Stars Seen in Person: Selected Journals of John Wieners

John Wieners (Author) Ammiel Alcalay (Preface by)
& 1 more

Product Details

$16.95  $15.59
City Lights Books
Publish Date
September 15, 2015
5.4 X 8.0 X 0.8 inches | 0.7 pounds
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About the Author

John Wieners was born in 1934 in Milton, Massachusetts. Dissatisfied with his Boston College education and electrified by the work of poet/scholar Charles Olson, he went to study under Olson at Black Mountain College for two nonconsecutive terms in the school's final days. Transformed by the experience, he returned to Boston and began editing the small magazine Measure, which brought together geographically and stylistically disparate poets like Black Mountain classmates Michael Rumaker and Ed Dorn, Philip Whalen, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac, whose first published poems (from Mexico City Blues) appeared in the second issue. He lived for a year and a half in San Francisco, where he wrote his breakthrough book, 1958's The Hotel Wentley Poems, the first publication from Dave Haselwood's Auerhahn Press. Upon returning to the East Coast, his parents were so concerned for his drug-addled state that they forcibly committed him to the first of several hospitalizations, where he was administered electroshock and insulin coma treatments that left him forever altered. In the 1964 he published his first full-length collection, Ace of Pentacles (Phoenix Bookshop Press), followed by Pressed Wafer, Asylum Poems, and Nerves, which Ginsberg called "three magisterial books of poetry that stand among the few truthful documents of the late 1960s era." In the early '70s he settled into his apartment at 44 Joy Street on Boston's Beacon Hill, where he lived and wrote (including his monumental 1975 collection Behind the State Capitol, or, Cincinnati Pike) until his death in 2002.

Michael Seth Stewart: Michael Seth Stewart lives in New York City. He recently earned his PhD, editing the complete letters of John Wieners. He teaches literature and film studies at Hunter College. He also edited The Sea Under the House: The Correspondence of John Wieners and Charles Olson (Lost & Found).

Ammiel Alcalay: Ammiel Alcalay's books include a little history, from the warring factions, Islanders, neither wit nor gold, Memories of Our Future, and After Jews and Arabs. He is the initiator and General Editor of Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative.


"Read alongside the four journals spanning 1955-1969 assembled in Stars Seen in Person, the lilting, drifting highs, lows, and noise of his poems come to feel more like carefully distilled concentrates of his grander, wilder project of seeing, saying, and seizing as many moments as he could. In his early 'Untitled Journal of a Would-Be Poet, ' Wieners turns a crucial corner in embracing the faith in breath Charles Olson put into his 'projective verse, ' and the young poet coming 'back to poetry again' out of 'an admiration of men, an enthusiasm for men, whose whole lives have been devoted to its perfection. Not to poetry really, but to the poem.' A second journal, 'Blaauwildebeestefontein, ' is rich with poems figuring themselves out, brief flashes of budding poetics ('The Known is never complete / enough. It is the unKnown which completes me.'). The third and fourth come from his time in Buffalo, where he went to resume studies with Olson in the late 1960s. Dark and difficult, these entries trace the bloom and failure of his relationship with a woman; they also serve as undercurrent for some of his strongest poems."--The Boston Globe

"Wieners was that rare poet who risked everything for the sake of his art. Just how high he placed the stakes is now made clear by the appearance of his earliest prose work ... in a new omnibus edition of four previously unpublished journals gathered under the title Stars Seen in Person ... From the first pages the reader can't help but be struck by the force of his enthusiasm for things literary and his elevated sense of poetic destiny"--Bookforum

"The newly published journals match and exceed all preexisting Wieners publications ... Journals editor Michael Seth Stewart's introduction and an intimate preface by Ammiel Alcalay do a splendid job situating Wieners as part of 'the occult school of Boston poetry.'"--BOMB

"Stars Seen in Person is an abundantly rewarding book, a treasure-house of occult desperation and wonder; a rage against life that somehow hungers for more life ... There are also great flowing unparagraphed blasts of emotion, infused with Wieners's quintessential, paradoxical yearning for physicality and disappearance, carnality and self-erasure. For him the question was not 'to be or not to be, ' but rather, why does it have to be an 'or' and not an 'and.'"--Electric Literature

"Beware: the electric energy of this avant-garde poet's early work could give you static shock. He articulates so well the heady struggle between writing aspirations and his perceived failures. But he's not immune to heartbreak, addiction, or leaving work unfinished (memorably, one story about a man who is addicted to taking swan boats in the park). There's a gritty glamour to Wieners's journals, which Fanny Howe called 'Letters to a Young Poet in reverse.'"--Kenyon Review

"The precision of observed detail, the unforced generalization, the cosmopolitanism, and the ability to see a few inches of bare skin as metaphor, symbol, or definition--these are Wieners' trademark skills. Reading Stars Seen in Person: Selected Journals, with over 200 pages of prose and poetry, confirmed that assessment ... Stars Seen in Person is a good start toward reviving Wieners."--The Gay & Lesbian Review

"This is a harrowing book. A young twenty-year-old John Wieners lays bare his innermost thoughts in a selected journals that sees him living in the snowy wastes of a Boston winter ... The four journals included here are previously unpublished, in thinking about American post war poetry this makes this a doubly important publication, adding, as it does, to our wider knowledge of a poet who while respected and admired by his poet peers, sometimes dipped under the radar in the bigger scheme of things ... With this book and the publication of Supplication, a selected poems volume, it has to be hoped that his star will rise again."--Beat Scene

"[John Wieners] affiliations may define the narrative we use to shape his biography, but the endearing immediacy of the journals and the brisk freedoms of the poetry constantly reintroduce us to him as a sort of artistic free agent. His sacraments and confessions are not meant to lead him or the reader toward a higher state--they simply are the highest possible rung on a salvaging ladder of expression."--Ron Slate