ruth weiss

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This article is about the American poet and artist. For the Austrian-Chinese journalist, see Ruth Weiss.

For the anti-racism writer, see Ruth Weiss. For the musician, see Ruth Dolores Weiss.

Ruth Weiss or better known as ruth weiss (born 1928) is a German-born poet, performer, playwright and artist who made her home and career in the United States, as a member of the Beat Generation, a label she has recently embraced [1] and that is used frequently by historians detailing her life and works.

weiss spells her name in lowercase as such as a symbolic protest against "law and order," since in her birthplace of Germany all nouns are spelled capitalized.

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

ruth weiss came from a climate of political turmoil. Born to a Jewish family in the tumultuous years of the rise of Nazism, her early childhood was spent fleeing her home with her parents. Their bid for survival took them from their home of Berlin to Vienna and eventually to the Netherlands, whereby weiss and her family left for the United States. In 1939, she and her family arrived in New York City and from there moved on to Chicago. weiss excelled academically at school in Chicago, graduating in the top 1% of her class. However, in 1946 she and her parents moved back to Germany, this time not as German citizens but as American citizens, as her parents worked for the Army of Occupation. weiss went on to school in Switzerland and spent much time hitchhiking and writing - two skills that would prove pivotal to her future in the American Bohemian Beat scene.[2] In 1948, weiss and her parents moved back to the United States, resettling in Chicago.

Early Career 1940s - 1950s[edit]

weiss left home in 1949, at first staying in Chicago. She originally moved into the Art Circle - a housing community for artists. It was in this community that she began experimenting with poetry and jazz. In 1952, she left Chicago and hitchhiked to San Francisco, where she began jamming and reading poetry with street musicians. Shortly after, several of her friends opened a club called The Cellar, in which she would regularly hold poetry and jazz sessions every Wednesday night. Eventually, weiss felt that she needed a break from city life and took off for California's Big Sur, a place made famous as a Beat center due to Jack Kerouac's novel of the same name. In Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Women Beat Writers, weiss details the events at The Cellar following her leave. In regards to the poetry-jazz sessions, she tells her interviewer, "...other well-known poets, whose names I'm not going to mention because everyone knows them, ended up doing the same thing. Only they were very smart. They recorded them and got records out of them. So nobody knows that I did this, innovate jazz and poetry in San Francisco in 1956 at The Cellar." [3] During this period in her life, she also began publishing proliferously in the magazine Beatitude, one of the first magazines for Beat writers.[4]

ruth weiss and Jack Kerouac first met in 1952. They had, in her words, a "fantastic connection on multiple levels." [5] It was two years after Kerouac had published his first novel, The Town and the City, though weiss did not yet know that he had written and published a book.[5] Instead, weiss and Kerouac engaged upon a "haiku dialogue," spending hours over a bottle of wine writing haiku back and forth to one another. Occasionally Neal Cassady would show up and the three of them would drive off, adventuring outwards in California at dangerous speeds up dangerous hills, thriving on the excitement of the ride and one another's presence.[5]

In 1957, weiss started a "salon kind of situation" in her apartment, creating a gathering space for poets and writers to read and discuss their works.[6] It was also in that year that she married her first husband, Mel Weitsman, a man who later became a Zen priest. Two years later in 1959, weiss published her book GALLERY OF WOMEN, a book composed in poetry, honoring the female poets who she most admired, paying homage to them by painting their portraits through her jazz-inspired poetry.[4]

Later Career 1960s - 1970s[edit]

In 1960, weiss finished her narrative poem "THE BRINK." Upon reviewing her poem, the painter Paul Beattie asked if weiss could turn it into a film script, a request which she willingly obliged. By 1961, weiss had finished her creation and filming of THE BRINK, incorporating "found objects" into her style and philosophy towards the film.[7]

However, DESERT JOURNAL is the work that weiss herself describes as her masterpiece and her most significant work to-date. The piece is an exploration of a mind in a desert. The poem's subject spends 40 days and nights in a desert and each day of the desert is limited to a poem of five pages, each day being its own poem within the greater whole. Everyday, the gender-warping subject of the poem has a new area of exploration and revelation, and the poem brings the reader through the highs and lows, the turmoil and the peace, that the disembodied protagonist transverses. weiss began writing this poem in 1961 and spent seven years on it, not completing it until 1968. Finally in 1977, weiss had the poem published.[8] weiss describes that this poem, like the bulk of her work, is a performance piece, a piece whose meaning she can fully express only through enacting it.[9]

weiss asserts that the period of the 60s is when she began spelling her name solely in lower case.[10]

ruth weiss now: 1980s onwards[edit]

ruth weiss has published many poems and anthologies in recent years, including Full Circle, a reflection on her escape from Nazi Germany. She continues to perform live in North Beach and at many jazz and poetry festivals. Her work also had a three month exhibition at the San Francisco Main Public Library.[4]

In 1990, weiss won the Bay Area poetry slam and consequently released recordings of her poetry performance, entitled Poetry & Allthatjazz. [11]

In 1996, weiss' film THE BRINK was screened at the Whitney Museum.[4]

Influences[edit]

weiss credits Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, the French New Wave and Djuna Barnes, among many others, as her largest influences.

However, as she primarily considers herself a "jazz poet," she has also credited jazz and bebop as the art most influential upon her own. In Breaking the Rules of Cool, weiss recounts a night in 1949 while she was living in the Art Circle of Chicago. On this night, there was a crowd of people in her building having a jazz jam session downstairs while weiss was preoccupied writing in her room. However, a friend of hers paid a visit, read her work and recommended that she bring it downstairs and read it to the musicians. The musicians, far from halting their music to listen, listened by continuing to jam as she read, and likewise, weiss listened to and communicated with their jazz by incorporating it into her poem. It is that experience that she credits as the beginning of her "whole thing with jazz and poetry." [3]

Style[edit]

weiss's philosophy behind her work incorporates several interlinking components: being a "street poet," being a "jazz poet," the idea of non-linearity and fragmentation, the idea of discipline and the bare "bones" of language.

Her focus upon succinctness and discipline is epitomized in her focus on haikus. She relishes the haiku for the discipline it imposes upon the writer and the way it forces the "fat" to be cut away from the poem, revealing the most essential elements of language.[12]

Similarly, this focus upon "cutting out the fat" lies at the heart of her artistic journey with DESERT JOURNAL. One person who reviewed DESERT JOURNAL described weiss as "master of the eraser." [12] It is this ability to "erase" that characterizes weiss's work and that she herself finds most pivotal to her style. weiss describes it as epitomizing the process that she goes through with all her work: the idea of non-linearity, of beginning with a core and allowing the essential fragments that develop to become the substance of the piece.

weiss also cites being inspired by the "oral tradition." She explains this in light of her close friendship and artistic connection with the famed poet Madeline Gleason. Her poetry, she says, is a performance, it is something communicated by the voice and body.[13]

Finally, weiss declares that while she's not a "street poet" in the traditional sense, her work resonates most in "street" settings or other unexpected places. She's found that her work is often most acclaimed, connected with and called for in places ranging from streets to pizza places to gay bars, drawing a large, diverse crowd.[14]

Works[edit]

Her works include:

  • Steps (1958)
  • GALLERY OF WOMEN (1959)
  • South Pacific (1959)
  • Blue in Green (1960)
  • "THE BRINK" (1960) poem
  • THE BRINK (1961) film
  • "LIGHT and other poems" (1976)
  • DESERT JOURNAL (1977, new edition 2012 by Trembling Pillow Press)
  • SINGLE OUT (1978)
  • A NEW VIEW OF MATTER (1999)
  • Full Circle (2002)
  • White is all colors (2004)
  • No dancing aloud (2006)
  • Can't stop the beat (2011)
  • Fool's journey (2012)

References[edit]

  1. ^ Grace, Nancy M. and Ronna C. Johnson. Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Women Beat Writers. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1998. pp. 59.
  2. ^ Knight, Brenda, Anne Waldman and Ann Charters. Women of the Beat Generation: The Writers, Artists and Muses at the Heart of a Revolution. Berkeley: Conari Press, 1996. pp. 241-243.
  3. ^ a b Grace, Nancy M. and Ronna C. Johnson. Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Women Beat Writers. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1998. pp. 70.
  4. ^ a b c d http://www.digihitch.com/road-culture/beat-generation/474.
  5. ^ a b c Grace, Nancy M. and Ronna C. Johnson. Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Women Beat Writers. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1998. pp. 64.
  6. ^ Grace, Nancy M. and Ronna C. Johnson. Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Women Beat Writers. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1998. pp. 72.
  7. ^ Grace, Nancy M. and Ronna C. Johnson. Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Women Beat Writers. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1998. pp. 63.
  8. ^ Grace, Nancy M. and Ronna C. Johnson. Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Women Beat Writers. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1998. pp. 67.
  9. ^ Grace, Nancy M. and Ronna C. Johnson. Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Women Beat Writers. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1998. pp. 66.
  10. ^ Grace, Nancy M. and Ronna C. Johnson. Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Women Beat Writers. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1998. pp. 69.
  11. ^ Knight, Brenda, Anne Waldman and Ann Charters. Women of the Beat Generation: The Writers, Artists and Muses at the Heart of a Revolution. Berkeley: Conari Press, 1996. pp. 246.
  12. ^ a b Grace, Nancy M. and Ronna C. Johnson. Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Women Beat Writers. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1998. pp. 65.
  13. ^ Grace, Nancy M. and Ronna C. Johnson. Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Women Beat Writers. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1998. pp. 74.
  14. ^ Grace, Nancy M. and Ronna C. Johnson. Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Women Beat Writers. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1998. pp. 76.

Further reading[edit]

  • Grace, Nancy M. and Ronna C. Johnson. Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Women Beat Writers. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1998.
  • Knight, Brenda, Anne Waldman and Ann Charters. Women of the Beat Generation: The Writers, Artists and Muses at the Heart of a Revolution. Berkeley: Conari Press, 1996.

External links[edit]