Thursday, February 21, 2008

Hejinian in Portland, 2/9/08

Whatever ‘power’ might mean in the miniaturized world of contemporary poetry, Lyn Hejinian seems like a model of how to use it if you’ve got it. One of the pleasures of the always frantic, often intimidating Bay Area poetry scene was Lyn’s warm and inclusive presence at any event she was a part of, no matter how small or junior-league.

‘Inclusive’ feels like the right word for Hejinian’s recent writing too, which repurposes long, lush syntactic constructions for hoovering up just about anything that happens in the mind in time. The result is that everything from childhood Victoriana to John Zorn ensembles get rolled into the poem, which becomes a field of surprise and play in every sense: play of signifiers, mind at play, the play’s the thing, play that funky music, you name it. Because her lines push clauses through time with the variety and complexity usually attributed to “fine” or elegant writing, the poems slip easily past the centurions of craft—there’s no doubt among the doubting that this counts as poetry. But beneath the surface shine, her poems in fact function as “a site of resistance to resolution,” as she read at one point, built from knotty constraints and purposive nonsequitors (“it’s actually really hard to write true nonsequitors!” she joked in the Q&A) that “refuse to accept the logic that makes death allowable.”*

What I think I like most in Hejinian’s poetry is the insistence that everything is fair game for the poem, that “thinkers get driven past their goal by the sheer momentum of thinking” all the time and that’s O.K. (the way stock phrases like “driven past the goal” and “sheer momentum” are O.K.), because momentum itself is a form of thought, and thought in motion is the poem and the goal, it was all along—look, you reached it at the same moment you were thinking it, and here you were feeling all frantic and junior-league. "What's the Use of Poetry" but that?

*One risk of Hejinian's "late" style may be that the delights of the surface can work to divert attention from, rather than enact, the case "against closure."

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