To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
.......................................again
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Friday, January 20, 2012

Outsider Poems, a Mini-Anthology in Progress (34): Hannah Weiner as an Outsider Poet

[In constructing an assemblage of “outsider” poetry there is a point finally at which the work of contemporaries has also to be considered. I have felt constrained here by a determination not to confuse “outsider” with some sense of the “marginal” or “alternative” as defined in contrast, say, to another assumption of “mainstream” or “normative” or even (god help us) “canonical.” Here, it seems to me, one principal characteristic (but only one) of outsiderness, as I’ve come to understand it, is a difference of mind or body that results in a range of differences in language & poetic forms that might otherwise be hard or impossible to come by. It is in this sense too that “outsider art” and by extension “outsider poetry” has had as one of its anchors what Dubuffet & others defined as art brut & brought into prominence the work of artist/poets such as Adolf Wölfli & Aloise Corbaz. In line with that I can imagine the place among outsiders of “canonical” or near-“canonical” figures such as Blake & Smart, Hölderlin & Artaud, whose skewered view of language & poetic form was both a cause & consequence of their historical isolation. Coming closer to the present, however, I have hesitated to bring the work of my contemporaries & acquaintances into play. With Hannah Weiner (1928-1997), as a key instance, the turning in her work followed an extreme perceptual shift in which words & letters appeared to her in air & on the surfaces of objects & people, to be incorporated into the written works she was then composing. In her own well known accounting: “I SEE words on my forehead    IN THE AIR    on other people    on the typewriter   on the page   These appear in the text as CAPITALS or in italics  The results of that, through her own efforts, were nothing short of extraordinary.

[The following poem & many others, some still more radical, can be found at Weiner’s web site: http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/weiner/]

LITTLE BOOK 125
OCT POWER DAY Oct 12 78
OCT POWER DAY
11 SHEETS 3
correctly
ohs hannah SPEL
b
  e
    s
      m
        o 
          r
            e
               p
                 r
                   a
                     c
                       tical
Jimmie cant spell
        corrected
        date
                       12
JIMMIE          STANDS
            BIS PRINT
I HAVE POETS
HIS MIND IN
MY             POEMS
Hannah
       I CANS WRITE
I correct
BIS PRINT 
MYSELF          CORRECT 
S  P  E  L  L  I  N  G 
I JUST HAVE ONE
MIND

c            j              e
  o            I        I 
    u             m m
      n                      t
         t                 o
            s            l
                       a
To      OFFER       MY 
               OTHER
M I N D
please  Jimmy prints 
                  HIS LETTERS
HIS SECRETS
                        HIDES


R U S S              spell
Jimmy is spelled
correctly
                      HOME
ON 9th STREET 
of
COURSE
I just couldn't write 
it about myself 
BIG P about it
I     JUST     RUSSEL
I canst spell
                MEANS
walks with him
              INS NOV
FEBR complete
I JUST DONT WANT
          signed date 12 
ohs    hannah     spelled
   a               y
      w         l
         kward
        SILENCE
THISBOOKCOMPLETED
    SAY TONIGHT
          JIM spell
          ERROR
I just want to  write
about
     WHATS A NAME
standing up
all
   THE STEPS
SHEETS
ha SKIP TOP LINE
hannah forgot
          STRUCTURE
ins my SILENCE
S  E  N  T  E  N  C  E
I may just become
  Jimmie scribbles
a
   RUSSELL MEANS
writer soon

             TWO PAGES
hannah this is our
          forehead
secret
                SILENT
3 people split
before forgets
message
PAGE               ONE
you feel PRINT
WONDERFUL AFTER
THIS      BOOK       IS
          SOLDS
I meant a message
silent messenger
secret
          two pages lost
              INS SHEETS
E  X  P  E  N  S  I  V  E
and I
BIS                 PRINT
forgot
BRUCE
W
  H
    A
      S
            A
                S
                  E 
                    N
                      TBRUCE
what writers
remember I am me
     ALWAYS
     M E A N S 
I always forget to 
spell his name
b  a  c  k  w  a  r  d  s
      SPEAK
      STONED
correctly   Jimmie     call
please f
        o
         r
          g
           e
            t
             s
              e
               n
                t
                 e
                  n
                   c  SILENCE
                      e HANNAH
                      THATS OCT 12
Jimmie thinks
SECOND PAGE
I'm a fool not
to
      MISS A PAGE
write a second book
Bernadette closes
about him
          explain
suspended
sentence
please be silent
                      structure
I ams giving away
all my secrets
                        darling
B  E  R  N  A  D  E  T  T  E
I am also a writer 
                  Jimmie signed


[The preceding is from Weiner’s Little Books/Indians, Roof Books, 1980.]

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Just what exactly IS your definition of "outsider poet/poetry"? The definition you use "by extension “outsider poetry” has had as one of its anchors what Dubuffet & others defined as art brut" -- is very sketchy and problematic. Is Weiner classified as an "outsider poet" because she was probably schizophrenic? Because she SAW words? Does this mean, then, that Spicer, who "heard voices" or whose poetry was dictated by Martians, is an "outsider" poet? Or as any number of us who are schizo-affective, bipolar, or schizophrenic?

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Ed Baker said...

Artaud an "outsider" ? Isolated?

geesh..

I suppose that he was ignorant of Kandinsky ?
of
von Freytag-Loringhoven?

of
Apollinaire?

then this "leap" from "Outsider" to "Insider"


nbow? let us take another "'Avant Poetry, 231' course

Tuesday & Thursday 7:45-1:52 a.m."

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this. Any attempt to define Outsider anything reminds me of the name of the cafe in The Dobie Gillis Show.

Henry Wolfsburg said...

Besides mental illness or perhaps a learning disability, what are other ways people become Outsider poets? Outsider Poet