Publisher : United Artists
Publication Date : Apr 1, 2007
ISBN : 9780935992434
Category : Poetry, Fiction
Product Dimensions : 0.2 x 5.2 x 7.8 inches
Paperback : 110 pages
Cover Art : Miranda Maher

Order directly from United Artists, Small Press Distribution, 1-800-869-7553 ; or


A new book of poems by the author of You, Me & The Insects and Love Makes Thinking Dark. “In this witty, post-Oulipian take on you-are-what-you-read, Henning dispossesses, recycles, and levels out the singular lines she lifts from the likes of Bataille, Joyce, or Gertrude Stein, all the way to authors of travel aned cookbooks that sit on her shelves. The resulting seventy-one ‘sonnets’ sound their orphaned music: ‘strangers now, but once we were lovers’ with the hidden glee of the artist behind her console, sampling, spinning, shredding, and remixing. My Autobiography is a concept, a mirror, a community: see you there!”–Chris Tysh.

An autobiography fished and (un)tangled from the life of words: words on paper in the air for all of us.  In the beginning was the word, and here “author” becomes a dispersed beginning entity, there all along, allowing us into language and life as only Barbara Henning might. Where is Barbara Henning in this? She is everywhere, as it is finally her “infinite pilgrimage,” undertaken with and for the benefit of all. In this work(l)d, as she writes and we read, “it is indeed our good fortune // to spread out in this wide / finite subject.” It is assuredly our good fortune to pen this book and let ourselves in.–Charles Alexander

What you write : what’s for dinner : the books on your shelves : leftovers. Barbara Hening has prepared us a great meal where the sonnets are even better than the index. –Bernadette Mayer

Review of “My Autobiography”   United Artists 2007. Reviewed in Rain Taxi, Print Version, vol 12, No 2., Summer 2007. Mark Terrill

The idea for Barbara Henning’s book My Autobiography stems from a collaboration with the artist Miranda Maher, who clipped off the corners of 999 books from Henning’s personal library for an installment entitled “999.”  Henning then constructed a series of seventy-two untitled sonnet-like poems consisting of seven couplets each—selecting a word, phrase, or passage from each of the 999 books, using alliteration as a rough common denominator, and more or less following the alphabetical order of her library.  Changes were minimal; some rearrangement was done but the poems basically wrote themselves, the lines synching up with each other in ways unforeseeable by the author, and sourcing everything from Agee, Artaud, and Apollinaire to Zukofsky, and all the way into the kitchen to Henning’s cookbooks.

The result is a neo-Oulipian synaptic joyride through a series of evocative, hilarious, and surprising contrasts, parallels, and combinations. At the end of the book is a comprehensive index listing all of the various sources for each individual line.  One can either read the poems just as they are, letting the lines play off the mind and ear without knowing who wrote what, or one can work their way through wile comparing each line with the index, only to be all the more amazed at how seamless and fluid the transitions actually are, who’s doing it with whom, and what magic has been created in the process.

A good example is poem 35, in which we find the collusion and collision of such disparate authors as William Shakespeare, Karl Shapiro, David Shapiro, Hal Sirowitz, Ron Silliman, W.D. Snodgrass, David Snow, Gary Syder, Juliana Spahr, Jack Spicer, and Gertrude Stein. Strange literary bedfellows indeed, creating a very unusual progeny, best expressed in the last three couplets:

I know what it means, my language

left banares on the kashi express

even bananas with seeds

gain fluency even as they

create wars and pointless loves

little sales ladies little sales ladies little saddles

While the use of such generative constraints is nothing new, My Autobiography is not just a derivative spin-off from William Burrough’s cut-up oeuvre or Ted Berrigan’s The Sonnets, nor is it just another cento exercise in the vein of John Ashberry’s “The Dong with the Luminose Nose.” It was Oulipo member Harry Mathews who said that “writing the truth means not representation but invention”; in My Autobiography, by way of a deft combination of constraints and supple editing, Barbara Henning has conjured up a sort of truth by proxy by merely letting the language speak for itself in an inventive way.

Bill Kushners review of My Autobiography in The Poetry Project Newsletter, December 2007/January 2008.


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