Larry Eigner

Larry Eigner, San Francisco, October, 1989 – photo: Allen Ginsberg, courtesy Stanford University Libraries / Allen Ginsberg Estate

Last weekend, we drew your attention to a new title from University of Alabama, Bowed Some,Chanted A Little – Philip Whalen’s Zen Journals & The San Francisco Renaissance

Today, we spotlight another title from their highly informative Modern and Contemporary Poetics series (edited by Charles Bernstein and Hank Lazer) – Sustaining AirJennifer Bartlett‘s, equally long-awaited, much-anticipated, biography of the poet, Larry Eigner.
(University of Alabama also publish two other Eigner titles – George Hart‘s Finding the Weight of Things – Larry Eigner’s Eccripoetics (2022) and Calligraphy Typewriters – The Selected Poems of Larry Eigner (edited by Curtis Faville and Robert Grenier) (2017) – “the first and only single-volume collection of Larry Eigner’s most significant poems, gathering in one place the most celebrated of the several thousand poems that constitute his remarkable life’s work” – The full four-volume Collected Poems (1868 pages!) was published in 2010 by Stanford University Press – for full details see here)

Regarding Bartlett’s biography and the importance of Larry Eigner, the publishers write:

The poet Larry Eigner (1927–1996) was a key figure in New American poetry, which grew out of the Black Mountain School and San Francisco Renaissance, and a major influence on the Language poets. Eigner also had cerebral palsy as the result of an accident at birth. It is fortuitous that the poet lived his life in two locations vibrant in both poetics and disability activism. Except for brief periods attending camp and school, he lived with his parents in Swampscott, Massachusetts, until the age of 51. Later, he moved to Berkeley, California, at the height of the disability rights movement. In the 1950s, Eigner attended Camp Jened, which later became famous in the film Crip Camp.

Bartlett’s biography covers every significant phase of Eigner’s life – his childhood and young adulthood when he began typing poems with one finger on the manual typewriter that was a bar mitzvah gift, his first publications and the maturation of his poetic interests through correspondence with poets of the era, and after his move to Berkeley, the ever-expanding circle of friends, poets, caretakers, and collaborators he established there. The result is a deeply insightful account of an utterly distinctive voice whose influence widens and deepens with each new generation that encounters him.”

Michael Davidson, poet, scholar, and author of Invalid Modernism: Disability and the Missing Body of the Aesthetic notes:

“Readers of Larry Eigner have eagerly awaited Jennifer Bartlett’s biography of the poet, and based on my reading, it was worth the wait. This is not a critical biography that attempts to justify Eigner to current literary and cultural theory, but one that hews closely to the poet’s life story by drawing extensively on correspondence and interviews with fellow poets and family members. Although Sustaining Air is about a literary figure, it is also a disability narrative about a poet whose cerebral palsy exerted a powerful influence on his life and work. Bartlett’s understanding of disability issues and her own personal experience of living with disability give her special insight into Eigner’s capabilities – and difficulties.”

Larry Eigner (with Jack Foley, San Francisco, March 1991  – photo: Allen Ginsberg, courtesy Stanford University Libraries / Allen Ginsberg Estate

Bartlett is also co-author (with George Hart) of  Momentous Inconclusions – The Life And Work of Larry Eigner (2020),  a collection of essays and appreciations of Eigner, and Beauty Is A Verb – The New Poetry of Disability (2011, with Michael Nothern and Shelia Black), as well as several volumes of her own poetry (most recently, Autobiography/Anti-Autobiography (2014)

More Bartlett on Eigner –

from  Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry and Literature – here and here.
On Larry Eigner and Robert Creeleyhere
Lecture at Gloucester Writers Center, 2014 – here.
with Charles Bernstein and Curtis Fox, radio discussion, 2017 – here
Facebook – Live, 2018 – here 
and here 

PennSound‘s exemplary Larry Eigner page (with a myriad of great recordings, both by and about him) is, as ever, an extraordinary resource and may be accessed – here

An impressive collection of resources (Eigner materials) is also available on the EPC page – here 


Here’s Charles Bernstein’s introduction to the Selected Poems

Heres a 2010 celebration of Eigner that took place at the University of California, Berkeley, featuring Lyn Hejinian Robert Grenier, Richard Eigner, Rebecca Gaydos, Kit Robinson, Michael Davidson, George Hart, Albert Gelpi, Hillary Gravendyk, Jack and Adelle Foley, Norma Cole, and Robert Hass. (the image here is of Richard Eigner, Larry’s brother):

Here’s another (2017) tribute reading 

Larry Eigner – Sacred Materials – His Last Public Reading (Eigner reads Gertrude Stein)

Next month (October 16th) in celebration of the book,  Charles Bernstein and Jennifer Bartlett will be participating in a Zoom event – details here


Larry Eigner, San Francisco, October, 1989 – photo: Allen Ginsberg, courtesy Stanford University Libraries / Allen Ginsberg Estate

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