Friday, March 7, 2008

Lyn Hejinian Reads at KU March 6

A packed art gallery of folks, at the Spencer Museum of Art, listened to Lyn Hejinian read from her works My Life, The Beginner, and others. She developed an easy dialogue with the audience, despite its size. Unspoken in her presence was a strong Buddhist sense: she admitted she posits ideas about the world but has no authoritative answer. Yet her not-knowing is a way to know everything. Her lack of pretension opened her to learning as well as expressing.

She also took delight in being in Kansas, and regretted, to me, the "disdain" folks from the coasts have about the Midwest. Billy Joe Harris, Joe Herrington, and Ken Irby of the English department hosted her. Irby, a longtime friend, did an evocative introduction that included some readings from her work and also a memory of her 21st birthday party.

Her readings from My Life, composed of long lines that were complete non-sequiturs--each suggesting a narrative, but truncated--resonated, for me, with:
1. interrupted relationships with people who have died--my sister, Richard Schoeck, Tim
Griffin, whom I did not know well but saw frequently on the streets of Lawrence.
2. ore samples of Robert Smithson, "Six Stops on a Station," 1968: with moments mined within language and time, apparently unrelated yet formed within the same Indo-European bedrock.

She writes about the dangers of (apparent) closure and completeness in her essay "Continuing Against Closure":
"If closure is problematic ethically it is untenable semantically, since nothing can restrain meaning, nothing can contain all the implications, ramifications, nuances, and connotations that cascade and proliferate from any and every point in any and every instance of what is or is thought to be. And nothing can arrest the ever-changing terrain of ubiquitous contexts perpetually affecting these."

Hejinian also presented a lecture in the evening of March 6, "Outside Poetry," about "literary works that combine or undercut traditional genres." She included excerpts from poetics (noting that poetry making and discourse about poetics are a whole, both derived from poein, making) and music, including Coltrane's "Ascension" and Carl Stalling's music composed for cartoons. These especially blur genre boundaries. She celebrated the Otherness of poetry by virtue of its fluid, adaptive forms.

Of her work, Claudia Rankine writes:

"As one of the founding members of the language writing movement, Lyn Hejinian has always been concerned with the referential possibilities inherent in language. In "The Rejection of Closure" she writes, "Language itself is never in a state of rest. And the experience of using it, which includes the experience of understanding it, either as speech or as writing, is inevitably active. I mean both intellectually and emotionally active."