In 1992, when I was a student of Charles Bernstein, he asked me to lead one of his classes in poetics on an occasion when he had to be away. The poets slated for discussion were Jack Spicer and Hannah Weiner. I knew Spicer’s work well, but my preparations for introducing Weiner were barely under way when the day of the class arrived. As luck would have it, Bernstein had left me a tape recording — yes, a cassette tape! — of Weiner reading from her work, and that was all I had to offer. I played it at the close of class and listened with all the other students, amazed by the strange voice speaking in a strange tongue.
I knew then that I would have to return to Hannah Weiner. But the tape disappeared, and I didn’t hear the uncanny voice again until recordings of Weiner resurfaced in 2003 as part of PennSound, a digital project committed to producing new audio recordings and preserving existing audio archives. By this time, Weiner was dead (she would only ever exist as a disembodied voice for me), and her papers, left in the deep care of Charles Bernstein, had been donated to the New Poetry Archives at the University of California, San Diego. Finally, in 2007, I arranged the meeting with Weiner I had so often and so long ago postponed. I went to the Weiner archive seeking three things: unpublished materials, textually interesting writings, and visually arresting documents. The Book Of Revelations was all of these things — and more. It transfixed me, and for several days I sat in the library hand-transcribing as much of the text as I possibly could. Later, when scans of the manuscript were available, I began the transcription process for a second time, this time typing the scanned pages directly.
During the two-year period of my work on Weiner’s notebook, many people aided my research. My greatest debt is to Charles Bernstein, Weiner’s executor and one of her most astute critics. Without his scholarship and constant encouragement, this project could not have reached completion. This book is dedicated to him.
Another Weiner scholar deserves my deepest thanks. Patrick F. Durgin welcomed me — then a total stranger — into the small but dedicated circle of Weiner critics, responding to my numerous queries about her poetics and working habits and offering expert advice on the transcription of the notebook. His openness to my work embodied the generosity of poets, and I will not forget it.
Barbara Rosenthal, one of Weiner’s closest friends during the period in which the notebook was composed, took time away from her own creative work to write to me about Weiner and the collaborative work they did and to make valuable suggestions about the direction of my own research. She also offered unique insight into the notebook itself — specifically, its origins as an artist’s book fashioned by her own hands. Some of the most striking images of Wiener included here come from Rosenthal’s archive. My gratitude to her is immense.
Hannah Weiner’s work has attracted the dedication of extraordinary people whose work has contributed to this single volume. I would like to thank, among others unnamed, Maria Damon, Judith Goldman, Joyelle McSweeney, Rodney Koeneke, Caroline Bergvall, Jack Kimball, Mark DuCharme, Kaplan Harris, Robert Dewhurst, and Thom Donovan for their luminous contributions to Weiner scholarship. I learned much from them and will continue to do so. I am also in debt to Weiner’s longtime friend Susan Bee, for her artist’s eye in reviewing problematic transcripts.
Thanks, too, to Robert Dewhurst and Sean Reynolds for publishing several pages of the notebook in an issue of Wild Orchids dedicated to Weiner’s writings. The invitation to contribute to this venture spurred my work forward.
The Archive for New Poetry, Mandeville Special Collections Library, at the University of California, San Diego, was an ideal place to work. I owe great thanks to Lynda Corey-Claassen, director of the Mandeville Special Collections there, who generously digitized the notebook’s leaves, enabling me to work on it from afar. The digitization process involved much time and care, and Weiner scholars everywhere are the richer for her efforts in making the scans of the notebook available to all.
Similarly, I wish to thank Julia Bloch and Michael S. Hennessey, editors of Jacket2, for their vision of Weiner and for their careful production of this late work by her.
I owe a profound debt to two of my students, Elizabeth Cattarin and Tina Bampton, and one of my oldest friends, Robert Waterhouse. Elizabeth was my most constant companion in the work on the diplomatic transcription, and her technical expertise joined with her poetic sensibility contributed to the evolving form of the work. My vision of the notebook’s presentation was always in perfect resonance with her design. Tina Bampton proofread the notebook with me, reading backwards and forwards and reminding me through this “performance” of the singular beauty of Weiner’s lines. Bob Waterhouse, my oldest and best reader, took much time to look at my own writing on Weiner and help me to think through the questions raised by the notebook — the (different) demands of Weiner’s late clair-style, the limits of autobiography as she probed them, the excess of the fragmentary that turns all her writing into “surplus,” and the interruptions of the infinite marked in every message she received and attempted to forward onto us.
Finally, my deep thanks to Cristian Gurita for graciously understanding how important this work is to me and for giving me the space to pursue it.