Unpublished Letter to Ina Forster
  [Ina Forster was a student of Russian and English literature from Rostock who studied for a while at Brown University, where she became introduced (through Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop) to Larry Eigner's 1979 Burning Deck book Lined up Bulk Senses. In 1987 she wrote Larry a short letter requesting "some material" about his life, and asking about his methods of composition and revision, his "favorite topics," and who he wrote for. The following response took up six pages of densely packed type. To give some flavor of the text in a form suitable for Passages, I've treated each page of the letter as a separate text, placing L.E.'s marginal notes underneath. Larry had the habit of using two dots as ellipses (to abbreviate single words), as a way of saving energy while typing. And long before E-Mail made similar shorthands necessary, he devised the formula of only underlining the first and last letters of a title. He also had the habit of wedging corrections and addenda by typewriter into or (more often) near the appropriate place in the line, creating a surprisingly lively visual field. In his preface to the collection of essays he and I put together for Roof Books, Larry quoted Edmund Waller's verses on the English language, "Poets that lasting Marble seek / Must carve in Latin or in Greek / We write in Sand." Larry's sand—his page—was always in motion, shifting as if under a subtle but refreshing sea-breeze. Nonetheless, in preparing letters and other prose for publication (the poems are a somewhat different matter), he generally favored regularizion as an aid to legibility, as much as possible without robbing the text of its charm. His goal was always to strike the right balance—Larry's poetics in a nutshell, and politics too. (His deeply felt response to the ecology movement is a rarely noted key to the work.) "Much more than enough boggles, drowns the mind and empties it"--"How much is enough or too much?"—"How and/or how much things (can be got to) go together (work) is some mystery."—"leavetaking of the ponderous": These are teachings of Larry's that have stood me well the past ten years or so, in dealing with Larry's work and my own. Aside from the helter-skelter opening, what follows aims more for legibility than verisimilitude, I hope without sacrificing "immediacy and force." In typing the marginal notations, however, I've kept Larry's abbreviated spellings more or less intact. Unfortunately, the "representative" poems sent along with this letter weren't copied.—B.F.]
2338 McGee Avenue  Berkeley  CA  USA
                               is letter for a reason I
                        es in th   Wdnsday Feb 11  87
                       ag          m i t t e l t a g--yah
PS. I've marked out pass       spk of
                            at its
D..r Ina F..
              Last nght in San Francisco a friend took me
to see Rosmarie W.. give a talk abt Claude Royet-Journoud
and Anne-Marie Albiach in Paris--these 3 and a lot of
others have sent me bks and mag..s for abt 25-30 yrs and
many (R..-Journoud for one) have kept me busy by writing
me letters . . . (I went to a reading the Waldrops gave in
San Francisco in 1978 too.) Thursday, 6 days ago, a note
from Ros.. came with your January 19th letter (Brief)
enclosed. I can't tell how much of a chance there is this
will reach you in time to help with your thesis. I've got
pretty lazy by now (this August I'll be 60) and addicted
to diversions. X yrs ago I was typing enough, frequently
or fast enough with 1 finger to be able to write in the
semi-darkness, hardly glancing at the keys if at all. Now
I'm real slow and make quit a few mistakes (this is an
unusual day for me so far, I'm typing at a good clip,
speed, and looking at the keyboard). I have cerebral palsy
from a forceps injury at birth, I'm in a wheelchair for
instance while I can walk holding onto a railing or with
someone back of me. A few wks after my 35th birthday ("In
the middle of the journey of our life," as Dante begins
the Commedia), in September 1962, cryosurgery, a little
frostbite at the thalamus, freon gas, tamed my wild left
arm and leg (also numbed the left side of my body, but in
a few months the feeling came back to my face and ear). I
don't remember or know if my attention-span increased due
to that, but it might well have, for some while anyway,
till I more or less gave way to further distractions or
diversions: maybe I've bn abt as altruistic and/or
extroverted as before, though since the operation I
haven't needed to keep my attention away from myself so
much (in order to hold still, relax). If my physical
condition had thus been improved earlier, that might have
had more effect on my character. Because of abundance and
more than abundance, for one thing anyway, I hardly have
the idea of working any more, or work per se, but some
traces of it maybe remain. Abt 1970, 9-10 yrs after the
freon gas, my desire to write long pieces dimmed enough so
I got willing enough to end a poem at any point, any word,
I think that's how the poems got clearer, while before
they were Obscure much of the time. You can want something
or try to do something too much or too little, and the
question how much is enough there's never much of an
answer to, but enough at times, and anyway the question is
always there, is maybe useful, one way or another, if not,
anyhow, something in itself. I can't remember, either, not
thinking a poem a matter of luck or "serendipity" ("This
may be the last poem," I'd think, "I may not be able to do
another" . . . ). Except nowadays, often--things get
plentiful or routine or frequent and you expect more, you
don't think of "Lady Luck." And I don't, at that, come
across outstanding things in daily life so often, of
course, things I put down are likely dull or almost,
relatively dull (and I used to "hope against hope" as a
child, during exercises, physiotherapy, and other times,
I'm inclined to try and see if I can make use of
anything--besides taking comfort from toeholds, I took to
all kinds of mottoes, like "waste not, want not,"
seriously--also there's so much writing I try to consider
     [In margin:] This letter sms a little or a gd
     bit too long [crossed out: and maybe you'd
     better skip the first 2-1/2 pages]. Or, come to
     think of it, you may well be better at skimming
     through things than I.
     [In margin:] Since coming to Berkeley at the end
     of August '78 frm W. Massachusetts whre I lived
     on a short street in a small closed-in
     neighborhood I'm on a long street and sleep in a
     front corner rm with 6 wndows and I go out more,
     my life is more various and diffuse . . .
     [In margin:] A long childhood I've had, in a
quately, everything not wholly repetitious or derivative
seems within the human ear or eye's spectrum, all kinds of
high and low frequencies, high-powered things and
otherwise, wavelengths short and long, get to seem ok, and
you don't want to have too few pitches or colors or keys).
Well, there's both effort and luck, ah!
          Before I read of "energy construct" or
maintenance in Charles Olson's "Projective Verse" in the
early '50s, in Poetry New York (1950), I thought myself
that immediacy and force have to take precedence over
clarity in a poem (this in reaction to my mother, though I
tried or wd've liked to follow, agreed with her insistent
advice to be clear), and about the same time there was Wm
Carlos WIlliams! "A poem is a machine made of words" (he
was a medical doctor *ein Arzt?* but he said "machine,"
not "organism," hm). A piece of language that "works,"
functions. I "played by ear," felt my way along. I was
(and am rather) puzzled how theory is relevant. How to
apply it anyway. I'm a primitive (when writing do what I
can, when reading the likelihood I'm not getting much at
all of what's there seems large--if I'd gotten wheels and
cd thus explore more before age 10, fewer things beyond or
nearly beyond sight or hearing, my curiosity might have
been less, for example I might not have tried so to speak
to see through the walls of factories we walked or rode
past, although come to think of it there was some, hm,
yiddish spoken by my parents with theirs, and the italian
spoken by neighbors, the italian too fast for me to learn
any words, except "1, 2, 3," and loud and far away. I was
in a neighbor's house just 2 or 3 times). Until age 22
when I responded to maybe the first of Cid Corman's
programs "This Is Poetry," heard over a Boston
(Massachusetts) radio station (I lived abt 12 miles north
of Boston till I moved to Berkeley on Aug 31 '78, a couple
of miles from my brother) and he got me onto Dr Williams,
Pound and I think Stevens (and Hart Crane?), my idea of
poetry, picked up from public school (teachers came to my
house after I had 2-1/2 yrs at Mass. Hospital School south
of Boston, 5th-7th grades, then I took 7 correspondence
courses from the U.. of Chicago), was limited enough--I
thought rhyme or at least metre an essential, or a must,
as I was told, although at the same time I was curious
what there might really be to "free verse" (vers libre)--
there was some or after all more than a little of it in
the high school/college textbook which my brother, a
college freshman then, brought home during his first Xmas
vacation (yes, I did, sure), along with e.e. cummings'
Selected Poems. Around then (December '49), before he
returned to school, he happened on Corman's program and
called me over to listen. Up through the '50s and '60s I'd
keep on the lookout constantly for poems, trying to keep
what came to me in my head if out in the car till I got to
the typewriter, successfully, trying to extend what I got
(if incomplete) once I started writing (like in school
years, as I vaguely remember, I used to go around all day
memorizing or remembering the lessons--school or anything
was a vacation compared to physiotherapy, frustrating and
sometimes scary as it was). I recall the idea of the set
or assigned (like in school) poem, of writing about a
certain thing or subject, and at any moment (all times)
there's the attempt, difficult or easy or taking only a
millisecond, say, immediately done with; but if you can't
do it, sometime's there'll be something else, so the poem
does become a thought process or arc or course of thought
or trace or artifact of the same, maybe more than a
machine made of words.
                      T h u r s d a y
     But further than a course or stretch of thinking, or
more specifically, I seem to have got to the poem (piece
of language) as a full realization (well, not in a
majority of 2500 poems all told!) or recognition of things
come to (me)--in '71 or possibly '72, when I read in an
interview with Anselm Hollo his surmise that poetry is
finding things and putting em together (anyway as in
Provencal, the language of the Troubadors, "trobar" meant
"to make poems" as well as "to find": hm, he didn't say
"to find poems"). I thought at first, say in a flash of
hindsight, that what I'd been doing for some time was
finding things and evaluating, and quite a few months
later, maybe a year or over a year later, figured it
wasn't that so much, evaluation or weeding, assessing, as
it was just realizing things, because there's really no
hierarchy among them, no ranking, one thing is actually no
more important than another, or not for long. (The line-
break, /, or stanza-break, // (double-line-break, blank
line), can give emphasis, stress, where not obscured by
metre, regular, routine stress, it appears, while frequent
stress works at times, is appropriate.) Feeling your way
along, you can, it seems, discover the right value, so to
speak, momentary as it may be--nothing lasts forever, the
ephemeral is ok. It's never quite enough, though (anyway
there's always an amount of concern abt the future, your
own and x million others'), and like anything else the
present isn't to be exaggerated.
   At that, in a few lines of autobiography, done for the
anthology A Controversy of Poets, I wrote, "I'm
cautious, and come onto things by understatement. Wary of
exaggeration. Sotto voce has resulted in the suppression
of words. Don't like to begin with a big B, as if I was at
the Beginning of all speech, or anything: which may have
something to do with why I've had an aversion more or less
to going back to the left margin after beginning a poem,
but otherwise than in hindsight I just tried to do the
best I could, the simplest and most immediate thing being
punctuation, once words were forceful enough--a matter of
getting the distances between words, and usages of p..-
marks to conform as well as might be to what there was to
say, as spoken, then these typographical devices
themselves entering discovery and the initiation of
attention. As with any detail," if you don't take such a
device for granted, use it routinely or unnecessarily,
i.e., superfluously, redundantly--a capital letter
following a period for instance--it becomes available for
vital use in other situations. You could say the period
hasn't been abused, hasn't deteriorated, been worn out.
      Well, as to "beginning with a big B"--when I first
heard Corman I thought he didn't read poetry loudly and
boldly enough over the radio--I got the use of lower-case
letters and "sotto voce," also the non-routine use of
punctuation, from e.e. cummings (his using the"(" but
rarely if ever the ")" not closing a parenthesis seemed to
me "sotto voce"). And I guess when I mentioned
"suppression of words" I was forgetting that over the past
6-8(?) yrs I'd been eliminating connective words (more and
more in my head, automatically, less and less after
writing them down) to keep up the movement, the force
                                  F r e y t a g        -4-
(as Olson had it) energy. When I took out a word after I'd
written it, rather than moving the next words on that line
leftwards, I'd leave the space open, not filled, I didn't
close it up, anyway at the beginning of a line, then
soon(?) I was indenting, not returning to the left margin
wholly or much at all, directly, per se (and the less of a
margin the less set and rigid a poem appeared, the more
easily it seemed, seems, to come off the page into speech,
into the head: so too, I've generally chosen not to put a
word flush with the word above it, even a few lines above
it, while I haven't held to such fine preferences for
decades, and words aren't the food or drink they used to
be). Of course a period says "Stop" and a comma says both
"stop" and "go on," whereas a lacuna (gap, space) just
says "stop" (or, rather, maybe, "pause"). Until today I've
thought it fairly strange and peculiar that recognition of
things (and ideas) should come about (partly) by cadence,
emphasis, tone of voice, or be conveyed thus, to a
listener or reader--no, communication hasn't been
strange--but it's people after all (speaking aloud or
silently, i.e. thinking) who give things meaning, which,
maybe, sooner or later is (about) the same as
recognition(?). Accuracy of the moment? Once, anyway, I
felt a poem was incomplete, but was struck, couldn't go
on, till the next day I was able to and could finish it,
after I put the last few words I'd got on 1 or 2 lines
instead of 2 or 3, put less emphasis on them. Or the
things or the idea(s) behind the words. This would
indicate I had something of an obsession the day before,
was somewhat fanatic (not that they were extraordinary--
"flat sky / going down / to leaves // birds    river /
sound . . .")--somewhere I got stuck in this March '73
piece (oder Stuck, ja!). While 16 months earlier, I now
see again, in a preface to a mimeographed magazine I
soloed in (#8 of EARTH SHIP, Feb 1972, Southampton, UK), I
had, "If a thing is hard enough, no one can do it. I enjoy
doing things that are easy enough. If it gets to be work,
physically tiring, still it's enjoyable work." (Also on
that page I quoted Creeley's words in a '61 review, read
in '71: "The line is the means to focus, . . . says how we
are to weigh the various things we are told"; after
mentioning I found the idea of poetry as "deliberate,
purposeful speech," in the same review, soon after I
thought of "a general addressing his army," rather than
table talk. "And writing a poem has often enough been like
discovering things.") So, yes, by late '71 I was getting
to think of evaluation and discovery, in re what I'd been
doing, and not trying too hard--a poem can extend itself
pretty much unexpectedly, like a walk you're out on, or,
I've also thought, a coda in music, if you're not too
willful. And I'd experienced new turns or twists of
thought before I had the sense of intent, of weighing
things. So in a sense doing a poem is like writing a
letter. Robert Creeley put me up to my first booklet,
which he issued from Mallorca in '53--one of the 10 poems
occasioned by his writing me about Rainer Gerhart in
bombed-out Freiburg; when RG died not long after, Ch.
Olson mourned him in one of his powerful poems. Gregory
Corso published 2 of the poems I sent (I probably sent
more than 2) when he wrote asking for stuff for the
english/deutsch anth..y he and Walter Hollerer edited
(Junge or maybe Neue Amerikanischer Lyrik, Carl Hanser
Verlag, Munich, 1961). June/July '74 a Michael Kohler came
to my house while he was in Gloucester 10 or so miles
north working on a thesis (U.. of Munich)
     [In margin:] Saturday 26 or so pieces in ES #8;
     20 frm '71 4 or 5 frm '70, and in 12 frm '71 and
     2 frm '70 every line is a stnza, except for 2 or
     3 cplets.
     [In margin:] --translations by Hollerer
      Here it is T u e s d a y the 17th alrdy--oh ll.  -5-
on Charles Olson and in 2 days I think made an audio-tape
of me reading 27 poems for s press (in Dusseldorf, I'm
pretty sure my memory says right, his partner was there in
D..), which together with the 12-1/2-minute tape ("around
new / sound daily / means") in '75 issued a german/english
booklet of the pieces, since when I speak I'm not easy to
understand even at my best (when I give a reading, as I've
been asked to do about 15 times, copies of what I'm
reading are handed out to the audience or else projected
on a wall or a screen). My first sizable collection, On
My Eyes (88 or so poems), was published by Jonathan
Williams in 1960. He started his Jargon books in
Stuttgart, during his time in the U.S. Army. My book was
JARGON #36. Maybe he published Olson before he returned to
this country, to North Carolina. (Olson (1910-1970) was an
exuberant giant as you may have heard, man and writer--I
and my brother visited him once or twice (in '57 or 8 when
I showed him a poem, right away he pulled out his portable
typewriter and copied it!! Unknown to me somehow J..
Williams left him or sent him tss of mine to edit into a
book, or the tss of the book I'd mailed him in N.C., but
he didn't get around to doing it, I got it done a while
after he returned it to me, it must've been to my
surprise.) I've had nine books out and 23 booklets (one of
the books is all prose, sketches, 2 others having some
prose), besides 3 mag..s I've "soloed" in (one of the 3 a
one-act skit or play plus a few poems--I no longer have
it). I've no doubt been through 2 or 3 "periods" . . . The
thing is, it's hard for me to select, too much for me to
edit. But what I've got together to send you looks
"representative" enough (of what I've said above), though
a scattering, while I may not turn up 1 or 2 of the page-
long "free fantasias" of the '50s and early '60s--spare
copies. (I've at least 5 unpublished recent things on 2
sheets. A lot of what I've done, and most of what I've
written these 8 years in California, often seems rather
dull--the words fade out, for one thing anyway when
there's been so many--or a strong piece echoes something a
little stronger from years ago. Familiar sights are ok,
hm, but you don't like to repeat yourself but to do
something new or different each time. Or see things as if
new. It's like wanting to stay young, at that. Either that
or stop running around except if and when you feel like
it. Hm, I've tried not to repeat any word (so at times
this feels right and I've done it to good effect), for
instance in putting a booklet or book together (and a
title is part of a book). Well, what's kind of old to the
writer may be new enough to the reader, so you can't
     [In margin:] Ysterday I typed up a few thngs
     (enclosed), picked out others
     [In margin:] not "a press" as on the
     acknowledgment page of my 1977 bk The World and
     Its Streets, Places.
     [In margin:] I'm pretty sure JARGON SOCIETY
     BOOKS are at Brown U.. Library (the "Rockefeller
     Collection" there?)
      [In margin:] Ah well, maybe writing (and of
     course rding) does abt as much (or little) as
     anything else in this complicated--multiplex--
     world of ours.
     [In margin:] I wrote the lined up bulk senses
     sequence in Dcmber, of '63, I'm pretty sure (I
     recall its date being wrong--'65?--in a B.. Deck
     listing not whre it was !--and I cdn't locate
     the ts in my file today either. I got the title
     when the W..s asked for one or maybe hp i sent
     em the sqnce
                    T h u r s d a y    f r i d a y     -6-
much tell what and how much not to show other people.
        One or two of the enclosed typescripts (or
photostats or carbon copies of them) were done by Rbt
Grenier, a poet I live with here, a couple of miles away
from my brother's, since December 1 '79, my first fifteen
months in Berkeley I had a room elsewhere. (Bob first got
in touch with me in early '71, after writing me in
December '70, when he was living north of me on Cape Ann
where Gloucester is and teaching south of me in Tufts U..,
then in the Spring, as he proposed to do, helped me to put
a book together, my '77 book, and for instance in '79
edited and typed up my '83 book. He's a friend of Creeley,
whose Selected Poems from Scribner's he edited (somehow
unacknowledged), and of Anselm Hollo, who's from Helsinki
originally, has been in the U.S. 14 or 15 years at least,
after some time in England. Must've been in about '73 he
dropped by my place, before or after seeing Olson in
Gloucester, and in talking with him my mother said my
Eigner grandfather came from the Hungarian part of Austria
(-Hungary)--only time I've heard that. Grandma Eigner came
from Galicia. Hollo the Hungarian for "crow"--the noun, as
I took it, the bird--his family came to Finland from
Hungary at some point. As for my mother, she was brought
here from Lithuania, near Bialostok, when she was 1 year
old or so. Creeley and Hollo have both of them stayed here
for a while . . .
    Bob Grenier, some time before I met him in '71, did
some translations of Georg Trakl, maybe I once knew just
about how many or few. Kind of wistful or sad?, "dark
flutes in autumn . . . ," something like that, a quote at
the top of a story of Creeley's, I pretty well remember;
and in'74 somebody passed on to me a booklet of Trakl, in
another's English.)
       I always mean to write short letters, of course, do
thngs quickly. Huh! Well, these ten or 15 yrs I haven't
kept up with anyone (or anything) for long. Anyway, I
seldom take the time to take a look at the clock!
     Good luck
                         Larry Eigner
Don't puzzle over my handwriting on these pages--notes abt
books, booklets, magazines.
     I'm not bothering to make a record of what I'm
sending you. I've scribbled poems in notebooks at times,
when away at my brother's for instance (and once on a
loose sheet did what turned out to be a 2-page poem (in ts
or 1960 or developed into it, on the sidewalk in front of
my house). Records better typed, though, on loose sheets.
I have a folder to keep them and other things in, propped
open in a pulled-out drawer, but I've misplaced 3 or 4,
they seem to have disappeared into thin air. It may take
another week to mail this--ah well. I can't do it too fast
myself. Maybe a photostat of this letter can be taken with
no delay in mailing--a book of my letters is being
assembled and this mght be a good outline, maybe a bit of
     [In margin, cont. from margin of previous page:]
     (it wasn't a collection). Oh yes, they asked to
     see something to pblish. This was one of the
     times I was able to imagine some thngs:
     "grandfather . . . You . . . were playing / a
     game . . ." There was feeling, while now non-
     sequitors are more so, less forceful than
     puzzling, or more often that. Such turns of
     thought as "midnight / doesn't make itself" new
     realizations come onto suddenly enough in the
     midst of writing, occurred rather often in the
     '60s and '60s. (Evaluation for 1 thng is
     thinking, I've thought.)
     [In margin:] A few of the thngs here haven't bn
     published, maybe not shown to any editor. Some

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