My research concerns the theory and history of the lyric, with particular focus on “lyrical” instantiations of the New American poetry of the 1950s–1970s (roughly, from Projective Verse through Clairvoyant Journal). My cognate interests include queer theory, social history of the avant-garde, editorial theory and practice, archival scholarship, affect theory, and small-press print culture. Another interest of mine is New Narrative, the Bay Area writing circle that has carried forward the queer kernal of New American poetics from the late 1970s to the present.
My doctoral dissertation, Ungrateful City: The Collected Poems of John Wieners, retrieves the eclipsed oeuvre of American poet John Wieners (1934–2002), gathering his prolific and often fugitive works into a critical edition of collected poems, complemented by a literary biography that situates the poet within his larger historical milieu. Wieners was an initiating figure of the New American poetry, whose work has been critically untended since his retirement from public life in the mid 1970s. After graduating from Boston College in 1954, Wieners enrolled in the last class of Black Mountain College and subsequently participated in poetry communities in Boston, San Francisco, New York, and Buffalo throughout the 1950s–1970s. Following the publication in 1975 of Behind the State Capitol: Or Cincinnati Pike, a magnum opus of two-hundred pages, Wieners gradually retired from public view, and at the time of his death in 2002 he left behind a disordered literary archive distributed across nearly a dozen public institutions. Today, all of Wieners’s books are out of print, and no biography of the poet exists—consigning the story of his poetic avocation, education at Black Mountain College, literary friendships, queer identity, and affliction with mental illness to a realm of myth-making and anecdotal hagiography. Despite Wieners’s esteem among his contemporaries (Robert Creeley praised him as “the greatest poet of emotion” of their generation) and clandestine influence on postmodern lyric poetry, at present there remains a dearth of scholarship on his work. John Wilkinson has remarked that Wieners’s poetry “must be the least written-about work of any considerable US poet of the twentieth century.” Ungrateful City aims to redress this state of affairs, mounting a critical edition of Wieners’s collected poems and a literary biography from sustained archival and oral-historical research.
Currently, I am pursuing the publication of Ungrateful City as two independent volumes, and am extending this research into a new critical project on the “School of Boston” poets of the 1950s and 1960s—a group that includes Wieners, Stephen Jonas, Edward Marshall, Joe Dunn, and Gerrit Lansing. Recent academic work is noted under scholarship.
photo: John Wieners photographed by Andy Warhol, 1963
manuscript: John Wieners worksheet, “Billie,” c. 1966