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John Wieners papers

Identifier: MSS 0138

Scope and Content Note

Spanning the dates 19611968, the papers of American Beat poet John Wieners provide a chronologically and thematically fragmented, yet detailed, glimpse of his life. This small collection includes sixteen letters to Diane Di Prima, Alan Marlowe, and Ed Sanders; the manuscript of a play, two journals, and fourteen leaves of poetry.

Wieners's letters to poet Diane Di Prima, and intermittently, to her husband, Alan Marlowe, related to upcoming readings, books to be published, mutual friends, and family. Yet even in their routineness, Wieners's letters reveal both artistic and personal news. Early in the collection there are letters from Boston, after Wieners has returned home from the West Coast and the San Francisco Renaissance, written before and after the 1965 publication of Ace of Pentacles. After a chronological gap when Wieners was west again, there are letters from Buffalo where Wieners was studying with Charles Olson and Robert Creeley. Those letters are informed by his mentors, by the students that he encountered in the graduate writing program at S.U.N.Y. Buffalo, and by the comings and goings of literary figures of the day. He wrote of Ginsberg, Frank O'Hara, and other poets, but he also mentioned jazz, the New York bohemian Joe Gould, and actor Dennis Hopper (in his pre-Easy Rider days).

In a single letter to musician and poet Ed Sanders, Wieners sang the praises of wheat germ oil, and included with the letter an actual Viobin oil label circa 1965. Wieners' interest in health reappeared in a letter to Diane Di Prima, regarding a coming visit, when he asked her to bring a box of yeast that was unavailable in Boston.

Wieners appealed to Di Prima for help with "Clive," a mutual friend whose poetry was seen by Wieners as the product of narcotic excesses. Details of Wieners's own sojourns into the depths of addiction are chronicled both in his letters to Di Prima and in his journals. The two journals clearly reflect Wieners's struggles with dependancy, and his creative mind at work. Published poems such as "II Alone," "Drinking Lonely Wine," and "Sunset" exist nearly fully formed in the journals, along with unpublished poetry drafts that predate both Ace of Pentacles and Nerves. The journals also include prose essays devoted to such subjects as Wieners's heroin addiction, the abortion of his child by an ex-lover, his homosexuality, the state and purpose of poetry, and the virtues of his numerous friends and mentors.

Some of the journal entries fill in a chronological gap in the letters to Di Prima between the spring of 1965 and the winter of 1966. Combined, the letters and journals in this collection give some insight into Wieners during his artistic peak in the mid-1960s.


  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1961-1968


Language of Materials

Materials entirely in English.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections Department, University of Delaware Library,

Biographical Note

From 1954, when American Beat poet John Wieners (1934-2002) graduated from Boston College with an A.B. in English, to 1970, when he published Nerves, Boston-born poet John Wieners was thoroughly immersed in the art, culture, and turmoil of the times.

He spent 1955-1956 at Charles Olson's experimental Black Mountain College in North Carolina, studying writing with Robert Creeley and Robert Duncan. Wieners journeyed to San Francisco where he published his breakthrough Hotel Wentley Poems in 1958, at age twenty-four.

Wieners returned to Boston in 1959 to be institutionalized, in part because of drug abuse. In 1961, he moved to New York City with the help of a grant from Allen Ginsberg's Poetry Foundation. He worked as an assistant bookkeeper at the Eighth Street Bookshop from 1962–1963. Wieners went back to Boston in 1963 and worked as a subscriptions editor for Jordan Marsh department stores until 1965. In 1964, Robert Wilson, of The Phoenix Bookshop, published Wieners's second book, Ace Of Pentacles.

In 1965, Wieners moved west, spending time in Los Angeles and at the Berkeley Poetry Conference where he met up with his old friend, Charles Olson. Olson, then an endowed Chair of Poetics at S.U.N.Y. Buffalo, invited Wieners to enroll in the graduate program there, which is where he stayed until 1967. Pressed Wafer (1967) was published chronicling those years.

In 1967, Wieners's lover left him and went to Europe with a mentor of his, but not before aborting his child first. In late 1967, Wieners, back in Boston, resorted to further drink and drugs. In the spring of 1969, Wieners was again institutionalized, resulting in The Asylum Poems (For my Father), published later that year.

Wieners published Nerves in 1970, which contained his work from 1966 to 1970, including all of the Asylum Poems. In the early 1970s, despite brief periods of institutionalization, Wieners taught a course entitled "Verse in the U.S. Since 1955" at the Beacon Hill Free School in Boston. He was also involved in the antiwar movement, crusaded against racism, and campaigned for the rights of women and homosexuals.

In 1975, Wieners published Behind the State Capital, or Cincinnati Pike, a book of letters, memoirs, and brief lyric poems. After 1975, he published little new work and remained largely out of the public eye. In 1986, he produced a retrospective collection, Selected Poems, 1958-1984 with a forward written by Allen Ginsberg. In 1996 he appeared with Ed Sanders at Stone Soup in Boston for what would have been Jack Kerouac's 76th birthday celebration. Also in 1996, The Sun and Moon Press released an edited and previously unpublished diary and journal by Wieners documenting his life in San Francisco around the time of The Hotel Wentley Poems. The book, The Journal of John Wieners is to be called 707 Scott Street for Billie Holiday, 1959, contains prose, poetry, and assorted musings from Wieners at age twenty-four at the dawn of the Sixties.

Wieners died on March 1, 2002 at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Two collections of poems, Kidnap Notes Next (2002) and A Book of Prophecies (2007), were published posthumously.

Raymond Foye, "John Wieners," Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 16. The Beats: Literary Bohemians in Postwar America. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1983. pp. 572-583.


.3 linear foot (20 items)


Spanning the dates 1961-1968, the papers of American Beat poet John Wieners provide a chronologically and thematically fragmented, yet detailed, glimpse of his life. This small collection includes sixteen letters to Diane Di Prima, Alan Marlowe, and Ed Sanders; the manuscript of a play, two journals, and fourteen leaves of poetry.


Purchased, multiple dates.

Shelving Summary

  • Box 1: Shelved in SPEC MSS manuscript boxes


Processed by Devin Harner, September 1999. Encoded by Thomas Pulhamus, February 2010. Further encoding by Lauren Connolly, September 2015, and Tiffany Saulter, November 2015.

Finding aid for John Wieners papers
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
2010 February 19
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Delaware Library Special Collections Repository

181 South College Avenue
Newark DE 19717-5267 USA