One of the delights for longtime readers of Larry Eigner in the new Collected Poems is the extensive representation of Eigner’s juvenilia. The editors — Curtis Faville and Robert Grenier — have included a photographic reproduction of Poems by Laurence Joel Eigner, an eighth grade class project, and a section of “First Poems (1937-1950).” There are twelve pieces in the class project; the section that follows adds an additional thirteen, written when Eigner was 9 to 22 years old. All but one of these early poems was published, as Grenier points out in his headnote. He also points out that the earliest poems were dictated, Eigner receiving his first typewriter as a Bar Mitzvah present in 1940 and only slowly coming to master the typewriter’s use.
Poems was printed on a hand press by Eigner’s classmates at the Massachusetts Hospital School in Canton. Free verse was not yet the norm for child poets, so these are all cheerful rhymes, but that only makes for a sharper contrast with Eigner’s subsequent work. Here’s the second half of “Mosquitoes”:
The maddening jeers
Which come to my ears!
The mosquitoes are winning the fray.
They continue to bite,
I continue to fight,
For the rest of the unhappy day.
And here, from 18 years later, is the ending of “The Wandering Mosquito”: “he wanders miles and miles and / becomes aware of the window / where the moon is // … // and it’s raining outside // 94 humid // he hasn’t hurt me yet // I have to open the window // his head is a constant drop of blood.” What has changed between the two poems is not simply the poet’s form, but the poet’s world, which is larger now, and more elastic, no longer human-centered. The mosquito who gets lost in that world is no longer a mere antganonist; it’s now also a force of illumination, allowing the poet to feel his way along the elastic contours of perception, stretching those contours to meet the edges of the world, which even has an opening now — a window through which the amazing bloody mosquito might move safely beyond attention.
Eigner’s other early poems appeared in such local publications as the Hadassah News-ette (Lynn, MA), The Swampscotta (Swampscott High School Quarterly), and The Salem Evening News. He also published in the national magazine Child Life, a product of Rand McNally Corp. The September 1937 issue of Child Life, which came out just after Eigner’s tenth birthday, included the following prize-winning stanzas; they appeared as part of the “Child Life Pen and Pencil Club”:
When All Sleep
When the sun is sinking
And the moon comes out,
All the little fairies
Go hopping about
When the moon is shining
When in bed I stay;
All the fairies show themselves
And all at once they say,
“Let us dance together
And let us play a tune
Beneath the little twinkling stars,
Beneath the silvery moon.”
Especially interesting about the Child Life publication is the insight it yields into Eigner’s early sense of himself as a public person. A glance at the original page shows how closely linked creative writing was with citizenship in that context:
The nursery rhyme quality of “When All Sleep” is so un-Eigner-like to me, except insofar as it shows him trying to please … that’s a constant. What does call his later work to mind is the legend of the “Good Citizens’ League,” printed in the left-hand column, to the far side of Eigner’s poem:
CREED: I live in one of the best countries in the world and wish to do all I can to make it better.
PLEDGE: Every day I will do at least one thing to show I am a good citizen.
That Eigner took all this to heart is suggested by his later poem “The First Independence Day,” shown at the top of this post. And though the nationalism of the legend falls away in Eigner’s adult writing, the pledge still resonates. It can be heard, for instance, in a 1972 prose piece later titled “Arrowhead of Meaning”:
I once wanted to do big things and to try of course is the only way to begin, and to quite an extent continuing depends on it too. … I’m still naturally about as interested as I ever was in improving things, i.e., things in general, whatever that is. …
I wonder about purpose, what priorities if not principles are possible, how to balance things.
Not that Eigner’s social conscience or work ethic are functions of Child Life … that would be silly. Only that Eigner knew himself to be a citizen at a very early age, and that this knowledge came — in part — from a public sphere he was already able to enter. 
All together, Eigner was published three times in Child Life. We’ll be posting images from those other issues in the coming days.