remembering, and brings into question the whole Postmodernist stance. If value is given us from the past, then how can we be free to see without preconceived notions that value is immanent in the object? It is clear that, at least for Wieners, this issue is unresolved. Here, as we saw previously in his experiments with Rimbaud, Wieners is unprepared to deny all previous values. As we have noted of all these poems discussed so far, Wieners brings to the writing his own values based upon previous encounters with nature. The poem itself is a construct of the previous process; it is not a document of his engagement with that process itself.

In Wieners’ Apollinaire imitation we can see further traces of Modernist or Symbolist tendencies. Apollinaire and his friends, who reportedly sat at the Paris café calling out lines to each other which would become “Les Fenêtres,” were certainly not attempting to create a poem in which one was encouraged to make connections. In fact, if anything, the connections were totally cut, which is what makes this experiment in poetics so fascinating. As Wieners notes in the short introductory paragraph to his imitation, “each line of his poem” is a poem “entire to itself, a sound and end in itself, without periods.” But then, Wieners adds two sentences that lead the reader to attempt to do just what the original was discouraging him from doing. Wieners writes: “There are no connections. Yet, look how each of us is hooked.” What is implicit in this statement is that Wieners is “hooked,” that it is the poet who has a tendency to make connection, bringing meaning out of discovery and imposing form upon formlessness. In fact, Wieners changes the text to encourage tenuous connections. For example, what in the original appear as completely unrelated phrases,

Beauté pâleur insondables violets
Nous tenterons en vain de prendre du repos

reads in Wieners,

Beauté paler than manila violets
We transplant in vain what cannot blossom.

We logically associate these two lines in the Wieners version because of the image of flowers in the first line and the words “transplant” and “blossom” in the second. Similarly, the French original

Et l’oie oua-oua trompette au nord
Où les chasseurs de ratons
Raclent les pelleteries
Entincelant diamante

appears in Wieners as,

While reeds whine through trumpets up north
Where strippers offstage
Sell their skin cheap as ice
Tinkling like diamonds.

Again, the desire to make connections in the Wieners version is natural. The idea of strippers up north selling their skin as cheaply as ice tinkling like diamond is quite plausible, and is a rather arresting image. However, in the original, except between “Où les chasseurs de rations” and “Raclent les pelleteries,” we would have no reason to make such connections. This is a type of process, but once more these are connections that have already been established in logical discourse. They do not force us in any way to arrive at a new set of associations as a Cubist work might. Even if the original “Les Fenêtres” were not an experiment in dissociation, and instead a Cubist-like collage, Wieners’ version is, accordingly, a completely different kind of work. It is a poem that has as its philosophical foundation the idea that the world is a void upon which man imposes meaning, to which man gives form, an idea antithetical to the Postmodern perspective that underlies much of Wieners’ work.

In other words, we can say that Wieners is an author who is not really comfortable with some of the values we have come to associate with Postmodernism. For Wieners, in short, nature is not immanent, but is a void or at least a chaos from which man with his imaginative powers must call up meaning. Yet, it would be hard to describe Wieners as a Modernist, for in the vast majority of his poems Wieners uses techniques—direct presentation of the personal, reader participation, etc.—by which critics have come to define Postmodernism. Thus we are faced with a quandary of sorts. In Wieners we have come up against, who uses contemporary techniques that create a tension between the immanence of the thing being presented and the values which the poet and/or reader puts upon the thing. While this may appear to be quandary only from the perspective of our Postmodern lens, it is actually a quandary of which Wieners himself is aware, and an important tension at work in a great many more experimental poets’ works. If believing in the Pound-Williams notion of the immanence of nature requires of the poet that he constantly seek for ways of seeing anew, of “making it new,” that effort simultaneously denies the poet his past. In this post-Bergsonian world of durée the poet is asked to continually surrender his values as soon as he has perceived something. If he stops to reflect, if he remembers, his poetry is deadened, becoming a remnant of some previous process. This, in turn, produces a moral dilemma for the contemporary writer, for he understandably desires to assert value, especially when faced with a phenomenon like the Viet Nam War. Since the Postmodernist is already concerned with process it is, accordingly, tempting to convert the energies of discovering the essence of process in nature to the promotion of process or change through a propagandistic or didactic art. From Pound’s “Usury” Canto to Denise Levertov’s Staying Alive we have seen the precursors of Postmodernism and Postmodern poets themselves turn to a preconceived value-oriented poetry.

In a recent interview, Robert Van Hallberg brought up just this issue:

…You seem to have a firm sense of the poem’s commitment to
a moment in history. Do you feel that at a particular moment in
history, specifically in the last few years, the pressure of political
tensions may push the poet, even a lyric poet, toward a more public
and rhetorical poetry?

Wieners’ answer follows from his poetry:

Yes, I do…. Yes. Lyricism is still a quality of a political career.
…Until the right moment, I created from past-inhabited experiences,
or vice-versa. These topics arise only upon consideration.

What Wieners is suggesting here, it seems to me, is that the subject for the contemporary poet does arise at least as much if not more from his past values and the values he has come to in that past as it does from the present. We can surmise that for a poet like Wieners it was from the beginning impossible, caught as he was in the nightworld, to reject past values. Indeed, his desire to know the nightworld was grounded in his awareness of his own past and the societal values which he had know from childhood. Once he had become part of that nightworld, moreover, he must have discovered himself more than ever comparing it with those values. Survival came to depend more and more upon his imaginative powers to convert his suffering into statements of faith. Wieners came to depend upon what he has described as “…other realities / besides those existing before / your eyes.” Despite his playing down of the importance of poetry, it is totally consistent with his work that Wieners should see the poet as “a pastor,” or as a priest of sorts.
This same tension was potential in Rimbaud’s poems as well. His dérèglement was utterly dependent upon his knowledge of traditional systems of cognition, for only with that knowledge could he give his reader anything “deranged,” could he make nature through language alive in a new way. Eventually, once he had perfected it, Rimbaud would have been forced also to tear down his own system and start all over again. But, of course, he stopped writing before his poetry had become artifact.

Wieners’ solution, then, is to make use of this tension, for when he writes with it in mind, he is saved from flat didacticism. “Long Nook,” for example, is a poem that could not have been written without the experimentation of Rimbaud and Pound, yet we can immediately see that it is a poem that neither of them would have written. It would not have been “deranged” enough for Rimbaud, and it would have been too controlled, too much of an artifact for Pound’s taste. Yet what an exciting poem it is! As Gilbert Sorrentino has written of it, “There is not a line…not charged with risk.”

There she took her lover to sea
and laid herself in the sand.
………………………………

He is fast, was down the dune
with silk around his waist.
Her scarf was small.

She opened her clothes to the moon.
Her underarms were shaved.
The wind was a wall between them.
Waves break over the tide,
hands tied to her side with silk,
their mind was lost in the night.

The green light at Provincetown
became an emerald on the beach
and like stars fell on Alabama.

The poem begins with a direct narrative statement in the past tense, with the vague “There” hinting at a world beyond time, like the “faraway country” of children’s tales. We are immediately made, however, to question these expectations. The construction of “to sea,” because there is no article, makes us think of the infinitive “to see,” which changes the whole tone of the line and urges us to move to the second line to find out what it is that she wants him to see. But we are not told; we are simply described the process of her lying down in the sand. The word “laid” is wrong here, however, and the object of the verb, “herself,” makes no sense. Even as a sexual pun it is, at first thought, ludicrous. Yet, when we think back to the first line, we recall that it was she who “took” to her “to sea,” and thus, we see the connotations of the pun. As the seducer, she encourages her lover to have sexual intercourse by seductively lying down in the sand, a seduction which is reflected by Wieners’ use here of l and s sounds (lover, laid; she, sea, herself, sand). But in that seduction she is also taking on the male role (as we shall see there are reasons for the stereotyping of roles) and, thus, in the sexual slang sense, is “laying herself.”

Suddenly, in the next line, there is a shift. A command is whispered in the present tense, ostensibly her command: “Go up and undress in the dark.” In its short, clipped iamb with a labial ending followed by two anapests, we are told more about the upward movement of the male than about her. This movement is rhythmically stirring compared to the slower pace of the first two lines, and in the next line, a mirror image of the previous line (an anapest followed by two iambs which gives the sense of downward movement), words like “fast” and “down the dune” give the male’s movements a vital energy. This sense of vitality is reinforced by the use of the present tense. The shift in tense in the first line of the second stanza does two things: first, it begins what I shall call a whistling sensuality of the second line, a sensuality suggested by the short s sounds (was, silk, his, waist) and by the associations we have with the texture of silk; second, this shift in tense creates a balancing effect in which we are given a sense of the male’s wholeness and surety. The correspondence of the last line of the first stanza and the use of the word “around” in the following line with the two iambs on either side of it (“with silk,” “his waist”) all contribute to this sense of balance. With all this detailed attention to the male, moreover, we are asked to take a special interest in his movements. When in the next line we are presented with a direct statement that draws attention to his genitals which are evidently not completely covered by the scarf tied around his waist, accordingly, we become voyeurs in the same way in which the woman is in her waiting position. We come to perceive at least one meaning, thus, of what it was she wanted “to see.”

“Her scarf was small” subtly suggests that the male is aroused and ready for sex. And by the next line we see, once again, the female’s readiness as she “opens” her clothes to the moon. The next line, “Her underarms were shaved,” repeats this whole idea of preparedness, and there is something slightly sinister in that fact. Compared with the male’s natural vitality and energy these is something almost unnatural in her presentation of herself to the moon, creating an almost surrealist quality here that inexplicably makes us feel that we are observing something connected with ritual, as if she were worshipping the moon. I do not believe that Wieners would have us ignore, moreover, all the more traditional associations that this image calls up. Facing the moon this way, she comes to be connected with it as an archetypal female symbol and as a traditional symbol for the imagination and mutability.

The next line contributes to this sinister mood. The description of the wind as a wall between them, obviously, is one way of saying that they are embracing each other. But the fact that the wind is suddenly brought in here, and that it metaphorically becomes a “wall,” in addition to the fact that the w sounds (wind, was, wall) recreate the whining sound of the wind, suggest that nature itself is somehow being affected by this coming together of the couple. It is almost as if before the final moment of sexual intercourse, the wind is holding them apart.*

In the next stanza this idea is repeated. The “waves breaking against the tide” metaphorically represent the orgasm, but again we recognize that there is something violent, disintegrating about this, especially when Wieners uses “tied” homonymically in the next line, and then rhymes it in the same line with “side.” At first, it is not clear whether her hands are tied to her side, but with the connection of “tide” to “tied” we are logically, if a little roundaboutly, led to thank that his hands are those which are tied. For “tide” cannot help but be connected with the moon, and therefore, with the female. We have a parallel construction, then, reinforced by the rhyming of “tied” and “side.” This is less complex than it sounds; it is simply the parallel relationship of male to female, and female to male, but it is important in how it affects the poem, subtly restating her dominance. He is tied to her.

It soon no longer matters, however, for in the sex act they have now “lost their minds in the night.” Their individuality no longer exists, as they abandon their cognitive faculties. In love, they have transcended the world in the Romantic sense, have become one with the world. But in so doing they have lost the natural vitality of being in nature that we saw previously in the male. Archetypally we have just witnessed the seduction by an Eve of an Adam. Just as suddenly it becomes quite clear what Wieners has meant by the female’s desire to take her lover “to see.” She has determined to show him a world beyond the everyday material reality.

In the last stanza we also are made “to see” this transcendent vision. But we see it both in its dangers and ridiculousness. The green light is also Gatsby’s green light in The Great Gatsby and, accordingly, represents the absurdity and dangers of the American dream; in Wieners’ poem that light is transformed into the ridiculous “emerald on the beach,” and, as if that were not absurd enough, the emerald surrealistically falls like stars on Alabama, this last phrase calling up the Brecht-Weill song “Moon over Alabama,” which makes the sex act we have just witnessed slightly tawdry, corny, and sentimental—all of which connects to the pornographic title of the poem itself. In the end we are made to see the silliness and destructiveness of associations. Like the female whose conscious preparedness is witnessed most clearly as she undresses to the moon, we would worship the associations more than the object itself and end up with the tawdry and sentimental instead of the vital being we observed in the man’s race down the dune.

We cannot come to understand this poem, however, without traditional symbolist values. Wieners may assert the Postmodern approach to poetry, but he requires that we know and use more traditional constructs. And while it is clear that these last lines present a vision which is quite ludicrous, they simultaneously present a fascinating and disorienting transformation the likes of which we have seen in Rimbaud.

Writing poetry for Wieners means combining both the seductive and imaginative awareness of the female in “Long Nook” and the vital energy in process of the male. And it is between the distribution of these two visions that Wieners sees himself as “pastor” (Selected Poems, p. 5).

____
*The original version of “Long Nook” (published in Floating Bear, no. 10 [1961]) makes this even more clear by setting off the line and putting it in quotations: “The wind was a wall between them.”

College Park, Maryland, December 1975
Reprinted from
Sun & Moon: A Quarterly of Literature & Art (No. 2, Spring 1976).