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Read This Bit Re: Lyn Hejinian’s Poetics of Failure

By Harriet Staff

We’ve been thinking about poetics of failure lately. And then comes along Barrett Watten, who suggests we circulate far and wide this passage from Lyn Hejinian’s newest book, The Book of a Thousand Eyes (Omnidawn 2012), “for pedagogical and moral purposes.” Well by all means! Read it:

I am a failed fire chief
I am a failed thief

Didn’t I fail at the wrong thing, aren’t I a failure at failure

Failure is inevitable
I am a fan of failure
I am a failure flailed by failure
I leap into failure
I relish the self-pity that’s produced by the self-loathing that comes as a consequence of failure

The sauce has curdled, the meat is tough, the custard is runny—the meal is a failure

Failure is the offshoot of argument—but then failure occurs too from a lack of it
Moral failure
Financial failure
Social failure
Heart failure, liver failure
Failure to thrive

Failure is familiar
I’m faking failure, I’m reconciled to failure
Failure has a certain allure
I’m quick at failure
I’m clumsy at failure

It’s said that girls are failed males
There’s been many a worse failure

Failure clings like gum to the shoe
I set about forging failure

Fuck failure

I fit failure, or failure fits me
A guy fails and is pursued by that failure
One could succeed and thereby fail
Every painter fails, every parent fails
I failed to dot an i
I failed by failing to tell a failure that he’d failed
Honesty fails
Dishonesty fails
The unprincipled fail without principle, the principled fail to excess
There are whole classes of failure, genres of failure

I’ll risk failure
Courting favor, I’ll court failure
I failed geology, I failed Greek, I failed to show up when expected on Wednesday
Memory fails
Flags fail
Luck fails
Curs snarl at the failed
Families bury the failed

Fail farther, fail fatter, fail in a particular field of endeavor
Failure is succinct and sucks sugar
Failure figures

I am a failed detective, a failed botanist, a failed equestrian
I am a failed mariner
I am an errant failure

So, this is what happens to failures!
Failure

—Lyn Hejinian, from The Book of a Thousand Eyes (315–16)
Richmond, Calif.: Omnidawn. (c) Lyn Hejinian 2012; by permission

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Posted in Poetry News on Thursday, June 28th, 2012 by Harriet Staff.