Introduction #2 Country Girl #3 Pictures and Early Words #4 Big Words 5

Avant-Garde Journalism: Hannah Weiner's Early and Clairvoyant Journals


Weiner was born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1928 where she graduated from Classical High School, graduating from Radcliffe College in 1950. She subsequently worked as a lingere designer in New York City. In the early 1960s she began giving performances, one of which - "Hannah Weiner at Her Job" - consisted of a sort of open house hosted by her employer, A.H. Schreiber Co., Inc. Other similar works ("Street Works" and "World Works")mixed new poetic and narrative forms with recent work in conceptual art, and, as with Weiner's friend and co-conspirator Bernadette Mayer's watershed installation piece "Memory," questioned the museum and book alike, as a storehouse of cultural memory. Most significantly, after studying poetry with Bill Berkson and Kenneth Koch at the New School for Social Research in 1963, and through working friendships with 2nd generation New York School poets such as Mayer and Ted Berrigan, Weiner composed and performed a series of Code Poems, collected as such for her second published book of poetry in 1982. Utilizing a 19th century system of visual signals for communication at sea, these works, along with similar early works by Jackson Mac Low, brought avant-garde forms of translation to bear upon contemporary socio-political issues, particularly 70's American feminism and the American Indian Movement (AIM). These works were contextually and methodologically identical to coterminus "translation" and "eventual verse" works of Mac Low's - so much the case that Mac Low and Weiner open Douglas Messerli's anthology for New Directions, "Language" Poetries. Weiner's first book of poetry, however, was basically a New York School attempt to write verse in response to the paintings of Rene Magritte; The Magritte Poems was published in 1970. By the end of the 60's, all the hallmarks of Weiner's later work were in place. It was then that she found a way to syncretize them: the mundane, everyday experiences in her personal life; playful and personal responses to high and official cultural artefacts; and theoretical and practical forms of ideological critique. It was both the formal and the performative (phenomenological) that would be reunited under the rubric of "clairvoyance." In his Poetry Project Newsletter review of Code Poems in 1983, John Perrealt writes,

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)


Previous | Next
Jump to: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | Note on Text | Works Cited |
PDF Version of Introduction (Adobe Acrobat required)