nUkiEmOLe poetRy of Others #12/ 31 Jan 2020
Children of the Working Class , by John Wieners
Born in Boston, poet John Wieners was a Beat poet and member of the San Francisco Renaissance, Wieners was also an antiwar and gay rights activist. His poetry combines candid accounts of sexual and drug-related experimentation with jazz-influenced improvisation, placing both in a lyrical structure. In an interview with his editor, Raymond Foye, Wieners stated, “I try to write the most embarrassing thing I can think of.” As Robert Creeley observed, “His poems had nothing else in mind but their own fact.”
Wieners earned a BA from Boston College and studied at Black Mountain College with Robert Creeley, Charles Olson, and Robert Duncan. He later followed Olson, his mentor, to SUNY Buffalo. He published his first book of poetry, The Hotel Wentley Poems (1958), at the age of 24. Numerous collections followed, including Ace of Pentacles (1964); Nerves (1970); Behind the State Capitol, or Cincinnati Pike (1975), a collection of letters, memoir, and poems; Selected Poems 1958–1984 (1986); and Cultural Affairs in Boston: Poetry & Prose 1956–1985 (1988).
Wieners’s honors include awards from the Poets Foundation, the New Hope Foundations, and the National Institute of Arts and Letters, as well as a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. He founded and edited the literary magazine Measure (1957–1962). Wieners also worked as an actor and stage manager at the Poet’s Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and taught at the Beacon Hill Free School in Boston.
An edited notebook of his poetry and prose, The Journal of John Wieners is to be called 707 Scott Street for Billie Holiday, 1959, was published in 1996, and another notebook, from 1971, was published in 2007 as A Book of Prophecies. His papers are collected at the University of Delaware and the University of Connecticut. He spent the last 30 years of his life in Boston.
poem Children of the Working Class 01 May 1972
from incarceration, Taunton State Hospital, 1972
gaunt, ugly deformed
broken from the womb, and horribly shriven
at the labor of their forefathers, if you check back
scout around grey before actual time
their sordid brains don’t work right,
pinched men emaciated, piling up railroad ties and highway
blanched women, swollen and crudely numb
ered before the dark of dawn
scuttling by candlelight, one not to touch, that is, a signal panic
thick peasants after the attitude
at that time of their century, bleak and centrifugal
they carry about them, tough disciplines of copper Indianheads.
there are worse, whom you may never see, non-crucial around the
spoke, these you do, seldom
locked in Taunton State Hospital and other peon work farms
drudge from morning until night, abandoned within destitute
crevices odd clothes
intent on performing some particular task long has been far
there is no hope, they locked-in key’s; housed of course
and there fed, poorly
off sooted, plastic dishes, soiled grimy silver knives and forks,
stamped Department of Mental Health spoons
but the unshrinkable duties of any society
produces its ill-kempt, ignorant and sore idiosyncrasies.
There has never been a man yet, whom no matter how wise
can explain how a god, so beautiful he can create
the graces of formal gardens, the exquisite twilight sunsets
in splendor of elegant toolsmiths, still can yield the horror of
dwarfs, who cannot stand up straight with crushed skulls,
diseases on their legs and feet unshaven faces of men and women,
worn humped backs, deformed necks, hare lips, obese arms
distended rumps, there is not a flame shoots out could ex-
tinguish the torch of any liberty’s state infection.
1907, My Mother was born, I am witness t-
o the exasperation of gallant human beings at g-
od, priestly fathers and Her Highness, Holy Mother the Church
persons who felt they were never given a chance, had n-
o luck and were flayed at suffering.
They produced children with phobias, manias and depression,
they cared little for their own metier, and kept watch upon
others, some chance to get ahead
Yes life was hard for them, much more hard than for any blo
ated millionaire, who still lives on
their hard-earned monies. I feel I shall
have to be punished for writing this,
that the omniscient god is the rich one,
cared little for looks, less for Art,
still kept weekly films close for the
free dishes and scandal hot. Some how
though got cheated in health and upon
hearth. I am one of them. I am witness
not to Whitman’s vision, but instead the
poorhouses, the mad city asylums and re-
life worklines. Yes, I am witness not to
God’s goodness, but his better or less scorn.
By John Wieners, The First of May, The Commonwealth of State of Massachusetts, 1972
John Wieners, “Children of the Working Class” from Selected Poems, 1958-1984, published by
Black Sparrow Books. Copyright © 1986 by John Wieners. Reprinted by permission of
the John Wieners Literary Trust.