Michael Kelleher, Daniel Bergmann, and Ron Silliman joined Al Filreis for a discussion of three poems by Larry Eigner. The first, “Again dawn,” was written in November 1959; the second, “A temporary language,” was composed on September 1 and 2 in 1970; and the third, “Unyielding / rock,” was written on May 31, 1971.
A few days ago, the Poetry Magazine Twitter (@poetrymagazine) tweeted a rather simple link to an excerpt from their February 1964 issue, featuring six poems by Larry Eigner. Tweeting links to poems in old issues is fairly standard practice for @poetrymagazine, but the Eigner feature made me think back to some of the truly great video features on PennSound: The Larry Eigner “Sacred Materials” recordings, and The Cloud House Poetry Archives, which was generous enough to make these recordings of Eigner available.
On July 1 and again on July 11 in 1974, Michael Koehler recorded Larry Eigner reading twenty-seven of his poems in Swampscott, Massachusetts. The recordings were later released by S Press, as tape number 37 in their series, under the title Larry Eigner: around new / sound daily / means: Selected Poems. A number of university libraries — and of course individuals — own copies of the recording; but it is fairly rare at this point. Among the libraries with a copy is the special collections archive at the University of Connecticut, where the tape was apparently part of the materials Cid Corman gave them to form the Corman Papers there. I located the Eigner recording in the Corman finding aid, asked the UConn librarians to copy it for us at PennSound. (Many thanks for Melissa Watterworth Batt, curator of Literary, Natural History and Rare Books Collections there.) Soon after, with permission from Richard Eigner, Larry's brother and the executor of the poet’s literary estate, we digitized, uploaded and then segmented the recording into individual poems. They are now available for both streaming and downloading at PennSound’s Eigner page.
I’m back, with apologies for the long absence. The bad news is that I had to take a month break from these Commentaries due to a minor but temporarily disabling health issue, that pretty much knocked me out of commission, for anything but the day job. The good news is that I’m healed, my “tenure”here has been extended, and I'll be posting these Commentaries through November.
Last fall, on my trip across the country (mostly by rail) to visit the park spaces designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, I worked in a visit to one of the poets most readily associated with American space (though not urban space), Gary Snyder, at his residence high above the Yuba River, Kitkitdizze. I have yet to document that conversation (we spoke, amongst other things, of Gary’s experience bivouacking in Central Park in the late ’forties, while awaiting his seaman’s papers), which will happen, when I get around to it, on the Olmsted blog. After I left Gary, I stopped just on the other side of the Yuba River, to check out something called the Independence Trail. It turns out that the trail — occupying the site of old, abandoned hydraulic miner’s ditch — was built in answer to a request to, “Please find me a level wilderness trail where I can reach out and touch the wildflowers from my wheel chair.” It is a mostly level trail, shaded by oak and pine, that contours the slope of the undeniably wild Yuba River valley, with views to the river below. At the time, I did not know that this trail, the “First Wheelchair Accessible Wilderness Trail in America,” had been created by one John Olmsted, a distant relative of Frederick Law. J. Olmsted worked to save hundreds of acres in what is now the South Yuba River State Park, as well as what is now Jug Handle State Nature Reserve on the Pacific Coast in Mendocino County, Goat Mountain in the Coastal Range, and the Yuba Powerhouse Ranch. He wanted to create a “Cross California Ecological Trail.” Walking his Independence Trail helped me realize, yet again, how limited my conception of wilderness can be.
Eigner’s On My Eyes, which was published in 1960, was “edited” as nearly all Larry’s books were during his lifetime: by other hands. Apparently it was thought — and I’m not clear about exactly why this was deemed to be necessary — that Larry was unable to do it himself, and needed this “help” to do it.
I really wish that I could do what Judith Goldman was able to do.  I’ve always wanted to give a presentation in which I stop talking and moving my lips but my voice continues on. But whenever I do that, I just get silence … I got very nervous when Chris Funkhouser actually does the full fifteen seconds of silence in Mac Low’s poems. I would have said three or four seconds made the point. It was excruciating, fifteen seconds. We each have only five minutes and you use up that much time?!
This morning I went for a run just long enough to enable me to listen to Robert Grenier's introduction (written June 2009) to the collected poems of Larry Eigner. In his essay Grenier does a more or less close reading of five poems. One of them is this:
And here's Grenier's fabulous comment: "This is a real ‘moment’ (evoking the appearance and vanishment of all such into and out of existence, and time)—but ‘for the time-being’, accomplishing itself inside an interwoven ‘narrative-of-this-poem’—a very closely observed and ‘animated-in-the-poem’ skateboarder skateboarding down the middle of McGee Avenue in Berkeley—see how the trochaic accent emphases (“footwork”/“skateboard”/“middle”) get balanced by that iamb “between”, so as to evoke (for the reader) actual experience of two feet balancing on the board of that skateboarder (an interesting new word for LE)—and how would Larry Eigner know that, given his circumstance?—going down the middle of the poem (as if it actually were the “middle of the street”)—all this in lines which (seem to) ‘look like a skateboard’ (now that I think about it!) moving forward steadily (one space at a time) rightward from the left margin."