Strictly Illigal – John Weiners poems with works by Gilbert & George

The Nature of Our Looking
The Nature of Our Looking 1970 by Gilbert & George

John Wieners (US, 1934-2002) – Strictly Illegal Poems “Strictly Illegal” is a collection of previously uncollected works by the American lyric poet John Wieners (1934-2002) compiled by Patricia Hope Scanlan. Wieners lived for his poetry and in Strictly Illegal in a fascinating Introduction, Jeremy Reed talks of this ‘outlaw poet’ who was ‘acutely damaged, lyrically in touch with pop, habituated to drink and pills, fine-tuned to sourcing subjects that aren’t usually in poetry’s domain, gifted with innate style in his look and poetry, linking his work daily to whatever came up in his life and could be made better by writing it down, and with no thought of money or career.’ The book is perfectly complemented by art from the British ‘outlaw’ artists Gilbert and George with such sensitive and courageously tentative works of theirs drawn from 1970s and 1980s. Wieners is essentially a love poet, recording emotional catastrophe; he writes in the way Billie Holiday sings, broken, blue and often behind the beat. He riffs: Oh listen to my words for I am wise I am like a lily fruit blooming in the wilderness. I write the same words again, sitting here with Charlie Parker and his rhumba band. I am one with the music, my cigarette stays on the top of the table. I have decided to write better prose. No one understands me when I speak in poetry. It is not madness. This sound, this syndrome 12/22 I pace the same ground as my forefathers, Let this be jagged, let this be a new continent. It is. My fingers are determined by the laws of the universe. They are writing this. I have no power over what I say. I am ruled by La CucuRacha. Go yells the Bubus from under her bedroom door. No she also says. And if this is madness it is divine. The lyric poet Lee Harwood explains that it was ‘John Wieners’ first book The Hotel Wentley Poems (published in 1958) … where so many of us fell in love with his work. He created poems that avoided the artificial language of the Poetic, of formal poetry. He avoided the bombastic rhetoric, you find at times in Allen Ginsberg, with its sense of authority. What he gave us, in a clear and direct language, were poems that are deeply moving and filled with a human warmth.’ The book sets out to act as a resource as well as a collection. There is a good cross section of Wieners poems from the small American poetry magazines in which they first appeared, and in which they have lain neglected until now. Strictly Illegal also includes poems from Wieners’ journal, some letters, and a couple of poems in draft form, showing his working process. This book is a must for all Wieners aficionados and a perfect introduction for readers new to his work. Please come to the launch or contact Patricia Hope Scanlan for any further information about Strictly Illegal (Tel: 01243 55230)

Strictly Illegal
Poems by John Wieners
Art by Gilbert & George
Selected and Introduced by Jeremy Reed
Compiled by Patricia Hope Scanlan

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