Tuesday, May 27, 2008

In Memoriam Dallas Wiebe (1930-2008)

Lee Chapman of First Intensity Press has brought to my attention the passing of Dallas Wiebe, born and raised in Newton, Kansas. I recall conversations with him during this 1988 Kansas writers conference in Wichita, as well as a few other meetings in the years after that. I took these photographs of Wiebe and his wife Virginia in 1988. The obituary in the Cincinnati paper is at this link: http://news.enquirer.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080512/NEWS0104/805120329/1060/COL02

Wiebe founded the Cincinnati Poetry Review and edited the first twenty-four issues; he also founded and anchored the creative writing program at the University of Cincinnati. I remember the devotion of his students and colleagues. Most of all, though, I remember Wiebe's ingenious, profoundly ironic--even twisted--writings, mostly published by Burning Deck Press. "Night Flight to Stockholm" is about a careerist writer who has sacrificed his quota of body parts to win the ultimate literary prize; all that remains of his body is a torso (Going to the Mountain, Providence: Burning Deck Press, 1988).

Wiebe and I once talked about the way some small Kansas towns have developed an industry for caring for terminally ill folks--insurance form experts, health care, and so forth. This is background for the story "Elegy," where an assisted care facility is "Howdy Doody Villa." Doug Bolling in American Book Review wrote of this book: "Wiebe takes us beyond Joycean, modernist pieties into a somewhat different game, one in which the text works to liberate us from both our bondings to the general culture and our more or less uncritical, undeconstructed, moiling around in high culture (literary), heavy-handedness. The effort succeeds for the most part because of the fine balance of the style, the modulations of irony and intensity, and the sheer inventiveness" (July-Aug. 1989).

Wiebe's best known book of poetry is the chapbook The Kansas Poems (Cincinnati Poetry Review Press, 1987; reprinted in No 5, 2006). He also published Skyblue's Essays (Providence, Burning Deck Press, 1995); Skyblue the Badass (a novel, New York: Doubleday-Paris Review Editions, 1969); The Transparent Eye-Ball (Providence: Burning Deck Press, 1982); Our Asian Journey (Waterloo, Ontario: mlr Editions Canada, 1997); The Vox Populi Street Stories; and On the Cross (poems, Cascadia Press, 2005). In 2004 he began a series of self-published chapbooks: The Saying of Abraham Nofziger: A Guide for the Perplexed (2004); The Nofziger Letters (with Pamela Baillargeon, 2005); The Nofziger Letters II (2006); and The Sayings of Abraham Nofziger II: An Enchiridion for the Pious (2007).

Wiebe included Christmas letters with his mailings of these last chapbooks, and his last one, 2007, included this comment:

I'm currently in my old age, aet.77, learning a new trick. I've become an expert in deterioration. It's not exactly an exciting pastime. But it's attractive and inviting because it requires no equipment, no guidebooks, no effort and no cost, except when you have to go to see a doctor. You can practice it anytime and all the time. You just sit around and do it. It's something to do in your old age when your activities are so restricted. It's the easiest skill I've ever learned. I encourage you to give it a try. As Abraham Nofziger says, "Old age and deterioration are figments of the mind that one day become real."

Photographs copyright Denise Low, 2008