On October 26, 1970, writer Hannah Weiner began what was to become a three week fast. This fast was neither in response to any political issues nor performed for health reasons, and that is where its opacity begins. Though Weiner later became a figure in the Language Writing movement, which unofficially began in the early 1970s, this particular fast had nothing to do with the Language movement other than helping to form the distinctive style that gained the attention of these writers. In typographic terms, that style involves writing poems with dates for titles, an alternation between words in all caps and words without any capitalization, and a tendency for words to drift above and below the poetic line. Hannah Weiner was one of the leaders in the Language Movement's deconstruction of the poetic line, as evidenced by her interview with Charles Bernstein in The Line in Postmodern Poetry. In addition, Barrett Watten has said that Weiner "represents the 'test case' for Language poetry"(Damon). And yet, Weiner forms the test case precisely because her earliest work precedes the major formal statements of the Language movement. She is thus the ur-poet of the movement. Stylistically, however, there are elements in Weiner's work that fall outside the scope of the Language movement throughout her career.
Weiner first refers to her fast as "an 'at home' experience [begun] because I had no bathtub and partly because I became sensitive, magnetic to metal, and couldn't take a shower in my metal enclosed shower"(1). There is no obvious cause for this sudden sensitivity, and it starts off a whole chain of inexplicable allergies: nylon, flowers, fences, certain colors, stasis, telephones, record albums, soap, people, and even water. Yet, in reading The Fast one is confronted not so much with the undecidable field of a Language poem so much as an inescapable system of foreign yet systematic rules. Thus, there is at least one level of opacity in Weiner's work that exists outside the obvious preoccupations of the Language group. In fact, this level calls upon discourses that would at first seem at odds with the very group that championed her.
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Alan Clinton recently completed his Ph.D. in English at the University of
Florida. His dissertation charts the history of literary, technological, and
spiritual automatism from Horace Walpole to the present, focusing on the
Modernist period. He also has an essay on contemporary poet Carolyn Forche in
the Spring 2002 issue of _Reconstruction_.