Hannah Weiner's Early and Clairvoyant Journals
by Patrick Durgin
"Typing to you a thoug[h]t is seen
cartridge script machine."
―Hannah Weiner, letter to Bernadette Mayer,
April 19, 1975
It is an extremely rare thing in any field to invent a new form. Invention, as such, momentarily collapses the frontier between theory and practice. This is why it not only invariably widens the scope of that field's potential acheivements, but it appears to us, in hindsight, as an event, a phenomenon, a content through which to bring the overall form of that field into historical relief. Although largely unknown and practically unread, Hannah Weiner accomplished such an invention. She called it "large-sheet poetry" - I call it "avant-garde journalism." With the publication of Weiner's major works of the 1970s, we come a long way toward filling in the missing links between the so-called "New York School" and "Language Writing," while we witness another literary-critical incursion: the mingling demands of a formalist and phenomenological approach indicative of the larger "radical modernist" tradition in USAmerican poetry. This tradition accounts for the ascedence of the anomalies, the formative strangeness, of our most vibrant tradition, stemming from Ralph Waldo Emerson and Gertrude Stein's radical narrative theories, through the intermedial arts of Jackson Mac Low, John Cage, and later in the auto-ethnography of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha and Nathaniel Mackey. No lesser figure than Bruce Andrews has described the publishing environment for his own, formative work of the early 1970s as split between a "radical formalist fringe" and "performance kind of things" (6-7). Weiner bridged this divide with the Clairvoyant Journal. This introduction aims to orient the reader's way through these texts by way of the intersection of formalism and phenomenology entailed by Weiner's signature tropes: "clairvoyance" and "large-sheet poetry."