Robert Creeley


                       Preface to Cultural Affairs in Boston  

The poetry of John Wieners has an exceptionally human beauty – as if there ever were any other. There is in it such a commonness of phrase and term, such a substantial fact of a daily life transformed by the articulateness of his feelings and the intensity of the inexorable world that is forever out there waiting for any one of us. Charles Olson spoke of it as "a poetry of affect," by which I took him to mean a poetry that is in the process of a life being lived, literally, as Keats' was, or Hart Crane's, or Olson's own. In other words, the art becomes the complex act of "making real" all that one is given to live, and whatever in them may be style or fashion, the poems are so otherwise committed, so intensely a gesture of primary need and recognition, that their survival becomes the singular value, and their immense beauty.

In the brutal outrage of the late 1950's, when one could pick up a Government bulletin on the home manufacture of a bomb shelter at the post office, Mr. Wieners' painful survival in words became our own: "At last. I come to the last defense." There was nothing else to shelter or protect him. Time and again during the 60's one wondered, worried, whether he could make it. How specious such simply charitable impulse looks in retrospect. He was there, he stayed there – as Charles Olson once said, "he's elemental." His writing of this time is various, often magnificent, ringing curious changes on Augustan patterns. But whatever one would hope so to qualify becomes unequivocally clear in "The Acts of Youth," that great poem of life's implacable realities and the will committed to suffer them.

If poetry might be taken as a distance, some space from the action, relief from the crowd, or if its discretions, what it managed to leave out, avoid, get rid of, were its virtue, then all these poems would be in one way or another suspect. They are far closer to a purported Chinese apothegm I read years ago and continue to muse on: "How is it far if you think it?" I don't truly know. It doesn't seem to be far at all. Nor do these poems, any of them, seem ever some place else, or where they move apart from an agent, either feeling or thinking. They're here, as we are – certainly a hopeful convention in all respects, but where else to meet?

The present collection is, then, an intense respect of this fact, and the range of its materials – three decades of poetry and prose – makes manifest the complex place from which all John Wieners' work finally has come, and to which it, as he also, insistently returns: "my city, Boston. . ." He said once to an interviewer, "I am a Boston poet," and there is no one for whom that city, or any other, has proved so determining and generative an experience. The changing faces of its presence and persons become articulate here in this dear man's immaculate art. Against the casual waste of our usual lives, his has proved a cost and commitment so remarkable. He has given everything to our common world.

We read together years ago at the 92nd Street Y in New York, with its great velvet curtain, raised stage. John remembered hearing Auden read there and was moved that now we would. He was thrilled that one might so follow, and so we did. But now, in these times so bitterly without human presence, risk, care, response, he becomes the consummate artist of our common voice, and his battered, singular presence our own.

Robert Creeley