Lyn Hejinian, 82, Dies; Leading Light of the Language Poetry Movement

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Ms. Hejinian savored her place among the literary mavericks. “We attended and participated in poetry readings that took place two or three or sometimes four times a week, talked until late at night at bars, launched literary journals, hosted radio shows, curated readings and lecture series,” she said in a 2020 interview published by the University of California, Berkeley, where she served on the English department faculty for two decades starting in 2001.

“We had very little respect for official academia,” she added, “which, in turn, had very little respect for us.”

In 1980, she published her best-known work, “My Life,” a book-length prose poem written when she was 37 that included 37 sections, each composed of 37 sentences. (When she turned 45, she expanded its structure to 45.)

With its use of ambiguous language and disjunctive sentences, the book forsook the traditional language of autobiography, beginning with a haunting evocation of Ms. Hejinian’s earliest memory, her father returning from World War II:

A moment yellow, just as four years later, when my father returned home from the war, the moment of greeting him, as he stood at the bottom of the stairs, younger, thinner than when he had left, was purple — though moments are no longer so colored.

Seemingly incongruous, “a moment yellow” was an impressionistic, if nonspecific, characterization of the moment, she later said in an interview published by Wesleyan University. “Purple” conjured images of a purple blanket or similar object that she hazily recalled.



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