Lyn Hejinian's latest long poem, The Fatalist, language
becomes the conduit for discovery of a presence--differentiated
yet ever evolving--in a plurality of similar presences
(similar, that is, in that they are different:
"experience / doesn't reveal one's own reality but the
reality of things / alien to one" (Fatalist 33)).
Of little surprise, given that language is the medium (i.e.,
the message), but here are also the elastic filaments of
process & theory. Certainly, Hejinian's
pseudo-pedagogical-cum-philo(soph/log)ical text makes apparent
its intent through pure linguistic permutation, play of
association & definition, & even didactic
"A central activity of
poetic language is formalů.While failing in the attempt to
match the world, we discover structure, distinction, the
integrity and separateness of things" (Rejection
658). This formal centrism drives Hejinian to open her text to
the dynamic elements of change on the level of language,
permitting this "structure, distinction" to be
permeated & formed by experience, by action. "That's
what fate is: whatever's happened / --time regained" (Fatalist
83). Hejinian's process locates a subject in space & time,
aiming its "amiable love-arrows" at the thing; then
relies on the associational, on the referential, to render the
poem open from there.
central action of lobbing referential arrows at the subject
underhand resembles those aphoristic instruments of
approximation, "horseshoes & hand grenades,"
that affect their use broadly & without dead-on precision.
In fact, the hand grenade allusion fits quite well here: an
instrument that resembles a closed container, lands momently
in a delineated time & space, that suddenly, violently
abolishes its walls, blooming into an amorphous, volatile
expanse that changes the landscape around it.
the writing method itself acted as grenade, too; this lobbed
into a critical mass of emails and correspondence that became
the source material for The Fatalist. The explosion is
a montage Hejinian reconstructs and explodes again and
more-or-less creates an indistinguishable potpourri of
reconstructed literary/email shrapnel that readers collect for
the purpose of their own referential meaning-making. In this
way, Hejinian continues countering what's become traditional
to build a poem with which content becomes an extension of
form. Or to play off a Brechtian quip, form is the grenade
with which content is shaped. And yet shape and form suggests
something with boundaries, something that is enclosed, is with
closure. These may not be appropriate word choices, perhaps
misleading given Hejinian's intent rejects closure, rejects
insistence on a singular reality.
Hejinian revels in the kinesthetic of difference, of change
(shaping). "Language itself is never in a state of
rest" (Rejection 654). But this implied (&
enacted) movement must not remain simply intent:
"Poetry / can't be about flight--that would make
flight a perching / instead of a flight" (Fatalist
33). For this reason, the process of The Fatalist
becomes threadbare, clearly evident in the functions of the
language; this evident process, however, can become quite
heavy-handed & self-referential. A gray gravy drizzle of
theory worn on the sleeve. Perhaps in this way, the poem never
escapes being about reality, philology, &c, if only
because it continually returns to these topics with a
self-awareness that it is returning to the about of the
Lyn. "Rejection of Closure." Ed. Paul Hoover. Postmodern
American Poetry. NY: W.W. Norton & Co, 1994. 653-658.
The Fatalist. Richmond, CA: Omnidawn Publishing, 2003.