Saturday, December 5, 2009

Jack Wiler: one more time, maybe not the last time, here's Jack

A few of the good people of New Jersey organized a tribute to Jack Wiler here in New York City this afternoon. I just got back from it and will describe while my feet unthaw (see this morning's blog on cold weather--and walking).

I was prepared to take notes on names and memories, but the bar at Le Poisson Rogue on Bleecker was too dark to deal with a notebook, and anyway, who wants to spend three hours with great people while jotting particulars. I had a beer instead and enjoyed the background noise of a Bowie tribute band rehearsing next door.

Poet Jack Wiler, author of three books, Fun Being Me and Divina Is Divina (the latter forthcoming) from CavanKerry Press, and I Have No Clue from Longshot, was memorable in flesh and word. Most everyone at today's event knew him better than I did and it would feel presumptuous to resurrect their tales of Jack, but there was a theme or two I'll share. His poetry is precise, freighted, accessible and real deal. His work wasn't enough known and sometimes he regretted that, and sometimes didn't have enough ego to believe in himself.

Hemingway's "bullshit detector" had been installed in Jack at an early age and functioned well. As is the case with those who detect even a smudge or two here or there, let alone the ubiquitous abundant steaming piles Jack freely expressed his distaste-to-anger, something I very much appreciate, as that's my chore-to-gift (access to free expression). My turn at the mic I read his poem "The Names of God" which I mention in my other Jack Wiler posting.*

He was a salesman for an extermination business off-and-on for over twenty years. I'd be interested knowing how he came to that, but have a theory why he stuck with it. His boss, the pres. of Acme Exterminating Corp., had to be one of the good pieces of fortune of Jack's life. Robert Stien knew Jack was a poet, sometimes went with Jack to his readings or the Geraldine Dodge poetry festival in Jersey. One time an extermination biz colleague worried, "Extermination is not Jack's number one priority, poetry is." Stien laughed. We all laughed.

There was only one tribute that bothered me, from a poet who suggested Jack's accessibility was the result of a reader not having to plow through mythological or Biblical references. I don't think that comment would have made Jack happy. He wrote about what he wrote about. He read tons and was raised by a reader -- his mother. References weren't his calling in poetry, but I doubt he had an aversion.

He had a rich, full life. He had a tenderly open mind. He was loved by many. He will continue to be read by many and very likely for a long time.

My previous post on Jack:
///Thanks to Danny Shot, Joan Handler and many others for today.


  1. thanks to your previous mention just after he died, I bought the book....much, much appreciated.
    My daughter read it also, loving the young girl with white mittens...

  2. Jack was one of my closest friends in high school, and he was as complex then as in his later years.
    I wish I could have been there this weekend, but I did have the opportunity to read at his memorial service.
    Thanks to everyone who came to remember him.
    Jim Maddox

  3. I'm happy to read this. Hearing from Jack's boss was a great thing after all the year, and poems, about Acme. Would that the world were full of more compassionate and kind bosses like him. It made me miss Jack all the more even as I came to understand why he liked that place so much.

    I think you are right somewhat too. Jack wasn't an academic poet. But he wasn't an ignorant one either (he was more than a little happy when I told him that reading "Fun Being Me" reminded me of Rilke's "Elegies"). I've always thought of him as a sort of Punk Romantic, propelled by nihilistic excess and uncertainty to transfigure a broken world. But he wasn't pining for some pastoral return. Like Rilke, Jack's gods lived in this world, his world. He was relentless in his desire to make it real; Long Shot's motto during his time there was "writing for the real world." I take it as a measure of his great and wonderful humanity, the deep and abiding love he felt for this world and all its imperfect creatures, that he could never leave it solely for some rarified metaphor or the abstract concerns of form. None of which means, of course, that it wasn't there. It just wasn't the main concern, which was always the feeling of the thing. Which is why I borrowed liberally from his poems for the one I read that day. Jack always said it better than I ever could or can.

  4. Thanks to Melissa (as always).
    Thanks to Jim. I would have enjoyed hearing stories about early Jack. He wrote about not feeling cool when he was in high school (on facebook or his blog). I can't imagine.
    Thanks to Thomas. That's quite a beautiful comment. I hope Jack reads it. He'd be honored. I know I am.

  5. Jack was beginning to write about how he felt in high school and the anguish of being "uncool". I was also one of the "uncool" in high school. We were mates, fellow comic book lovers, readers of history and boys who liked to play war games. We were both skinny and awkward and we lacked confidence in ourselves. We kept our heads down and tried to make the best of things. During our Junior year we began to change. We became more political and outspoken and the other kids began to listen to us. Job and other life experiences changed us even more during the summer of '69, and we came back to high school more mature and brimming with self confidence. Jack and I attended the Vietnam War protest in Washington, D.C., and we joined the school newspaper, Jack as editor and I as news editor. Needless to say, our views created a lot of controversy, and we were forced to resign. In one of his last e-mails Jack talked about that time. His message was about our different attitudes and how he and I were no longer "uncool". It was an uplifting and fitting last message from my old friend. I am also talking about Jack on my blog. There's a link to it on his. Maddox Corner