In a way, to begin is to embrace an end. Knowing that end intimately is more than an intellectual exercise; it’s a move toward more conscious living.
Poet and writer Lyn Hejinian delves deeply into this idea in this second edition of her short work of poetry, The Beginner. The book’s cover shows a group of penciled and painted birds, some feeding each other, some looking alive with color, while others appear as dead outlines.
The Beginner’s text-poem form is natural and unexpected — varying lines and paragraphs flow like the transcript of an internal monologue. The fuller paragraphs read like the text of a novel, but smaller pieces of thought come in series that tumble forward in a way that resembles birth.
I am about to experience something, it is already underway, I began to experience it several nights ago, that was guesswork.
Meditative might be a better adjective to describe Hejinian’s cycles of thought, which turn on the openings and closings of lives, the spark and fading of embers, and alternating currents of anticipation and sleep.
Repetition, patterns and congruence are found, not in stanzas or language alone, but in the undulating musical philosophy of the author. She persists in her loops of inquiry into the nature of existence while progressing along a linear timeline calibrated by everyday occurrences.
Whether visiting a frozen beach or putting on a red sock, she experiences the universal in the smallness and readiness of personal experience:
… the emotions though thought to be private are social — they are felt in and as relationships.
For Hejinian, fate is a dark but fascinating game illuminated by brief plays of light and brought to life by the presence of others. Art is a child’s game integrating music, poetry, fiction, theater and photography. All of them twist back to touch the greater whole. The camera lens, for instance, is a ring of Saturn, and:
With the aperture the photographer separates dark from light as if, Alexei Parshchikov says, choosing between good and evil.
By exploring dualities, Hejinian gives shape and voice to the beginner’s experience of seeking and becoming. One idea exists because of its opposite. The beginner is cast into a world of contradiction and variables. She is left grasping at her own perceptions in a chaotic mirror of action. Through a brief, abstract anecdote about a child digging with her mother in the yard, Hejinian comments on the emergence of the beginner’s volition:
One may will anything, the detective says, even violence, terrible things, because terrible things fit, they occur though they are unwelcome, the unwelcome is often willed.
But in doing so, she also deconstructs and breaks down the possibility of self-directed life, and with it, the very plausibility of beginning itself. Where does anything begin, and where does beginning find its end?
Even though a definitive starting point is impossible to find, Hejinian’s poetic work does a beautiful job of mapping the paradoxes and intricacies in our desire for it.
Norene Cashen writes about books for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].