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Larry Eigner / MATRIX 159

June 15, 1993 - October 15, 1993

Larry Eigner: "Again dawn," 1967 and 1993 (installation view, detail).

Download the exhibition brochure (PDF).

"Eigner's book is charming. I haven't got such a relaxed feeling from anything in years," wrote William Carlos Williams in response to the publication of Larry Eigner’s first book of poems, From the Sustaining Air, published by Robert Creeley’s Divers Press in 1953. "There is no tension whatever, but a feeling of eternity. It is hard to say how he has achieved this in the world today. As far as I can see it comes from a perfect ear."1

In this brief description, Eigner provides the simple facts of his life:
"Born August 1927, Swampscott, Massachusetts (out of nearby hospital in Lynn). Palsied from hard birth, never had a job, but got through high school at home, then seven correspondence courses from University of Chicago, a toe-hold of application and hope."2

His introduction to poetry came in 1949 when he "bumped into Cid Corman reading Yeats on the radio."3 The two began corresponding and soon Corman was publishing Eigner’s poems in his seminal periodical, Origin. Of the same generation as Robert Creeley and Charles Olson, Eigner uses simple language and everyday images to create an effect of heightened awareness and contemplative repose. His work has inspired a host of contemporary poets, including Charles Bernstein, Ron Silliman, Lyn Hejinian, Jack Foley, and Barrett Watten.

While a number of contemporary artists, including Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, and Lothar Baumgartewn, have recently combined textual elements with architectural forms, this project is more directly inspired by Siah Armajani's 1987 collaboration with John Ashbery on an inscription for the Walker Art Center/Minneapolis Sculpture Garden footbridge and Maya Lin's incorporation of a biblical quotation in the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama. These projects indicate the extraordinary aesthetic potential that exists for the integration of architecture with literary forms.

Eigner's poetic style is ideal for the broad fragmented faces of the museum building, insofar as his works tend to be spatially open and variable as well as concise. Working in collaboration with the museum designer Nina Zurier, Eigner designed the layout of his text on the museum façade. The poem "Again dawn" appeared in his 1967 book Another Time in Fragments, and is typical of Eigner’s understated reflection on the fragmentary nature of experience.

"(Eigner) has created melodies of perception," wrote Robert Duncan, "fabrics of experience, spaces and times so intensely felt in his spiritual body—this poet so living by, in, and through, words—I know of no comparable focus."4

Larry Eigner moved to Berkeley in 1978 where he continues to live and work.

Lawrence Rinder

Special thanks for their help with this exhibition to Lyn Hejinian, Jack Foley, and Robert Glück.

1 William Carlos Williams, letter to Robert Creeley, 1953.
2 Larry, Eigner, quoted in the introduction to Samuel Charters to Larry Eigner: Selected Poems, ed. Samuel Charters & Andrea Wyatt (Berkeley: Oyez, 1972), p. xi.
3 Ibid., p. xii.
4 Robert Duncan, jacket flap for Another Time in Fragments by Larry Eigner (London: Fulcrum Press, 1967).

MATRIX is supported in part by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the California Arts Council, Mrs. Paul L. Wattis, and Alexandra Bowes and Jack Hanley.

Permanent Collection Exhibitions, Films and Public Programs in Art and Film Collection Access Project at the University Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive are made possible through the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund Museum Collections Accessibility Initiative.

Additional support for this exhibition has been made possible by a grant from the LEF Foundation.