Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Eigner Errata

The Collected Poems of Larry Eigner, Volume III
[The Corrected Replacement]

Shortly after Stanford University Press published The Collected Poems of Larry Eigner earlier this year I pointed out – among other things – that a particular page had been mistakenly repeated, and that as a result two poems were missing. I’m pretty sure I was the first to write about, and maybe the first to notice this glitch, found at page 1074 in Volume III.

The two “missing” Eigner poems, I am happy to report, are now available. Available, actually, in no less than three ways, with one of those options a full-on replacement volume that bespeaks a remarkable devotion to the poetry and book-object that is The Collected Eigner.

First, a pdf of the missing page can be downloaded at the publisher’s website (click here to see it). For those who prefer a more elegant insert, a copy of the page printed on paper matching that used in the book can be obtained via request from Stanford (click here for details).

Finally – and this is the holy 1940 portable Royal Typewriter news here, and not only because was announced in the last two weeks – those who bought the books can if they like send their copy of Volume III, plus ten bucks, to co-editor Curtis Faville, and receive back a corrected replacement copy in which the “missing” poems have been restored to their rightful place on the page. The Stanford website (click here) has the specifics about how to get that done.

This replacement volume – a result of re-setting the repeated page, then re-printing and re-binding a 600 page clothbound book – must have cost thousands of dollars (think about the supplies, and the manufacturing expense). Given that doing this resulted in all 3,000 plus poems now being included in the books, at least for those who obtain a replacement, I must say that doing a full re-do represents a devotion to Eigner’s poetry, and to the books, that is remarkable and glorious.

The Stanford website, in explaining how to obtain the replacement book, emphasizes that neither the publisher nor distributor can handle the exchange and do not maintain an inventory of the corrected Volume III. From this, you can deduce that they had nothing to do with the new Volume III. Instead, I’m told that Larry Eigner’s literary estate underwrote the corrected reprinting of Volume III, to remedy a fault which occurred in the final proofing of the text for the printing company. May all poets and writers have executors with such devotion to the work.


One of the two “missing” poems – and again they are available on-line (click here) – is a short, five-liner (Eigner # 625, dated January 8, 1973), and may I suggest you take a look, as it is interesting, arising both from place and – maybe – poetic practice:
       Energy’s not here
    now things look cluttered
      after convenience
         there is no design
        i.e. claustrophobia
As with many Eigner poems, this one’s a moment (or two or three) of (and/or in), time: a record in words of thought as it proceeds. This particular poem-moment seems on one level to directly concern Eigner’s actual workspace, at the time it was written: the glassed-in sunroom / front porch of the lower level duplex at 23 Bates Road, Swampscott, Massachusetts.

I understand that Eigner was something of a pack-rat and not particularly well-organized, with the latter tendency no doubt partly related to his palsy, which limited whether and/or how easily he could reach spaces and move things around. A photograph taken later in life (after his move to Berkeley) suggests how his workspace could be, with much paper and all not in good order though relatively within reach:

The poem set out above, with regard to the thinking reflected or documented concerning the work area, is straightforward: without Eigner bringing his energy to the place, the clutter – a byproduct of his method of keeping things easy (“convenience”) – dominates to the point of claustrophobia. Given Eigner’s mobility impairment, I trust highly his statement of the fear of having no escape and being closed in. But despite his particular circumstances, the feeling documented seems universal. We’ve all sensed – haven’t we? – how tiredness or other lack of mental sharpness results in that feeling of trapped hopelessness.

Can this poem also be read, on another level, as a self-critique of a particular (though not specifically identified) work? Is it, almost paradoxically, an inspired presentation of what had been a moment or three of uninspired poem-making? I don’t know, of course, but everything in the poem that could be read as concerning his work area could also apply to a poem that Eigner wrote that, to his mind, didn’t make it.

In this regard, I’m especially intrigued by the “after convenience / there is no design” phrase. Eigner himself said with regard to his poetry, “everything on the page matters” and was known to take great care – despite the challenge of the palsy – to precisely line up or array letters, words, lines, and spaces.

If Eigner in a particular instance did not have the creative or other energy to bring off his exacting, carefully considered approach – if he put the words down, let us say, without design and just did what was convenient – surely he might see the resulting poem as claustrophobic clutter (the poet caught in a creative corner). This interpretation of the poem may be a stretch, but I like thinking of “Energy’s not here” as “about” both a physical place (and thus by extension any place) and a poem (and thus many other poems, by Eigner and others) that never made it.


This post is the seventh I’ve done concerning The Collected Poems of Larry Eigner (click on each phrase, if you’d like, to read the previous posts, which concern: the margins, my struggle with those margins, a gathering of poet-reader responses to Eigner, a gathering of quotations from Eigner on his work and poetics; Eigner’s poems-from-the-news, and his poems-with-lines-of-but-one-word). I’ve at least one more to put up, and it’s one I’ve written in my mind at least, concerning one or two, I guess it may be, of the more unusual poems in the book.

You know, it puzzles and disappoints me that after what I’d call only a bit of attention early on, The Collected Poems of Larry Eigner – especially discussions of the actual poetry in the books – appears to have fallen off the literary map. I guess maybe people are busy. At least I hope that’s what’s going on.

Look, Charles Bernstein’s dream, shared in February, of The Collected Eigner getting reviewed in The New York Times and the subject of a long article in The New Yorker (click here and see the answer to the next-to-last question) may be far-fetched, but it’s not too much to expect something from poets who have the books and are Eigner readers. In this regard, I’d enjoy the reading the perceptions – even if “only” about a poem or two – of, let’s say, Ron Silliman, Geof Huth, and Jennifer Bartlett (though she’s dropped out of the blogosphere, it appears), among others. Eigner’s too little known. One way that might change is if we share our enthusiasm and responses to the poetry, out loud and in print.



Anonymous said...


the "problem" is that
Larry both his works (and his living-life) are


he took the vertical and the horizontal line
to the limits of what he could do.. with his words.

which leads to the problem that his work is
an unteachable "blip" in our poetic 'istory.

thank Gawd no one is essaying his work to ad nauseumism!

and that his sister did a great deal of typing up his poems for publications

Don Share said...

This is terrific, Steven! Thank you yet again for your diligence.

Jessica Luck said...

Thanks for your post. I just finished volume III and was about to email the publisher about that missing page.

Perhaps the relative silence so far arises from all of us just trying to take all of this wonderful material in. That's my excuse!

Steven Fama said...

Hi Jennifer Luck,

You make an excellent point. It is a lot (3,000+ poems). That I inhaled it, swallowed it whole about three times clear through, probably is not something that others might want to do. Or: any diligent lover-reader of Eigner is going to want to go s-l-o-w through all these poems!

The poetry of Volume IV, where you are heading to now, is pretty special, if only because most of it comes after Eigner had the cross-country change of scene, from Swampscott to Berkeley.

Jessica Luck said...

I've spent the last hour here reading all your wonderful responses and archives of others' responses to Eigner. Thanks for sharing all your work! I'm hoping to have an essay on him done by the end of the summer. There's so much to say about his work, it's hard to know where to start. And I've still got another volume to go! Onward....

Curtis Faville said...

My advice would be to slow down.

I remember when I first read his work back in the 1960's--another time in fragments--I raced through it, thinking it "airy" and accessible, but missing a great deal.

One important point: Larry's compositional methodology was extremely patient, because he couldn't "keep up with" his head--so this extraordinary tension between the speed of the mind and the "delay" of the recordation is IN the poems, the leaps are about the stretched out time between the perceptual displacements or reconfigurations of address--so that each line becomes a new registration of feeling, position--reactive, poised, achieved. This leaping--who else ever made poetry with this much energetic propulsion?

Steven Fama said...

Hi Curtis,

Your statements about what's IN the poems, and propulsion, would be best served with actual concrete examples, taken from the poems.

I'll go so far as to play dumb and say I don't know what you mean. Can you please give an example?

Eigner conveniently numbered the poems, so if you care to do so, here or on your site, list a few poems particularly fine in terms of the characteristics of Eigner's work that you mention, maybe even beat it down by pointing exactly to what you mean.

And thanks for stopping by.

Don Share said...

Steven -

Question for you, raised by Joshua Corey. The quotation, "Responsibility is keeping the ability to respond," is usu. attributed to Rob't Duncan. But Joshua noticed that in an interview with mIEKAL aND in the most recent ecopoetics ( Jonathan Skinner seems to attribute it to Eigner. Do you think it might be LE??

Steven Fama said...

Hi Don,

The lines:

Responsibility is to keep
      the ability to respond.

appear in Duncan's poem, "The Law I Love Is Major Mover" collected in The Opening of the Field (1960). The poem was first published in the Michael McClure edited Ark II/Moby I (1956/1957).

The lines directly follow three in which Duncan directly quotes from John Adams, so indicating by saying so and using marks of quotation.

That Duncan neither says he's quoting, nor uses quotation marks, when he prints:

Responsibility is to keep
      the ability to respond.

causes me to conclude the lines are his, and his alone.

If it were Eigner, it would have to be something Duncan saw before 1956 / 1957, and which he just stole without attribution, contrary to the practice in the poem itself, and other poems in The Opening of the Field (e.g., "After Reading Barely and Widely in which he quotes not only Zukosfsky but also H.D."

And finally, not that I've memorized or am exceedingly familiar with The Collected Eigner, but I'm fairly confident I would have noted a nugget like

Responsibility is to keep
      the ability to respond.

if it had appeared anywhere in the "early" poems of Volume I. Still, it makes for a great excuse to re-read the Eigner poems to 1957, yes? And I will do that.

And I'll lastly caveat that I have not seen the interview you mention, in which perhaps somebody gives a more specific reference to something Eigner did or say.

But unless I write here again, which I'll do if I subsequently find something to change my view, I say Robert Duncan, solid and no-doubt about it.

[Sometimes coming home from work with a low-grade flu and delaying going to bed for some rest turns into something interesting, eh?]

Don Share said...

Steven, thank you so much for this. An amazing feat - esp. with a touch of flu! - that makes me wonder why you're not a tenured scholar (or are you?. I'm very grateful. Here's hoping you're feeling better!! - Don

Steven Fama said...

Thanks Don.

No, I'm not a tenured scholar, but thanks for thinking that I am. I think the reality of how I came up with the information maybe isn't that impressive: since I was at home, the combo of (1) the internet (used to source the Duncan quotation back to "The Law I Love Is Major Mover"); (2) a copy of the Duncan book in which the poem first appeared (The Opening of the Field, which allowed me to see what else he quoted from in that particular poem, and his use of quotations in other poems in that book); and (3) a copy of the RD bibliography (allowing me to find, via its index, the poem's initial publication), and there you have it!

That's a great couplet that RD gave us. I pair it with, among other things, the imperative from Death of a Salesman: "Attention must be paid."

I only made it to about 1953 in my re-read this weekend of The Collected Eigner -- which I mention because I will not be surprised if I or someone else eventually points in that work to some sort of quasi-aphoristic statement regarding attention given the importance of the concept to LE's work.

Geof Huth said...


Interesting to read this posting to find my name at the end. I've written some about the Collected already and plan to do more, but am slow nowadays, and still in the second book. Eigner improves with age (his), so the going is good, and there will be (and would have been) more words. Thanks for your work on this, though. I'd depend on you and your insights more than me and mine.


Stephen Baraban said...

I picked up the 4 volumes from the post office yesterday, walked a mile with the somewhat heavy box, opened it up and saw how just how grand these books are! On my blog , I should be doing at least one attempted explication in the next one or two weeks, probably of one of the poems that have already been familiar and challenging to me for, say, two decades, such as "LETTER FOR DUNCAN" or "stand on one foot". [Thanks, Mr. Faville, for stating on one comment stream here on Steven Fama's blog that you'd be interested in seeing some of my interpretions; and also for your informed clarification of how Eigner would probably have presented certain words in his "stalagmite" poem if he actually intended certain punning meanings I speculated about it.]

The creation of the full replacement volume is certainly a very great story of dedication, as is of course the enterprise as a whole, marginal issues notwithstanding.

Steven Fama said...

Hi Geof:

Good to hear you're into Volume II, and best wishes on getting that one finished, then onto and into the big one (III) and then finally Volume IV, the Berkeley years!

and Stephen Baraban:

holy poem-loving, a mile with that box o' Eigners?!!! That's awesome, and deserves a special shout-out right here back to you!