for Robert Grenier
Larry Eigner’s writing presents an acute attention
to and with
movement. It is a notation of events and things in passing—and in that
passing, opening out—
and the red sunset
by the window
("the music/in air", Another Time in Fragments)
An indication of this is in the movement of
the lines on the page—Eigner’s poems may begin at the left hand margin—but
they are only there momentarily. With each succeeding line—the movement
is varyingly across the space of the page—the vertical movement presenting
a sequence in time—and the horizontal, a movement in space.
the ways beyond it
and clouds in the clear sky
the neon sign
bright day now
the bird in the tree
While combining elements of Pound, Williams and Olson’s work, Eigner does not make use of their juxtapositions, their collage techniques—perhaps the most significant method made use of by all three writers. Eigner makes use of spaces instead of masses and lines. "For the sake of immediacy and force, I got to be elliptical" (areas lights heights 15).
In Pound, Williams and Olson, the space of the page is used increasingly as an all-over visual arrangement of signs—what poet and :that: editor Stephen Dignazio calls a "signic event"—from among whose elements there will emerge a picture writing: for Pound, the Ideogram, for Williams a Modernist painting, for Olson a hieroglyph. The juxtapositions function the way a classical Eisensteinian montage does in a film: they move towards an accumulative synthesis of elements, a
In Eigner’s work—the fragments do not fit into a an over all pattern—they move outward—indicating neither an origin nor an ending. Another Time in Fragments—perhaps in some way, given Eigner’s altruistic bent—presenting an analogy with Walter Benjamin’s Utopian "chips of Messianic time".
This fragmentation, while not attempting "A Special View of History" (Olson) nor a reexamining and rearranging of it as with Pound and Williams, does bear witness to the events of history. Eigner was a
continual reader of histories and a close follower, via radio and television, of world events. In the particulars of these events, he indicates an ongoing wave rather than an overall pattern. Among the
historical concerns in Eigner’s work are the ongoing presence of hunger, over population, global warming, environmental destruction and civil war, both abroad (in the former Yugoslavia) and in the USA.
to be denied
lines there down the map
(opening lines of a poem from air/ the trees)
of saying it
the big problem is
consumption and conservation and population
population consumption conservation
conservation population consumption
conservation consumption . . .
marrow of the
one vast central hospital
with fighting on the flanges in
how much of
buried in the grave
in eternal darkness
(Larry Eigner Remembered 45).
Things Stirring Together
or Far Away
There’s another movement as well in Eigner—one
across space through the time of his living: the movement in the
late 1970’s from the East Coast to the West.
(The work written on the West Coast, where Eigner lived with and participated in a community of other writers close to hand, as well as carrying on a steady correspondence with others faraway, is more engaged with a sense of particular people —noted in essays and the dedications of poems—and social events. A documentation of this may be noted in the work as well as in Larry Eigner Letters, written to the French poets Joseph Guglielmi and Claude Royet-Journoud. With time, there’s sure to be a more comprehensive account and analysis of the move and its effects than possible here.)
In a sense, this is a continual movement among Easts—from the Eastern seaboard towns of Massachusetts, with their heritage of Eastern goods and culture brought in by ships of the China and whaling trades—to the Western seaboard, the San Francisco area and its tradition of mercantile and cultural exchange with the East.
While living on both coasts, Eigner did many versions of Japanese poems:
(late 18th century)
the moon runs
Something "of the East" may be noted in Eigner’s
presentation of particulars. Rather than naming a specific tree or
bird or hill—as might be demanded by both the English Romantic and Emersonian
traditions—Eigner’s trees, birds, hills are, as in Chinese Shih poetry and the Japanese poems Eigner worked with,— general:
("Heat", A Line That May Be Cut)
In and with this sense of place—Eigner may
be thought of as a New England writer along with Hawthorne and Dickinson,
Creeley, Olson and Corman. (With Olson among the poets being
for the most part the one marked exception to the use of New England reticence
in writing. It’s worth noting as well that Pound’s Eastern "connection",
Fenollosa—was a New Englander and that Cid Corman has been in Japan for
over thirty years.).
In "Rambling (In) Life another fragment another piece" Eigner notes:
Elsewhere Eigner points out his mother’s appreciation
for the New England respect for learning:
Describing Salem, Hawthorne wrote in his American
Notebooks: "...its long and lazy street, lounging wearisomely through
the whole extent of the peninsula, with Gallows Hill and New Guinea at
one end, and a view of the almshouse at the other..."
In "A View" Eigner opens with this: "At one end of the bridge is a state prison, at the other the naval hospital. A mile or so away, there for one to think about, on a hill, is an Old Soldier’s home."
From the Sustaining Air (Eigner’s first book, published by Robert
and Ann Creeley’s Divers Press) has this poem, presenting "Parts of Salem":
Girls and mothers of one hour
in passing in tender hair
and men counting silently
The poem seems closer to Williams than Eigner’s
later work—the details are more prosaically connected and descriptive than
metonymic—though there is the acute attention to and with
movement—and, in movement—the sense of fragmentation—the particles in ongoing wave . . .
In interviews and statements Eigner frequently noted his mother’s emphasis on clarity—and his own on "immediacy and force". "Writing first and foremost was to be understood, had to be clear, while then I figured immediacy and force take priority, too bad you can’t be both or all three too often, not long before I read Olson’s “Projective Verse” essay in the 1950 mag Poetry New York." (areas lights heights 135, Larry Eigner Remembered 27).
The last poem in Eigner’s first book, "From the Sustaining Air", indicating a tension between clarity and "incompetence", "understood" speech and writing:
There is the clarity of a shore
And shadow, mostly, brilliance
the billows of August
When, wandering, I look from page
I say nothing
I am, finally, an incompetent, after all
. . . most things were always tantalizingly beyond reach sight
and hearing, out of reach, I’ve had quite an impression of
this anyway, and often enough of barely managing to reach/grasp
things when I have . . . in order to relax at all I had to keep my
attention away from myself, had to seek a home, coziness in the
world . . . (areas lights heights 26).
The shifting of frames as a movement of the
attention among details, fragments, "makes actual the gift of the possible"
in Robert Grenier’s words—opens to "the accuracy of the moment", serendipity.
Clarity and work ethic for a moment aside, to the background ("and now I think of a return to amateurism"—a l h 26):
The jazz musician Don Cherry often noted that
only a superbly disciplined musician could play Free Jazz. A serendipity
of Eigner’s work is that, beginning with an "incompetence" and insatiable
applied to the New England work ethic instilled in him by his mother—the writing makes use of what it is given; "Incompetence" is worked with and makes the "accuracy of the moment". A "Method from Happenstance" . . .
Eigner’s sense of discipline in relation to extension, serendipity is present in a comment contrasting the work of Emily Dickinson and Gerard Manley Hopkins:
(It’d be interesting to know what Eigner, sharing
Williams, Olson’s and Creeley’s interest in the use of the typewriter—would
make of Grenier’s “scrawl poems”, his recent four color handwritten rhymms
and the 45 page “Poem for Larry Eigner” at Karl Young’s Light and Dust web site http://www.thing.net/~grist/homekarl.htm Larry Eigner’s air/the trees, long out of print, is also at this site.)
The disciplined ellipses and fragments of Eigner’s "barely managing to reach/grasp things" make for a playful thinking "of a return to amateurism". The reached and grasped for, the work ethic—and the
serendipity in writing: "A poem extends itself like you’re walking down
the street. And you extend the walk sometimes, unexpectedly" (Larry
Eigner Remembered 33):
winds in all quarters
(Larry Eigner Letters 6)
Open any book of Larry Eigner’s—and there’s
the world—attentively presented in the movement of writing in conjunction
with the movements in the world, “things stirring together or far away”.
a glimpse is space
a time is a long
thing to see
Larry Eigner’s work—inimitable—is exemplary—a
presentation of conjunctions among discipline and serendipity, words and
things as events extending, opening in a stretch and Williams’ "No
ideas but in things" and "Only the imagination is real".
a different page
(from poem in Windows/Walls/Yard/Ways 82-83)
"In this way a poem will extend itself, naturally,
quietly, and be like taking a walk, light, in the earth".
1. Eigner was much interested in numbers, from baseball statistics to calculus. See for example "Some Figuring Work" in areas lights heights 18-22 and the collection A Count of Some Things published by Crag Hill’s Score Publications (1015 NW Clifford Street Pullman, WA. 99163). In a letter Crag Hill notes conversations with Eigner frequently turning to mathematics.
2. Eigner’s concern with waste was both on the global and the daily, at-home scale. Robert Grenier in conversation notes Eigner’s need to make sure all the lights were turned off in the house at night. And in a letter to Claude Royet-Journoud dated "Samedi le deuxieme septembre 1978", Eigner writes: "Well, a party going on here constantly enough,; and the wastefulness and programs to little purpose also, is a depressing thing, ah! Like a couple of people here are convinced that the more you turn the tv off the faster the picture tube wears out, so they leave it on for an hour or more while they go eat supper in the kitchen". (Larry Eigner Letters 19).
A Count of Some Things Edited by Crag Hill. (Pullman, WA: Score, 1992)
air/the trees (Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow, 1968; Light and Dust Books http://www.thing.net/~grist/homekarl.htm 1997)
Another Time in Fragments (poem cited here from Selected Poems Edited by Samuel Charters. Berkeley: Oyez, 1972)
areas lights heights writings 1954-1989 Edited and Introduced by Benjamin Friedlander (NY: Roof, 1989)
Country/Harbor/Quiet/Act/Around Selected Prose Edited by Barrett Watten. Introduction by Douglas Woolf. (This, 1978)
From the Sustaining Air (1953; repr. Oakland: The Coincidence Press, 1988)
Larry Eigner Letters Edited by Robert Kocik and Joseph Simas (Paris: Moving Letters, 1987)
Larry Eigner Remembered Editor Shelly Andrews. (Detroit: Gale, 1996)
Things Stirring Together or Far Away (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow, 1974)
Windows/Walls/Yard/Ways Edited and with Introduction and Note
on the Text by Robert Grenier. (Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow,
—David Baptiste Chirot