University of Delaware Library

Special Collections Department

John Wieners Papers

1961 - 1968

Manuscript Collection Number: 138
Accessioned: Purchased at various times.
Extent: 20 items.
Content: Correspondence, journals, drafts of poems, prose, and a play.
Access: The collection is open for research.
Processed: September 1999 by Devin Harner.

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Table of Contents

Biographical Note

From 1954, when he graduated from Boston College with an A.B. in English, to 1970, when he published Nerves, Boston-born poet John Wieners was thoroughly immersed in the art, culture, and turmoil of the time. He spent 1955-1956 at Charles Olson's experimental Black Mountain College in North Carolina, studying writing with Robert Creeley and Robert Duncan. Wieners journeyed to San Francisco where he published his breakthrough Hotel Wentley Poems in 1958, at age twenty-four.

Wieners returned to Boston in 1959 to be institutionalized, in part because of drug abuse. In 1961 he moved to New York City with the help of a grant from Allen Ginsberg's Poetry Foundation. He worked as an assistant bookkeeper at the Eighth Street Bookshop from 1962-1963. Wieners went back to Boston in 1963 and worked as a subscriptions editor for Jordan Marsh department stores until 1965. In 1964 Robert Wilson, of The Phoenix Bookshop, published Wieners's second book, Ace Of Pentacles.

In 1965 Wieners moved west, spending time in Los Angeles and at the Berkeley Poetry Conference where he met up with his old friend, Charles Olson. Olson, then an endowed Chair of Poetics at S.U.N.Y. Buffalo, invited Wieners to enroll in the graduate program there, which is where he stayed until 1967. Pressed Wafer (1967) was published chronicling those years.

In 1967 Wieners's lover left him and went to Europe with a mentor of his, but not before aborting his child first. In late 1967 Wieners, back in Boston, resorted to further drink and drugs. In the spring of 1969 Wieners was again institutionalized, resulting in The Asylum Poems (For my Father), published later that year.

Wieners published Nerves in 1970, which contained his work from 1966 to 1970, including all of the Asylum Poems. In the early 1970s, despite brief periods of institutionalization, Wieners taught a course entitled "Verse in the U.S. Since 1955" at the Beacon Hill Free School in Boston. He was also involved in the antiwar movement, crusaded against racism, and campaigned for the rights of women and homosexuals.

In 1975 Wieners published Behind the State Capital, or Cincinnati Pike, a book of letters, memoirs, and brief lyric poems. He has published little new work since 1975 and has remained largely out of the public eye. In 1986 he produced a retrospective collection, Selected Poems, 1958-1984 with a forward written by Allen Ginsberg. In 1996 he appeared with Ed Sanders at Stone Soup in Boston for what would have been Jack Kerouac's 76th birthday celebration. Also in 1996, The Sun and Moon Press released an edited and previously unpublished diary and journal by Wieners documenting his life in San Francisco around the time of The Hotel Wentley Poems. The book, The Journal of John Wieners is to be called 707 Scott Street for Billie Holiday, 1959, contains prose, poetry, and assorted musings from Wieners at age twenty-four at the dawn of the Sixties.


Raymond Foye, "John Wieners," Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 16. The Beats: Literary Bohemians in Postwar America. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1983. pp. 572-583.

Scope and Content Note

Spanning the dates 1961-1968, the papers of American Beat poet John Wieners provide a chronologically and thematically fragmented, yet detailed, glimpse of his life. This small collection includes sixteen letters to Diane Di Prima, Alan Marlowe, and Ed Sanders; the manuscript of a play, two journals, and fourteen leaves of poetry.

Wieners's letters to poet Diane Di Prima, and intermittently, to her husband, Alan Marlowe, related to upcoming readings, books to be published, mutual friends, and family. Yet even in their routineness, Wieners's letters reveal both artistic and personal news. Early in the collection there are letters from Boston, after Wieners has returned home from the West Coast and the San Francisco Renaissance, written before and after the 1965 publication of Ace of Pentacles. After a chronological gap when Wieners was west again, there are letters from Buffalo where Wieners was studying with Charles Olson and Robert Creeley. Those letters are informed by his mentors, by the students that he encountered in the graduate writing program at S.U.N.Y. Buffalo, and by the comings and goings of literary figures of the day. He wrote of Ginsberg, Frank O'Hara, and other poets, but he also mentioned jazz, the New York bohemian Joe Gould, and actor Dennis Hopper (in his pre-Easy Rider days).

In a single letter to musician and poet Ed Sanders, Wieners sang the praises of wheat germ oil, and included with the letter an actual Viobin oil label circa 1965. Wieners' interest in health reappeared in a letter to Diane Di Prima, regarding a coming visit, when he asked her to bring a box of yeast that was unavailable in Boston.

Wieners appealed to Di Prima for help with "Clive," a mutual friend whose poetry was seen by Wieners as the product of narcotic excesses. Details of Wieners's own sojourns into the depths of addiction are chronicled both in his letters to Di Prima and in his journals. The two journals clearly reflect Wieners's struggles with dependancy, and his creative mind at work. Published poems such as "II Alone," "Drinking Lonely Wine," and "Sunset" exist nearly fully formed in the journals, along with unpublished poetry drafts that predate both Ace of Pentacles and Nerves. The journals also include prose essays devoted to such subjects as Wieners's heroin addiction, the abortion of his child by an ex-lover, his homosexuality, the state and purpose of poetry, and the virtues of his numerous friends and mentors.

Some of the journal entries fill in a chronological gap in the letters to Di Prima between the spring of 1965 and the winter of 1966. Combined, the letters and journals in this collection give some insight into Wieners during his artistic peak in the mid-1960s.

Contents List

Box -- Folder -- Contents

     Series I.  Letters

F1   Diane Di Prima, 1961-1965
     9 items including post cards, letters, and notes.  Correspondence regarding production of 
     a play by NY Poet's Theatre, completion of a book, jazz music, yeast, Joe Gould, "pot,"
     and Charles Olson's class at S.U.N.Y. Buffalo.

F2   Diane Di Prima, 1966-1968
     4 letters.  Correspondence regarding Clive, Wally Berman, Dennis Hopper's
     pictures, Panna, Timothy Leary, The Paris Review, and a forthcoming book.

F3   Alan Marlowe, 1967-1968
     2 letters regarding the Creeleys, demonstrating against the war in Vietnam, and an
     upcoming jazz record.

F4   Ed Sanders, 1965
     1 letter regarding wheat germ oil.  Contains a label from Viobin Oil circa 1965.

     Series II.  Manuscripts

F5   "Asphodel in Hell's despite (a one act play by John Wieners)," n.d.
     TS, 18 pp.

F6   "Blauuwildebeeste Fontein," 1965  [notebook]
     Auberhahn Press blank book.  Initial entry dated August 8, 1965; last page dated
     November 9, 1965.  Includes journal entries, prose essays, and drafts of poems:

          journal entry regarding L.A. and Wally Berman dated 8 August 1965
          "North Star"
          journal entry regarding the Tijuana border
          "In The Mountains of Mexico" dated 8/12/65
          note:  "The Order of The books in The Library"
          "To Mike In Tucson"
          "The Sun Valley Jump"
          "To Lionel Philips"
          "Beautiful Saint"
          "Hotel Blues, for Jack Spicer"
          untitled, first line reads: "I have worn myself out on this world"
          essay: "Like A Rolling Stone"
          "Reading Duncan's Adam's Way: to Charles Olson"
          untitled, first line reads: "Debtors plaguing my door"
          untitled, first line reads: "oh what agony it is to be without"
          untitled, first line reads: "no cigarette"
          untitled, first line reads: "I don't stick needles in my arms anymore"
          "II Alone"
          untitled, first line reads: "there are some girls"
          essay: "Chapter on Women"
          "At the Posner's"
          untitled, first line reads: "The nuances"
          "Love Song"
          untitled essay regarding poetry, heroin, and shock treatment
          essay: "The New World"
          "To Harvey"
          "Dear Charlie"
          "Hunting Cigarette Butts"
          essay: "Road To Straw"
          essay: "There is a muse"
          "The Living Death"
          "Come Down"
          "It is the Act of the Lover"
          "Oh God"
          "Love is a Word on the Page"
          "The Rooming House: for John"
          "The Boarding House"
          "A Short Story"
          "As Everything Else"
          "The Anticipation of Youth"
          "Last Entry" dated 28 November 1965

F7   Notebook, Apr - Jul, 1966
     Noted as a gift from Panna Grady. Contains journal entries, essays, and poems:
          journal entries dated 6/1-6/6
          "Great Life Is"
          "To Panna"
          "My Sister's Wedding at 40"
          essay: "we have a flame within us"
          untitled, first line reads: "flim flam sauce"
          "Drinking Lonely Wine"
          "Trailing Thinking Legs Like Swans"
          "Chapoutier and Cie Carel"
          essay: "no knock sounds at the door"
          journal entry: "Panna's return from New York, 6/29/66"
          journal entry: "whose creation this is"
          "Sunday Morning"
          "To Bud Powell and Fats Navarro"
          untitled, first line reads: "alcohol doesn't ease the pain"
          "Our unborn Child"
          "Villains or Heroin with you gone"
          "I saw blood smeared on her eyelids"
          "Lieder Eines Fahrendes Gegeelen"
          "To Panna Again In The Darkness"
          "Satyrs and Nymphs"
          untitled, first line reads: "oh archer skill my hand"
          "Invitation all Voyage"
          "Before The Storm"
          "You Know"
          "Dom Perignon 1959"
F8   Poetry Worksheets, n.d.
     14 leaves.
          "Acis and Galatea"  
          "Our Unborn Child"
          "To Her Mother"
          "Invocation to Summer"
          "The Garbos and Dietrichs"
          untitled, first line reads: "somewhere there's a bed in the world"
          "Only Lust Rules There"
          "Beauty Doesn't Mean Bring Your Own"

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