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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 7, Number 2, June 2013


Brian Zimmer
St. Louis, Missouri, USA

The Field

Swampscott, Massachusetts. Poet, Larry Eigner, victim of cerebral palsy the result of a birth accident, laboriously types poems using thumb and forefinger.i

bird takes off

     everything flying

          with it


                    some instants

1950. Charles Olson’s manifesto, ‘Projective Verse’: “FIELD COMPOSITION . . . ‘the musical phrase,’ go by it, boys, rather than by the metronome . . .”iii

Eigner is introduced to Olson who immediately recognizes his genius. The word “field” always retains its sense of containment. Think meadow, plain, mountain range, river.

Form is never more than an extension of content.”—Robert Creeleyiv

Yes, but circumscribed, no matter how you look at it— if you want to look at it.

about a window pane
its glass
my soul magnifies
a chair takes wing

1965. Anne Sexton: “you could let some extraordinary animals out if you had the right cage, and that cage would be formv

Eigner’s poems cascading down the page from left to right margins were no free-fall. The placement of every word, every use of the space bar, intentional, fraught . . .

Again, Olson: “[a poem is] . . . a high energy-construct . . . at all points, an energy discharge.”vi

His own work, like a modern Whitman, sweeping-out over Gloucester toward the sea.


(To think Walt Whitman would never hear the name of his contemporary equal Emily Dickinson; never encounter her terrifying compression . . .)

How is it that today a residual doubt surrounds the micro-poem’s ability to bear the full weight of language after Dickinson, Corman, Kerouac, the translations of Ono no Komachi, Basho, Issa?

flared nostrils
sinew and bone
to impossible speeds
the foaming horses

Witness the pared-down, concentrated form many of Eigner’s last poems took. Writing from Berkley, California, his imagery and syntax (always spare, if sprawling) took a more frequent turn toward the minimalist:



          middle of the street

               between trees


There is so much going on here. The poem literally enacts itself in five lines on the page. Read it till you see it. A mere five lines.

But these seeds of things
No power can e’er destroy, for to the end
Strong in their solid frame do they prevail . . .

The atom, too, a field.

I like to think Amherst would smile.

the orchid
climbs its host

Author’s Notes

i “A Poem by Larry Eigner,” video of Larry Eigner writing:

ii Eigner, Larry, all poems from The Collected Poems of Larry Eigner, edited by Curtis Faville & Robert Grenier, Stanford University Press (2009).

iii Olson, Charles, “Projective Verse,” pamphlet, 1950.

iv Creeley, Robert, quoted in Olson’s “Projective Verse.”

v Marx, Patricia, “Interview with Anne Sexton,” Hudson Review XVIII.4 (Winter, 1965-66).

vi Olson, Charles, “Projective Verse,” pamphlet, 1950.

vii Lucretius, On the Nature of Things (De Rerum Natura): Book One, trans. Charles E. Bennett; Walter J. Black, New York (1946).



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