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May 15, 2001 Academy of American Poets Award Ceremony From the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

Lyn Hejinian was born in the San Francisco Bay Area on May 17, 1941. Poet, essayist, and translator, she is also the author and coauthor of several books of poetry, including The Book of a Thousand Eyes (Omnidawn Publishing, 2012), Saga/Circus (2008), The Fatalist (2003), My Life in the Nineties (Shark, 2003), and A Border Comedy (2001).

Other collections include The Beginner (2000), Happily (2000), Sight (with Leslie Scalapino, 1999), The Cold of Poetry (1994), The Cell (1992), My Life (1980), Writing Is an Aid to Memory (1978), and A Thought Is the Bride of What Thinking (1976). She is also the author of The Language of Inquiry (University of California Press, 2000), a collection of essays.

From 1976 to 1984, Hejinian was editor of Tuumba Press, and since 1981 she has been the co-editor of Poetics Journal. She is also the co-director of Atelos, a literary project commissioning and publishing cross-genre work by poets.

About Hejinian's book The Fatalist, the poet Juliana Spahr has written, "Hejinian's work often demonstrates how poetry is a way of thinking, a way of encountering and constructing the world, one endless utopian moment even as it is full of failures."

Her honors include a Writing Fellowship from the California Arts Council, a grant from the Poetry Fund, and a Translation Fellowship (for her Russian translations) from the National Endowment of the Arts. She received the 2000 Academy Fellowship from the Academy of American Poets for distinguished poetic achievement. In 2006 she was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She lives in Berkeley, California.

Happily [excerpt]

Lyn Hejinian, 1941

The manner in which we are present at this time to and fro
    appears, we come to point of view before us
The matter is here
Can we share its kind of existence?
"I" moving about unrolled barking at blue clouds
    devoted—to each other? to hasten to the point?
    to evade anxiety? to picture?
Having awkward heaviness "I" never moves freely about
    unless passing and happening accompanied
Our pleasure is perplexed beyond that

If we thrill to low hills because they are not composed
    they are "composed to our liking"
They say there is no defining that but to say that is
    defining that, living in context
One would think of all the social forces traveling with a show
    of indifference over a crowd or sound
    brought to a sound
A good person would be starred ill and well in a life he or
    she couldn’t know how to refuse
Every day we may never happen on the object hung on
    a mere chance
When and where one happens it will surprise us not in itself
    but in its coming to our attention not as something
    suddenly present but as something that’s been near for
    a long time and which we have only just noticed
When we might ask did we begin to share that existence
What have we overlooked
Nostalgia is another name for one’s sense of loss at the
    thought that one has sadly gone along happily
    overlooking something, who knows what
Perhaps there were three things, no one of which made
    sense of the other two
A sandwich, a wallet, and a giraffe
Logic tends to force similarities but that’s not what we
    mean by "sharing existence"
The matter is incapable of being caused, incapable of not
    being so, condensed into a cause—a bean, captive forever 
Because this object is so tiny
A store of intellect, a certain ethical potential, something
    that will hold good
Like ants swarming into pattern we get to the middle
    of the day many distinct sensations that must be it
Music checks the relaxation the contrasting aspects
    constantly changing set going
The ceaseless onset cuts this recognized sensation hurrying
    after it alive
It seems we’ve committed ourselves

That something exists at all is its nakedness we could term
    fate and rising curves fate
That it should succeed already has been determined
And we have only to add on to it everything and everyone
    associated with it from beginning to end sustaining
    familiar acts
One is stung by a bee and it is noticeable that the whole
    body is involved
Why isolate part of the field?
Say we look on a mountain scene changing colors,
    the walls of a room vividly experienced from inside it
Why speak as if there were some incompatibility
Of what would it consist
Even after the closeness of the room which is now vacant
    I rise at the thought of the future of
    all the positions of things and re-enter the room
What is the Greek word for that, the big chance for each
Normally we don’t notice that things we use in being
    accessible are being set aside while the extra, superfluous
    ones remain material one can disturb
Once one’s caught in it one can make a face which nothing
    delimits from you, from me, from us
The face facing—how succinct! 
There the never resting emphasis rests splitting all the
    probabilities converge
Do they have witnesses?
Tsvetaeva warns us: it can happen that "income tragically
    exceeds expenditure," she says or rather it will happen
    that one can’t find a way to spend as
    much life as accumulates to one
We care in time, scatter acts in accord with time supporting

Does death sever us from all that is happening finitude
Yes, swim it does
I the wall saw it
We the wall

I’m often ambivalent, the artistic will being weak as well
    as strong about being seen heard understood
Whatever I see in thought as life I come to coming to me
    in history
At first glance? 
What could we, mind wandering but never ‘free,’ do with
    the word ‘galactic’
Events are unscrolling, they cover my eyes, all familiarity naked

Launched, I need either clothes or a bed and a blanket to
    protect my nature from nature’s pranks
A dream unless you saw it too, which would throw the stop
    and start of sleep into question and deprive us of the
    knowledge of the comfort of the knowledge that we can
    sleep troubling us together side by side
Ever beginners until all is margin, warm and flat
How the near becomes far and the far becomes near we
    may try to discover but we shouldn’t take the question
    too seriously
Stop and start doubtless is the very same as stop and start
In a downpour we don’t count drops as no harm is done to
    the causal chain we’re close to the ground to see each
    other clearly
One can’t say that being human is voluntary but it does tell
    a story that to another human won’t seem pointless 
To another human one acts one intervenes
In the dream one is shivering, already shivering before the first
    glimpse of the dream, shivering at the reality of the dream
A headache could happen to anyone, disappearance to
This is that kind of life, that kind of world, and this is the
    kind of place in which one can easily spend a dollar but
    not easily on hay and not so easily see a toad, cod in the
    woods in a dream we talk more to hear
You laugh? 

I was going to speak of doom eager to resume consecutive
    events plowing through the space surrounding them to
    something now, no ellipsis, just mouth open in astonishment
    or closed to suck quid and quod, that and what
Not proving but pointing not disappointed boldly taking
    aim obliged to acknowledge I admit to being sometimes
    afraid of the effort required for judgment, afraid of the
    judgment required
That can happen only after that it has happened is ascertained,
    if you can keep up, time can’t be banished, being real
In the world we see things together, the judgments have
    been made, takes the chalk, draws the milky line
To say that the music pleases me is impersonal, also the great
    skua, a dozen things singly through different mental
    states, mental states here and there as if unknown to each
    other things happen to them differently
They can’t anticipate each other but they aren’t innocent of
    each other, the dead then alive knowing glances
Future detail of experience the same thing ours for nothing more than noting
    that living harbors the half-desire for
    anonymity self-consciousness diminishes within 
Take fences—the mechanism of clocks harbors birds it
    provides a narrow escape

A story requires resemblance and the results are bound to
    include recognizable sounds in their totality as horns
    and windmills and the story is ‘ours’
It turns over to today the body it contains, something
    alone in whatever time across, being this of that,
    tenderly trying to dispel the anxiety impeding
    pleasurable run-on regeneration 
Imagining ourselves under a gray sky shining so brightly
    our eyes can’t establish any connections, a sky so bright
    that the option of connection isn’t open, this puts us in
    mind of beginnings that reason can motivate but not end
Searching out streets which allow for faster movement
    through this impression of something short-lived we
    can’t retreat, can’t know where we are
We fret as if demented by different events in the dissatisfied
    chaos that make incompatible claims
We go no more than a few feet before we come upon the
    obstacle punctually
Happiness is independent of us bound to its own
    incompleteness sharply
The day has come with both rational and irrational aiming at it the
    future fork and set of feathers 
There is activity in a life, i.e. conduct asserts the power of
    deliberating without knowing how a state of being is
    brought into existence every so often often
The specific accident to specify something never allowed to
    settle completely
Then the shout "I" and the response "me, too," the curiosity
I can know you without yardstick or sleep, without analysis
    and from near or far, but I can’t know you without myself 
What were the chances I would land on a ladder is the
    question at which I’m laughing to experience the reality
    of what I myself am not
The closer expression comes to thought fearlessly to be
    face-to-face would be to have almost no subject or the
    subject would be almost invisible
And more is left than usefulness
It’s this that happiness achieves 
The riddle happening hitherto before
What is not is now possible, a ponderable 
You muse on musing on—so much now but you do
You can rearrange what the day gets from accidents but
    you can’t derive its reality from them
The dot just now adrift on the paper is not the product of
    the paper dark
Nearly negative but finite it springs from its own shadow
    and cannot be denied the undeniable world once it is
    launched—once it’s launched it’s derived 
Tonight sounding roughly it isn’t quite that only words can
    reason beyond what’s reasonable that I drop my eyes to 
Something comes
The experiences generated by sense perception come by the
    happenstance that is with them
Experiences resulting from things impinging on us
There is continuity in moving our understanding of them as they appear
Some which are games bring with them their own rules for
    action which is a play we play which we may play with
    an end we value not winning
The dilemmas in sentences form tables of discovery of
    things created to create the ever better dilemma which is
    to make sense to others

From The Language of Inquiry by Lyn Hejinian. Copyright © 2000 by The Regents of The University of California Press. Reprinted by permission of the University of California Press. All rights reserved.

From The Language of Inquiry by Lyn Hejinian. Copyright © 2000 by The Regents of The University of California Press. Reprinted by permission of the University of California Press. All rights reserved.

Lyn Hejinian

Lyn Hejinian

Lyn Hejinian was born in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1941.

by this poet

To achieve reality (where objects thrive on people's passions), enormous effort
and continuous social interactions are required, and I can't get started
without you. Not here—over there's a better place to begin a funny story.
History with its dead all shot through with regularities in the woods
and following

The Lost Pines Inn would be a good name for a motel, or No Sheep in the Meadow, The Lost Egos, The Downtown Country Inn, Mike and Ann's, Doug and Diane's, Bob and Joe's or Just Joe's Hotel, Warm Toes Hotel, Anything Goes Inn, The Come Inn, The Company Retreat, The Hermit's Den, La Cave, The Little House Hotel, The

A dream, still clinging like light to the dark, rounding
The gap left by things which have already happened
Leaving nothing in their place, may have nothing to do
But that. Dreams are like ghosts achieving ghosts' perennial goal
Of revoking the sensation of repose. It's terrible
To think we write these things