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My Life

4.19 of 5 stars 4.19  ·  rating details  ·  1,330 ratings  ·  50 reviews
Recognized today as one of the great works of contemporary American literature, My Life is at once poetic autobiography, personal narrative, a woman’s fiction, and an ongoing dialogue with the poet and her experience. Upon its first publication by Sun & Moon Press (the edition reprinted here) the publication Library Journal described the book as one that "is an intrigu ...more
Paperback, 120 pages
Published May 1st 2002 by Green Integer (first published 1980)
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The Complete Poems by Emily DickinsonLeaves of Grass by Walt WhitmanShakespeare's Sonnets by William ShakespeareThe Waste Land and Other Poems by T.S. EliotAriel by Sylvia Plath
Best Poetry Books
130th out of 1,553 books — 1,723 voters
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In Which These Are the 100 Greatest Novels
82nd out of 101 books — 37 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,289)
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MJ Nicholls
An excellent “poetic autobiography,” told in lyrical, repetitious, elliptical prose, slowly passing through a life with baffling clarity, bamboozling starkness and confuddling honesty. The chapter headings usually reappear embedded in the subsequent chapter text, hinting at mathematical structures or arrangements between chapters (or even sentences?). As a non-poet and rare poetry reader, I’m rarely impressed by this sort of high modernist plate-spinning trickery, unless it’s purely prose, but t ...more
"it seemed we had hardly begun and we were already there"

a wonderful autobiography in the form of a prose-poem. like nabokov's autobiography, it is as much concerned with the nature of memory itself as with the story of the writer's life. apparently there are 2 editions of this work, the first written at age 37 in 37 segments of 37 sentences each (this is the edition i got my hands on) and a second edition rewritten at age 45 with 45 segments of 45 sentences each. this expansion suggests that th
Oct 17, 2010 Cole rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Cole by: Dr. Deborah Mix
Many people, in my experience, will come up against this book (because you don't merely read it--you come up against it) and say that they find it impenetrable or heavy-handed. For me, it is exciting and intriguing and the perfect overlapping of prose poem and autobiography.

For those who crave linear narrative, you can definitely find it here if you want it. For dorks like me who love to wrestle with literature and walk away a little bit frustrated, this is a brilliant work.
Michael Farrell
once i was photocopying this for a class, but there was a sheet of labels in the machine, so i had a page of labels with text from my life - i put them on my current exercise book for writing poems, which i took to the us in 2004. i hardly wrote any good poems tho - & i was sick! but i had a dream run of meeting people, including lyn.

unf i seem to have lost my copy of this book
Steve Morrison

A beautiful autobiographical prose-poem, and, like any life, a continuous work in progress and revision. The original book, written when Hejinian was 37 years old, contains 37 chapters of 37 sentences each. The revised edition (which I read) was written when she was 45, and contains 45 chapters of 45 sentences each. So not only are there 8 new chapters, but there are also 8 new sentences added within each of the original 37 chapters. A wonderful way to depict the way life expands forward and bac
Chris Schaeffer
I really like Hejinian but this book is hampered by a comfortable middle-class sense of continuity that ughhh arghh I can't even finish it, she HAD HORSES, SHE HAD HORSES. If you're tacky enough to have had a happy childhood, leave it out of your books. I can't believe this predates 'The Guard.' Don't give your children horses.
Mike Lindgren
It's difficult to make an evaluation of this book. Perhaps the way to approach it, at least right now, is through a simple list of pros and cons:

• Unique
• Evocative
• Poetically charged
• Unsettling

• Impenetrable
• Self-absorbed
• Willfully opaque
• Nonsensical

Cf. review of Susan Wheeler, Assorted Poems. Both are overtly "poetic" documents that force the reader to make judgments regarding the value of highly associative / subjective verse.
I had to read this book for a poetry class; at first it struck me as nonsensical and too unique for its own good. However, I must say that this is a book that will stay with me forever. I can keep reading it over and over, each time with a different reading. This is a text that is "open" in the sense that it acknowledges so much more than the words with which it is written. A beautiful and poetic exploration of self, memory, process, and language...
Heather Good
This is one of my favorite literary treats that I return to when I want perspective, when I want to be lifted out of the linear and escape into freewritten bliss. It feels like a stream-of-consciousness Woolfian-Kundera daydream.
Jessey Nickells
A truly unique autobiography in which each sentence stands as its own poem without detracting from the book as a whole. I could read this book once a year and love it for something new each time.
Surrealist poetry is a new thing for me and I love the poetic images that set me in a new direction, but my thirst for narrative and vicarious exeperience goes unsatisfied and I'm left wanting more.
"Only fragments are accurate."

Like a stereoscope of images upon images, creating scenes strange with dissonance, or scenes at ease with coming home.

What else could I possibly say?
Jan 26, 2014 e rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: poetry
As for we who "love to be astonished," this book does not merely suffice, it defines.
“To some extent, each sentence has to be the whole story.”
"'As for we who 'love to be astonished,'" I was!
Poet Lyn Hejinian writes a different kind of memoir, a book-length series of prose-poems that form a lyric memoir that is non-sequential, filled with memories, of course, and images too but, above all, language. I have long been fascinated with the genre, but would never have read this memoir if I hadn't been introduced to it in my Coursera class on Modern and Contemporary American Poetry, which just finished up and which was amazing. These online courses are free, at least for now! I have signe ...more
An interesting, very heady read. I read it quickly for school and dashed off a response paper, so I didn't get a lot out of it. There are many beautiful images and sentence fragments but I didn't get a sense of coherence from the work as a whole. I respect Hejinian's craft, but at the same time, I'm not likely to pick up the book again anytime soon because it seems so formidable and intellectual. I'd be interested to hear what other people got out of it, other than the fact that she counted sent ...more
Very few books, of poetry or otherwise, mean as much to me.
Derek H
If you ever get the chance (and the time), this really should be read in conjunction with the original... The ways in which additions (to earlier sections) and the growth (of the whole) take place are breathtaking. My Life in the Nineties, while lovely in its own right, is an unfortunate departure from the original project, or so I think... Hopefully we'll get a magnum opus My Life, an efflorescence of memory and meaningfulness, soon...
I love the sheer imagistic and synesthetic beauty of the first sentence,

"A moment yellow, just as four years later, when my father returned home from the war, the moment of greeting him, as he stood at the bottom of the stairs, younger, thinner than when he had left, was purple--though moments are no longer so colored."
Had to return to the library before I finished. I'd like to come back to it though.

Experimental quotidian.

Hejinian's are a poetics of simultaneous specificity and indeterminacy, untethered particularity and semantic ambiguity, in which the reader must work as hard as the writer.
this little booklet is so brilliant that i feel the intense urge to underline everything...or place a remarkable indication dot on the ends of each beginning and i do for only certain portions of other works i read. these are the ways in which i dream of writing...
One of my favorite Hejinian works, possibly one of the more accessible as well. The self becomes a poetic work of art, always creating itself and being created.

"But all week I've felt my mind, how cold its thoughts are, how reluctant they are to leave my head."
Mar 08, 2008 Khinna rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: postmodern poets
Shelves: poetry
This peice of art inspires and prompts me to write. It is of Hejinian's poetic autobiography, personal narrative, a woman's fiction, and an ongoing dialogue with the poet and her experience. She reveals an artist at work, and I feel one-of-the-same. ONE OF MY FAVES!!
I was in a class where this book got seriously abused by a misogynist canon-pusher who shall remain nameless. Sorry, venting. I enjoyed the, how shall I say, open weave of this book and thought its repetitions elegant, modern and endearingly sentimental.
This is harmony, words and ideas blending into new timbres and textures of meaning as language slowly discloses a fluid life always already in progress. I've never read a more open, allusive, subjective, yet coherent text. What beautiful work.
A staggering of work prose poetry. I could not pull myself from it while reading it, and can't stop thinking about it now that I'm finished. Something is churning under nearly every word here. It is poetry unchained.
Hejinian is a master poet. You must go int this collection with zero expectations, she is a Language Poet and writes emphasizing the readers role in interpreting and bringing meaning to what she has written.
Good translation. I'd prefer not to have the preface which explains the author's style, so as to avoid the tag of mistranslation. That said, great to have LH in Spanish for those who can't read her in English!
Sep 02, 2007 christine rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who has a soul
Shelves: alltimefaves
if you don't like postmodernism, you'll be annoyed. if you do like postmodernism, you'll fall in love.

this little, litte, little book is amazing, but it is not for the faint of heart or mind.

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Lyn Hejinian (born May 17, 1941) is an American poet, essayist, translator and publisher. She is often associated with the Language poets and is well known for her landmark work My Life (Sun & Moon, 1987, original version Burning Deck, 1980), as well as her book of essays, The Language of Inquiry (University of California Press, 2000).

(from Wikipedia)
More about Lyn Hejinian...
The Language of Inquiry Writing Is an Aid to Memory The Fatalist Happily The Best American Poetry 2004

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“People must flatter their own eyes with their pathetic lives. The things I was saying followed logically the things that I had said before, yet bore no relation to what I was thinking and feeling.” 9 likes
“In every country is a word which attempts the sound of cats, to match an inisolable portrait in the clouds to a din in the air. But the constant noise is not an omen of music to come.” 6 likes
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