Prose from Poetry Magazine

Larry Eigner: Six Letters

Edited by Jennifer Bartlett and George Hart

to cid corman

Monday Jan 18(!) 54

Dear Cid,

Mother looking into Maximus ...! [...]

Hard to keep everything in mind, but in places, in letters 1 2 3, i guess, Olson gets out to his thin extremes, trailing edges. He has those mannerisms that seem very forward to me, like “tansy-covered boy” “and that other” “my other”. Though I’ve sprinkled such phrases too, perhaps; i know Bob has, Ferrini has, even you. Of course I have, like day crowd weather, etc, etc. Generally, elliptic method he uses in the early parts, suppression of points. (I’m getting away from this specific phraseology, differently elliptical at times) Well, the break-off of a sentence in PATERSON is more weighted and considered, finely in the pace. Olson the sudden (and rather friggery) pivot. More hasty in his finished sentences, too.

Also less of an actual scope, perhaps, in the line. A lot of long-short flings (whereas look at the “so be it” passages etc, in PATERSON, which is very much one long buildup, the parts building into each other). But there is still always the content, like “love is form” way back on page one, the examples, as in letter 2, and in letter 3 where they take on the status of “images”. I guess images rather better than “symbols” sometimes; they reverberate, wide expanse. PATERSON’s deliberate images more symbolic than this? — i mean the falls, etc, as against the passages, like the mock Pastoral or the preacher. Well, the SONGS get back more, it seems, from Olson’s edges. Image plus lining. From there on even more getting beyond his mannerism, perhaps, details more separate and focused, though i cant logically, see the connections most of the time, not rushing into each other. Well, still elliptical of course. And in context of what follows “mannerisms” not so outstanding.

Same thing in Cantos — as Cant 1 is more bound up than the usual thing, or 49, the Chinese for instance. PATERSON too, perhaps; but it starts out on a quite natural, though lower than later, plane. Olson more “natural” than Pound, who has these classical roots in form etc, in general more natural, as natural as prose; equal to PATERSON in that respect, but chattiness more out of hand, less controlled. Seems to be comparably rich in details and relationships thou. And of course, more telescoped, literally. Different. Christopher Fry’s “animal on folding bones” the possibilities of it. I think (a la Fergusson perhaps), Williams gets the city in more, with more exact weight. And yet the impact? Or the frenetic influence?

Or the value of picking and choosing. . ?

Yeah, my review for BM Review quite an admixture. [...]



Larry Eigner, July 1979

to charles olson

23 Bates Rd Swampscott, Mass.                           Saturday October 20, 1956

Dear pro,

Writ you a pstcrd Thursday, but it has just bopped back: unmailable, the sign signs, though on the rght its postmarked, kosher right over the stamp. Typed text down to 1/8th inch or so of the stamp. Funny thing is I wrote Ferrini the same way, after writing you, and okay i guess. I bet theres some Prussian in the post office somewhere, but where? Does this stuff go through Washington?

I’d just read through the whole MAXIMUS and went over it with a bk on Glster fr library (PORT OF GLOUCESTER by one James B Connelly, who says splinter grp from Plymouth settled by Annisquam in ’23 and built the first fishing stage, then a party from England arrived in ’24 and tk over the stage when others weren’t looking and would not give it up, though when Bradford was appealed to he sent Standish who was able to “persuade” — C says — the newcomers to build a new stage for the pilgrims. “Cape Ann Trail” map i obtained at Ch of Commerce informatn booth on an unexpected ride to Gloucester on Labor Day has it people fr Dorchester, England arrived and built first stage in ’23, thereby initiating the fishing “industry,” and a bk out of the livingrm here says a “London Company” or something (I’m forgetting) established a fishing station, but they failed and a couple of yrs after that became or became part of, the Mass. Bay Company. Ah, well. Dont remember, either, how Mass. Bay and Plymouth merged, nor how the ministers tk over the whole, not then what led to their charter’s being revoked, exactly. Read it in Partington around January sometime ... Connelly also states Bradford and his people had a Royal Patent to the land as far west as ever it shd go, which isn’t true. If so there bn no need for the Mayflower Compact. Yeah. My father’s bk I guess has it that wd’ve been a “charter” at that. Puritatans [sic] had got a patent (t land) from the “London Company” — of Virginia, which had a charter fr the Crown.


Larry Eigner’s copy of Charles Olson’s The Maximus Poems. “God where you meet him? Man has no business chasing, hunting Him in special places. etc.”

Well, MAX now fairly clear, though there’s a lot i still cant make out (“M above G .. ” for instance), and whenever this happen i excuse myself for being kind of stupid. In fact, as to the practical matter of communications the limitations are obviously vast, as vast as your compass is, it’s a great jigsaw puzzle, and certainly no one around here, absolutely nobody else, ever gets as far, a 10th as far, as I got. And three yrs ago. And though you can never tell anyway how “important” a thing might be if — and though you can only say more or less what a thing is, and can only profit by what it is   : I sure wonder abt it. The self-acts, all right. Then polis, the toppling toers of Ilium.

But right now anyway I sure feel like going out and ringing doorbells for Stevenson. Worth it, thoug all this tripe abt unilateral halt etc.

The “scientists” seem to be issuing statement every other day now[.] Pouring it on. But the horse’s mouth. Other night heard where this MIT guy says a 15-megaton blast (one H explosion) wd “only” kill a few thousand over 2 or 3 generations; which isnt, sd the commentator, very much (a BU journalism professor). So this is, says the professor, a moral and political problem, not primarily a “technical” one. Along with other reportings the day before that, and/or the day before that, of for instance a statement calling for a survey, that they dont know. Go tell that to your board of health.

But, (going back to the poem again), the main mystery seems to be right now how you make up the mind while still being un-doctrinaire. But this is in a few instances not a problem, even with myself, who dont act much, and now sometimes feel even the potential for it slipping. But a lot of cases. Like in re Duncan, say, how make up your mind where to draw a line between spinning out and pulling in and closing. Duncan apparently seeing your viewpoint and all.

Letter from Ferrini that morning, two days ago, Thursday, saying he got a copy of MAX II Friday (he being short on acct he had to get a new car I had offered to lend him my copy). Hits the inconsequential as essentially dull and uninteresting. “Who cares what John Hawkins said or did unless its backed with a good grip on something one can chew on like meat or cabbage”. Well, we mustn’t be doctrinaire. [...]

Was looking over all I’ve got here recently, on the idea I might as well get in the local newspaper if i cd. It looked like I’ve certainly got a lot of junk. Just this week it was. Well, I’ve just been rding MAXIMUS and Moby Dick, on which I still am, and knows what else and anyway dont appreciate too much at once.

With the 70-piece sequence I also did stick in some new pieces to Wms, beyond that.


Larry [...]


The map Eigner obtained at the Gloucester Chamber of Commerce, as mentioned in his letter to Olson, October 20, 1956.

to donald allen

Tuesday August 26th 58

A few such delays as yours ha one yr, two yrs — have been quite a factor in my restlessness, and the fragmentariness of my life. Though everything might be likely to do this, for instance if all editors replied within two weeks. A lifetime of incoordination (palsy) is no joke. It means a constant struggle to keep getting around limitations mental as well as physical. The reason why I don’t read certain things is hardly disapproval, or anything of the sort, but just a slight capacity to absorb. Nor are my surroundings congenial to books. There are enough of them here, sort of anyway tv holds the floor.

I guess it’s just my restlessness that make me try to contribute to a few mags, sporadically. in any case. But the delays break things up further.

“Hurry up, hurry up, or wait” Seems no use, either, to try regular sessions at the typewriter hm

[vertical note on left side]

to cid corman

Wednesday May 25 60

Dear Cid,

[...] Gd friday, Apr 15. Postman came 15 minutes afore we tk off for a reading by Denise at Cambridge, under Harvard Advocate auspices, of which i got word, official, Monday. I went there main- to ask Denise if Jonathan was not in hospital or something.

[...] I was stiff at the reading, as usual with me since my teens in a public hush, but Denise spoke out, i don know how loud or clear (eg tho i was familiar w/the poem, “The Dog of Art” i tk for “Dove” for a time—ma say speech impediment (Churchill had one?) but maybe its her accent), and raised me up from the bkworms.

[...] Denise’s new bk has quite a few poems i never saw before, which, i think, sure hit the spot, and show abundance. (Whereas i feel scrawny nowadays, or else emotional over nothing much, once copied out the feeling most often seem worked up after all) Nel mezzo ...

So after the lecture (me in back on one side, Olson on other though i hadn’t seen im come in), they got me upstairs in Advocate House, the “reception,” where everybody was jawing away as if re stocks, bunds and dresses, ah, the jaws       It seems i was invited to submit, and though discouraged on looking things over a wk later, i did, to Advocate .. and Denise left some of my stuff with em, carbons, unknown to me and writes they sd they’ll take some .. but i feel paltry, and have little enough zest for the depths, now. So many mags, many or few msss, to match em with (best thing enclosed here, “O cloud / tons of snow”, or maybe “timbres remain” .. ). Robt Lowell she had say hello to me, etc. Big ponds. Upstairs couple editors we sd a few words, and parents later went crowing over the allegation they were all crowded around me, blind to the fact, of crse, that when it wasnt Denise sitting next to me it was Olson, who introduced me to the prop. de Grolier’s (“the greatest bkman in the world”), at which Father flashed into action and fl. JW’s latest listing, which announces my bk and qtes WCW, to both Mr — and Ch (“look .. WC Williams”) who put us up to that blurb, and who replied, “When somebody else .. ” Such is oblivion.

[...] Folks are entranced w/Allen Anth’y, of course, and some new things i have there found seem right enough. Leroi Jones, both ibid and in Yugen #6, seems to be emerging to to something)(or it might be “merely” a place like H JamesWashington Square. Well, i do see this problem of the flexible running to garrulity and the hectic, peek-a-boo instd of shaman. A poem that comes off is i think Corso’s dollmakers dialog. I can see Allen’s psychological bent in his selection fr my stuff, eg. Surprised to find the biographical matter interesting, but shdnt have bn: the kind of stuff that doesn’t come through/too coherently in letters, and to me, ground, as I think i told you civil war military history was. But for others, maybe something of a drag (Duncan, of course, gives a real literary biography of self).

Glad he put “Death of Europe” in there, eg, and Duncan’s “ .. Pindar

Yugen #6 has a Maximus Letter in it., which has power I guess. Gael sent me a copy of Dorn’s What I see in the Maximus Poems, and I understood it a little, though forgetting now, etc., as usual; and went back to the “Letter” in Yugen, which was something of an instance. I dont much fathom the mystique of place, which Dorn expostulates on, but the way Olson cuts back to the land and sea, unbroken by buildings, and, forward etc, gives awareness of the buildings too, changing purpose, and so forth, is clear. He lashes together — eyelashes       Quite remarkable, I’d say.

                                         Dorn lauds the abstract, in a sense I never tht of giving to the word — ekstasis perhaps, ex stare, cold eye, hm! standing aside, nonutilitarian “nonfunctional” is his word. Well, the words people spout and get involved with.

I’m a primitive. No use complaining.
And poesy makes nothing happen.

                               Ol’s “Librarian” seems to be some kind of milestone too, to both Dorn and R C D, in FOOt.

B I G T A B L E #3 got here last week. Well, Blackburn didn’t come up off the page at that (2 hrs ago) as much as Ashbery, or Ginsberg. Neither does Dorn, whose graveyard piece i started. Well, I seem to be tired of things mostly, nowadays. [...]

Hope you had a good crossing ...


Larry Eigner, Robert Duncan, and Alberto de Lacerda, Golden Gate Park, 1967

to cid corman

June 17 64 Wednesday

Dear Cid,

Well, thats one death in my mind (and the one detail i have, from you, “a collision”), off and on, with the fact that I havent found it mentionable, face to face, etc — and the puzzle, though explicable, of apathy, towards, yeh, anything. Though, what matters? And you say you’re remote: maybe 2 yrs ago was my last unreplied-to card frm O. Last fall drove to Gloucester — mother’s idea! — where i learned frm VF it was the very day Charles was due frm Vancouver. Drove arnd to the Ft Sq, where it was apparent, as i dimly recall, Mrs Olson had just left to meet his train, or plane. Some yrs ago Richie and Charles, head and feet, lugged me upstairs there (1957 or so!) — to a chair from wch 2 views of the bay frm separate windows, that I was reminded of in MAX 23 [*p. 107 (2pp bfore so sassafras)] thereabts; I was muddled as always, and still in those days a good deal in quest of explication — but, there was Mrs Olson, suddenly and all, and Peter, or is it Charles Peter. “Betty” First I heard it wasnt Connie, and last. Seemed like quite a woman, in some way.

Youre the only one who’s written me this. Olson at Buffalo still, ed. of Wild Dog wrote some 10 days ago. Faint carbons so i sent fresh copies of the stuff, before noticing WD 8 is dedicated to Betty. For wch reason its something to appear there. An odd thing to feel, again. Just like father’s notion when yrs came, it was too bad we didnt know sooner, so as I cd write, what now abt a sympathy card..........

[...] POETRY tk 6 more then last wk out comes the lead (4 lines) in TISH So, 5. POETRY somewhat like a bk. Mix-ups. 1,00,00 blind ates, and stnging along, as sd. Yr life w. a fog in yr hd. Lyk grnma, oldest unc. now. Eigner trait, as I tht. Hrd hd artries

[no signature] 

to cid corman

Au 31 64

Dear Cid,

Ho-hum ..

[...] They were here the week ’fore last. Wild time i had. The 3 of us went to the museum, where she gave me a gd steady enough fix on Renoir’s brush ... there being that Gauguin there too ... Last day went up to Cape Ann, where R (not me, by this time) headed for Charles’, then Vincent’s (his door open for business) Spotted Robrt Kelly, frm Vincent’s description, walking to visit Charles’s sister-in-law — Beverly did, that is — as we drove down Main Street, Richie stopped car and ran after Bob a few feet, who came back and got in bck seat for a few minutes. We got together at the Tavern for supper — the Kelly’s, w. Gerrit Lansing (whose stuff I haven’t seen, or hardly), Charles, Vincent, us 3 — R & B, who had left me there with the Kellys and amng other thngs eaten at a Diner, sitting in — and 2 others. Quite small and shop talk — and i tried to hang my ears above th table. Charles, and whoever else, still talking of heroes, amng others,... polytopes .. the visually-aided landscape,.. objecting jovially to “the facilities” as a euphemism as he plunked hisself down to eat, as somebody mentioned them. He, R & B, got into talk abt Sephards, Morenos, Rhodes ... when i brt up Sephard ... “The people with luxury are us” he sd — undr greewd tree, or better, i gs, Lear and Cordelia ... Now I’m bck in jail. Small wndr i cant kp my head on

In PLUMED HORN (mag. of a far-flung drum indeed), wch i had with me, Creeley’s longish poem “Anger,” wch Kelly sd, coming after end of letter announcing dth of Mrs Olson, gave ease..Aftr a minute i bgan to sense a little how this cd beout on the terrace of the Tavern there, away from old folks home here, doll hse, radio/tv circussome shop, wow but i got on hunt for explication (w. this G Lansing — mystifying him), for 1 thing, old stickler for wrds as i discovered i still am, and things.

A call from Kelley [sic] for mss for a Doubleday (horribly) Anchor Bk Anthology, in June had come, with which i complied, what else?

  l u x u r y i s

managing his beard           )(Kelly’s
   well                                     red brd)(
 some various breadth
 as well as length though

 no more heavy than
   the hair in the scalp

S u n d a y                            

Well, looking over i got more onto Origin 6                               with clouds

(Finlay), and #9 ..                                                                a few shadows

Richard left a bk here, George Poulet’s
Studies in Human Time, of tortuous and to my mind labored style. Ch. on Flaubert sent me bck to EP’s Canto 7 there. Well, last yr he sent Art and the Spirit of Man, another rhetorica french-1 anguager, RenHuyghe. And preliminary remarks to preliminary remaks to what agn turn out to be preliminaries — like Olson’s handling of parentheses, no less ...

And now, c’est 10 p.m.

best regards



Larry Eigner, June 3, 1978



1/18/54: Eigner is reading The Maximus Poems, 1-10, published by Jonathan Williams (Stuttgart, 1953) in a regular edition of 300 copies. The contents are: “I, Maximus of Gloucester, to You,” “Maximus, to Gloucester (Letter 2),” “Letter 3,” “The Songs of Maximus,” “Letter 5,” “Letter 6,” “Letter 7,” “Tyrian Businesses,” “Letter 9,” “Letter 10.” The edition also included a foreword by Robert Creeley.

5/25/60: Eigner’s On My Eyes, his first full-length collection of poems, was published by Jonathan Williams’s Jargon Society in 1960. Denise Levertov selected the eighty-eight poems, and the book, including its front and back covers, was illustrated with photographs by Harry Callahan. “Nel mezzo” is the opening phrase of Dante’s Inferno. Eigner mentions reading Dorothy Sayers’s translation of The Divine Comedy elsewhere in this letter.

6/17/64: Charles Olson had two common-law wives. Constance (Connie) Wilcoch, the mother of his daughter, Katherine (Kate) Bunker, and Augusta Elizabeth (Betty) Kaiser Olson, the mother of his son, Charles Peter Olson. Betty was a music student at Black Mountain College while Olson, separated from Connie, was teaching there in the mid-1950s; Betty died in an automobile accident in March 1964 when Olson was teaching at SUNY Buffalo. Eigner’s poems “much space along the,” “stand on one foot,” “The clock / breaks,” “Where is an attic,” “50 cars,” and “F i l e” appeared in Poetry 103.4 (January 1964).

8/31/64: “They” refers to Eigner’s brother Richard and his fiancée Beverly, who were visiting from San Francisco. Robert Kelly and Paris Leary edited the anthology A Controversy of Poets, published by Anchor Books in 1965. “l u x u r y i s,” which apparently riffs on Olson’s comment recorded in this letter, does not appear in The Collected Poems.

Larry Eigner’s letters to Cid Corman are quoted courtesy of the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin. Eigner’s letter to Don Allen is quoted courtesy of the Donald Allen Papers, Special Collections & Archives, University of California, San Diego. Eigner’s letter to Charles Olson is quoted courtesy of the Charles Olson Collection, Archives and Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut. We are especially grateful to the Eigner Estate for permission to use the photographs and letters. 
Originally Published: December 1st, 2014

Lawrence Joel “Larry” Eigner was born in Swampscott, Massachusetts, where he lived with his parents until moving to Berkeley, California, in 1978. Born with cerebral palsy, Eigner made use of a wheelchair throughout his life. He published more than 40 collections of poetry, among them From the Sustaining Air (1953),...

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