Patrick F. Durgin reviews
Perhaps no one else but Hannah Weiner has written of the human psyche with such grace — written in it, by it, alongside it, through it, and persuasively as it. I would make this argument of Jackson Mac Low’s work as well. As Ron Silliman once remarked, Mac Low is in some sense the ‘first American poet to throw over the so-called Problem of the Subject, showing it to be a mere sum of the writing’ (40). But obviously this and more must be said; the sum of the writing becomes a too-vague common denominator without an irreducible quality, one which Weiner extends to the page, a technique she called ‘large-sheet poetry’ (Weiner, quoted in Bernstein 187).
Many were trying to do it; few could. For various reasons we wanted to get poetry off the page ... media crossover ... Off the page and into the dustbin of history. It was the 60s, so everything seemed possible. The poetry reading became the poetry event became the performance. And Hannah Weiner was in the middle of it ... And what is left of these works? Hannah Weiner burned all her documentation and became a clairvoyant poet. (8)
More recently, readings of Weiner’s clairvoyant writings have oscillated from brusquely limiting discussions of trauma (viz. the author’s supposed neurological condition) to unabashedly doctrinaire Derridian discourse — ultimately poised to recuperate an oeuvre that can hardly be said to have been lost in the first place (Damon, Goldman). It seems to me a good idea to return to Mac Low’s jacket blurb, on the back cover of my copy of the Clairvoyant Journal.
Hannah Weiner is the only clairvoyant I know, or that I’ve ever known, as far as I know. She is also the only person on record — or so she believes as a result of her extensive investigations into both medical & parapsychic literature — to have experienced the particular phenomenon this journal represents, that of being ‘spoken to’ by several persons, most of them seemingly external to herself, by means of printed words in various colors & sizes that appear both on other persons & objects & on her own forehead (in such a way that she can perceive them from within). Hers, however, might have been but a ‘remarkable case,’ were it not for the fact that she is an artist. Her achievement — & it is a considerable one — lies in her having developed a specific literary form through which to convey her remarkable experience.
Unless one registers the import of this statement, while refusing to reduce the page to the subject, and the subject to ‘a mere sum of the writing,’ Weiner’s ‘grace,’ as I see it, will be very much beside the point. But if that is the point, let’s get to it.
Three sections: PAGE (44 pages), ARTICLES (53 pages), SAME PAGE (19 pages). If you want to disorder them complete you obediently you stuck confident. So clear I didn’t number in order. In order sequence written honest. Be terrific. Same written be careful overconfident historical submit. 116 page sacrifice omit [...]
That the ‘Dear hero’ letter serves as jacket blurb here is a wise move. Given the provision for overconfidence and sacrifice, in light of the ‘stuck confident’ sequence of pages offered, the onus rests on how ‘clear’ and ‘honest’ the materials can be in this exchange. What, in this rendition of the social event, is being exchanged is pages. In preparing this first posthumous collection by Weiner, the editors have chosen, just as wisely, to refrain from making ‘corrections.’ This is not the mystical promise of capital exchange elevated to a poetry ‘written honest’ — honest for its dictatorial narcissism. But neither is it a social microcosm, like Spicer’s Berkeley or North Beach.
oh I was finish a article youre joking
What, then, is the struggle of the line, sentence, paragraph, and page (a continuum methodically explored through Weiner’s career with the richness of Gertrude Stein’s similar commitments)? Or, what’s at stake in this struggle? The final page, a ‘SAME PAGE,’ contains this ‘large-sheet’ subtitle, ‘sis struggle with content should be contrseeobhanqucontroltwopages’ (133). But this is far from soapboxing on the form / content debate, whose terms are quite illusory in this context.
same name omits providenceity same line continues
Part of the struggle is with our refusal to hold the center. So what if it does not hold? It was never asked to do any such thing. ‘literature’ is merely a failure of intention: ‘seen words with it should be in provide’ (133). And indeed, what is at stake is all in your mind:
When I see words I am also able to know, by reading or handling a book, as example, if an author is a friend, what her illness is, what books she prefers, whether she knows what to do for herself, whether to read her at all. ... clairvoyantly I am the other to myself ... In my nonclairvoyant work there is no person. (‘Other Person,’ 98)
The ‘SAME PAGE’ section, which closes the book, is characterized by the saturation of the page with keystrokes — the book is set in a courier-style font emulating Weiner’s actual typescripts — ‘pleaseconnectwordsofficepresidentkidyourselfofficegetofftheconnect’ (132). The large sheet is not a trace of a ‘lost sublime’ communion dictation might repair. ‘Control,’ the title given to many pages of this book, tends less to binary extremes of a dialectical pursuit than to the reader’s entirely unambiguous invitation, ‘publish,’ ‘provide.’ For Weiner, there could be no knowledge without the pimary communicative condition: gratitude. There is no other heroism. The canny grace of Weiner’s parting words is hard to miss.
Bernstein, Charles. ‘Excerpts from an Interview with Hannah Weiner.’ The Line in Postmodern Poetry Ed. Robert Frank and Henry Sayre. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1988. 187–88.
Damon, Maria. ‘Hannah Weiner Beside Herself: Clairvoyance After Shock or The Nice Jewish Girl Who Knew Too Much.’
Goldman, Judith. ‘Hannah=hannaH: Politics, Ethics, and Clairvoyance in the Work of Hannah Weiner’ differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, Summer 2001 v12 i2: 121–168.
Perreault, John. Rev. of Code Poems, by Hannah Weiner. Poetry Project Newsletter 99, 1983: 8.
Silliman, Ron. ‘While Some Are Being Flies, Others Are Having Examples.’ Paper Air: The Jackson Mac Low Issue Ed. Gill Ott. Blue Bell, Pennsylvania: Singing
Weiner, Hannah. Clairvoyant Journal. New York: Angel Hair, 1978.
———. ‘Other Person’ Poetics Journal 9 (1991): 97–98
———. Page. New York: Roof Books, 2002.
Jacket 21 — February 2003
This material is copyright © Patrick F. Durgin
and Jacket magazine 2003