Leroi Jones on Wieners' Hotel Wentley Poems

The Hotel Wentley Poems by John Wieners (Auerhahn Press, $1.25)

                Wieners’ Hotel Wentley poems were good to see.  His poems are known more extensively in mss than in print, even tho they do occasionally appear in magazines.  Good to see that he had for once gotten past the point of destroying everything he wrote . . . and that what was saved was so powerful.  There are only 8 poems in the book, and they have the feel of one long poem.  In this sense, the book took me to Rilke.  The Elegies and The Sonnets.  It seemed these poems stirred a sense as they moved, and carried it with them.  Accreted meaning and energy.  Held longer under so much silliness in my own life.  Remained intact.  Each poem depends, it seems, on what we have read before, what we will come to after.  For this reason, the first reading is deceptive.  The accretion not final.  I read the book, put it down, forgot it, I thought.  And then phrases, entire lines, came back whole to me.  I juxtaposed lines from one poem into others.  They seemed to fit perfectly.  I went back to the book.  The second reading almost forced me to my knees.
I look for love.
My lips stand out
                                         dry and cracked with want
                                                                of it.
                From that awful, almost hopeless stance; a grizzly romanticism that makes you itch sometimes, he makes these beautiful poems.  Not only makes them, but shoves them, almost, into your flesh.  Wieners wants first for you to love him.  And which one of us (in our brand new J.C. Penney Cowboy suits) can dig that?  “What are you running here, a goddam lonely hearts club?”  But that is never the case.  A man who can say
Let us stay with what we know.
  That love is my strength, that
                                                            I am overpowered by it:
       that too
                                                                       is on the face:  gone stale
has you surrounded.  The poem, the object, is lovely, there is never any question of that.  Another sense in these poems is their feeling of external movement.  Movement outside the poem.  Or rather, the sense they make for us that we are watching the poet; disposing as he is at the moment of the poems’ emergence.  Perhaps because they were all written in such a short length of time, we get the feeling of reading a kind of chronicle.
      I sit in Lees.  At 11:40 PM with
Jimmy the pusher.  He teaches me
                                                                     Ju Ju.
                We are always where his is.  We will know him by his own life.  By what is happening to him as we watch.  And we are always watching him, Wieners, there is never any attempt to disguise himself (as Creeley will do so beautifully by abducting you into his own thoroughly rearranged club car, where you can recognize nothing, and have only Creeley as reference that it is still part of the known world).  Wieners’ “landscape” is one we know as our external own.  The references are blunt and precise.
My poems contain no
  wilde beestes, no
lady of the lake, music
             of the sphere, or organ chants.
   Only the score of a man’s
 struggle to stay with
 what is his own, what
                                                                                  lies within him to do
Another interesting facet of these poems is the excellence of Wieners’ use of contemporary american slang (musician & junkie talk).  Any kind of colloquial usage is “dangerous” in poetry, since if it is not done extremely well, it is most easily vanquished, or at least, made ridiculous.  And as Williams says, “if we are alert to the vagaries of language we at the same time are moralists awake to the significance of what the language implies; when we say “dig” instead of “understand” we should know that it is a moral risk we are taking when we use the word.”  Wieners seems to understand his.
. . . Melancholy carries
    a red sky and our dreams
        are blue boats
      no one can bust or
 blow out to sea.
       We ride them
  and Tingel-Tingel
   in the afternoon.
                                                                                                                                                Leroi Jones



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