Hotel Wentley Poems, The

by John Wieners
   This primary document of the San Francisco Beat sensibility was written between June 15 and 21, 1958, and was published in October of that year by Dave Haselwood and Andrew Hoyem’s Auerhahn Press. Wieners had moved to San Francisco with Dana Duerke, his lover of six years, after spells at Black Mountain College and in Boston. During a brief stay at the Hotel Wentley on the Polk Gulch, Wieners composed the eight works collected as The Hotel Wentley Poems; another three poems from this set were included in a Selected Poems of 1986, edited by Raymond Foye.
   Wieners’s milieu in this period included the poets Joanne Kyger, Allen Ginsberg, Stuart Perkoff, Jack Spicer, and Robert Duncan, and artists Wallace Berman and Robert LaVigne (whose portrait of Wieners appears alongside “A Poem For Painters” in the Auerhahn edition). In this company some of Wieners’s dominant concerns formed: drugs, candid sexuality, lyric glamour, and careful registry of immediate environment. Their coalescence in The Hotel Wentley Poems gives this first publication of Wieners’s a complexity of attentions that are made tight by the focused steadiness of its sentences and line breaks and that are made social by the address of each title: “A poem for vipers,” “A poem for painters,” and “A poem for museum goers” (in a 1977 interview with Charley Shively, he describes them humorously as “after dinner addresses”).
   “A poem for record players” opens the sequence in characteristic Wieners shifts between “Details / but which are here” (“The pigeons somewhere / above me, the cough a / man makes down the hall”) and gnostic confrontation: “oh clack your / metal wings, god, you are / mine now in the morning.” The adherence to these multiple juxtaposed concerns is purposeful and keen, lyrical but never rhapsodic. The most commonly excerpted poem from The Hotel Wentley Poems, “A poem for painters” affirms this adherence as a credo:
   My poems contain no
   wilde beestes, no
   lady of the lake, music
   of the spheres, or organ chants.
   Only the score of a man’s
   struggle to stay with
   what is his own, what
   lies within him to do.
   It is emphatic in this poem that the activity of positing and repositing “what is his own” (akin to charles olson’s “that we are only / as we find out we are”) is the writing’s actual propulsion, loading each line with a hesitant insistence to “stay with what we know” as it is earned in the poem’s trajectory. Attendant to that is the Duncanian assertion in “A poem for vipers” (William S. Burroughs explains in his glossary to junky that a “viper” was then hip lingo for a marijuana user): “The poem / does not lie to us. We lie under its / law, alive in the glamour of this hour.” (Duncan’s “Despair in Being Tedious” [1972] has a palpable Hotel Wentley feel in its final stanzas). This receptivity to the “law” of the poem “in” time may contribute to the strongly auditory atmosphere of these poems, to the reader’s sense that the writer is “listening” for the next line. Wieners’s next book, Ace of Pentacles (1964), would bear the dedication “For the Voices.” Under these obligations of emotional and cultural accuracy, Wieners unflinchingly tracks narcotic and sexual proclivity. Methedrine and heroin were especially abundant in late 1950s San Francisco, and Wieners took to them with enthusiasm, notating the circumstances of their use:
   I sit in Lees. At 11:40 PM with
   Jimmy the pusher. He teaches me
   Ju Ju.
   [. . . .]
   Up the street under the wheels of a strange car is his stash—The ritual. We make it. And have made it. For months now together after midnight. (The following year, Wieners was selling heroin in matchboxes on Scott Street, causing him to be described by Wallace Berman as “Grand Duchess of the five / Dollar matchbox.”)
   The conditions of these transactions are portrayed not romantically but factually as instances of what Wieners later called “the present gleams.” Likewise his presentation of his homosexuality, in his relationship with Dana (“A poem for the old man”) and in 1950s gay culture (“A poem for cock suckers,” censored by the printer in the first edition as “A poem for suckers”). “A poem for the old man” petitions “God” to “make him [Dana] out a lion / so that all who see him / hero worship his / thick chest as I did,” an especially tender paean to his lover’s attributes. “A poem for cock suckers” offers a more ambivalent scenario that points to the homosexual’s cultural disenfranchisement:
   Well we can go
   in the queer bars w/
   our long hair reaching
   down to the ground and
   we can sing our songs
   of love like the black mama
   on the juke box, after all
   what have we got left.
   Bold clarity and longing saturate the language of The Hotel Wentley Poems and dimensionalize the poet’s documenting eye to bring the work to the pitch of a very present-tense testimony; in this respect, its courageousness is its enduring salience. The book won immediate admiration from poets of such diverse affiliations as Jack Spicer, Allen Ginsberg, and Frank O’Hara and so rapidly became a “classic” that in later years Wieners refused to read from it in public.
   Thomas Evans

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

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  • John Wieners — (6 January, 1934 ndash; 1 March, 2002) was an American lyric poet. BiographyBorn in Milton, Massachusetts, Wieners attended St. Gregory Elementary School in Dorchester, Massachusetts and Boston College High School. From 1950 to 1954, he studied… …   Wikipedia

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