My Larry Eigner
Lately, the thought has come to mind. Can one fully appreciate the life and work of Larry Eigner without a deep understanding [or at least a sensitivity] of disability, what this means, and the current disability 'movement?''
Of course it is possible to explore Eigner's work while ignoring his disability, but it seems like a missed opportunity. Many insist that Eigner seriously downplayed his disability and never confronted it in his work. This seems completely impractical as a poet's body and 'breath' inadvertently go into the work. As James Galvin once told me, 'Don't write about your disability directly. It isn't needed. Your disability is there in every topic. It cannot be removed from your voice.'
Eigner's limited motion, along with the poetic mind, were what created his intense vision. People with slow or limited movement are forced to see the world, to examine, not to rush through.
In his so-called autobiography, What a Time Distance, one sees this wildly maniacal examination of place. A work where the body cannot move -- or is at the mercy of being moved by others. And yet the mind is able to examine and translate. Did Eigner have a high IQ? Not necessarily. He could and did write amazing poets like many other poets. Language and translation were his gifts, to question his IQ seems like beside that point for how many so-called able bodied 'genius' poets have their IQs questioned? To question his intellegence in particular seems to be saying that a 'crippled' body MUST be of superior intellegence in order to create.
I guess I want it both ways: I guess I want critics to treat him as 'equal.' AND to realize that, by society's standards he wasn't.
I have yet to hear people discuss the fact that Eigner probably could not feed himself or use the bathroom alone. He almost most assuredly had few romantic connections. If he hadn't had a doting family, he would have ended up in an institution like Willowbrook where most people with cerebral palsy in that age did. Few people seem to know about such institutions where people with cerebral palsy were basically disposed of and lived in their own shit and piss. Without a doubt, Eigner suffered daily prejudice and cruelty. Eigner, himself, said an interview that "physical exercise was the hardest part of his life, everything else was a vacation." It IS probably true that Eigner downplayed his disability in his work and life. That is what 'we' do. That is what we have to do.
I do argue however, that Eigner DID approach 'disability' in a concrete way throughout the poetry. I would argue that, although disability is not central to the work, it is all over it. It's only that someone without a disability may not be able to or may choose not to see it in this way.
But I grow old
because I was too much a child
I say nothing
I am, finally, an incompetent, after all
to have the time
And in portions of Open
But, I flower myself.
or can't change
As i dream, sight
I have been on all sides
my face and my back
o i walk i walk
assume they are yellow
the flowers seem to nod
I am getting used to this
my shoes hve been the same
I wonder if people want to downplay Eigner's biography simply because, as impossible as it sounds, they are still uncomfortable with disabilities. But, I don't believe that Eigner's contemporaries denied or ignored his disability. I think they either accepted him or, more likely, as 'outsiders' and narcissists themselves, didn't really care.
Here is my primary point. If people can accept Eigner, this is stride in accepting so many others like him.