Jun 28, 2010

Streaming / Reading Memorial to Leslie Scalapino

A series of commentaries by poets and writers honoring Scalapino's work

Leslie Loved Invasion of the Body Snatchers

(or, Note on her "Note on Secret-Life Writing"

in Dahlia's Iris / Secret Autobiography)

From Laura Hinton

New York City

I wanted to end this on-line memorial to Leslie writing about a work of art she loved – at this end of the first month of her death.

“This note may be read at the beginning, middle, or end of the text,” I say, borrowing entirely from Leslie, in her “Note on Secret-Life Writing” – that “note” which “begins” (or ends?) her multi-genre book, entitled, Dahlia’s Iris / Secret Autobiography.

In her essay on Leslie’s work, “Figuring Out," Lyn Hejinian suggests that Leslie Scalapino loved the film Invasion of the Body Snatchers – the 1978 remake of the 1956 film, staring Donald Sutherland. Having assigned herself the task of discussing Leslie’s writing as “motion-figure,” and doing so in the context of a discussion of an entirely different motion-picture film so that she may study what Leslie herself wrote (in Deer Night) is a “physiological-conceptual tracking (of ) that is reoccurrence” and “a particular schism / gyration of ‘the inside of the inside’ being ‘the outside of the outside’ (at once)” -- Hejinian nevertheless mentions the importance of Invasion of the Body Snatchers to Leslie. It is important, she says, to the text of Leslie’s “Secret Autobiography.” And she writes: “As Scalapino has told me,” Invasion of the Body Snatchers was “one of her favorite films.”

What Lyn Hejinian learns from this use of a different film (Herzog’s The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser), in a discussion of Deer Night, is that “civilization (culture, the social) is full of pitfalls, and that landscape is not mere background but is itself the shape / gyration of what happens in it.” But she well could have used Invasion of the Body Snatchers as focal-visual reference instead. It certainly influences -- and perhaps structures -- the “detective novel” called “Dahlia’s Iris,” into which “Secret Autobiography” is enfolded. (They are published together, same volume.) And “detection” in "Secret Autobiography," like the film Invasion of the Body Snatchers from 1978, becomes a conceptual-discovery of what constitutes American democracy – and perhaps society at large.

What “Secret Autobiography” “discovers” is that American democracy is a reversal / duplicate of itself. This concept mirrors the blooming alien flower pods in the 1978 "Body Snatching" film. Democracy forces “self” to undergo a transformation. But that “transformation” as “duplication” is in fact not a movement but a reversal – it is, therefore, a sameness, a kind of fetishized version of change. The “self” is or has been sucked out by the “other” / aliens / non-human "plants." Tradition, society, and the “masses” have thus inverted the very principle of cooperative social living. However, Scalapino would never have said that democracy is a sham. What she does say is that it is an image of an image, and a reversal of what it claims to be:

I’m viewing Invasion of the Body Snatchers as an inverted image of the self in the U.S. (the self as an ‘original appearance only,’ limited and fixed, which continues to appear the same by being utterly destroyed as duplication).


In her “Note,” she then critiques the idea that movement, or “transformation,” is in of itself radical – and perhaps that the so-called mobile “freedom” allowed by democracy is in fact a duplication effect that absorbs any authentic being – like so many flower pods. We recall that this is what happens in the film. While the film’s narrative action is set in the streets, homes, and bureaucracies of San Francisco, it is an “alien nature” that invades. In the 1956 black and white film, also a fascinating movie, the “pods” are not clearly plants but identified with an alien “sea.” In the 1978 film, the pods, however, are clearly natural organisms that grow and “invade” their now-urban surroundings -- and humans -- with plant-like filaments and tentacles that attach to the subject / human they wish to absorb and then colonize, destroy. This “nature” therefore may transform but it also destroys the “original” body, which becomes a displacement, a simulacrum – one devoid of human emotion, feeling, mind, and spiritual will.

Donald Sutherland in the 1978 film

Like the 1956 movie, there is of course the requisite Hollywood heterosexual “love interest” in the 1978 version that Leslie apparently favored. The protagonist is a man in love with a distant – but soon to become (temporarily) “close” – woman. Then, her body is invaded, “snatched,” because (in both versions) the man steps away from her – however momentarily and in order to protect her from the Snatchers. He fails in his job as male protector and body guard, fails in his role as knight errant defending the “weakness” of “natural” femininity. And when she becomes the robotic “snatcher” herself, this male protagonist immediately repudiates “her.” But was she ever "her"? And did the claustrophobic male ever want the female tentacles to sink in to his skin to begin with? In both movies, “she” is the alien nature signifying danger to man. "She" threatens -- like all the Body Snatchers -- to invade and absorb his masculine reference, his male prowess.

Chase scene in the 1956 film

Before she is “snatched” away from their utopia relationship and its love scenes, there are many "chase" scenes: snatched bodies chasing the would-be snatched (but still “free”) souls. These chase scenes occur in both films. But the chase scenes in the 1978 film are visually very well executed, meant to be “read.” In one sequence, the male protagonist (played by Sutherland) is running with his girlfriend, who is wearing a red slinky shirt and those low ‘70’s “pump” heels. She has more trouble running, of course – not only because she is the “weaker female” – her weakens is exacerbated by the difference in the shoes. He is wearing a pair of conventional leather-lace up masculine-attire shoes. The camera level is shot at the level of the feet – emphasizing both her red sexy skirt and the difference in footwear. Sexual difference is further divided by the mass of feet closing in, following. The Body Snatchers are trying, in mass unidentifiable numbers, to catch and colonize the “free” human couple. But are they free – this “couple” of humans?

It is the horrific conclusion of the 1978 movie that leaves one most startled. The cold-war paranoia “chase” of the 1956 film has a relatively happy conclusion, when the male protagonist finally finds an “outside” to which he can tell his story -- one of invasion fear. He find a small-town American audience and its figures of authority -- a sheriff, an M.D. -- and these figures finally believe the narrative of his “Truth.” (They themselves visually witness a "pod.") But there is no “truth,” per se, in the 1978 film. We are all in America; we are the invaders. Every law enforcement agency, every city bureaucracy -- like the San Francisco mayor’s office and the police force -- is in it for the kill. The male protagonist has no chance of surviving the invasion of his masculine body. At this film's ambiguous end, it doesn’t matter whether or not he has been invaded, or is wearing the Body Snatcher’s mask instead. We, his viewing audience, realize that he is doomed like we are: to this world of duplication without thought, of activity without reason, of business as usual in the work-place without connection to other humans -- we are doomed to lives as he is without real agency or heart.

Going back to Leslie’s “Note” and its larger con-text: there is a ‘secret’ to the “Secret Autobiography,” itself a kind of “secret” – subliminal without being inside, interior, or within a psyche; it is a text that informs the larger context in which it is reproduced, Dahlia’s Iris as “detective novel” (a form that Scalapino assures us” is not based on realism but on repetition“). And so, too, are the alien flower pods in Invasion of the Body Snatchers film No. 2 “not based on realism but on repetition.” They are the factors of kinesthetic replication, displacement and dissolution. They are the forms of a social structuring that actively evacuates “being” by “duplicating,” and calls this “freedom.”

This becomes a statement about U.S. colonial activities, both internal-domestic racism and overseas acts of hegemony and violence. And it all comes down to literature and language, to “writings.” As Leslie notes in her “Note”:

In U.S. postcolonialist writings now, opposition to conceptual appropriation of other cultures is sometimes being articulated as: to confine to description of their tradition, not one’s interior practice.


Description of tradition” is the problem, not a solution. It leads to a kind of passive-aggressive flower (pod) war. Everything is an imitation of “real.” Not that there is an original to be had. But one must recognize the language structures of the “real,” nonetheless. In the detective novel proper, Leslie will go on to write:

Society is ‘only’ an orchid parasite fostering war. So outside in suffering, ‘no one’ ‘born as anything’ is suffering too. It’s everywhere here also.


She will also comment on the power of the pod – the internalized violence this parasitic creature of “nature” evokes:

The pod has no other expression ... The people in this process are killed. Introducing the pod-flowers, all the individuals are duplicated as crowd-form (as their individual forms).


She also continues to comment on post-colonial structures like that of racism:

Everywhere the transformation of others, their individual bodies’ appearance being duplicated ... Nothing outside of the result of the transformation is to exist. Obsession with being “normal.” Racism is the view that one’s appearance is the original.


There is no utopian field in Leslie’s writing. If the U.S. is particular in its modeling of duplication as subordinating act, her “Note” makes it clear that other countries – she mentions Tibet – also encode this current struggle. She writes of Tibet as

Quintessentially the modern state by being the inverted image: visibly contains all times, is occupied (by invaders and/or by itself) ....


She then concludes by saying:

I wrote this after traveling in Tibet.



As always in Scalapino’s writing, there is no outside versus inside – although that binarism finds its fascination in her lyric inversions. There is no outside to the inside “invasion” of colonialism, which is “material occupation” (17), but also structure, a text.

I wanted to write about a work of art Leslie loved.

This text may be read at the beginning, middle, or end.

But we will always be in the middle of reading Leslie’s writing.


Laura Hinton is the editor and main writer of Chant de la Sirene. She is a Professor of English at the City College of New York, and has been writing articles on Leslie Scalapino’s work since 1994. She will miss Leslie's creative presence in the world.

This note comes with great thanks to the poets who contributed to the Streaming / Reading Memorial Blog for Leslie: Cynthia Hogue, Ann Bogle, Millicent Borges Accardi, Karen An-hwei Lee, Elizabeth Frost, Barbara Henning, Charles Bernstein, Rachel Levitsky, Allison A. Hedge Coke, Joan Retallack -- and with special thanks to Lyn Hejinian, whose suggestion that we re-read Leslie's works prompted this blog project, as well as to Leslie's husband, Tom White, for his reprinted eulogy.

Jun 27, 2010

Streaming / Reading Memorial to Leslie Scalapino

A series of commentaries by poets and writers honoring Scalapino's work

Two poets' eulogies ...

She Doesn’t Belong

in a Past Tense

From Joan Retallack

New York City and Annandale-On-Hudson, New York

[This piece was presented at the St. Marks Memorial for Leslie.]


Extemporaneous preamble as now recalled:

Before I read my prepared text I want to say that death is a terrible deprivation. With all our sense of her continued presence, Leslie will not walk in the door and tell us what she thinks of all this. There will be no more wonderful dinner conversations with Leslie in all her gravitas and humor; no more wide-ranging discussions with Leslie and Tom about theater, dance, politics, science. There will not be the ongoing surprises of her extraordinary new work. This is an incontrovertible fact of death, a devastating one.


I’ve been thinking a lot about courage lately, and it’s relation to poetry. Leslie Scalapino is one of the most courageous poets, persons I’ve known. With her startlingly brilliant mind, her enormous capacity for love and joy in the midst of pain, her writing has been a form of life in which contingency, that is, reality in it’s shimmering of presence/absence, has been the filament of one of the most expansive poetics of our time.

I notice, as I’m writing this, that I’ve been bending my grammar to stay in the present tense. I simply don’t want to put Leslie in a past tense sentence. She doesn’t seem to belong there, certainly not as poet, any more than Gertrude Stein or John Cage, or others who have remained our continuous contemporaries. The loss can’t be denied, but the continued presence is as real as all of us here and elsewhere who are, in her words, not only subjects in charge of the projects of our lives, but also Objects in the Terrifying Tense / Longing from Taking Place. That, extraordinary poem of a title is of course, Leslie’s for the book of poetic prose she published in 1993. It’s a construction that I think must have come to her in the course of writing one of the essays in it. Those essays interweave commentary on contemporary writers, whose work Leslie values, with a strenuous quest to articulate the nature of the poetics in which she is continually exploring the relation of our flimsy subjectivities to our words. “If we ourselves are objects in the terrifying tense,” she writes, “our object reflects the object of oneself.”

The essay for Leslie is in part an act of self-reflexive textual eros, one which arouses consciousness, even fleeting self-knowledge, but only insofar as it touches "the rim of occurring." For Leslie this is never only about self. The poetic act, must be consummated in an agonistic struggle with a reality—poverty, war, institutional and political brutality, racism, gender binaries—that the poet must ultimately rescue from being subsumed in ideology. “Now not as ‘doctrine’, one can't cleave to or be 'masculine' 'tradition' which is non-existent as we're together floating with real individuals. This is the only love. There is no separation between essay and poetry.” Elsewhere, in Objects in the Terrifying Tense / Longing from Taking Place, in the section called “Writing on Rim,” Leslie makes clear that writing on the rim of occurrence is living on the rim of occurrence and that is the form of life she has chosen. Long quote:

In so far as I notice myself trying to change or avert reality by the writing, I had to recognize that motive, note where it’s occurring, which is fantasy.

Rather, the writing should be pushed to be itself // only concentration – in which is one’s fear, anger, etc.

Anger and distortions of clarity are of the nature of perceiving that reality. It can’t be otherwise.

The text eliminates subjective grounds.

There’s extreme pain without it.

One has to be fragile to be without protection in this reality. This eliminates the separation between writing and realistic rim.

Also to push ‘it’ to where even weariness causes it (no difference between weariness and the horizon and writing) ----to collapse on itself where it’s still, visibly flapping.

I wanted to get the writing to the point of being that still.


Yes “that still,” but in that stillness remains the echo of Leslie’s great humor: “still, visibly flapping.”


Joan Retallack is a poet, critic, and Bard College Humanities Professor. But she wants thisto read: Joan Retallack is a poet who has gained much illumination from Leslie Scalapino's poetry and friendship.


How many writers have penetrated my dreams?

-- For Leslie Scalapino

From Laynie Brown

Tucson, Arizona

[This eulogy was read at Naropa Institute.]


How many writers have penetrated my dreams?

Recollection, 1995, Seattle

It was a large box and Leslie had sent it to me and I did not know what or why however I was pleased. The box was as wide as my rib cage, antiquated and wooden with metal clasps. It was heavy. Someone looked at me curiously and said, this is what happens, as if I should have known. One receives so much from those writers beloved and the chest is represented physically by an object which stands for a territory that would have been otherwise hidden, but now appears.

Latticework and layered shelves containing jewels. They are precious and I am surprised, but I know they do not belong to me. This is just looking at what would have been otherwise hidden, a richness of possibility. Will I have to return it, I wondered? Of course, the chest will continue traveling in order to exist. It wasn’t real was it? Like the dream of walking into a bookstore and seeing a book one had written before one had ever written any book, not even a first book. But the intangible is as real as the unreal, considering manifestation as a result of the received and the imagined.

There was an elegance in the scrollwork on the chest. Something was dripping. I want to say eyes or jewels were dripping, as in a glance in a dark secreted place which gleams or reflects another light, when the source of the light is unknown but the bright spot appears all at once and surprisingly, rises up to meet one.


When I first began reading the work of Leslie Scalapino I was immediately struck and also stricken with the immediacy and fluidity of a vast assortment of images combined and probing into the nature of perception, desire, physicality, mindfulness and music. That’s a mouthful I couldn’t have articulated as I began reading, but accumulated more and more as I continued to read the many works which she wrote and which became increasingly over the years crucial to my development as a writer. Mostly when I think of her work I think of intensity. Heavily peopled scenes. How the image interacts, enters. Contrasting cultures and questions of movement, how the mind moves through the thick colorful collages of life-being. She presents them painted, photographed, interrupted, fragmented, but most of all incanted. Not sung but urgently and precisely placed, intoned.

With each new work more layers and locations emerge, yet her style of writing remains both recognizable and also evolving, sinuous, alive. I was struck by her willingness to examine the animal nature of being in many lights: sexual, vital, vulnerable, violent, failing. I admire the combination in her work of meditative inquiry and a non-sanitized view of the wide range of capabilities of human mind/acts.

I was struck with her generosity, her presence, her honesty, her concern for others.

I was struck with her momentum, her cadence, the way her prose was always scored upon the page musically, and as reader/performer of her own work by both her urgency and also gentleness.

Leslie was one of the first poets to publish my work, in an O books compilation, Subliminal Time. She was incredibly supportive and a careful reader always.

She was also adamant about correctness in how others perceived her poems. I recall once introducing her and her objecting to the way I had used a quotation of her work to express something I felt also reflected her vantage on writing. She got up on stage and said, “but that was a poem.” She was particular, confident, unafraid to express but also kind.

I’m struck with Leslie’s preoccupation with how time functions in terms of perceptions and how this leaves us with the comforting sense that she has not, will not ever desert us. Joan Retallac writes of this in a text written for a recent memorial for Leslie, that she is not to be put in the past tense. “She doesn’t seem to belong there, certainly not as poet, any more than Gertrude Stein or John Cage, or others who have remained our continuous contemporaries.” Such influence and inspiration given by a writer such as Leslie indelibly imprint. And though she is terribly missed and her loss is devastating her work remains and reminds us of the present and questions of what present is. She writes in “a woman whorled”:

“One’s physical body is disorder as movement is.”

“Practically, ‘present’ or ‘continuous’ can’t be disorder (not observed anyway) in that it resets itself to that level spirals.”

From Floats Horse-Floats or Horse-Flows



I walked up to the front door of Leslie and Tom’s house carrying orchids. What could I bring? I was told I could not bring dinner, could not bring anything. End of April, 2010, just a few weeks before Leslie’s passing. Still a chill in the air. Light rain. When I walked in I thrust the flowers forward but no one was taking them. We made our greetings. I did not know what to expect. She’d been in chemo. But she looked vibrant, her face clear her eyes bright, elegantly dressed. Work stacked everywhere and wanting to talk about work and finally she took the orchids from me and said, I didn’t want to take them because the way you walked in holding the orchids you looked like a painting. I didn’t want to interrupt the portrait she said, and we laughed and sat down with her fluffy white dog like snow at her feet.

Geometric shapes blew past, and artwork and cups of elixir and books blew past, proofs of her forthcoming book, The Dihedrons Gazelle-Dihedrals Zoom - recollections of poetic events, voices and unencumbered we talked into the night. Leslie and Tom so endeared toward each other, as if there were no difficulty.

How are you feeling, I ask, and do you want to talk about how it has been, in treatment? Her only frown. No, clearly no, one word was enough, was it awful or terrible, the word she used, or was it simpler, something like rough? Or was it only a glance, geometric shapes brushing past us representing thought forms? She would rather speak about work, recent readings and proofs of new books and books lovingly everywhere on every surface rich and orderly in a lovely house with time somewhat pleated.

In the last remaining light I had walked up the steps and later departed with every confidence for her full recovery. So bright, so bright, I told myself, no harm must ever touch such a strong and generous presence. Nothing so bright as the source of light glinting from the darkness, a smile in a doorway and parting and walking away from the house much later in the dark the night seemed incomprehensible, time passed or passing illusory.


Laynie Browne is the author of nine collections of poetry and one novel, including The Desires of Letters, The Scented Fox, and Daily Sonnets. She is an editor for Tarpaulin Sky and Trickhouse, and is one of the directors of the POG reading series in Tucson. She has taught at a number of poetry programs, including Naropa, and currently is developing an interdisciplinary writers-in-the-schools program at the University of Arizona.

Jun 26, 2010

Streaming / Reading Memorial to Leslie Scalapino

A series of commentaries by poets and writers honoring Scalapino's work

“Embracing interplay

of life and time ... “

From Allison A. Hedge Coke

Naropa, Colorado and Kearney, Nebraska

Leslie was engaged in embracing interplay of life and time. Her witnessings, brilliant captures, her musings constantly fed by the moments at hand. Her head for sensory device replicated each constant as twin divinations, thus allowing a reader to mull in the midst of cross-time experience. To be welcomed in the grace of her work to gather young poets & writers to pages she herself spent effort culminating, was an immense privilege and pleasure. Always the encourager, if she saw something in your work, she called it. With the call came placement and a bit of ease into the next writing task.

I met Leslie Scalapino as a student in Arthur Sze's class in 1992. I'd had a stroke the semester before and her poetry reminded me of the fleeting images in stroke. I asked her if it was an attempt to replicate a stroke effect. I'd had cancer for seven years already at that time. We talked quite a bit and I found her wonderfully generous.

She and Lyn Hejinian were working together a bit then, and I met Lyn while on fellowship at Naropa that same summer. A bit later they both asked me for some of my poetry for an O Books compilation, Subliminal Time. Leslie published me, championed my work. As one of the first poets to ask for my work for a publication, she moved me very deeply in a mentor sense.

I sent her in some work I was doing in image reflection, deep image and dual-voice work at that time. Separate from the lyric narrative I was publishing elsewhere. She was entirely supportive and extremely encouraging to me. A beautiful human being. Somewhere that O Book release must exit still. I must have lost my copy in moves along the way. I sought it when I heard this sad sad news and missed that time in life immensely. The time in poetry when it took four or five years for your first book to go from submission to print with one press. The effort there. Her efforts to bring us placement into a reality conditioned by language, amazing really, the work there. She will no doubt be missed and I will miss her.


PHOTO of Leslie Scalapino taken March 31, 2010 at her home in Oakland, California -- courtesy of Laura Hinton's I-Phone.


Allison Adelle Hedge Coke is the Reynolds Chair of Poetry & Writing at the University of Nebraska, Kearney, and an American Book Award winning poet/writer who has authored five books, including Off-Season City Pipe (Coffee House Press) and Blood Run (Salt Publications).

Jun 25, 2010

Streaming / Reading Memorial to Leslie Scalapino

A series of commentaries by poets and writers honoring Scalapino's work

“... schooled by the certainty she brought to her radical syntax...”

From Rachel Levitsky
Brooklyn, New York

The following piece was presented during the memorial to Leslie Scalapino at St. Marks Church on June 21.


In 1996, one year after I began to write, I bought The Front Matter, Dead Souls, a serial novel meant for publication in a newspaper—which Leslie Scalapino did indeed send to a newspaper—though they didn’t print it—Wesleyan did, so that I could find it at the Naropa Bookstore. The moment of this reading discovery has not ever stopped influencing and exciting my writing practice, seriality, time, motion, syntax, form, and that ‘a woman’ must have everything’, including PORNO, in order to anticipate the world. My particular epiphany in reading The Front Matter, its conceit of “writing on space” is the possibility of narrative as ongoing single shot by roving camera walking through a populous urban landscape, one with an ocean boardwalk, well it is in L.A., after all.

Soon after I met Leslie at a reading and over the years I’ve been lucky – I want to say blessed but I don’t use that word, and/or ‘showered in fairy dust’ feels equally strange – to work with her via Belladonna activity. And in fact poets like Leslie and many of her generation, their clear feminist concern and their radical poetics, inspired Belladonna, for there was not a community space to gather in New York City, and Leslie loved that there came to be one and was always up for it, to come. She liked women a lot. She loved them. One day in an email she generously offered, an amazing thing for we who have trouble asking, to read my work in progress and later wrote to me to say what was wrong with it so companionably which is a lesson as to how to be helpful and the whole experience of which serves to remind me that I exist. I was always stunned by her willingness to be there, her yes-ness to presence. I have also been schooled by the certainty she brought to her radical syntax no matter how editors and others screeched against it. “Don’t Change Anything.” The confidence that there are things that can be said because we are willing to step outside the choke hold of language prison, in order to, quoting Lyn Hejinian “outrun the destruction of the world.”

Inspired by Leslie’s being in action/action in time, her unflinching eye’s constant movement “outrunning the destruction of the world” I’ve assembled a montage: sources are from Leslie’s Can’t is Night and The Front Matter, my nightly trolls through internet news and gossip columns, and two lines from Carla Harryman and Lyn Hejinian’s collaboration, The Wide Road which Belladonna Books is releasing this December.

Silent Parking Lot

“A dialogue about love is utterly crucial to the remaking of the modern world in writing.

Loving our glandular parts: A scandalized actress takes her parts onstage, returning. She, victorious, loves what she does.

Her shunned ex husband claims to be “A liar not a Nazi” We are hating our glandular parts.

There is a plot in continual series of actions.

ij=a+b(i as years since spill)+d (age j)+ e (i years since spill) (age j)= Oil stays.

The wave comes down softly with the great weight floating.

“An epidemic ‘our nation’ will battle.” As ever, as soon as possible. Through good times and bad. Intractable.

This was to be written on billboards, than it never occurs. There’s an opening to not occurring even.

Hole to hole.

Emerald green swans rest in the water not having to move in it; a pool swims in the movement, an ad.

Healthy lifestyle perfect grease Oil, released from underneath.
If there’s not a difference between the ad and the time that’s been eliminated, that’s memory.

Thousands of holes 10 holes each.
The half-closed eyes of the thug’s head lie on the beach on the sagging carcass.

Heidi is weeping into the camera, face shining. “How can she? Knowing I’ve suffered, the glandular parts I’ve been through.”
Maybe memory itself is joy. It hasn’t occurred, and that’s it.

Body spontaneously aborts. Abandons glandular.
night cannot be seen
regarding is separation of one from others only
here not-regarding

Professor BB assures me that I love my car and that this is progress.

L& C: Our very abundance has made us unsafe.

Collective self mutilation enjoyment.
Glands, collected.
collective now—having driven the Iraqis insane
attention now is insane—is dependent on the separation
of character and night 2, not in movement—either—them
in ‘our’ thought, language ‘our’ movement is before
(language) and later.

But of Earth kill which decoy. For those aborting to give reason. Oceans dying. Letters to evangelicals.

I silence your moaning with violins.

Pelican, Weeping Indian, Owl—Lesbian.
fleeing Baghdad because they were there as
‘we’re’ (invading)
--is not ‘our’ movement in that it has occurred already—
I silence your moaning with violins.

Oil and water, mixed.
Sumo with the handsome boy’s head is lying on her
resting in his arms, still and screwing. He delays. He comes.

As much below as above.
He gets up with the part still and extended.

Will return, in a minute. Will always come back. As soon as possible. No, again.
One time, she’s standing and he’s just taken his
member out of her. He’s standing behind her with the member extended up.

Moveable glands. Benzene clouds. Reactionary flip phone. Small town. Gay bar. Hold on. Glandular war. Held over. Broken part.
Which is seen when he’s come to the door. Defoe’s had
a message for her. Then he puts it back in her.

Moveable landscape. Intractable illness. Made the road. By walking. One single continuous shot. Silence, your parking lot.

Rachel Levitsky’s second book, NEIGHBOR, was recently published by Ugly Duckling Presse. In 1999, she started Belladonna* as a reading series at the Bluestockings Women’s Bookstore, and now is a founding member of the Belladonna* collective.

PHOTO of Levitsky by Benjamin Burrill (copyright)

Jun 24, 2010

Streaming / Reading Memorial to Leslie Scalapino

A series of commentaries by poets and writers honoring Scalapino's work

Leslie Scalapino’s

Rhythmic Intensities

From Charles Bernstein

New York City

The following piece was delivered at the Scalapino Memorial on Monday, June 21 (day of the Summer Solstice), held at the St. Mark’s Poetry Project, New York City. It is reprinted courtesy the journal Sybil and Charles Bernstein.


The poet dies, the poet’s work is borne by her readers.

When I first encountered Leslie Scalapino’s work I was hard hit by its psychic intensity, formal ingeniousness, and rhythmic imagination. I felt I came to the work late; the first book I read was The Woman who Could Read the Minds of Dogs, which while published in 1976, I didn’t read till around 1981. The psychosexual dynamics of the work and its ability to make dislocation a visceral experience immediately became, once I had taken in the magnitude of Scalapino’s project, a capital point on the mapping of poetry associated with L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E magazine, one that deepened and enriched that survey. When North Point published Considering How Exaggerated Music Is in 1982, Scalapino’s work became an indelible part of my poetic firmament, that imaginary company each of us chooses but that also chooses us. That is, I feel as much chosen by Scalapino’s work as that I was doing the choosing; her work entered into and changed my consciousness about what was possible for poetry, changed the terms for all of us working along similar lines.

Every once in a while I would say something to Leslie about Considering How Exaggerated the Music Is. She would shake her head, slightly laughing, “Oh Charles not the music: considering how exaggerated music is.” As in her music, the music of her poems. Not exaggerated in the sense of hyperbolic or overstated, but as in extravagant, wild and wandering.

Starting in my earliest conversations with Leslie, when I would try to describe qualities I found in her work, she was adamant in resisting interpretations she felt countermanded her intentions. When I would say, but you know, Leslie, readers will respond in many different ways to a poem, she would give no ground; for her, how a work is to be interpreted was part of the poem: not just her intention, but part of the integrity of the work itself. I felt her rebuke to my more porous view of interpretation to be magnificent and improbable, for as much as Leslie set the bar for interpretation a bit higher than actual reading practices will ordinarily sustain, she demonstrated her fierce commitment to poetic meaning and also the truth in the form and materials, sincerity in Zukofsky’s sense: that reading was a social bond that necessitated the reader’s recognition of the formal terms of the work. So there was a right way to read, not in the moral sense but in a very practical one, as in a right way to operate software so it works, does the job for which is was made.

And you could say that Scalapino created a new and thrilling poetic software, allowing for a phenomenological unique experience, something like a 3- or 4-D poem. Her overlays, repetitions, and torques enable proactive readers to enter the space of the poem as something akin to a holographic environment. The present time of the work is intensified by her echoes (overlapping waves of phrases) of what just happened and what is about to happen, so the present is expanded into a temporally multi-dimensional space. Her undulating phrasal rhythms are in turn psychedelic, analytic, notational, pointillistic, and narrational. Think of it as deep-space syncretic cubism. And Scalapino’s performances of her work, many collected at PennSound, are crucial guides to entering this hyperspace.

Scalapino’s poetry was central to my poem/essay Artifice of Absorption, which I wrote starting in 1985. In Artifice of Absorption, I noted that Scalapino’s rhetorical repetitions create a disabsorptive/affective charm: the slight, accented, shifts in similar statements operate as modular scans of the field of perception, building thick linguistic waves of overlay and undertow, the warp of a thematic motif countered with the woof of its torqued rearticulation.

When I visited Leslie and Tom in Oakland a few weeks before Leslie died, her luminous and effervescent stoicism, the nobility in which she acknowledged death lurking in her garden, was fused with her refusal to give up on life and her urgent, tragic recognition of the work she still had it in her to do that she would not be able to do. She spoke of how much she wanted to come to New York to read her new work, and so together with Stacy and Tracy we made plans for her to read here tonight. In Oakland in May, we laughed together at the moment’s literary gossip and we talked about her just finished book, The Dihedrons Gazelle-Dihedrals Zoom, written in the late style of Floats Horse-Floats or Horse Floats; she knew it would be her last.

I sent her my response to this work just days before she died, trying to do justice to the work and hoping that she would accept my description as apt, which Tom tells me she did:

The Dihedrons is an ekphrastic implosion inside our severed human-body/animal-mind. “Memory isn’t the origin of events,” Scalapino writes early in this magisterial work, which restores the synthesis of events to its place as meanings' origin. The Dihedrons Gazelle-Dihedrals Zoom -- as much a work of grotesque science fiction as a poem --cracks open the imaginary reality astride reality. In the stadium of its visionary composition, the everyday floats vivid strange: in time, as time, with time, beside time.

Scalapino’s poems, from her first book to this last, probe politics, memory, perception, and desire, creating hypnotically shifting coherences that take us beyond any dislocating devices into a realm of newly emerging consciousness. Like a sumo wrestler doing contact improvisations with a ballerina, Scalapino balances the unbalanceable poetic accounts of social justice and aesthetic insistence.

Every once in a while, I’d say something to Leslie about her book series, calling it O Press; she would shake her head, slightly laughing, “Oh Charles not oppress, O Books”! “Oppression is our social space.” Leslie, with the support of Tom White, created one of the great small presses of our time.

I keep thinking about her titles, which are among the most amazing, fantastic, and unexpected of anybody ever … And her essays, which are models of a non-expository, exploratory style remains foundational for any activist poetics.

Like a ballerina doing contact improvisations with a sumo wrestler.

The poet dies, the poet’s work is borne … by us, in us, through us, as us.

It’s the longest day.

Considering how exaggerated music is.


Charles Bernstein's most recent book is All the Whiskey in Heaven: Selected Poems (FSG, 2010).


Photo TOP : Leslie Scalapino, her husband Tom White, and Charles Bernstein, in Oakland, California, May 2010.