Dream and Material
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Dream and Material
The Collected Poems of Larry Eigner Robert Grenier & Curtis Faville, eds. Standorf University Press www.sup.org/books/title/?id=8058 1868 1,868 Pages; Print, $155.00

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'Five windows light the cavern'd Man: thro' one he breathes the air;Thro' one hears music of the spheres; thro' one the Eternal VineFlourishes, that he may receive the grapes; thro' one can lookAnd see small portions of the Eternal World that ever groweth;Thro' one himself pass out what time he please, but he will not;For stolen joys are sweet, and bread eaten in secret pleasant.'

So sang a Fairy, mocking, as he sat on a streak'd tulip,Thinking none saw him: when he ceas'd I started from the trees,And caught him in my hat, as boys knock down a butterfly.'How know you this,' said I, 'small Sir? where did you learn this song'?Seeing himself in my possession, thus he answered me:'My Master, I am yours! command me, for I must obey.'

'Then tell me, what is the Material World, and is it dead?'He, laughing, answer'd: 'I will write a book on leaves of flowers,If you will feed me on love-thoughts, and give me now and thenA cup of sparkling poetic fancies; so, when I am tipsy,I'll sing to you to this soft lute, and show you all aliveThe World, when every particle of dust breathes forth its joy.'

William Blake's work (here, the opening of his long poem Europe [1794]) is a dream with startling clarity. Europe: A Prophecy begins with an illuminated print of God dividing the heavens (division not being much of a plus in Blake's sense of all things being joined in ultimate freedom and relationship). Blake (the speaker of the poem) listens to a fairy song and captures the fairy, who tells him "My Master, I am yours! command me, for I must obey!" The fairy is the spark of the imagination, which should be used well. The key question he asks the fairy is "Then tell me, what is the Material World, and is it dead?"

The answer is a resounding no, i.e. that the world is full of leaves, flowers, music, and each flower is eternal, though they are plucked and whimper (denied their true nature, perhaps like Man to Blake). Then the fairy "dictated" the rest of the poem to Blake.

The "material" world is the actual PHYSICAL world—this question has different ramifications in our own digital age, and in our own shrouded age of pollution and man-influenced natural disasters, disease, and ruin (pretty much all of which Blake predicted, or at least warned us about). Does this world still exist, and/or are we just, as the poet Charles Olson would have it, so "estranged from that with which" we "are most familiar," that we miss out on its pleasures? And even in poetry and the arts, are we too invested in conceptual ideas and theoretical difficulties and the veneer of electronic and digital presentation, that we forget some of the simple pleasures?

In seeking connections between the material world, and specifically poetries that help to create and respond to such a world, I have been attending to the massive four-volume collected poems of Larry Eigner in the last several months, and finding there an example of such physicality, one to some degree defined by Eigner's cerebral palsy, but one in which the poetry, in part through the circumstancess of that condition, enacts an attention, constantly, from a singular viewpoint, and works with a method of writing the poem on the typewriter that continually reflects on the world, one key (letter) at a time, one vision at a time, and in so doing collapses time to appear as a window, and collapses space to become what the eye can see and the ear can hear and the body can feel, through the acts of seeing, hearing, perceiving and noting perception.

Let me track a bit backwards. The name LARRY EIGNER should be written and read large...