lyn hejinian | yet we insist that life is full of happy chance

7 06 2010

Poetry Dispatch No. 323 | June 7, 2010


Yet we insist that life is full of happy chance

The windows were open and the morning air was, by the smell of lilac and some darker flowering shrub, filled with the brown and chirping trills of birds. As they are if you could have nothing but quiet and shouting. Arts, also, are links. I picture an idea at the moment I come to it, our collision. Once, for a time, anyone might have been luck’s child. Even rain didn’t spoil the barbecue, in the backyard behind a polished traffic, through a landscape, along a shore. Freedom then, liberation later. She came to babysit for us in those troubled years directly from the riots, and she said that she dreamed of the day when she would gun down everyone in the financial district. That single telephone is only one hair on the brontosaurus. The coffee drinkers answered ecstatically. If your dog stays out of the room, you get the fleas. In the lull, activity drops. I’m seldom in my dreams without my children. My daughter told me that at some time in school she had learned to think of a poet as a person seated on an iceberg and melting through it. It is poetry of certainty. In the distance, down the street, the practicing soprano belts the breeze. As for we who “love to be astonished,” money makes money, luck makes luck. Moves forward, drives on. Class background is not landscape—still here and there in1969 I could feel the scope of collectivity. It was the present time for a little while, and not so new as we thought then, the present always after war. Ever since it has been hard for me to share my time.. The yellow of that sad room was again the yellow of naps, where she waited, restless, faithless for more days. They say that the alternative for bourgeoisie was gullibility. Call it water and dogs. Reason looks for two, then arranges it from there. But one can imagine a madman in love. Goodbye; enough that was good. There was a pause, a rose, something on paper. I may balk but I won’t recede. Because desire is always embarrassing. At the beach, with a fresh flush. The child looks out. The berries are kept in the brambles, on wires in reserve for birds. At a distance, the sun is small. There was no proper Christmas after he died. That triumphant blizzard had brought the city to its knees. I am a stranger to the little girl I was. and more—more strange. But many facts about a life should be left out, they are easily replaced. One sits in a cloven space. Patterns promote an outward likeness, between little white silences. The big trees capture all the moisture from what seems like a dry night. Reflections don’t make shade, but shadows are, and do. In order to understand the nature of the collision, one must know something of the nature of the motions involve–that is, a history. He looked at me and smiles and did not look away, and thus a friendship became erotic. Luck was rid of its clover.

From: MY LIFE, Green Integer 39, 2002, $10,95


Recognized today as one of the great works of contemporary American literature, My Life is at once a poetic autobiography, a personal narrative, a woman’s fiction, and an ongoing dialogue with the poet and her experience. Upon its first Sun & Moon publication—expanded from the 1980 Burning Deck edition—Library Journal described the book as one that “is an intriguing journey that both illuminates and perplexes, teases and challenges, as it reveals an innovative artist at work.” Poetry Flash observed that it has “real, almost hypnotic power, obvious intelligence, and [is] astonishingly beautiful.” It received the 1987 San Francisco State Poetry Center Award, and was a finalist for the Bay Area Book Reviewers Association Book Award.

Since 1987, My Life has been taught in hundreds of college and university courses around the world, and is a favorite book of thousands of readers. This current, reedited edition represents its sixth printing.

Lyn Hejinian | Photo by Gloria Graham

Lyn Hejinian (born May 17, 1941) is a United States poet, essayist, translator and publisher. She is often associated with the Language poets and is well known for her landmark collection My Life (Sun & Moon, 1987, original version Burning Deck, 1980), as well as her book of essays, The Language of Inquiry (University of California Press, 2000).

Hejinian was born in the San Francisco Bay Area and now lives in Berkeley, California with her husband the composer/musician Larry Ochs. She has published over a dozen books of poetry and numerous books of essays as well as two volumes of translations from the Russian poet Arkadii Dragomoshchenko. Between 1976 and 1984 she was editor of Tuumba Press, and from 1981 to 1999 she co-edited (with Barrett Watten) Poetics Journal. She is currently co-editor of Atelos, which publishes cross-genre collaborations between poets and other artists.

Hejinian has herself worked on a number of collaborative projects with painters, musicians and film makers. She teaches poetics at University of California, Berkeley, and has lectured in Russia and around Europe. She has received grants and awards from the California Arts Council, the Academy of American Poets, the Poetry Fund, the National Endowment of the Arts, Guggenheim Foundation. She currently sponsors the Radiohead DeCal course at UC Berkeley.


  • * a gRReat adventure Self-published, 1972.
  • * A Thought is the Bride of What Thinking. Berkeley, CA: Tuumba Press, 1976.
  • * A Mask of Motion. Providence, RI: Burning Deck, 1977.
  • * Gesualdo. Berkeley, CA: Tuumba Press, 1978.
  • * Writing is an Aid to Memory. Great Barrington, MA: The Figures, 1978.
  • * My Life. Providence, RI: Burning Deck, 1980.
  • * The Guard. Berkeley, CA: Tuumba Press, 1984.
  • * Redo. Grenada, Miss.: Salt-Works Press, 1984.
  • * My Life. (revised and updated) LA: Sun & Moon Press, 1987.
  • * Individuals. (written with Kit Robinson) Tucson, AZ: Chax Press, 1988.
  • * Leningrad. (written with Michael Davidson, Ron Silliman, Barrett Watten) San Fancisco: Mercury House, 1991.
  • * The Hunt. La Lasuna: Zasterle Press, 1991.
  • * Oxota: A Short Russian Novel. Great Barrington, MA: The Figures, 1991. ISBN 9780935724448
  • * The Cell. LA: Sun & Moon Press, 1992.
  • * Jour de Chasse. trans. Pierre Alferi. Cahiers de Royaumont, 1992.
  • * The Cold of Poetry. LA: Sun & Moon Press, 1994.
  • * Two Stein Talks. Santa Fe, NM: Weaselsleeves Press, 1996.
  • * Wicker. (written with Jack Collom) Boulder, CO: Rodent Press. 1996.
  • * The Little Book of A Thousand Eyes. Boulder, CO: Smoke-Proof Press, 1996.
  • * Writing is an Aid to Memory. Reprint, Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1996.
  • * Guide, Grammar, Watch, and The Thirty Nights. Western Australia: Folio, 1996.
  • * A Book from A Border Comedy. Los Angeles: Seeing Eye Books, 1997.
  • * The Traveler and the Hill, and the Hill. (with Emilie Clark) New York: Granary Books, 1998.
  • * Sight. (written with Leslie Scalapino) Washington DC: Edge Books, 1999.
  • * Happily. Sausalito: Post-Apollo Press, 2000.
  • * Chartings. (written with Ray DiPalma) Tucson: Chax Press, 2000.
  • * Sunflower. (written with Jack Collom) Great Barrington MA: The Figures, 2000. ISBN 9781930589056
  • * The Language of Inquiry. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. ISBN 9780520217003
  • * The Beginner. New York: Spectacular Books, 2001.
  • * A Border Comedy. New York: Granary Books, 2001.
  • * My Life. Reprints Sun & Moon edition; Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2002.
  • * Slowly. Berkeley: Tuumba Press, 2002.
  • * The Beginner. Berkeley: Tuumba Press, 2002.
  • * The Fatalist. Omnidawn, 2003.
  • * My Life in the Nineties. New York: Shark Books, 2003. ISBN 9780966487190


  • * Description. poems by Arkadii Dragomoshchenko. LA: Sun & Moon Press, 1990.
  • * Arkadii Dragomoshchenko selections in Third Wave: The New Russian Poetry, ed. Kent Johnson and Stephen Ashby. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992.
  • * Xenia. poems by Arkadii Dragomoshchenko. LA: Sun & Moon Press. 1994.