This February Larry Eigner died in Berkeley. He was 68 years old.

    A lifelong student of "the drunk stagger of human affairs," he has  been our grandest poet of human ecology for over 40 years, a writer  who confounds the frail distinction between man-made and natural  with charm and imagination. Animal, vegetable, and mineral all excited his mind. His "nature" included both bird and wire, dinosaurs  and distant stars. For Eigner, poverty disturbs our ecology no less than toxic waste. Ten years ago, responding to a questionnaire, he wrote:

       What kps me interested (overload or not)? Ears
    and eyes, I guess. Being alive. . . .
       If life on other planets were feasible and known
    enough!! Wow!

    Eigner's work has been important for several generations of writers, beginning with the Black Mountain Poets of the 1950s. His first book, From the Sustaining Air, was brought out in 1953 by Robert Creeley, eliciting a quick cheer from William Carlos Williams. A large collection followed from Jonathan Williams in 1960, On My Eyes, prefaced with a note by Denise Levertov. Also in 1960 The New American Poetry appeared, with Eigner grouped in the opening section, alongside Olson, Duncan, Creeley, Blackburn, and Levertov. In the years since, Eigner has published more than 50 books, and
appeared in more than 150 magazines.

    The gestural clarity of Eigner's poems—their verbal modesty and  perceptual acuity, their signature shape and utilitarian use of typewriter and page—are utterly without precedent. Superficially they resemble the staggered stanzas of Williams and Marianne Moore, the acrobatics of cummings, the random spill of Mallarme.  But Eigner's achievement is less a matter of formal innovation than an attitude about life. Eigner took Modernism's hard-won freedom from mechanical reiteration of shape and sound to a necessary conclusion in the freedom to follow his mind wherever it might go,  however near or far. Poetry hasn't looked or felt the same since.

    Eigner was born with cerebral palsy, a condition induced by medical  incompetence. "The doctor, mother says, apologized for not measuring her right. If he had, she's said, I would have been delivered in the Caesarian way. The doctor told my folks they could sue him for  malpractice, but considering the thing an accident or something they  didn't, anyhow they let it go." Crysosurgery at age 35 freed him from the uncontrollable wildness of his left side. Before then, notes Eigner, "in order to relax at all I had to keep my attention partly away from  myself, had to seek a home, coziness in the world." Writing became
the focus of this outwardly turning attention:

             m e m o r y
          the sky more open
               and clouds passing
                because of the dead
                 tree there was
                    in close to the eaves
                   and the hours they took
                    to cut it down

    In 1986, Ron Silliman dedicated to Eigner In the American Tree, an  anthology of Language Writing. Eigner's response is characteristic:

    Hm, maybe this "language" poetry is centered on
    thinking--the descendant or else the parent of
    speech?--rather than speech itself. Putting it up
    my alley. Thinking that gets man from one thing
    to the next. And realization, recognition or real
    awareness of things, may not be a different
    kettle of fish, much.

    I'm not sure how many poems Eigner wrote. My guess is near 2500—best represented in four big Black Sparrow Press books, Things Stirring Together or Far Away (1974), The World and Its Streets, Places (1977), Waters Places a Time (1983), and Windows Walls Yards Ways (1994). The last two were edited by Larry's longtime friend Robert Grenier. A book of fiction was brought out in 1978 from This Press, Country Harbor Quiet Act Around. In 1989,  Roof Books published a collection of Eigner's criticism, Areas Lights Heights. A new book of poems is due momently from Sun & Moon.

                —Ben Friedlander

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