cover image The Language of Inquiry

The Language of Inquiry

Lyn Hejinian. University of California Press, $50 (447pp) ISBN 978-0-520-21699-0

Hejinian's My Life, an urtext of language poetry, has found its way onto countless contemporary poetry and women's studies syllabi, as well as the bookshelves of poets and other readers, for the complex transparency of its thought and the beauty of its language. For poets in the know, Hejinian is also the author of Writing Is an Aid to Memory, Oxota: A Short Russian Novel and The Cell, among other trenchant experimental books. This collection of essays from a 25-year period provides some of the ideational backstory to those works and shows how Hejinian has processed influences like Stein (""Two Stein Talks,"" ""Three Lives,"" ""A Common Sense"" and elsewhere), the figure of Faust (""La Faustienne"") and others, often from a carefully contextualized feminist perspective. Several q&a's enlarge upon specifics of Hejinian's poetic practices, while others take stock of the language movement from the inside. The most valuable essays here are the least synthetic: ""A Thought Is the Bride of What Thinking,"" first publishing in 1976 and long out of print (""Lucidities, or, lines. The starry angular varieties of recurrent word and changed idea in constellation gather""), and ""Strangeness,"" from more than 10 years later, taking the form of journal entries and dream narrative that beautifully convey the psychological dimensions of abstract thought. The book ends with the wonderfully discursive poem ""Happily,"" recently issued by Post-Apollo Press (Forecasts, Feb. 21), and those for whom the status of ""Reason"" or ""Forms of Alterity"" still matter will be happy, too. (Dec.) Forecast: Academic work on language poetry and Hejinian continues apace; libraries and scholars will provide a steady market for this book. Any store with a literary theory section will want to stock this title; for those with limited poetry sections, My Life and Writing Is an Aid to Memory remain essential.