My Life and My Life in the Nineties
by Lyn Hejinian
Wesleyan University Press, $16.95 (paper)

Hejinian writes, “We make our appearance and then define ourselves. Existing never to non-exist again.” Hejinian’s poetic autobiography exists in this way. Long considered a masterpiece of contemporary experimental poetry, My Life, first published in 1980, has had abiding influence and requires little introduction. This new volume combines My Life and My Life in the Nineties (2003). Although this “reprinting” may be too easily taken for a retrospective, a new and selected, or even a collected, My Life and My Life in the Nineties is not recapitulation but rather an extension of the underlying poetic process that first gave us My Life in its thirty-seven line form, and then, some years later, the same poem in its forty-five line elaboration. In this volume, the totalizing category of “my life” gets checked by the more discreet “my life in the nineties” and reveals the counterintuitive way time works through memory. While youthful time may seem all encompassing, remembrance from an older vantage point suddenly breaks apart into neat, ordered decades. To read the twenty-first-century iteration of Hejinian’s poetic autobiography is to experience anew a poem that conceives of a life as an ever-unfolding process of recapitulations and echoes, expansions and contractions, discontinuities, recontextualizations, and accumulations. It presents life as a whole that is at once more than its constituent parts and yet incomplete and ongoing.