Larry Eigner (1927-1996) was a prolific poet working in the post-Olson “open field” method of composition, perhaps the definitive poet who epitomized the principles of Olson’s “projective verse,” although Eigner was very much his own man, and his unique use of the typed page as a literary canvas, as a field of energy with both words and space as units of composition, was very much his own creation.
As much of an artistic original with an unique yet open-ended aesthetic as a Gertrude Stein or a John Cage or an Andy Warhol, Eigner wrote over 3000 poems in his life, and they are collected here in four massive volumes.
Each Eigner poetic construction—captured here in a font resembling the actual typewriter font with which Eigner slowly and carefully composed these works, and presented on large pages that attempt to create the feel of an actual 8×11 typed sheet of paper—is an energy-charged linguistic moment that attempts to capture the complex relationship between perception and thought as they are happening.
This is a poetry that captures movement and energy and perception…and the moment.
Honestly, a four-volume set that contains EVERYTHING Eigner ever wrote, from junior-high school juvenalia to his final poems, is probably NOT the best way to encounter his work for the first time. One can find his Black Sparrow collections, and also his last book, published posthumously by Green Integer, used at reasonable prices, and any one of those can function as a wonderful entry into Larry Eigner’s poetic world…and once one enters that world, nothing is ever the same again.
THE COLLECTED POEMS OF LARRY EIGNER, VOLUMES 1-4 is a massive accomplishment, both in terms of being its author’s life work, and in terms of being a project for which the publisher (Stanford University Press) should win some kind of award.
I’ve had my copy for about 6 weeks, and I tend to choose two or three poems a day, poems I’ve not encountered before in his books that I own, and to spend quality time with them, getting into the scene and the moment that Eigner has presented, allowing it to come alive for me.
Let’s hope that the publication of this Collected Poems leads to a re-assessment of Eigner’s work and some long-deserved visibility. Today’s college literature texts are full of so much crap in their poetry chapters–what a breath of fresh air the inclusion of some Larry Eigner would bring. I can see readers getting excited about poetry once again based on Eigner’s work, as it’s so completely original and alive.
It should be no surprise that poets such as Creeley and Cid Corman, poets whose work is characterized by understatement, and words-as-objects, and poetry-as-craft, were among Eigner’s biggest champions. Any lover of post-1960 poetry with an open mind and open ears should also become a champion of Larry Eigner’s work…