Sunday, March 21, 2010

Eigner Book 1

The Collected Poems of Larry Eigner is rapidly becoming my favorite poetry book, period. As I read/ as I write/ there are many issues to address. This portion of the review  will only be a beginning impression.

First is the mere physicality of the book. The four weighty volumes, 3,070 poems in all, speak to Eigner's utter dedication to this vocation that is called poet. Robert Grenier and Curtis Faville's work on putting it together (a seven year task!) is a testament to their passion. Eigner, in his life, published many books (75 plus) but these remain scattered, some in small editions, often expensive, or hard to get. More frustratingly is the inability to look at how the poet transforms. Here, like any collected work, the reader can study the growth of the poet -- which is particularly interesting for two reasons. Eigner began writing and publishing at an early age. Also, due to Eigner's physicality; both his cerebral palsy and the way he wrote, on a manual typewriter, there is a literal transition in the look, the spacing, the breath of the work.

I have art books of less quality. The cover is utterly wonderful. As so far, I'm a good 100 pages in, and have skipped to other parts. I've read most of Grenier's narrative, some of Faville's, and the tribute from Richard Eigner. What captures me is that way Eigner's supporters discuss his disability. This collection is not marketed (a ridiculous word to be in a sentence with poetry?) as a collection of poems by a crippled author nor is it a book of identity poetics. However, nor does it ignore Eigner's cerebral palsy.

Among the eight blurbs, Eigner's cerebral palsy is only mentioned once; Creely notes, "I have never read anything so particular to the edge of one's own physical body and the surrounding 'world" which it lives....the fact that he had to deal with cerebral palsy as a poet  means that his engagement with and proposal of the given world..." Here, Creeley describes cerebral palsy, not as problem, but as mere fact. Yes, disability is something to be dealt with, like any other of the 10,000 good and 10,000 bad daily things.

Eigner's biography is interesting, yes. But, what is more interesting is how the body, anyone's body really, informs the poems. Perhaps each poet's corporeal condition informs their writing, but with a poet with "severe" cerebral palsy, the connection to the poetic movement is laid bare. Particularly as Eigner's poems were typed before computers, one can see the skeleton, the underpinnings, of the connection between soul/body/breath/poem.  Hence, disability becomes opportunity.

The other blurb (ists) do not mention disability at all. Rather, they take the opportunity, again to connect to a bodily existence.  Conversely, Grenier's texts, which mirror the style of Eigner's syntax and experimental punctuation/grammar, do include stories of disability. Immediately, I learned many things I did not know about Eigner - that he was not exclusively "home-schooled" but attended a "school for the handicapped" housed in a hospital. Until very recently, this was a common method of education. That he subsequently published his first collection in the 8th grade...that he did attend, through correspondence, high school and seven courses of college in addition to Herbrew school.

Richard Eigner 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. Larry's mother Bess would not accept this claim."


As a person with milder cerebral palsy, this misnomer has been the bane of my existance. My cognitive ability has been questioned again and again by strangers, children, employers, and so on. This percieved connection between movement, slurred speech, and cognitive ability seems particular to cerebral palsy -- although I am not sure.  There is something in the so-called abled-bodied mind that jumps to the conclusion that bodily movement is a reflection of internal awareness.


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Curtis Faville said...


Good. Keep talking about it. In the third of my posts on editing the Collected Poems, I address the issue of the relationship between Larry's condition, and the meaning of his work.

As you might imagine, I come down on the side of his mind (as in, mind over matter), except each person's condition is a given, unique to itself, and cannot be measured or understood in terms of limitation.


Curtis Faville

Unknown said...

Hello Jennifer!! Well, I have finally found you once again. Unfortunately, you don't have a "contact" button on your blog here, so I am commenting, and hoping you will respond via email. I would love to catch up with you.It has been a very long time, but I have thought of you often.
With love from Naomi!!
(from NM-Highland, and later, Cambridge MA.)