Poet Tom Weigel passed away at the age of 69 earlier this month. While I'm not very familiar with Weigel's work, his poems often appear in issues of The World, Mag City, and other New York School-related magazines that are a regular part of my research. Weigel's obituary describes him as an "artist, poet, and playwright [who] lived on NY’s lower east side during the 1970's and 80's and is recognized as a member of the 3rd generation of New York School Poets" and "an active participant at the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church in the 1970’s and 1980’s." Poets and scholars familiar with the mimeo culture of the 70s and 80s might be more familiar with Weigel as the editor of Tangerine magazine (1981-1986) and publisher of Andrea Doria Books, which published books by Helena Hughes and Michael Scholnick as well as The Full Deck Anthology. Issue number 5 of Tangerine is a memorial issue for Ted Berrigan designed in the style of what would later be published as Nice To See You: An Homage to Ted Berrigan (Coffee House Press, 1991). It's a copy I've always wanted to see but haven't been able to find in the archive. The local New London, CT paper The Day has a full article on Weigel's passing that describes his past and recent life in more detail.
My connection to Weigel is totally serendipitous. Last February I stopped in at A Book by Its Cover bookstore in Louisville, KY while traveling for a conference. I had corresponded with the owner about any New York School material he might have -- he had recently acquired a small collection of mimeo magazines and books, mostly copies of Mag City and a few issues of The World. I bought a couple pieces from him and before I left he handed me about a dozen loose sheets of paper that had been slipped into the mimeo magazines when he got them, saying he thought I would appreciate having them. In the stack there was a flyer for Mag City 5 with a Weigel poem and copies of letters from Gerard Malanga, but more surprisingly, there were six original typed poems by Weigel from throughout 1979, including at least two poems that Weigel wrote for a workshop with Alice Notley at the Poetry Project. As Alice says about the workshops she led at the Church at that time: "I don't remember my workshops in detail and didn't keep handouts or notes etc. The most extraordinary ones were probably the first and last ones. In the first one were people like Eileen Myles, Bob Holman, Susie Timmons. In the last one I assigned everyone to write and publish a book, which they did. We called ourself, as a press, Unimproved Editions Press, which I used as a rubric to publish on my own Steve Carey's 20 Poems. Between those two were several others, but god knows what we did -- it was always interesting, there were always a lot of weirdos around in the workshops and a sense of the Unprofessional. I mean really crazy people dropped by, all you had to do was show up -- not even enroll. Or pay."
The two poems for Notley's workshop are pictured below, the first written, as Weigel notes, for Notley's assignment to "Write a Creation Myth" and the second written on December 30, 1979 and signed. I've treasured both these poems since rather suddenly and unexpectedly being given them. The bookstore was our last stop before getting on the highway to drive home to Atlanta, and I remember reading the poems in the car and it seeming as if I had been looking for them. More than ephemera, they're rare association pieces that offer a little window into the aesthetic, social, and shared writing spaces of the Poetry Project in the late 70s in the midst of the national downturn in federal funding for arts programs and publishing. In fact, Weigel's poems for Notley's workshop were written after Ronald Reagan had been elected to his first term as President but before he had taken office, a liminal cultural space in a still thickly experimental, ever-changing Lower East Side. Of the two poems, I'm partial to "A Creation Myth," which for me is really lovely from "As a tribe spits back righteous & variable" all the way down. The last stanza is just great. While the second poem doesn't note what Notley's assignment was, it could have been to write a poem that begins and ends with overheard speech. If so, those are great lines. If you look closely you'll notice that both poems included spots where Weigel has used wite-out to correct typos -- on "Creation's" in the first poem and "serious" in the second. Archives are continually revealing the artist's hand, and its great to see the details of artifacts like these that hold so much wayward, living, personal energy.
RIP Tom Weigel: "When you wake / You'll be sand, yet whole"