"The Unfollowing by Lyn Hejinian is a sequence of elegies, mourning public as well as personal loss. They are composed entirely of non sequiturs, with the intention of demonstrating, if not achieving, a refusal to follow aesthetic proprieties and rejecting the logic of mortality and of capitalism."—Alex Crowly, Publishers Weekly
Elegies of public and personal loss from the renowned avant-garde poet
The Unfollowing is a sequence of elegies, mourning public as well as personal loss. The grief is not coherent. Though the poems are each fourteen lines long, they are not sonnets but anti-sonnets. They are composed entirely of non sequiturs, with the intention of demonstrating, if not achieving, a refusal to follow aesthetic proprieties, and a rejection of the logic of mortality and of capitalism. Outrage, hilarity, anxiety, and ribaldry are not easily separated in the play of human emotions. And they are all the proper, anarchic medium for staying alive.
Reviews / Endorsements
“Though replete with the pleasures of juxtaposition, nonsense, and surprising resonance, Hejinian pushes disjuncture beyond lyric play at the peripheries of reason.”—Publishers Weekly
“In her poignant yet pointed introduction, the prolific Hejinian (My Life and My Life in the Nineties), a real poet’s poet, explains that while the pieces in this new collection are all 14 lines long, they are not, properly speaking, sonnets, which unfold logically. The poems here, occasioned by the death of a young family member from cancer, don’t so much unfold as spill forth in strings of seemingly unrelated thought. Yet there’s logic in a larger sense, a beautiful and bracing show of how uncertain life can be as it tumbles and turns onto so many different paths. “Every minute proves that reality is conditional,” says Hejinian in a poem that moves from Abyssinia to a woman with a pink bag to an afternoon séance. Thus does she brilliantly articulate mourning. VERDICT: Not everyday reading but a collection connoisseurs must appreciate.”—Library Journal Top Spring Poetry Titles
Transfixing and restless, Hejinian’s book-length series of elegies takes its title from its central formal constraint: each line is a non sequitur from the preceding one. The mere fact of proximity of course invites a sense of relation, a persistence of meaning that Hejinian (My Life and My Life in the Nineties) concedes: “O experiential friend, let us kiss and make sense.” Though replete with the pleasures of juxtaposition, nonsense, and surprising resonance, Hejinain pushes disjuncture beyond lyric play at the peripheries of reason. Throughout, one has the feeling of reading against the grain; while the reader’s approach is sequential—and indeed the book is a numbered sequence—each new line re-centers (and thereby de-centers) the shape of the poem, such that the kaleidoscopic nature of the project pulls against the linear nature of the codex. Hejinian adds to this formal tension by using a 14-line form that in every other way rails against the traditional qualities of the sonnet, including wildly different line lengths, thematic expansiveness, and ultimate unresolvability. This book is jam-packed with imagery of all stripes, exclamations, aphorisms, facts, lies, and flights of rhetoric and imagination. While Hejinian’s form addresses the incoherence one feels in the face of death, the content responds with defiance.—Publishers Weekly
“The Unfollowing consists of seventy-seven fourteen-line elegies composed of non sequiturs (a phrase that literally means it does not follow), conceptually upending the traditional sonnet’s assumption of logical progression. The state of grief—this should not have followed, but it did—necessitates the disruption of coherent trajectory.
‘Things predicted are always restricted,’ writes Hejinian; she might agree with Simone Weil’s claim, ‘We must leave . . . the belief in the providential ordering of events.’ Hejinian’s forthrightness in the preface—as well as the personal nature of the loss—creates a sharp vulnerability from the outset.”—Cassie Donish, Kenyon Review
“Lyn Hejinian’s poetic investigations of the non-linear, of the non-sequential have familiarized readers with stops or endings that are not closure. Her work has experimented with our perception of the pick-up, the point of up-take, the beginning of conscious attention across the gap between stop and start. Now with her new poem, Unfollowing, she is guiding us into experiencing this space, this gap as a present. She makes us come to view each sequence as an ever-renewing whole, and view the subject of this experiment, the ‘unfollowing’ as a state to be enjoyed and surprised and mesmerized by its even existing.” —Ed Roberson, author of To See the Earth Before the End of the World
LYN HEJINIAN is a poet, essayist, teacher, and translator. Her academic work is addressed principally to modernist, postmodern, and contemporary poetry and poetics, with a particular interest in avant-garde movements and the social practices they entail. She is also involved in anti-privatization activism at the University of California, Berkeley, where she serves as the John F. Hotchkis Professor of English.