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Larry Eigner

Larry Eigner

Larry Eigner

(United States of America, 1927 - 1996)
Lawrence Joel “Larry” Eigner was born in Swampscott, Mass., where he lived with his parents until moving to Berkeley, Calif., in 1978. Born with cerebral palsy, Eigner made use of a wheelchair throughout his life. Associated with the Black Mountain Poets, Eigner’s first book was published by Robert Creeley's Divers Press, and Eigner published more than 40 collections of poetry throughout his lifetime. The Collected Poems of Larry Eigner was published in 2010 and appears in four volumes.
Charles Bernstein writes, “In Eigner’s poems, one ‘fragment’ is rivetted [sic] to the next, so that one becomes, in reading this work, likewise riveted by the uncanny democracy of details." Eigner’s poems are filled with the details of the everyday, but especially with those things belonging to the natural world – birds, trees, stars and light:
the local
  the subtle bird

   from branch
   to road


                  big limbs

      the other side of the globe

          among stars

          people grow

                   or cloud

             a mile away

                    the different hungers

Eigner was heavily influenced by Charles Olson’s essay “Projective Verse,” a fact readily seen in the way many of Eigner’s poems make use of the page. Nate Pritts, writing for Octopus Magazine, states:

His placement of these words – his use of the whole broad field to notate the motions – should indicate that even these simple words have a weight behind them, the heft of a heavy soul burdened with loss & the certainty of it. Again & again, Eigner says that those things we are faced with every day – especially those things we are faced with every day – deserve our love; they should force us to our knees.

The speakers of Eigner’s poems often act as observers, noting the slight movements of a bird, or the wind: 

the air
  in various

    going on beyond
      December trees

Eigner's poems build slowly upon themselves and the page, and small, subtle movements give way to the larger shifts of the entire planet as “the different hungers” are illuminated. At Jacket2, Tom Hibbard observes that Eigner’s poems “seem unpolluted by anxieties" and that "they are a moment not of forgetfulness but of becoming aware of thoughts one at a time . . . lightly allowing presences. They are a process of discovery.”

There is a masterful twist present in many of Eigner’s poems, where the ultimate presence allowed is something not yet seen or felt, but anticipated:

without leaves till
wrapped cool

a sparrow
on the dwindling snowbank

the interval
of winter

maybe another chirps

The last line of “how” is neither promising nor foreboding – it simply marks the factual change of seasons, the truth of the world. But it is not without feeling or beauty; rather it makes concrete the universal which we rarely fully consider – time progresses and life continues, with or without our chirping. As Pritts writes, “Larry Eigner’s poetry overall, but especially the concentrated daze of Air the Trees, enacts the workings of a consciousness on the page, a not-us that holds us close, obliterates & loves us, that whispers in our ears ‘you are what I am’ with desperate urgency.”

In addition to his many collections of poetry, Eigner also authored the short story collection Farther North, as well as Country / Harbor / Quiet / Act / Around: Selected Prose.
© Poetry Foundation
Selected Bibliography

From the Sustaining Air, Divers Press, Palma de Mallorca, 1953
Another Time in Fragments, Fulcrum Press, London, 1967
Air the Trees, Black Sparrow Press, Los Angeles, 1968
Things Stirring Together or Far Away, Black Sparrow Press, Los Angeles, 1974
The World and Its Streets, Places, Black Sparrow Press, Santa Barbara, 1977
Lined Up Bulk Senses, Burning Deck, Providence, 1979
now there’s a morning, hulk of the sky, Elizabeth Press, New Rochelle, 1981
Waters / Places / A Time, Black Sparrow Press, Santa Barbara, 1983
Areas Lights Heights: Writings 1954-1989, Roof Books, New York, 1989
Windows / Walls / Yard / Ways, Black Sparrow Press, Santa Rosa, 1994
readiness / enough / depends / on, Green Integer, Los Angeles, 2000
The Collected Poems of Larry Eigner, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2010

Country / Harbor / Quiet / Act / Around: Selected Prose, THIS Press, 1978


“Larry Eigner, Six Letters: An Introduction” by George Hart, Poetry magazine
“Larry Eigner: Six Letters” edited by Jennifer Bartlett and George Hart, Poetry magazine
“From the Poetry Archives: Larry Eigner” by Lindsay Garbutt, PoetryFoundation.org
“You Are What I Am: Objective Data & Subjective Sensation in Larry Eigner’s Air the Trees” by Nate Pritts, Octopus Magazine
“The Same Old Things: The poetry of Larry Eigner” by Tom Hibbard, Jacket2
“On Larry Eigner, ‘On My Eyes’” by Charles Bernstein, Jacket2
“Into the White: Larry Eigner’s Meta-physical Poetics” by Sarah Juliet Lauro and Lindsay Waggoner Riordan, Disability Studies Quarterly
On “The Collected Poems of Larry Eigner” by Stephen Ratcliffe, BOMB Magazine
PennSound page for Eigner, featuring audio of readings and interviews
Gemeente Rotterdam
Nederlands Letterenfonds
Stichting Van Beuningen Peterich-fonds
Prins Bernhard cultuurfonds
Lira fonds
J.E. Jurriaanse
Gefinancierd door de Europese Unie
Elise Mathilde Fonds
Stichting Verzameling van Wijngaarden-Boot
LantarenVenster – Verhalenhuis Belvédère