"A New Book from Rome," By John Wieners, Edited by James Dunn. Typesetting and book design by Derek Fenner and Ryan Gallagher. Introduction by Dunn, Fenner and Gallagher. Afterword by Bill Berkson. Memoirs by Duncan McNaughton and Charley Shively. 158 pp. Bootstrap Press. $50.
Although John Wieners died in 2002, the continuous flow of posthumously released books has helped to keep his poetry and reputation more alive than that of most living poets. This year, Bootstrap Press published the journal that Wieners kept from July 1969 to January 1970, when he was living in Central Islip State Mental Hospital in Long Island.
The red leather, gold-trimmed journal -- the basic design of which has been replicated for this handsome hardbound edition -- was given to Wieners by Bill Berkson, who had bought it in Italy in the summer of 1967 when he and Wieners were both in Spoleto for the Festival of Two Worlds.
Wieners wrote "A New Book from Rome" on the inside cover and filled most of its pages with poems rather than prose entries.
No one would argue that "A New Book from Rome" is equal in importance to the books that Wieners published during his lifetime, but if you take the view that the minor work of a major artist is more interesting than the major work of a minor artist, then Wieners' journal is by default the most interesting book of poems to be published in 2010. Only "Planisphere" by John Ashbery can be considered a contender.
The journal is a beautiful, mad, kaleidoscopic array of glimpses penetrating into Wieners' tragic world, glimpses that are of such intense clarity that their scope widens to offer quintessential insights into both Wieners' own nature and human nature in general, from its most majestic ("There are still times when a popular song / can wipe me out and I tremble all over / at the thought of love's fulfillment.") to its most wretched ("not absence of love, or romance / but loneliness past all becoming, / on the train station, at the platform, / there they go again.") to the calmer waters between:
out of love,
from the bed to the kitchen.
As the quotations indicate, the torment and ecstasy of love and solitude are what the book is largely about, though perhaps the style itself is what is most important here. Wieners never wrote what can be called bad poems, because they are all charged with the sincerity of his voice and with a subtle, expert wielding of the language, which is why he omitted no more than three poems from all his published work in "Selected Poems: 1958-1984," which is 317 pages long.
"A New Book from Rome" was published in March in a limited edition of 258 copies. The book can be read online at scribd.com.
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||Aug. 10, 2010|