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A biography of a major poet, Larry Eigner, which expands research on disability and Black Mountain Poetics. Read more

Brooklyn, NY Nonfiction
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This project was successfully funded on January 23, 2014.

A biography of a major poet, Larry Eigner, which expands research on disability and Black Mountain Poetics.

Brooklyn, NY Nonfiction
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About this project

Larry, Richard, and Duncan/ Summer of Love
Larry, Richard, and Duncan/ Summer of Love

ABOUT LARRY:

Larry Eigner was an American Poet. Larry had severe cerebral palsy due to a "birth accident" in which forceps where used in his delivery.

He later described his own birth:

"A forceps injury…He, Doctor Richard Williams, mother says, apologized for not measuring her right. If he had, she’s said, I would have been delivered in the Cesarean way. The doctor told my folks they could sue him for malpractice, but considering the thing an accident or something they let it go…Either my mother was too small or I was too big." 

The "palsy" as he called it, manifested itself in a profound speech impediment and limited movement.. Children with cerebral palsy (and other disabilities) where typically institutionalized and considered to be uneducable. However, Larry's brother, Richard, attests: 

"Along with the identification of Larry's birth injury as cerebral palsy came the widely accepted claim that his disability impaired cognitive capacity, as if limitation on Larry's mental development would match limitations on his capacity to manage his body's physical movements…Bess, [our mother], would not accept this claim…it was [her] campaign to have Larry educated."

Larry took to "The Idea of the Boy Poet" as early as age 7, memorizing his own poems until someone could transcribe them for him. For Mother's Day 1939, he wrote his mother: 

Of all the pleasant times in May

Is set aside the fourteenth day,

When everyone has a chance to show,

His gratefulness the best he knows,

To his Mother, who from the very start,

Taught him wisdom from her heart.

Each has his own and separate way

Of greeting Mother on her day.

And though it may be somewhat rough,

I hope this poem is enough.

Larry's mother, Bessie, had the intention of her son becoming a greeting card writer or entering some such career; however, Larry had other things in mind.

Educated at Massachusetts Hospital School, Swampscott High School, and the University of Chicago, Eigner received a Royal manual typewriter for his Bar Mitvah. He taught himself to type with one finger and thumb, and went onto, through correspondence, become the gatekeeper of Black Mountain Poetic. He had long-term correspondences with Cid Corman, Robert Creeley, David Gitin, Daphne Marlett, Denise Levertov, and Ann and Sam Charters. His first poetry collection was published by Creeley's Diver's press. He went onto publish numerous collections with Black Sparrow. Elizabeth Press, and many others.

Jennifer and Bo
Jennifer and Bo

ABOUT JENNIFISH AND HER DOG BOFISH

I live in Brooklyn New York with my husband, son, and four animals. I have published two books of poetry Derivative of the Moving Image (UNM) and (a) lullaby without any music. In 2010, I co-edited, with Michael Northen and Sheila Black, the anthology Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability. I was a teacher for many years, but gave that up to work exclusively in poetics. All my funding comes from a small disability stipend. I spend every day reading and writing about Black Mountain Poetics and doing copious research on Larry. The Larry Eigner Project isn't just about the biography. I am working hard to archive a number of his materials, working on a collection of letters for Poetry magazine, and a number of other projects to bring his story to light.

WHY THIS BIOGRAPHY?

After the final question in his copy of a Paris Review interview with Williams Carlos Williams and Mrs. Williams, Larry Eigner wrote, "There by for the grace of God I go." In a letter to his long-time correspondent Cid Corman, Eigner described in detail his comparison readings of William's "Paterson" and Olson's "Maximus." With one finger on a typewriter and the other arm wrestling down any given book, Eigner made fundamental gestures to become as the great connector in the world of 1950s, 60s, and 70s American poetry and poetics. Not only is this a book, it's an education, as I move through Eigner's reading list and see the world through his eyes. Here, "but for the grace of God, I go."

There is an enormous amount of misinformation about Larry. For example, the University of Alberta's Black Sparrow Archive describes his biography as this: "Larry Eigner is a life long spastic [cerebral palsy], helpless and confined to a wheelchair, and that he writes only with the greatest difficulty." Texts like this are deeply offensive and just not inaccurate. Larry, like other people with disabilities, deserves to have the truth told about his life.

Unfortunately, a biography is not a poem; it takes financial resources. In the fourth year of it's writing, I am still having to gather funds for travel, interviews, an office space, and my assistant. I have to pay libraries to send PDFs of letters when I am not able to travel. And then there is, simply, the cost of living! 

Why is my project important? It tells the story of someone who was fundamental to poetry whose story has yet to be heard. A deeper understanding of Eigner's poetry and life will effect all our lives as we come to understand disability more and dispel mythology about poets who live outside the norm. We can't all be sexy in the way that Patti Smith is sexy; but we all have our place.

Because traditional grants tend to support artists in academia and traditional projects, of which this encompasses neither, I need YOU! For ten dollars, you can be my Guggenheim. Do it for Larry!


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