Posted April 16, 2024

Lyn Hejinian

apple tree with blossoms on a brooklyn street

“with sun up / and down dark on / and on as life continues / ending with urgency / —that— / a predatory subjectivity feels / drawn between banks / from higher grounds down / like an infant sliding / from a gravid mom awash / with inexperience…”
—Lyn Hejinian, from Fall Creek


It’s two days after the spring equinox, the sun is warm on my face, and the air still has a winter chill on it. I am walking and “writing” at the same time, observing a wild rose bush and the crocuses pushing up through the regulation tree beds that line the Brooklyn streets.

In The Wide Road, Lyn says the letter writer should always give—or begin with—something of the scene of her writing. I cannot say how many times I have thought of this advice and heeded it.

Dear Carla, a letter should open with the setting of a scene. It should show the letter-writer in her scene so as to produce an inviting passage through which the writer brings the reader in. This may be considered erotic. Dear Carla, I have just closed the windows. Outside, the wind is blowing and I can see the branches of the neighborhood trees leaping and shaking, though whether they are trying to get into or out of the wind and sunlight it’s impossible to say.[1]

Is this a letter? I wonder what the trees in Berkeley are doing right now. Two days ago, as if on cue, pear, apple, and cherry blossoms made their sudden appearance here. This week, your book arrives.

“I am excited about it and want people to read it! Vain woman that I am!” you wrote to Tracy and I in one of our last exchanges. Always with a sense of humor, and a kind of humility, off-kilter and bound up with your intelligence, the way your thinking took place in the practice of living. You made this ethos explicit in your meditation through Oppen on the radical inseparability of curiosity and care.[2]

I feel a great deal of responsibility about getting readers to Fall Creek, or vice versa. If this is a letter to you, let it also be an exhortation or supplication to readers: You who love language, who love to be astonished, Read her—ASAP! [3]

I can’t really overstate the privilege I feel for having worked with Lyn on three of her books in the past decade: Positions of the Sun from Belladonna* in 2018; Hearing, co-authored with Leslie Scalapino ca. 2006-2010, and published by Litmus Press in 2021; and finally, Fall Creek.

When we launched Hearing in May 2021, still in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was with a choreographed reading hosted virtually by The Poetry Center.[4] Readers included Lindsay Choi, Michael Cross, Eric Falci, Renee Gladman, Judith Goldman, Tracy Grinnell, Myung Mi Kim, Eileen Myles, Simone White, Tom White and, of course, Lyn. During the planning for this event, her sense of comedy and delight in the whole affair were at peak levels. As we discussed how we might pull off a reading of the book without Leslie Scalapino, who passed away in 2010, the idea of inviting a host of people to read Leslie’s parts surfaced. To which Lyn replied: “The idea of a reading from Hearing in which multiple people ‘play Leslie’ strikes me as bizarre and magnificent… There are many who would love to be a Leslie for the sake of this event… And only one Lyn! Such is the loneliness of the living!” Later, we decided to distribute around all passages—both Leslie’s and Lyn’s—among the group of readers. After making an initial selection, she commented, “There are 40 passages at this point: 20 Lyns and 20 Leslies! That’s too many. Civilization wouldn’t survive. Although, come to think of it, it’s not all that certain that civilization has survived!” Finally, just after we closed out the reading, she wrote quite simply to all: “to quote something Simone said to me in a message earlier today—I’m grateful to be a poet today. Thank you!”

That is precisely how I have felt all the days I’ve passed in Lyn’s orbit, which is a wide, fertile track whose breadth and influence will—I’m as certain of this as one may be of anything—only continue to grow.

Dear Lyn, it’s close to midnight now, there’s an electric hum through the quiet that almost sounds like cicadas’ scuttlebutt presaging summer.[5] Dear Lyn, you’ve taught us how to open a letter, but what about closing? I favor most your disarming directness:




[1] Carla Harryman and Lyn Hejinian, The Wide Road (Brooklyn: Belladonna* Books, 2010): 55-56.

[2] This thinking forms a throughline across decades of writing—from her essay, “Reason,” in The Language of Inquiry (Berkeley: U of California Press, 2000), pp. 337-354, to recent writing in poetics collected in Allegorical Moments: Call to the Everyday (Wesleyan UP, 2023). See especially: “Prelude to the Curious,” pp. 69-91.

[3] From an email from Lyn on June 21, 2022: “It got to 100 degrees in Berkeley today. That’s f__ing hot! And it’s still hot. And of course we don’t have air-conditioning–the SF fog is supposed to supply that. I should compose a hymn of supplication to the deities of fog and sing it out our westward facing windows tonight. I invite—I beg—you, Fog, to dance and creep and drift into Berkeley—ASAP!”

[4] The recording for this reading is archived at The Poetry Center Digital Archive:

[5] This word, “scuttlebutt,” appeared to me suddenly; I could almost hear it in your voice!