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

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


A good reference point for this confluence, beyond her earliest, "non-seen poems describing Magritte paintings in a normal poetic form," is her contribution to 1974's premier issue of the New York avant-garde journal Assembling, "Sign Language of the American Indian" ("Mostly..." 59). The piece consists of captioned graphic examples of terms - Brother, Man, Fond, Love - with a running commentary / poem by Weiner beneath, spanning four pages: "Breathed from the Great Spirit, / one, an example, I, / cross my heart, / love you" (unpaginated). It's important to note that, while this piece is both seen and "non-seen" - as are the Magritte Poems which I discuss below - the following year Weiner contributed a brief piece written in the tri-vocal "clair-style" of the Clairvoyant Journal to Margins' column on Assembling, "Criticism of my Hannah Fool long page" (38). To do so is to catch a glimpse of the development of clairvoyance beyond the primary source texts of the early journals discussed below. Whereas, Weiner would later note that "in the Magritte Poems, [I] use a response to the verse, printed at the back of the poems, giving it a second 'voice'" ("Mostly..." 59). So that, the second voice of "Sign Language..." is seen but not simultaneous, indicating that visuality and "Breathed" voice are inherently linked in formal terms, i.e., if placement of text or other graphic features sufficiently distance the voices visually. This clearly pits Weiner's work of the period in the tradition of New American Poetry as it moved from the law of the breath to the politics of the event[1]. "Clair-style" would in fact require typesetting to be so intricate and determinately scored that, in the Magritte Poems, what was separated by pages would now be separated by graphic elements. It is worth noting, as well, that the Magritte Poems' second voice takes the form of endnotes, a standard feature of critical writing, but far less of "normal poetic form."

In this context Weiner's brief statement, "Other Person," provides a unique reference point for retrospectively reading the development of clairvoyance hand-in-hand with "clair-style," "large-sheet poetry." "Qualities not in the content of a text can be felt by a reader if the author has power. These qualities include anger, sexuality, intelligence, wealth, leisure, whether she lives in a quiet or busy place and included" (97). Power is evidently not understood by Weiner to be an ability to imbue a text with aesthetic ("felt") representations of the self-same entity of the typical subject of journal-writing ("content"), rather "qualities" take place - as words are subject to literary form - "qualities" "include ... and included" sightings and sense. Moreover, according to Weiner, "a reader" feels, while a clairvoyant is "able to know." Weiner resolves feeling into knowledge, without establishing a hierarchy between the two, which affords her the ability to make specific aesthetic interventions into epistemological questions which assume the world is pure immanence, not a content upon which to fix one's motivated regard or upon which one might speculate in Cartesian fashion. For Weiner, clairvoyance is a way into the world - with the person in it. But Wiener also asserts that "[s]ometimes just power or even bliss is felt, without any attribute of person" (97-8). It is here that one must admit that Hejinian's terminology is especially apt for what may be ordinary, if not necessarily normative, experiences of vision; but Weiner's also include extraordinary senses pertinent to her unique experiences of clairvoyance, hence her claim that only in clairvoyant writings does "the person" emerge, and therein as normally "other to myself." This "also" abolishes any hierarchy between what is felt and known (also what is heard and seen), levels the intentional field between author and reader (in a shared temporal condition), yet the "also" comprehends that clairvoyance is an ability that is, vis-à-vis "the world," extraordinary or unique.


[1] Recent critical accounts of the New American Poetry and its larger context of radical USAmerican radical modernism oppose the tenets of the New Criticism to Charles Olson's "amplification" of Robert Creeley's dictum "FORM IS NEVER MORE THAN AN EXTENSION OF CONTENT." Meanwhile, the critical trope of "indeterminacy," borrowed either from quantum physics or reception theory becomes instrumental in bypassing Olson's "corollary, that right form, in any given poem, is the only and exclusively possible extension of content under hand" (240, emphasis mine). By transforming a usefully ambiguous dictum into a question of "right," Olson forecloses on what his fellow New American Robert Duncan called the "opening of the field," but the generativity often attributed to Olson typically has this claim reversed. As an order-word, Olson's "right" denotes law, not politics (see below).


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