The Cell

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Lyn Hejinian is one of the most prominent practitioners of what has come to be known as “Language” poetry. The poets who have been identified with this approach to contemporary poetry have resisted the temptation to form a school. In this they have differed from earlier avant-garde literary groups. At the same time, however, these poets have self-consciously continued and renewed the important experimental tradition in American literature. Though the work of such Language poets as Hejinian, Leslie Scalapino, and Clark Coolidge has appeared from small presses and in little magazines, there is now a sufficient body of material in this mode as to constitute an instructive moment in the history of late twentieth century American literature.

Despite the fact that one of the culturally interesting aspects of Language poetry is its resistance to typification, the type of imaginative project it undertakes is well illustrated by THE CELL. The book covers a specific time period in Hejinian’s artistic life and records the creative perceptions of that period. Presented as a diary, with marginal annotations in the author’s hand, its informality is a means of presenting the structures of uncertainty which inhere in the poet’s powers of perception.

Many of the poems suggest the potentiality rather than the finality of experience. Movement, process, lateral thinking, and association tests are the central features of the verse as it continually maps its own possibilities. The book’s title indicates the poet’s interest in providing a tissue of complementary and contradictory associations. The openness with which this tissue is assembled underwrites the work’s resourceful wit.