Thursday, March 29, 2012

Denise Levertov’s Introduction to On My Eyes by Larry Eigner Jargon Press 1959

First let it be said that Eigner is never careless. If he seems arbitrary it must be understood that he is deliberately arbitrary. Whether from the personal circumstances of his life or not, he sees the world from an unusual angle. Often in his poems he is noting the disconnected passage of objects as seen from a moving car. He notes these caprices of the unintegrated world- a world unthinkingly modified by self-absorbed human activities – with the precision of an innocent, but intelligent mirror. In a room, at a window, -- it is always, not what you would see, nor I but a view narrower and wider – more aware of some humble details, More aware of greater spaces also. In a world where anything may happen, since, deprived of some wise-guy logic most of us acquire, Eigner does not let perceptions close in his horizons.

In his best poems, he shares with us this wide open filed of vision in which disparate objects activate themselves, move apart of closer to each other, or at great distances from each other reveal to us an essential connection of which they remain unconscious. He gives to the humblest pebble the same attention- and so the same value by implication – as to. let’s say, a man. Instinctively, our pride cries out against this- until perhaps pride breaks and we look again and see there is no contempt for man n this attention given to a pebble only the sense that both are strange unknowable unpredictable.

Reading Eigner the reader has to keep his imagination at work and leap from line to line as fast as the seagulls sweep across the square of sky in a window joining a lonely chimney to a cloud by the line of their flight: Seagulls fly in and out of many of his poems,. The landscapes are mainly suburbaian, there is the sense of the scattered and sporadic one has at the edge of cities, where bits of old fence and field still hang about undecidedly, wondering if the country won’t come back after all.

There are some lines of Henry James (in the Bostonians) that several years ago I copied into a notebook under the heading “Quality of Eigner’s poems’: perhaps that was not precise, but these words do continue to express for me the atmosphere of a great many of the poems. (I didn’t copy the quote…)

The sea, the great life-giving unchangeable ocean, is nearby but not often seen is nearby always, but not often seen full and clear. It is usually back of other things, other people’s things, streets, houses, telephone poles, other people’s needs and decisions – for Eigner can’t get to the ‘real’ sea unless through the agency of others. Yet how much more present it is to him than to them, as force, as space, as the unconscious. He has to do a lot of guesswork about living, as most people know it: and he never pretends to definitive knowledge of anything but what he sees.

When I was asked to select from the mss. of this book what I thought the flower of it, I began tentatively putting aside those poems which I did not understand.  After a while that came to seem stupid. If one becomes familiar with Eigner’s work it becomes apparent, as I began by saying, with what care and intension he writes: and again, that more than almost any poet I can think of, he demands a suppleness, an imaginative agility to leap with him from image to image: so that I distain to judge (as I would with another kind of poet) which are ‘good’ and which are ‘bad’ poems. It is a question of which I can keep up with – and those I would have thrown out might be epiphanies  to another reader. It is only where there is a right degree of care and craftmanship that one can thus abandon ‘judgment.”

He does some things with spacing and punctuation: I don’t think that they always work, but what is important is that they are always designed to work, to function: that is, it is never a matter of unthinking mannerisms, much less of vanity, with Eigner. He regards spacing and punctuation rightly, as tools, and does not voluntarily obtrude them between the reader and the poem which they should be unnoticeably supporting. I myself dislike the unclosed parenthesis, as a poor tool having no function that can’t be performed better by other typographical means. But in Eigner I accept it for it seems expressive, again and again, of his own oblique (?) modest, set-aside yet not to be quenched, enquiring spirit.
What is most likely to be criticized here is a lack of coordination, or (and in this case it is the same thing) a lack of economy. It is admittedly hard to see form in such unique poems. There is no repetition, he makes for himself and the reader no precedents. But the answer to these charges is the same: each poem is in fact a searchingly experienced area having the form of its limits- it is for the reader to say with it, to realize in his own responses the connections between object and object,

No one reader in going to find his way in everyone of the poems. But there are many poems, many possible readers. Such poems make me think of floating seeds in September, their lovely hesitant apparently hazard movement passing by. The next year there are new patches of williowherb – ‘’’fireweed” – in unexpected places. So Eigner’s seemingl7y random words drift across the mind. And later one finds a flowering of new perceptions, perhaps in some part of oneself one had thought sterile.

DL  June 1959

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