On Making Strictly Illegal
on the occasion of the London launch of Strictly Illegal
“Strictly Illegal” is a collection of previously uncollected works by America’s courageous torch lyric poet John Wieners (1934-2002) whom I am hugely proud to publish. Wieners lived for his poetry and in a forthright Introduction, the poet Jeremy Reed, who found these poems in little magazines of the late-1960s and1970s, contexts the debt owed to this poets’ poet. Strictly Illegal celebrates this great love poet to high heaven. I think it was Jeremy Reed and John Robinson who introduced me to John Wieners, telling me over drinks how they had telephoned him one night, London to early morning Boston, as Wieners had included his telephone number at the end of a collection of his poems. Wieners replied remarking on how early in the morning it was, but was relaxed at the intrusion into his dream-time. Osmotically, I hoped I could imbibe Wieners so that I might grow as a poet.
I always seem to have been in love with John Wieners’ poetry. In the autumn of 2002, I had a volume of poems printed by Pressed Wafer in Boston and decided to use this occasion as my poetic excuse to visit the United States. Travelling from Boston, charged by the enquiring energy eminating from the cluster of poets being nurtured by Pressed Wafer’s editor, Bill Corbett, I took myself and my three little children to Amherst for an autumn close to Emily Dickinson. In Boston, at a supper generously hosted by Corbett, talk was of the up-coming Memoir for John Wieners due to take place a week later. Living my children with a young nanny, I decided to take a night-bus to New York to attend Wieners’ Memoir at St Mark’s Church. Tributes, particularly that by Robert Creeley washed me in a lyrical genuflection to John Wieners, and I was gripped by a desire to make Wieners’ poetry more widely available in the Britain and Ireland.
This proved very difficult as the poetry was caught up in a legal wrangle after Wieners’ death, which is only now righting itself. Jeremy Reed matched my enthusiasm for the poet, and Strictly Illegal was born.
The book is perfectly complemented by art from the British ‘outlaw’ artists Gilbert and George with such sensitive and courageously tentative works of theirs, drawn from the 1970s and 1980s. Wieners as Gilbert and George were striving simultaneously to open up our understanding of human love in all its hues. I hope the book creates a loving ripple.
Patricia Hope Scanlan