by Lyn Hejinian
The second work in Belladonna* Collaborative’s Germinal Texts series, Lyn Hejinian’s Positions of the Sun is a book of twenty-six interlocking “essays with characters” that explores the mid-2000s financial “crisis” through the movements and daily lives of a wide-ranging cast of characters located in the Bay Area. In Positions, Hejinian plays the bricoleur, bringing together whatever’s needed in her to approach to the subject—whether the paratactic tactics of poetry, scholarship’s critical patchwork, or dramatis personae set in time that evokes but frustrates narrative. Earlier iterations of essays 4, 14, and 17 appeared in Belladonna*’s Elders Series #5, edited by Jennifer Scappettone with work by Etel Adnan, Lyn Hejinian, and Jennifer Scappettone.
Belladonna* Collaborative’s Germinal Texts trace feminist avant-garde histories and the poetic lineages they produce. Focused on authors and texts that provide generative grounds for other writers and their work, Germinal Texts gesture to networks of affiliation, whether explicit or subterranean; to kinships and inheritances; to the unfolding of a text through its readership; and to always provisional origins without endings. Germinal Texts are works that gather dense histories and, for this reason, the series is designed to hold a space for critical discussion, with contextualizing front and back matter that launches new conversations.
More than ever, it seems to me, Lyn Hejinian, by positioning the sun, has sunk her thoughts in her everyday perceptions to capture the continuity of a reality that, in spite of her most concentrated attention, keeps eluding her, (and us). Her present work results in a poetic emanation that creates a celestial map where the sun, discreetly, appears, here and there, and illuminates, like her own mind does, everything it touches, and moves on with it. Yes, “thought is a polyphonic awareness,” as she says, and by including this solar dimension she redeems the (pathetic) totality of the whole landscape.
Lyn Hejinian’s Positions of the Sun is the epic our time demands—thought dancing to the tune of moment’s irreconcilable possibility. The aphoristic pleasures of My Life proliferate like morning dew in the sublime wild of words. Echoing Lucretius, Proust, and Stein, Positions of the Sun is a masterpiece of the poetry and politics of everyday life.
Lyn Hejinian’s Position of the Sun offers up a guide for what critical biography must do in our age of total surveillance and hyperconnectivity. In this eloquent book, the precise coordinates and confined excesses of everyday life reassemble into multiversal street theater where avatars are dialogues are histories are feelings—all gestures toward the right now, just before, and later futures where we might converge in common spheres and radical forms. This book is the simulacra and its decimation, a challenge within the collapse—a revelatory politics of encounter. I’m transported by this work.
In Positions of the Sun, Hejinian fashions a way to move forward in language while also turning her mind at 360 degree angles and using her thinking to love every thing and every instance in her path. This turning creates a new shape for the frame of perception and new time. Like Stein’s Tender Buttons and her own seminal My Life, this is one of those works that opens up poetry and opens up prose and gives us more breath and more light to name what we see.
[Positions of the Sun] extends documentary and personal testimony, dreamwork, correspondence, literary history, and philosophy to the same plane, without rendering all exchangeable. Sentences, their motions incommensurate, build arguments as if counter discursively, the way the opposite of erosion amasses terrain.
Not a second passes in conscious thinking about poetry, what poetry is, what poetry might be, that is not suffused with the presence of Lyn Hejinian’s language. We hear her, now, in all our thinking about “everyday life,” though we might not know the command of her work firsthand, even. Her mind at work routinely shakes us up, sometimes by the simple abundance of her resourcefulness in making words, phrases, sentences bend to the necessities of diverse experience. Positions of the Sun, waves aside the problem of genre (Jean Day “brushing her right hand gently in the air as if to move the statement aside”), as Hejinian pokes the edges of (pokes holes in) fiction, poetry, essay, to explore how each and all might carry on and care for literature as a time-based art. “I myself am not afraid of chaos but of fending it off,” Hejinian writes. This is not a confession of “a component of the secret that sits at the core of one’s singularity,” but a theorem about understanding the persistent fact of writing to live and live better.
Lyn Hejinian teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, where her academic work is addressed principally to modernist, postmodern, and contemporary poetry and poetics, with a particular interest in avant-garde movements and the social practices they entail. She is the author of over twenty-five volumes of poetry and critical prose, the most recent of which is The Unfollowing (Omnidawn Books, 2016). With Barrett Watten, she is the co-editor of A Guide to Poetics Journal: Writing in the Expanded Field 1982-1998, and the related Poetics Journal Digital Archive (Wesleyan University Press, 2013/2015). She is the co-director (with Travis Ortiz) of Atelos, a literary project commissioning and publishing cross-genre work by poets, and the co-editor (with Jane Gregory and Claire Marie Stancek) of Nion Editions, a chapbook press. In addition to her other academic work, she has in recent years been involved in anti-privatization activism at the University of California, Berkeley.