Sunday, October 25, 2009

R.I.P. Jack Wiler: Fun being him

I'm pretty sure the first time I saw Jack Wiler read was at the Bowery Poetry Club's New Year's Day reading. I'm very sure the first time I saw Jack Wiler read I knew he was a great poet.

He read one of his extermination poems. Few poets know extermination as Wiler did, much to poetry's loss. He worked for a bug and rat business, in sales and advisement, as I understand. The poem he read was about killing roaches but either it's not in his collection or I can't find it right now. It is, however, a wonder of a poem, detailed, true, funny. It is, like all of Jack's poems, simultaneously accessible and beyond my reach. I can understand it; I can't understand how he wrote it.

In search of the extermination poem I paged through Fun Being Me. I don't own I Have No Clue. What's so remarkable, again, about Jack's work is its effortless and successful attention to the commonplace. He writes brilliantly about the hardest thing to write brilliantly, let alone well, about: life.

I'm preoccupied with God and gods, the soul and her progress, the great way, the next stop. Wiler writes about wanting to have sex again. About wasting away from the disease and coming back to life. He writes a poem to his nieces. "You're two white girls in a world that is changing." The changes are good, as if the promise of a better world to come can come in the world that's here.

Jack writes why he loves his town and hates a noisy neighbor; of pleasures of barbecue, Jersey, women; of friends and their children, their music, their cheer and love. Of disappointment. I hear many attempts by many poets trying write of the everyday and most attempts, honest and heartfelt, don't get the lead out. Don't move beyond the personal. Because although a poem may be, on one level about meeting a friend Midtown N.Y. at Jimmy's ("Pilgrimmage"), it's got to be about something more to be a worthy poem. Each of Jack's poems were about this and that.

The final poem in Fun Being Me is "The Names of God." The poet has dreamed the names and they include "a classroom and it was full of dogs" "dead blossoms from the flowers I've planted" "when a great man is struck down."

Jack's been struck down. As he wrote on Facebook, "I've been a bad, bad boy." That led to the disease. When I asked him to sign my copy of his book I suggested he write, To Sarah, the best lay I've ever had (not relevant to our acquaintanceship). He wrote: For the sweetest woman on the planet. When I asked him to write a blurb for my book he said yes.

(His family has asked his poems not be republished at least for now.)


  1. I would really like to read his work and I rarely get that sense when reading about a person's poems...and I like the fact that your inclinations are so different and yet your appreciation is so intense.
    I'll try to find the books...

  2. Sarah,

    I'm completely shocked by this sad news. We emailed on Facebook only a month ago, and now he is gone. His poems are so memorable and individual. It's a sheer loss.


  3. Melissa, Thanks. He has a website which may have some poems on it. Google. And thanks for your response.

    Jee: No easy way to hear this news. I felt the same way, shocked. I saw him read a month ago at Hydrogen Jukebox. Big hug. I look forward to seeing you.

  4. Sarah,

    I've known a thousand people better than I knew Jack, with whom I shared two meals, three readings and a fair number of reading-related phone calls and e-mails.

    Yet hearing from Joe Weil about his death just knocked me flat. He was a very, very special person and poet.

    At the Writer's Voice visiting authors series I would read each writer's newest work, and write a specifically tailored intro, sort of a "taste" of what the audience could expect through one readers experience. By the nature of the evening, the intros were always in search of the best of the writer, which luckily was never too much of a problem to find, in my case.

    I loved that when I introduced him all three times he read at the Writer's Voice--each time Jack was genuinely "embarrassed," far too modestly by what I told the audience about his work. He felt overpraised. I only wish that I could sum up his work--and his being--in the 90 seconds I spoke before he read.

    I hope he eventually knew how brilliant he was. I trust that he did...

    ~Glenn Raucher

  5. really moving, glenn. thank you. i didn't know him well and don't know if he knew. he does now.

  6. Both books are available on Amazon...I ordered "Fun Being Me" and will probably order the other one...
    thanks for introducing me...
    whatever else I would say would be trite...

  7. I didn't know Jack very well at all, but we shared the same publisher so our paths crossed on occasion. He was extremely kind and always had something interesting to say. He will be missed. Thanks for your post.

  8. Our generous friend Jack - we'll miss him so much.

    Jack has six poems on his site. Follow the link to poems -

    You can hear him read in a podcast at the following link -

    You can see and hear him after a performance at the following link
    If I have the link wrong search youtube for "Jack Wiler"

  9. If there is ever more on Jack, i.e., a celebration or memorial, please tell me. thanks.

  10. Sarah,
    You have a great photo of Jack on this post. Would you let me put it on a page on a site for his high school friends?

    Here's the link for you to see where I would put it.

    I will give you photo credits and a link back to this post if you like.

    Many thanks,

    Bob Thomas

    I check back for a reply.

  11. Bob,
    Feel free to use the photo. It's not mine. I got it through Google images. (!!!) If you want to link back here as part of the memorial, please, yes, I'd love that.

    Thanks for checking in, asking, remembering the wonderful Jack Wiler.