I can't collect my thoughts any further, dwelling on the meanings of Larry Eigner's life, except to remember the time spent with him in conversation, or say the time Bob Grenier, Brian McInerney and I took him to the Museum of Natural History on his one trip to New York.  As we came into the room with some of the largest dinosaurs, Larry pointed straight ahead and said "that's interesting".  He wasn't pointing to a dinosaur skeleton, though, but to an old sign posted on the back wall; it was interesting, in a style long banished (in exhibition halls now replaced).  I think of that remark of Larry's as displaying how much he lived out his version of a democracy of particulars, as against the craving for highlights, for the heightened, that is as much a literacy aesthetic as a consumer imperative.  For Eigner, this didn't mean a flattening of affect; on the contrary it meant a luminosity of every detail: the perceptual vividness that his work so uncannily concatenates.  This acknowledgement of the daily, a series of remarks on the otherwise unremarkable, a sort of poetic alchemy that is not dissimilar to one strain of Jewish mysticism (a strain in which the mysticism dissolves into an active apprehension of the real), is an abiding model of and for a poetry where things as they are let to stand for themselves.

This poet of the ordinary lived an extraordinary life, as if the physical challenges he faced since birth were spun by poetic license into mental acrobatics.  Larry Eigner is hero of our times.  His will to think was unsuppressible.  It was no ordinary privilege to have known him.  I can't think of anyone I admired more.

I wrote this for an Eigner celebration at UC-Berkeley's University Art Museum in June 1993:


There is no writing I know as vivid as Larry Eigner's.  He's invented, for poetry, something equivalent to three-dimensional photography: his works present a series of perceptions etched deep into the mind, where the mind is charted on a page and the page becomes a model of the thinking field.  Perception and thought (words and things) are completely intertwined in Eigner's work, which brings to a visionary crescendo the exploration of the ordinary — the transient flickerings of the everyday that otherwise pass more unnoticed than regarded, more dismissed than revered.  In Eigner's poems, one "fragment" is rivetted to the next, so that one becomes, in reading this work, likewise riveted by the uncanny democracy of details, where attention is focussed unhesitatingly on each particular with equal weight, equal exhilaration.  This is a poetics of "noticing things," where, as Eigner writes, "nothing is too dull" with "material (things, words) more and more dense around you."  But equally, Eigner's is a poetics of coincidence, where "serendipity" (contingency) takes its rightful place as animating spirit, displacing the anthropocentric sentimentality of much of the verse of our time.

In 1988, Leslie Scalapino's O Books republished Eigner's
"Anything on Its Side" in O One/An Anthology, for which I wrote
this verse commentary:


Anything on Its Side is placed, like

a volume in a tank of water, with utter

gravity against the next moment that occurs

in what is called time but for Eigner is always

spaced, for example on a page.  What

would it be to be grounded, to know

the ground under you by the weight

it pushes back with?  "Every atom of me

 . . . across distances."  No awful trembling

unto undecidability, everything founded in

its site, cleaves to what there is, to

what is there.  "To be is involved

such words that hold / times in the mind":
a way, still, that a poem can enact its

own presence, with full measure of the

necessary determination to move from

anything to that which juts against it,

a conviction that life is made of (of)

just such leaps, the contingency of an eye

(aye, I) 'gainst a field of "r/oars" ("suddenly

a day").  Something like deep

focus, as if the poems had become

an organ, the sky bellows.  Step by

step, slowly turning.  Yet there is no

opening onto image here, no mime of

a rehearsal of a scene. Eigner's depth-of-

field charges each page to hold its own,

"to have things whole".  "to see / dark

the / invisible".  Perception all right,

but not sun-drenched barns: "fishmongers",

"pigment", "air".  If there's

narrative, it's narrative unhinged

of causal nexus, logical spools.  Each

line rivets its moment & moves on, like

angels on the head of a quill pin, nor
looks ahead nor back, but "bangs" indissoluble

at precise splice ("each fief") that

bodies the moment from one to next.  "to

negotiate the ocean drop by drop

if there were time".  In adjacency

is act-uality: "you thought it was

as it is".  Nuggets of sound carving

space.  "Motion" "motor" "process"

"winds" "bells" "floating" "echoing"

"coursing" "falling" "roaming" "wading"

"spilling" "flying" "dazzling" "burning"

"unflagging" "blows" "stirs" "curves"

"spirals" "stagger" "dives" "slips"

"slicks" "shakes" "hums" "simmers"

"twist" "float" "flap" "dangle" "glitter"

"subside": "imagine the extent" (a

geometry of ties that blind in music,

"the great sea orchestrated with men"--

"what's unseen" "what sound for our

ears").  What is "displaced" at each

juncture is the plenitude of eyes seeing

beyond sight, the replenishment of

occlusion's hold, storehouse of an

interior horizon s(t)olid as emplacement.

"What you / see you / settle / on"--

settlement, homestead in the moment's

whole, "such words that hold" nor need

an other embrace.  "your eyes open" "we

see something to say or / listen to".

Imagine the extent.


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