A BORDER COMEDY

Lyn Hejinian, Author . Granary Books $15.95 (218p) ISBN 978-1-887123-37-2

"I thought I could, as it were, follow a poem, that kept itself apart from me/ And from itself/ A short lyric of shifts/ A page or two at most/ A poem of metamorphoses, a writing in lost contexts/ I would write a line or two/ No more/ And go away/ And come back another day only to add something that would change everything." This "lyric of shifts" is the 15-book sequence of Hejinian's marvellous new poem, as close to an ars poetica as she has come, mixing daily reflection with modes of theory, drama, epic and fable. While this poem has some of the wave-like activity of an Ashbery poem (such as the book-length Flow Chart, to which this book is a peer), it doesn't rest anywhere for long, though it sometimes asks that you learn the special meanings of several of its recurring terms—pleasure, boundary, barbarian, comedy, etc. The poem often digresses into mini-essays describing the poet's sense of each, but this is more than a speculative poem, in the manner of Wallace Stevens's later writing, but one that seriously challenges philosophical rhetoric and modes of poetic discourse, one with a particular capacity for creating playful mental architectures—a truly redescriptive, pragmatist exercise. (Nov. 15)

Forecast:Hejinian has publishsed a career's worth of virtuosic long poems, including the early Writing Is an Aid to Memory (her most "language" school book) and the acknowledged classic My Life, among others. This book, the most fluid and natural of the series, has the feel of a career milestone, one that booksellers can press upon the curious but intimidated.

Reviewed on: 09/24/2001
Release date: 09/01/2001
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