Lyn Hejinian

Winner of the 2005 Shelley Memorial Award

A pause, a rose,
something on paper






A moment yellow, just as four years   later, when my father returned home from the war, the moment of greeting him, as he stood at the bottom of the stairs, younger, thinner than when he had left, was purple—though moments are no longer so colored. Somewhere, in the background, rooms share a pattern of small roses. Pretty is as pretty does. In certain families, the meaning of necessity is at one with the sentiment of pre-necessity. The better things were gathered in pen. The windows were narrowed by white gauze curtains which were never loosened. Here I refer to irrelevance, that rigidity which never intrudes. Hence, repetitions, free from all ambition. The shadow of the redwood trees, she said, was oppressive. The plush must be worn away. On her walks she stepped into people's gardens to pinch off cuttings from their geraniums and succulents. An occasional sunset is reflected on the windows. A little puddle is overcast. If only you could touch, or, even, catch those gray great creature. I was afraid of my uncle with the wart on his nose, or of his jokes at our expense which were beyond me, and I was shy of my aunt's deafness who was his sister-in-law and who had years earlier fallen into the habit of nodding, agreeably. Wool station. See lightning, wait for thunder. Quite mistakenly, as it happened. Long time lines trail behind every idea, object, person, pet, vehicle, and event. The afternoon happens, crowded and therefore endless. Thicker, she agreed. It was a tic, she had the habit, and now she bobbed like my toy plastic bird on the edge of its glass, dipping into and recoiling from the water. But a word is a bottomless pit. It became magically pregnant and one day split open, giving birth to a stone egg, about as big as a football. In May when the lizards emerge from the stones, the stones turn gray, from green. When daylight moves, we delight in distance. The waves rolled over our stomachs, like spring rain over an orchard slope. Rubber bumpers on rubber cars. The resistance on sleeping to being asleep. In every country is a word which attempts the sound of cats, to match an insoluble portrait in the clouds to a din in the air. But the constant noise is not an omen of music to come. "Everything is a question of sleep," says Cocteau, but he forgets the shark, which does not. Anxiety is vigilant. Perhaps initially, even before one can talk, restlessness is already conventional, establishing the incoherent border which will later separate events from experience. Find a drawer that's not filled up. That we sleep plunges our work into the dark. The ball was lost in a bank of myrtle. I was in a room with the particulars of which a later nostalgia might be formed, an indulged childhood. They are sitting in wicker chairs, the legs of which have sunk unevenly into the ground, so that each is sitting slightly tilted and their postures make adjustment for that. The cows warm their own barn. I look at them fast and it gives the illusion that they're moving. An "oral history" on paper. That morning this morning. I say it about the psyche because it is not optional. The overtones are a denser shadow in the room characterized by its habitual readiness, a form of charged waiting, a perpetual attendance, of which I was thinking when I began the paragraph, "So much of childhood is spent in a manner of waiting."


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An excerpt from My Life, by Lyn Hejinian. All Rights Reserved.  Reprinted with permission of the author.




Rae Armantrout and Robert Polito on Lyn Hejinian

Lyn Hejinian's poetry combines philosophical depth, formal inventiveness and, increasingly, an almost picaresque sense of life's surprising trajectory. Although Hejinian was one of the founding members and seminal theorists of the Language Poetry movement, her work has followed its own unique logic over the course of her twenty-two books.

Her influential book-length prose poem, My Life, transformed our conception of what is possible in the prose poem and in autobiography. It is written in loosely chronological, non-narrative chapters, one for each year of her life at the time of its composition. Hejinian's sentences here (and elsewhere), taken singly, are complex and elegant— reminiscent of 19th century fiction. They are self-contained, yet provisionally related, as adjacent neurons are, across a sparking gap. In their various conjunctions they recreate the ambience of a California girlhood at mid-century or raise questions about the veracity of memory and the ethics of representation.

Since My Life, Lyn Hejinian has continued to produce large-scale, subtly structured, inclusive poems. When we say her work is "inclusive," we mean that there is no type of experience, image, event or emotional tone that couldn't enter into it. Her writing deliberately and courageously welcomes the stranger in the form of whatever may next appear to the eye or the mind's eye. As she writes in Happily, "Along comes something— launched in context". And what might "something" be? Did you think you could guess?

There's a pink pop, a critical pick,
a joke, a skinned dog
And a little dead man on the floor
Is something funny
Did I/you vote for a gnome and get goat's legs?
     (A Border Comedy)

As Hejinian tells us in "Some Notes Toward a Poetics Statement," "At points of linkage, the possibility of a figure of contradiction arises: a figure we might call by a Greek name: xenos." She goes on to say, "I espouse a poetics of affirmation. I also espouse a poetics of uncertainty, of doubt, and strangeness." This is what we need now—an ability, of the sort Lyn Hejinian possesses—to transcend binaries, to think complexly, to make room for the strange and the stranger.

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