Episode 12

Lyn Hejinian: Four Poems from The Book of a Thousand Eyes

In this episode, Lyn Hejinian reads four untitled poems from The Book of A Thousand Eyes.

Lyn Hejinian is a poet, translator, editor, and scholar whose literary career has been long associated with Language writing. Hejinian is the author of over twenty-five volumes of poetry and critical prose, the most recent of which are Tribunal (Omnidawn Books, 2019), Positions of the Sun (Belladonna, 2019), and a revised edition of Oxota: A Short Russian Novel (Wesleyan University Press, 2019.) Fall Creek, her latest long poem, is forthcoming from Litmus Press. A book of critical essays titled Allegorical Moments: Call to the Everyday will  come out in Fall 2023 (Wesleyan University Press), and The Proposition, a critical edition of Hejinian’s uncollected early work, is forthcoming from the University of Edinburgh Press (spring 2024). She is the editor of Tuumba Press, the co-director (with Travis Ortiz) of Atelos, a literary project commissioning and publishing cross-genre work by poets, and co-editor (with Jane Gregory and Claire Marie Stancek) of Nion Editions, a chapbook press. She lives in Berkeley, California.

(Photo by Doug Hall)


Read four poems from The Book of a Thousand Eyes

Brief Interview and more at Omnidawn Press

Bio and poems at Poets.org

Bio and poems at the Poetry Foundation

Readings, Talks, Q&As, and Lectures at PennSound

Hejinian's books reviewed by Publishers Weekly

Mentioned in this episode:


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Alan May:

Welcome to The Beat, Knox County Public Library’s poetry podcast. Today, we’ll hear a suite of poems by Lyn Hejinian. Her first several books were published in the 1970’s, and her work as a poet and editor helped to breathe new life into 20th century literature. She was a founding figure in the movement called Language poetry, which is often thought of as experimental or avant garde. Hejinian was, and is, an influential force in American poetry and poetics. Here’s Lyn Hejinian.

Lyn Hejinian:

I’ll write

and I myself can read

to see if what I’ve written is right.

Sleep offers an excuse

for substitution.

But who else would dream

the world one thinks?

It’s only there

the world repeats.

Many days are often mine.

Do I feel that

timeless satisfaction?

It’s seldom said.

Who can be trusted?

One tells

but cannot recognize.


Perhaps my dear family can profit from my story

As it continues two pickpockets are denying a robust policeman’s suggestion

that they are ‘suspiciously encumbered’

If encumbered, they insist, they would resemble kids with a lot to say

They would resemble unwanted sympathy

They would not be like holes in a hallway


O no, here comes

O boy

O ho

O my god


Off we go


There in your hand is an emerald hoe. You have gone to the basement, you have come to the window, you have forgotten our names. Everyone but you is seasick, and you aren’t because you don’t lock your knees as you stand on the deck, you ride the waves, you flow.

There in your hand is a mixing stick, and you live in the land of our mothers and incarnations, and you see things turning: flowers into fate, pebbles into water, ripe berries into people who begin immediately to hunt and copulate and prepare food and quarrel.

There in your hand is a viola bow. You are more than seventy years old now, or maybe half of that, or perhaps a thousand. You are a stranger now, or someone who is yet to appear but of whom we have a premonition, and the children know your name.

There in your hand is a mirror reflecting a cloud. You are moving slowly and also quickly, you live in a barn with legs. You refuse to be bossed around and you spill the ink, word goes out to pigeons or maybe they are penguins who are carrying the message.

There in your hand is a message we can’t read. You are as quiet and complete as an egg and when it breaks there in your hand is a tile and on it are our names.

Alan May:

That was Lyn Hejinian reading four untitled works. She was kind enough to record these poems for us at her home in Berkeley, California. Lyn Hejinian is a poet, translator, editor, and scholar. She’s taught at various universities and for many years at the University of California, Berkeley. In 2006 she was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, where she served until 2012. She has won the Guggenheim Fellowship and a Translation Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts for work in the Russian language. She’s the author of over twenty-five volumes of poetry and critical prose. Fall Creek, Hejinian’s latest long poem, is forthcoming from Litmus Press, and a book of critical essays titled Allegorical Moments: Call to the Everyday will be published by Wesleyan University Press later this year. The Proposition, an edition of Hejinian’s uncollected early work, is forthcoming from the University of Edinburgh Press in the spring of 2024. You can find books by Lyn Hejinian in our online catalog. Also look for links in the show notes. Please join us next time for The Beat.

About the Podcast

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Alan May

Alan May works as a librarian at Lawson McGhee Library. He holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Alabama. In his spare time, he reads and writes poetry. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The New York Quarterly, The Hollins Critic, The Idaho Review, DIAGRAM, and others. He has published three books of poetry.