Evening Will Come: A Monthly Journal of Poetics (John Wieners Feature—Issue 60, December 2015)

John Wieners
From Untitled Journal of a Would-Be Poet (1955)
Wednesday, the 26th. [January 1955, Boston]

What can explain the tragedy of this world? If anyone asks me why I can only write on the tragic themes, I shall surely answer, Is there any other? Has life any other theme but a tragic one? Is it only longing, pierced but the hope that cannot last. Tonight, I saw a beautiful grey-haired woman lying on a green bandana in the gutter of Tremont Street, waiting for an ambulance or death to carry her off to consolation. But the hope was there, another woman bent down as a song and fixed the bandana and seemed to stroke somehow the woman’s pain. On the swaying train, coming into Park Street, a woman in a brown, soft cloth, pushed through the crushed throng with her hand to her mouth. As the door opened, she crouched, and I saw the face of a bleached blonde girl, waiting to get on, turn away, her forehead wrinkling up under the make-up. R. Greene is here, sitting outside talking about his Veronique to Gilbert. They are coming here for the week-end while I am in New York. I hope to get to the Poetry Center while I am in the “white and glittering” city. I feel somehow devoid of thought today. I would rather go off and read Pound’s poetry in a corner, or listen to Bizet. A very sympathetic article has appeared in the Atlantic Monthly by Archibald MacLeish, titled “The Poet as Playwright”. It is devoted mainly to the criticism of T.S. Eliot’s view on the theatre and the use of poetry in it. Eliot feels that poetry discerned as such in the theatre is a dramatic convention and that it renders to the theatre-goer the illusion of the artificial. MacLeish says in effect that Eliot advocated the theory that the stage attempts to depict life as it is, rather than a new creation of life, which all art should be, we both believe. Art has to be a new creation. It has to be like birth, that is, it has to be as striking to the onlooker as a new world is. As W.C.W repeats over and over again, in his poetry, not a copy of nature but a creation. I have had a story running over and over again in my mind concerning a man who rides the swan boats. These hold the same fixation for him as alcohol or sex would to another. His wife tries to understand. As he comes home late, she questioning, reveals, that he has been doing so well, staying away from the swans for nearly three weeks now, while the reader knows that the man is late because he had ridden the boats until nearly dark, and had only stopped because the dark had come on, and the passengers left. But that night, she finds the overlooked ticket stub in his pocket and some kind of a scene follows where all his past faults are revealed, how he couldn’t hold a job because he was always late from lunch, even when he worked downtown in the shopping area, he would rush through the Common, through the contented lunchtime crowds, and plan to stay for only one ride through the lagoon but once he got on, he was unable to get off. They even had a charge account for him. The pay-check sometimes almost completely went for this. One year, he had stayed away for nearly seven weeks but one of his children had heard so much talk about the swans that he whined that he wanted to ride them. And they went. On the surface, he was calm, but the first chance he could, on the first false pretext, he fled back. After this, she left him bitterly, she sent him a card at Christmas with wild swans on it, and gloated because she knew that the lagoon was frozen and the swans caged, and the boats in dock. With the next spring, he was the first there. He got a room in the corner house on Commonwealth Avenue, so he could see them with spy glasses from his room at night. And then the little money that was left from his insurance was nearly gone, and he sold his blood, and after they refused him for safety, he turned to beggaring, and then one day without food and no shelter, his clothes in tatters about him, he ran through the park for the last time. He had snatched a woman’s purse from Tremont Street and took a dollar from it, threw the contents of it into the face of three little shop-girls who were pointing at him running up the street, and then entering the gardens, very calmly, paid the man for four tickets and sat in the last row, watching the children dragging their fingers in the yellow-brown water, listened to the mothers admonishing the children dragging their long fingers in the yellow water and as the boat rounded the small ideal island in the center of his only world, with the three unused pieces of pink paper in his hand, he slid from the boat with a small splash, just where the water came over his head.

Tonight is truly the coldest of the year.

It is near midnight on Thursday, the 3rd. As bitter as yesterday, but tonight the damp has moved in. Have written nothing since today but these few lines, and what I could sneak in the mens room at work. I was tempted to quit today. Had to call god today for strength. Was told to have guts, guts, it takes guts to be a writer. I said, If I had any guts, I would walk out of this god-damn place and starve in the streets. This entry tonight shall be diary-like, with no singular prepositions, for speed only. Went to the library again today, and charged out again, Homer and the Iliad. Tomorrow night, I start translating with Jim Frates, from line 65 on. While at the library, saw the back-end of a book, and a familiar name, The auto-biography of William Carlos Williams. Picked it up, turned to the index, looked under Pound, and found at least twenty different page references. Turned to the largest, pp335–344, and began reading the chapter, entitled, Ezra Pound at St. Elizabeth’s. It was fascinating to read of Pound’s existence there. As Caroline Dunn said tonight, Just think what will come out after he is dead. It is becoming so literate he is dangerous, or something similar is how W.C.W. put it. The man is as sane as any of us, there is no question of that in anybody’s mind. Was fascinated by the reading, and sat down, turned to the extravagant and cheap chapter heading, reading Ezra Pound and the F.B.I. At the end there was a catalogue of most of Williams’ contemporaries. Every third name was dead. I wanted to copy it down, for it made me sad, to think that all these mad and enthusiastic, and rebel people (they were all rebels) were dead, or living in poverty, and not writing, or successful. Took the book home to list the lost ones for future use, and have become entranced and stimulated by many of the things I found there, while only looking for mention of Pound. This is the way that most of my knowledge has come about, by mistake. Found a mention of Charles Olson, who I have heard read at the Charles St. Meeting house here last summer, and who is connected with Cid Corman, Ferrini, Robert Creeley, and Williams himself. They all admire Pound very much, and seem to use him as their master. In Williams’ book, there is an excerpt from an essay by Olson, called “Projective Verse” which has excited me, and seems a development of some of Pound, a true progression from Pound. It seems to be what Williams is doing in his own poetry. It shall be important to me, I somehow feel, once I look up the original, in Poetry:New York. I am also going to pay more strict and open attention to Origin, Corman’s magazine, which seems to be flourishing without his editorship. Olson states, that a line should run according to a man’s breathing, and this is determined by the emotion of the poem, or from his heart, and the syllables used in a poem, by a man’s need. This is open verse, and mind-music, as Steve Jonas is constantly spouting. To think that a year ago, when I secretly considered to myself that I was a poet, I disregarded Origin as useless, was afraid of Ezra Pound, and Eliot, even though I had heard so much of them, but never understood what and for why they were doing their poetry. Now, I am beginning to see something, and shall use this knowledge for my own benefit and use. I will go back to poetry again, and this sort of thing is what I need, 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. Mailed four letters to the Boston newspaper editors to have that hideous, revolving, blinking, pink-lit sign, taken down from Copley Square. It only means that I will have to look through all those letters to see if they print it, but I can do this for free at the library. I might go picket to get that hideous thing taken down. Have talked to the Dunns about it, and they are willing to picket with me, if it does not interfere with school and work, and I know God will, and maybe John Holmsey, and Marie, and Rita, and possibly a few others, if they see us beginning. The Dunns and I had an excited half hour together, talking about our future years in Europe, and my going there this summer, maybe, if I screw my courage to the sticking-place, also I myself grew mad talking about New York, and what on review has been my most hectic last few weeks. No one quite knows but V. how I acquired Pound’s complete Cantos, but in reality, it is all very petty. With the Dunns, it was like the frenzied days of this summer past all over again. Screaming, shouting at the top of our voices. There might not be a Europe, by the time we get there, but there will be. Someone is making noises out in the hall, maybe for the typing so late, and fear, horrible fear, that is a basic weakness, had put me back with my nightmares again. But it is going, and I can say now that it is gone. With the Dunns, there is the youth and headlessness, and fire, that the great ones before us had, and which shall be found again in us, I truly believe. We are destined. They have opened the way for this destiny with their lives, at the expense of their security, and families, and all the horrible adjectives and nouns that seem so inadequate on paper but which become one’s in the world. Since they have begun it for us, we cannot fail them.

Williams seems to be so timid and frightened much of the time, even though he puts on a mask of bravado and coarseness. Although a week with Ezra Pound was referred to as an intensely literary week, he found it much too exhausting, and could not see how Pound stood it, as for himself, he was eager to go, gladly. I am not really able to leave, the last three pages have come out in such a rush, and all the thoughts of the three in the bookshop don’t matter at all after this. One referred to Hemingway, “The archetype of the repressed homosexual, who made good” I wish I had the repartee for them, the “Eskimo,” said that a writer’s prime function was communication, and the third, the one with the hearing aid, and forty-year old face, said that he held his opinions, and found out that the critics always came around to them, it didn’t matter to him what year they did, but he found that they always agreed with him sooner or later. And I, a prospective buyer in the first one’s bookshop, did not say a word. I suppose that I did not want to put myself into a position that I was not sure I would come out victorious, I know that is the answer, but I thought of my former resolutions, not then consciously, but maybe sub, and I was impelled not to say anything, but like the writer, to take it out in my art. And yet, I say, someday, I will speak forth my views. I was afraid.

End of entry, the 3rd