Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Next Big Thing: On (a) lullaby without any music





What is the working title of the book?

It is the same as it is now, but the parenthesis and absence of capitol letters arrived later.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The [Husband] poems where directly influenced by a sonnet that Lisa Jarnot wrote for her husband Thomas Evans (published in Night Scenes). The idea for the Field Guides came from experiencing the natural environment in Hood River, Oregon, and my dilettantish interest in the form of a 'field guide.' The final section came from the day I smoked marajuana with my 78 year old grandmother and a visit to the children's museum in San Francisco that had an archival room full of bones and dead things.

What genre does your book fall under? 

Poetry

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

My life is a Noah Baumbach film, utterly. And so is this book. It's Margot at the Wedding, with slightly less drama. Slightly.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Love and birds.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

 My entire life.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Lisa Jarnot, Andrea Baker, my husband Jim Stewart, my kid Jeffrey Stewart, my dad, my Aunt Cathy, my mother-in-law, my mother, my grandmother, my two pet (wild) Cardinals, Mount Adams, Maryrose Larkin, COAS bookstore in Los Cruces, Jim Campbell, a young Japanese boy I loved named Kenzo, Emma Bee Bernstein, Eric Bartlett Chappelle, Lewis and Clark, my car Susie and Powells bookstore.

I tagged:

Sheila Fiona Black, Maryrose Larkin, Andrea Baker, and Kate Greenstreet

Thursday, February 07, 2013

A Rubberband is an Unlikely Instrument

Stranger things have happened, but not really.

My neighbor, colleague and one of my dearest friends, Andrea Baker, is the subject of the documentary A Rubberband is an Unlikely Instrument. The documentary, made by Matt Boyd, is a quiet meditation of Andrea's marriage (now ended) to the talented musician Walter Baker.  This piece of cinema reflects the vision of a wonderful filmmaker, who studied with Jem Cohen.  The film has been recently discussed/reviewed in Filmmaker and Variety and The Village Voice. People who do not know cinema might review it as "tedious" but those who love Anges Varda and others, will adore it for it's beauty.

One crucial thing that the reviewerd are not mentioning is Andrea's work as a poet. Andrea and I met through poetry shortly before she was chosen by Claudia Rankine for the Poetry Society Chapbook Fellowship. She has essays pertaining to marriage Here and poetics Here. Her visual poetry appears in the Current Omni-Verse and her second collection will be published in 2013 by OmniDawn Press.

I hope those interested in the film take the time to look at Andrea's work. Like the film, like Andrea, her work is a great lyric.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Far From The Tree

I have been obsessively reading (and reading about) Andrew Solomon's new book Far From the Tree. I discovered the book last week when I read a review of it in the New Yorker that rubbed me the wrong way. Solomon's book focuses on parenting and the idea of horizontal parenting, meaning parenting a child with an identity different from yours. The 900 pages of the book include chapters about Deafness, severe disability, "dwarfism", Prodigies, Trangender children, and children who turn out to be criminals.

Although the book is about parenting, it bleeds into the disability rights movement, What is disappointing about the book is that it spreads the message of Simi Lipton, Lennard Davis, Jim Ferris, Rosemarie Garland, myself, Sheila Black and many others. However, it clearly takes someone sexier with more clout to get our message across which has been largely ignored for 30 years. This is not to say that I don't love the book and am very proud of Solomon. It's only to say that we deserve air-time too! All too often is the message of disability only attended to when the more or less abled or parents are doing the speaking...and this is frustrating.

Despite this, Solomon is caring and he truly seems to get it or get most of it. He follows through on the ideas the disability is a social construction, that typical exists (but not normal). He asks the reader to look at the children as their parents do - as valid human beings, no matter how severe their impairment. He has the ideas and language down pretty well.

He does mess up (just my luck) when discussing cerebral palsy. CP is included in the "very disabled" section and he just doesn't give enough of a description for the lay reader to understand what CP is and how it varies. He follows the life of Alix, a young women with CP, but he spends most of his time describing Alix's abled helpers rather than her. He describes Alix's physical state, but says nothing about her intellectual state. To me this is scary because people with CP are so often misjudged in their brilliance. For example, all kinds of misinformation about Larry Eigner has been written so that even I was surprised at his intellectual capabilities (i.e. how many people to you know who have read Stein, Wittenstein. Pound, and pretty much everything else.) By omitting discussion of Alix's intellectual life, Solomon is doing a disservice to all people with CP who remain under judged.

He also does the disservice of quoting transgender people but not people with disabilities. This IS a book about parenting, so not as to include children's voices would be a stylistic choice, but including the voice of one group and not another reads as ableism.

The parents in this book are to be lauded the most. In a perfect world, there would be no ableism (or at least people would know what that is!!! for crying outloud!) but these are peole who were clearly ableist and through raising a child with a disability, have expanded their view of humanity and understanding. They have been brave enough to keep their children and fight for them, and what we should do for ANY child -- accept them for who they are, not who we want. And the parents, many of whom were potential uber-parenting New York rich people, openly confess to thinking they wanted a designer baby and ended up with a child with Downs or Autism and had their lives, their attitudes changed completely. Solomon doesn't dwell on parents who rejected their children, but they have had a voice for too long. It's time to have people who are disabled or raise disabled children to have a voice.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

(a) lullaby without any music



I am so happy to announce the arrival of my new book
(a) lullaby without any music from Chax Press.
You can find it Here.

Sunday, November 04, 2012


True by Virtue
Tell me again about your mother’s
     romance with Russia?
The Crystal Palace in winter,
That blonde sculpture with
     which its inventor
Makes us familiar most of these days?

By  Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle - Happy Birthday!!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Eigner Reading List

I am writing to you from the Dodd Research Center in Storrs Conn. The archive is a magical place. The librarians are wonderful and the resources are plenty! I stood in front of Charles Olson's copy of Moby Dick, literally.

As I go deeper down the well, I realize how important Larry Eigner was in the world of poetry and letters. Yesterday, I went through letters from Zukofski, Olson, Creeley, Anne Charters, and of course, Cid Corman. I am beginning to regard Larry as truly an anchor -- a bridge between poetries -- most notably Black Mountain and Language Poetry.

I plan (as part of the project) to retrace Eigner's reading. From the letters, I've been able to retrace the book he either read or interacted with through Corman's radio show. Here is PARTIAL list for 1956


Faulkner short stories
R. Graves/ Hercules My Shipmate
Stein
Duncan (both ‘lost on me')
I just read through the whole Maximus
Port of Glouchester / James B. Connelly
Maximus (again!)
Moby Dick
Paul Metcalf / Will West
Michael McClure / Passages
Ginsberg
Patchen
Ferlengetti ( It’s no wonder F rejected in the early part of this year, a previous draft)
Moby Dick (again!!)
Call Me Ishmael/ Olson
Crane
DHL Am Lit.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Thursday, September 20, 2012

From Limits/ are what any of us / are inside: The Life and Work of Larry Eigner



From Chapter I -- Swampscott

Swampscott, Massachusetts is a working class New England town with a sea wall. Long known as a seafaring fishing village, it previously hosted a large commercial fleet in the early 1900s, which sailed daily from the bay. In the 1920s, one man in three was a fisherman. The rest were shoemakers, shoe cutters, yeomen, farmers, or merchants. The town currently has a tiny center with city offices in a building referred to as the Edison Mansion -- a marker of the area. The mansion, designed by James T Kelly, was once the home of Professor Eilhu Thompson who founded Thompson- Houston Electric Company in a merger with Thomas Edison. The city offices close at 1 pm. on Fridays. In the Swampscott Library, now mostly filled with computers and Russian literature, there is a detailed history of the town. Various important events include two incidents of whales washing up on the shore, and Joseph Eigner being awarded a school fellowship. These details point to the nature of the environment, an average working class small town.  Although the librarians are aware that a famous poet once lived in Swampscott, very few of his books reside in the collection.
*
The Eigner family is one that had been settled in the area for quite some time before Larry Eigner’s birth. His younger brother, Richard Eigner describes his paternal grandfather, Joseph, as a successful Lynn businessman.  Lynn, the neighboring town, was once part of the fishing village in which Larry Eigner grew up. Richard recalls:

He [Joseph] came as an immigrant without any resources at all…. the classic story.  He primarily became a shoe manufacturer and when that business failed, he started another one and sold it for a lot of money. He became connected with Yankee society in Lynn. He built a mansion where he and his wife, Cecilia, raised eight children: three girls and five boys, one of whom would become our father, Israel.

After selling the second shoe business, the elder Eigner went into banking, a common business venture at the time. After the crash of 1929, Joseph Eigner went bankrupt and the financial situation became dire.  However, he had been keeping real estate in his wife’s name so the property remained in the family. One of these houses would later become the place where Larry Eigner would spend most of his life.

In the crash, the elder not only had his large family to support but also in-laws and an extended family. The stress was too much for him and he died shortly after. However, Larry Eigner’s, Israel, father grew up in the environment of a large, successful family. Israel would go onto the attend Dartmouth before settling down with a girl from a neighboring town.

While Bessie Polansky had a less materially secure childhood, Larry Eigner’s mother was raised as a typical New Englander, spending her childhood in Salem, Massachusetts opposite the House of Seven Gables. Eigner wrote of his mother, whose parents immigrated from Lithuania,  “brought here from Chagall’s home town (Slonim) at age 1 by grndma Polansky- 30-odd yrs ago ma thght aloud a few times how her family and/or the town must be going up in Nazi smoke, let’s say.” Richard describes his mother as “bookish and the star pupil, according to her account, of Salem High School. She completely absorbed the Puritanical work ethic and the high validation of literary culture.” It was this combination that would become crucial in the raising of her sons. Her interest in Shakespeare, Longfellow and traditional poetry would be the launching point of her eldest son’s vocation.
*
Lawrence Joel Eigner was born on August 7, 1927 in Lynn. Eigner, who would be the oldest of three boys, described the event of his birth as:

A forceps injury..…. The doctor Richard Williams, Mother says, apologized for not measuring her right. If he had, she’s said, I would have been delivered in the Cesarean [stet.] way. The doctor told my folks they could sue him for malpractice, but considering the thing an accident or something they let it go…..Either my mother was too small or I was too big.

It is unclear whether the Eigner family knew immediately that their eldest had cerebral palsy. Upon her son’s birth, Bessie began recording the events in a baby book, which would later include details of his two brothers as well. In her impeccable handwriting she notes her first son’s development:
Sept. 26, 1927; baby began to follow voices…baby cooed today on his second month’s birthday, and during the week he started to try to raise himself in a sitting posture….

All these notes point to average occurances in the infant’s development. However, his physical difference would later be noted. On March 3, 1930, Bessie writes:

Larry talks not vey plainly but well enough to be understood. He seems to have a very good memory. He knows quite a number of nursery rhymes. At the end of last summer he began to sit without back support. Although there seems to be little improvement in his left side --it isn’t very marked. I find that excitement upsets him, must be very careful.

In biographical information about the poet, Richard writes:

Along with the identification of Larry's birth injury as cerebral palsy came the widely accepted claim that his disability impaired cognitive capacity, as if limitation on Larry's mental development would match limitations on his capacity to manage his body's physical movements…Bess would not accept this claim…..It was my mother’s campaign to have Larry educated as much as he was. At that time, it was thought that children like Larry could not be educated.

The family lived on Pine Street in Swampscott for two years after Eigner’s birth before moving to 23 Bates Road. Here, the poet would spend the first 50 years of his life rarely venturing out with the exception of three years of schooling at the Massachusetts Hospital School and summers at Camp Jened for the Handicapped in New York State. Richard describes that house at 23 Bates Road as a traditional New England two family residence. At first, the Eigners, lived on the second floor while renting out the first.

This arrangement must have been difficult for Bessie. As they lived upstairs, the young poet rarely went out and it was up to his mother to move him from room to room.  Soon, the family moved to the first floor and the glassed-porch would become the poet’s studio. It would be from this porch that Eigner would observe the nature and all the neighborhood coming and goings.

23 Bates Road is now part of an upper class neighborhood with well-kept houses, most of which have large additions. In the 1920s, though, Italian immigrants, with the exception of the Eigner family, inhabited the short street. Richard describes “the principal address” as:

A tract of land on which a house was built. Most of it [the street] was undeveloped. On the tracts that had been developed, all the
families except for one, came from the same part of Italy
 on the Adriatic Sea: a very impoverished town called Terre.
 They all had the same name, Matera and almost of them were general contractors.

Although the sea was within a few blocks, one would have to take a windy trail that would have been impossible to navigate with an old-fashioned wheelchair. Bates Road is crossed with Charlotte Street, named after an Eigner cousin, led to a dead end and forest. Richard notes:

You walked through a woodsy path and came to a beach. We did have a big bulky wheelchair for outside.  We were always aware that the whole Atlantic Ocean was out there. We could hear the sound…there were things like waves and so forth, but to get to the beach, you had to go through a real wooded swamp-like area through skunk cabbage; I remember pushing that wicker chair through the woods.

Despite the rarity of such journeys, the ocean would become a main character in both Eigner’s early and later poems.
*
Bessie had her son involved in physical therapy from early on. In an interview, Eigner describes:

As a kid, physiotherapy was the hardest part of the time (I went to the clinic in Boston’s Children’s Hospital 3 times a week then at the age of 10 or 11 stayed there as an in-patient for a few months) real scary, like mountain climbing on a seesaw when I tried walking, and perverse failure when flexing my left ankle. All things else were like physiotherapy (While my folks would walk me too, from bedroom to kitchen standing behind holding me: I’d also sit on chairs as well as armchairs, and travel, before I had the walker, around the house on my knees.)

From Chapter Five: Cid Corman’s Radio Program

The beginning of Eigner’s lifetime correspondence with poets started with a postcard to Boston poet Cid Corman who had a radio show. This letter was the connection that would lead Eigner into the world of poetry. The poet describes the event:

In 1949, a couple of months after finishing up the last course (at the U of Chicago) I bumped into Cid Corman reading Yeats, on the radio, in his first program, I gather, for Boston. I disagreed with his non-declamatory way of reading and wrote him so. This began a correspondence in which I got introduced to things, and the ice broke considerably.

Although just three years older, Corman quickly took on a mentorship role to the “younger poet.”  In April 1950, shortly after their correspondence began Corman writes, “Your writing pleases me. It is gratifying that you have only taken criticism, but persisted with it to the point of improvement.” He follows with, “You must teach yourself – and be patient with yourself. If you can’t be, who else is likely to be -- as who else can positively care as much?”

It was through Corman that Eigner’s interest in poetry was rekindled after a pause from his engagement with it as a teenager. Both through his correspondence courses with the University of Chicago and his mother’s influence, the poet had exclusively been exposed to more traditional poetry. Well into his teenage years, he continued to write rhyming verse. Not only was this what his was familiar with, but also poetry in rhyme made it easier to retain while waiting for a family member to transcribe it. His first collection, Poems, published in 8th grade was a reflection of such. Though, the poet was not reading Longfellow exclusively. By the time he wrote to Corman, he was deeply involved with e.e. Cummings and Hart Crane.

As Eigner continued to correspond with the Bostonian and send him poems, Corman encouraged his friend to be more open and experimental. It was through this exchange that Eigner began to leave behind the poetry of his youth in what Richard describes as “rebelling against his mother.”  Corman, perhaps sensing rebellion writes, “Fewer people who liked your earlier things will like these newer pieces, but I think you must realize yourself how much better they are.” Corman advises, “If you are unsatisfied with a poem, any part of it, keep at it. Say exactly what you want to – that is, keep the overtones, ambiguities, tied to your ideas. Pack your words tight – and yet naturally.”  He also mentions, “You might look over some Williams” for a reference to directness.  The concepts  of “immediacy and force” were two considerations that would stick with Eigner throughout his vocation.

 Despite Corman’s worry that “some people would not like his work” Eigner began publishing shortly after this first correspondence. According to Curtis Fayville:

Eigner's first published poem--aside from a number of juvenile pieces published prior to age 14--appeared in the fugitive little magazine Goad #3 [Summer 1952], edited by Horace Schwartz. Schwartz was a connected participant in the literary world of the Bay Area in the 1950's and '60's, who knew Rexroth, Kees (both he and Schwartz had come from Nebraska) and many other local figures, and briefly ran a bookstore in San Francisco (Named the Rexroth bookstore). Goad lasted for four issues, and also published early work by Creeley and Ferlinghetti.

Corman’s own magazine Origin had its beginnings in 1950 with a correspondence, previous to the magazine’s publication, between Charles Olson and the editor. Of the magazine, the first contributor, Olson, writes, “The thing you ought to know, is, that you have the will to make a MAG is a very fine thing, and is hailed by this citizen.” Olson urges Corman to resist taking money from the University (in this case Brandeis) as he worries that the association will damage the integrity of the magazine. He writes:

yr two letters arrived today, about BRANDEIS. But I am here most practical: the test you are looking for, of such censorship as Lewisohn, Hindus and Elder Gerard is, precisely, these 50 pages, NOT, the first year of yr editorship. For you will put yourself in the position of earning their approval, invariably, that you will woo it, that first year. Which, my friend, is worse than outright censorship.

Olson pushed to use the first issue of Origin as a platform for his work - what would become the Maximus Poems - urging Corman, “Can you, will you, by some means (even a notary, maybe?) give me absolute assurance you will (despite all weathers, fair or foul) give me the 40 pages of issue #1 you have told me you plan to give me?”  And on the envelop of a letter dated March 1, 51, Olson writes, “O my sone, rise from thy bed…/work what is wise.” This became the “motto” for Origin securing Charles Olson’s hand in the venture. *

From Chapter 10 Berkley/Independent Living

The Independent Living Movement had its early beginnings in 1962 when Ed Roberts applied to the University of California, Berkeley. Roberts was rejected by the Dean on the grounds, “We have tried cripples before and it didn’t work.” In addition to non-accessible classrooms and libraries, a major issue for Roberts was that there was no dormitory that could support the iron lung he slept in as treatment for polio.  The attitude of the time was best expressed by the poet Josephine Miles who thought of the inaccessible campus as “simply not being built for me.” Miles, who had acute rheumatoid arthritis, dealt with the issue of mobility by being carried from location to location by assistants rather than using a wheelchair.  She, like most of society, viewed disability as a personal problem.

However, with Roberts persisting, the school soon agreed to let him reside on the third floor of Crowall Hospital and enlist fellow students to help him get around campus. He joined with others to form the activist group, The Rolling Quads.  In 1968, when the Quads faced eviction, they organized a revolt that would lead to the creation of curb cuts and other accessibility - on and off campus. Robert’s revolution also led to the Physically Disabled Students Program (PDSP).  
PDSP took its ideas from a program that gave minorities resources to prevent dropouts. Out of this came the first Center for Independent Living (CIL). The basis of the CIL was to provide people with disabilities complete control over where and how they wanted to live. Previously, people with disabilities had been resigned to spending their lives in institutions or, in rare cases such as Eigner’s, provided for by their families. In both cases, neither led to a choice of lifestyle. Wheelchairs themselves were not geared toward independence nor thought of as mobility tools, hence the outdated expression “wheelchair bound.” They were devices that provided limited movement in hospitals or at homes.

Instituted in 1972, the Center for Independent Living was run by people with disabilities who had control over who their caretakers would be and where they would live. The founding of the CIL coincided with Judy Heumann’s civil rights struggle in New York City. In 1970, Heumann, a quadriplegic who had had polio, was denied a license to teach in New York City Public Schools despite passing the oral and written tests. When she flunked the physical, Heumann sued the Department of Education with a discrimination charge, and the case was settled in the defendant’s favor. If these events crossed the Eigner’s path in his copious reading, he did not mention it in letters. However, the movement was not alien to Richard. It was with the expectation that Richard would eventually take over his mother’s role as caregiver that he set up house in Berkeley.
                                                 
This was the environment that Larry Eigner moved into when he arrived in the west in 1978. After Israel’s death, it became clear that Bessie would be unable to care for her son herself. Once in Berkley, Richard became the poet’s legal conservator, and it was his intention that his brother become as independent as possible.

The stab at independence didn’t work out as successfully as the poet’s family had hoped. On January 6, 1978 Eigner notes, in a letter to Bessie, “electric [wheel]chair arrived fifteen days ago.” This was his first and meant to provide new independence, particularly in the accessible landscape of Berkeley. But things with the chair weren’t so easy. The poet describes an accident of falling over on campus, “legging myself up with the help up and back with the help of a cop and a passerby.” He complained:

It won’t fold and the batteries, a big job to move, make it too heavy to lift. We agreed, too, it’s not so good for around the house. For instance, I can push backward with my feet, but not forward, it’s soo hvy, and my hand is kept rather busy driving.

Ultimately, he abandoned the new technology for the old, continuing, as he always had, to “scoot” throughout the house in his manual chair.

Upon first arriving in Berkeley, Richard encouraged the poet to settle in a group home (independent living) situation. Eigner, however, who had described his life as “the longest childhood ever,” was recalcitrant against the independence that Richard and his sister-in-law Beverly encouraged.  At first, he lived in a group home similar to the Center for Independent Living on La Loma Street. Throughout letters to his mother, one gets to know his housemates, the attendants, and the poet’s frustration with them.  The house itself, although Eigner didn’t entirely hate it, was an environment of endless drama, particularly around the staff.  He laments to his mother:

The phone’s been disconnected again, 2nd time this year. This time when Anna some weeks ago got a private extension of the one downstairs here was switched to L’s room (L is the attendant who arrived from Philly Easter Monday and the phone company, getting wind of this and disapproving has disconnected. This is the story I get anyway….One remark was that one of the attendants charges her (Adele) when he reads to her (the newest ord…after all).

Cid Corman suggested, “You sound like your living in the center of a 3-ring circus – and enjoying every minute of it. It don’t sound like the porch in Swampscott.” 

However, the Center for Independent Living didn’t have the facilities that the Eigners had hoped. Beverly Eigner remembers: 

We thought it would be a good resource for Larry when he came out here, but it didn’t work out that way. Perhaps The Center was too early in its evolution but it didn’t really help us at all. Actually, it was negative because on two occasions, I brought him into a socialization group, and they said Larry was ‘too spoiled.’ [I] Took him to Cerebral Palsy Association and Larry told them all he could do and that he didn’t need any help which was frustrating because he didn’t listen to what they offered. But we found that he needed some social interaction outside of us because we would cater to his needs and not every one would. So that was a problem, socially. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

University of Pittsburgh


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Anything/has to be easy enough/to get done



I have a new chapbook from Albion Press. The chap includes a short essay on the beginning process of researching Larry Eigner's biography, as well as some biographical information about Eigner, and his collection, ON MY EYES and some juicy details about Denise Levertov. You won't find this in stores!
It can be purchased HERE from the wonderful Brian Teare. It's the best $15 you will ever spend! Send her chocolate Hostess cupcakes and the author will even sign it for you.