Lyn, life

Life keeps hurtling forward, bursting forth. It’s spring in California, the jasmine’s come in and the streaky roses. It’s been raining hard all morning; just now it stopped abruptly. Lyn writes in My Life, “she observed that detail minutely, as if it were botanical. As if words could unite an ardent intellect with the external material world.” This is Lyn, vitally observing, drawing it all into relation, the mind and the world, botanical, passionate. Making words hold life, making words as life. “Such that art is inseparable from the search for reality,” she writes. I think of life when I think of Lyn.

Before I knew Lyn, I knew her Life, inhabited those mysterious, funny, declarative, lucid sentences, was bewildered, returned to them. I was, then, a young person, wanting to understand what a life in poetry might be. In my old battered copy, this sentence I starred: “As persons think so are they thoughts being things.” What did this sentence tell me then? Why did I need it? As if in reply, Lyn writes: “It is impossible to return to the state of mind in which these sentences originated.”

My Life: what you learn and forget and remember anew. Aphorisms, events, situations. “A name trimmed with colored ribbons.” What I learned from her words — I keep learning this — was a way of thinking in/as poetry, a way of observing thought in motion: relational, alive to interruption, attuned to contingency and contradiction as well as dependency, connection. Metonymy and parataxis, her signatures.

It was a different vividness still to know her, to be her student, to observe her as she observed. She was fierce and discerning and hilarious. She was formidable. I was shy in her presence; felt backward and poorly prepared; it didn’t matter. She swept us in and along, in the intimacies of conversation and the generative, collaborative, challenging space of the writing workshop. The task was simply to bring one’s whole intelligence to observing language and experience: to pay acute attention to whatever arises. Writing as an activity, an action in language, attuned to the workings of change and chance. In Happily, Lyn writes, “Perhaps it is the role of art to provide us with this chance that is / Perhaps it is the role of art to put us in complicity with things as they happen.”

It’s spring, and as I write this there’s a wave of protests and encampments in universities across the country, students protesting the genocide in Gaza. I think of Lyn’s fierce solidarity and support for the student movement at UC protesting student debt and tuition hikes in 2009-2010. How she helped to found the Solidarity Alliance and undertook the hard, meaningful work of organizing students, faculty, and staff to fight against the corporatizing and privatizing of the UC. How her writing and her life were dedicated, in so many ways, to the principle she writes of in My Life: “Make it go with a single word. We.”

Lyn gave us all the weathers of her thinking. What an immeasurable gift, to be in her company, in person and in words. She writes in My Life: “She didn’t want to go on by. But to stay. Red weather, blue weather, yellow weather, green weather.”