cover image Saga/Circus


Lyn Hejinian, . . Omnidawn, $15.95 (148pp) ISBN 978-1-890650-34-6

This pair of new long works from the California-based experimental poetry master (The Fatalist ) makes a fine introduction to her current powers. Hejinian—admired in avant-garde circles since the 1970s—combines epistemological investigations with deft jokes. “Circus” is both prose poem and experimental, nonlinear fiction: named characters (Sally Dover, Quindlan, the talkative Askari Nate Martin) chase one another through short nonlinear chapters (one sequence includes, in order, “Chapter Two,” “Chapter One,” “Chapter 3 and Chapter Two,” “Chapter Between” and another “Chapter Two”). Sometimes kids, sometimes gossipy wives, sometimes circus performers and sometimes figures in a whodunit; these are characters meant to dismantle expectations, in quotable sentences and baffling passages reminiscent of Gertrude Stein: “Quindlan refuses to recognize anything as a digression, to take a suggestion, to accept a designation.” Less whimsical and perhaps more profound, “Saga” comprises 37 numbered free-verse segments: each imagines a long journey on a seagoing vessel as a figure for poetry, history, life. Along with Hejinian’s usual canny smarts, this newest long poem includes unexpected Romantic aspirations, with nods to Wordsworth and Coleridge: Hejinian, or her persona, says she “felt uprooted even/ At an early age perhaps from gods, my deities/ Were streaming/ Or grinding like a boat being hauled over stony ground.” (Sept.)