Missing Larry

Michael Davidson‘s keynote address at the NPF’s 2000 summer conference on North American Poetry in the 1960s, “Missing Larry,” was first published in Sagetrieb 18.1, and later as part of his 2008 book Concerto for the Left Hand. The essay is also available online, courtesy the Museum of American Poetics (link).

“Missing Larry” has become a central document for readers of Eigner’s work — and an important contribution to the field of disability studies. The essay deals in part with Eigner’s still-unpublished fascicle Dance, put together in response to Charles Olson’s Plan for a Curriculum of the Soul. The Dance poems include a long one written in response to Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah (see vol. 4 of Eigner’s Collected Poems, pg. 1612). Writes Davidson:

Eigner thought of titling his series “Gyre / (scope) / loop the / loop,” as if to condense the metaphors of stability (gyroscope), perception (“scope”), historical cyclicity (Yeats’ gyres) and vertiginous movement (“loop the / loop”) in one figure. It is an ideogram that merges Eigner’s primary concerns with perception and place, but sets them against the backdrop of historical vertigo, the rightward shifting margin marking the stumbling movement of movements under duress.

The Shoah poem largely concerns a boy — now a man — who returns with Lanzmann to the river in Poland where he was once forced to sing while running with chains around his ankles. Notes Davidson:

The incredulous testimony of survival (“I can’t believe I’m here”) is measured against an act of physical awkwardness that resembles a dance of death, not unlike the coffle songs and shuffle dances developed by black slaves in the antebellum South.

And he adds:

Such powerful mergings of physical grace with carceral control turns “Dance” into a personal signature for Eigner’s proprioceptive position.

The Sagetrieb issue with Davidson’s essay features an Eigner typescript on the cover, an otherwise-unpublished fragment that may have been the beginning of a prose note … or perhaps a poem. A diplomatic transcript appeared on the issue’s first page. Click on the images below for larger views:

The issue is still available for sale. Click on the Ordering tab above for more information.

4 thoughts on “Missing Larry

  1. Steven: I’m going to write a long response as a separate post. But one minor addendum here: with “unreacjanle,” the odd “j” and “n” are each one key to the left of what I take to be the right keys, “h” and “b” (making the word “unreachable”).

  2. Thanks Ben, and thanks for the cracking the code for me on “unreacjanle.” Funny in a good way how it turns out that the on-the-surface puzzling / unsolvable quality of “unreacjanle” embodies the meaning of the sought for (when Eigner typed it) “unreachable.”

    And there’s the possibility that Eigner purposefully created and went with “unreacjanle,” or alternatively decided to leave it having serendipitously typed it. I mean, he corrected other words in the text, but not this one, and there are other “odd” words (see “tent / ion”) that seem totally purposeful (that one conveys, obviously, both “attention” and “tension”).

    To use another Eigner-ism: “hm.”

  3. You’re right! The word performs itself. But I can’t imagine that was intentional. Still, intended or not, the typo is meaningful. What then to do with it … ? “Hm”

  4. Ben,

    As to “what then to do with [the typo], I think you nailed this a few posts back (I hope I’m not putting words in your mouth here): an editor at the least needs to explain what s/he does.

    O had the Stanford editors explained why the left-side margins were shifted towards the page edge in so many poems! To the extent that one of them has suggested (as he has) that no explanation was necessary because Eigner’s left-side starting margin didn’t matter to Eigner, I remain close to apoplectic, but will just say: they didn’t say that in the editorial material in the books, even whlie discussing at length their decisions to preserve the spacing between letters and words, and much other minutiae regarding their presentation (e.g., size of the font).

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