Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Ammiel Alcalay

Subject Categories

American Literature | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies | Literature in English, North America


Black Mountain, Boston, Correspondence, Gay, New American, Poetics


American poet John Wieners is thoroughly disenfranchised from the modern poetic establishments because he is, to those institutions, practically illegible. He was a queer self-styled poete maudit in the fifties; a protege of political-historical poet Charles Olson who wrote audaciously personal verse; a lyric poet who eschewed the egoism of the confessional mode in order to pursue the Olsonian project of Projective (outward-looking) poetics; a Boston poet who was institutionalized at state hospitals. Wieners lived on the "other side" of Beacon Hill, not the Brahmin south slope, but the north side with its working-class apartments and underground gay bars. Though Wieners' work is considered preeminent by many of the second half of the century's most important poets, the ahistoricizing process of literary canon-building has kept him at the fringes of not just the canon, but the established taxonomy of the all the great post-war undergrounds - the mimeo revolution, the San Francisco Renaissance, Black Mountain, New York, and Boston poetry communities that he moved through. Why was Wieners so disenfranchised? How can we make him manifest within the discourses of twentieth-century poetry?

My dissertation, a comprehensively edited and annotated Selected Letters with a critical introduction situating Wieners and his correspondence, will provide Wieners' readers and literature scholars with an invaluable resource, an autobiography in letters. To quote the mission Duncan urged upon Wieners for his magazine Measure, these Selected Letters will be a "ground of work" for many different kinds of readers, with enough annotation and context for the most curious, but edited in such a way that it's Wieners himself one is reading, a direct address with minimal editorial intrusion. Wieners dedicated his second book, 1964's Ace of Pentacles, "for the voices," and that is the title I take for this collection - for all the voices in Wieners' world, within and contemporaneous with the poem. With these Selected Letters, we can see Wieners' growth as a poet and as a person, as he cycles through his different selves and relationships.