Jun 3, 2010

Reading / Streaming Memorial to Leslie Scalapino

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

In "Mourning Time," Reading
New Time

(for the First Time)

From Laura Hinton
New York City

It is better to go to the house of mourning, that to go to the house of feasting; for that is the end of all men....”

--Eccclesiastes, 7 (King James Bible Version, Oxford UP).

Rocking forward and backward.

Wavering in the subatomic netherworld, preoccupied by thoughts

Of mourning.

--Kristin Prevallet, I, Afterlife [Essay in Mourning Time]

While I don’t believe the world or its matter is organized – or that there is a “purpose under the heaven,” as the Ecclesiastes speaker rather ironically goes on to state -- I also believe that everything has a “time.” If not a “season,” not a binary sense of time as these lines rock from the Hebrew Bible: “A time to get ... a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away...”; but, rather, in a period of “mourning time,” a "season" that Kristin Prevallet, might call “Wavering."

Leslie Scalapino writes in New Time, “blossoms blossomed. in time.”

In this time of “wavering,” “blossoms” appear and disappear, signs of life overlapping and cyclical and yet always transforming and different. It was my time this week to pick up New Time, a Scalapino volume I have never read. And I do believe that occurrences like this occur “in time” – in that such times matter.

It was Lyn Hejinian who turned me toward the wonders of Leslie’s work in the early 1990s. The occasion was of my first meeting the two of them in Oakland, CA, at Leslie’s house then under the freeway overpass; and a flight from New York that almost didn’t exist – a changed airport, a canceled but aloft plane, two confused poets on the ground awaiting this young woman from New York. (This “occurrence” and its own rather comic time was memorialized in an Introduction I wrote to Leslie Scalapino’s writings for How2, published in 2004.)

So, upon the news of Leslie’s death, I wrote Lyn of my shock, my sadness, trying perhaps to recreate this inordinate strip, unexpectedness, of “mourning time.” (“”Rocking forward and backward...”?) Lyn responded with the words below (quoted with her permission):

“I am finding that reading her [Leslie’s] work today has made the sense of loss more intense but also been an anchor. Not that Leslie would have wanted anchors to be dropped. So I'll call the experience a float--a buoy on which to drift...”

Time ... anchors ... a float. “Wavering.”

I know Leslie would have wished us to “float” in this time. A woman who could write of reality’s contradictions in five alternative directions at once, and make that work on the page, was also a woman who would have honored our need to anchor ourselves, be in “mourning time” and yet “a float” -- “Wavering.” She would have honored us knowing, too, as no one else but the disciplined and unsentimental Leslie would have, that the mourning-time process is “not a comfort,” but rather entirely illusory.

People need the thought of comfort. There’s no comfort.*

Following Lyn’s example (in fact, before I checked my e-mail), I myself picked New Time off my shelves, and realized that, in the last decade, there never seemed to be time to read that particular book, New Time. Now, I instantly felt this was my time to open its pages. Immediately it became the “perfect” text – in this imperfect (horrible) moment: a text which doesn’t ebb and flow but flows and floods, in and out over the subject of the corporal body, over a time that is timelessness, as if effortless (you know it wasn’t) – in spite of the false “anchor” we breathe within of the human body -- and in our narrative traditions of (plenty of) time, in wave upon wave, almost imitated by the little graphic marks in New Time on the page, ones that separate each “section” as if not a “stanza” but a new lyric “time”, in time (almost like a musical notation).

In floods of partial syntactic phrases, and those “enervations,” to use Leslie’s repeated word in this book -- we read of the falsity of “comfort” although, at the same time, I almost feel the voice of Leslie speaking to me. Where is she?

The physical body has comfort



whereas this doesn’t *

A Buddhist meditation on “knowledge,” “hate,” “being”? A critique of the industry of psychological, or philosophical, or literary interpretation?

interpretative – blue destroying – it self – their – structure in

being after only

“it’s itself interpreting’ – reordering only – as it *

(I pause. I think of my work in – interpreting – writing about poetry. My “interpreting” Leslie Scalapino’s work to the academic “public.” Maria Damon raising her hand at a conference we attended together in Cancun, 1994, after I gave what must have been my first academic talk on Scalapino, Maria saying something that seemed complimentary: “You make this difficult work sound so clear. “ A compliment? I have long since come to appreciate what Rae Armantrout has asked us to ask: What is the meaning of clarity? Is the world clear?)

(Leslie and I had one conflict in our long years of knowing one another and sharing in this enterprise of reading-writing-re/reading and speaking about her writing. I had just finished a penultimate draft for the academic journal Textual Practice, a piece on The Return of Painting. I did what I thought was a complimentary and “brilliant” interpretation / reading / writing about Leslie’s cover photograph on the cover of A Triology. She had always liked my work. She asked to see it. Leslie didn’t like my reading of her photograph. I had written about the photograph as a critique of Romantic views of nature / poetry. She reclaimed it as spatialized "freedom." Does a writer have a right to tell a reader how to read her writing? Did we resolve this issue? No.)


I am sitting here in an upstate New York Memorial Day garden and my peonies are blooming their pink heads off. Soon, they will droop and die. Perhaps this week. In New Time, I recall, “blossoms blossomed.”

But in New Time there is also

rain: falling in sheets at the time. Sitting floating (not in it) (fictive

there while occurring *

In New Time, every event occurs -- at once. On five different planes, in seven different dimensions. What always feels like a remarkable re- “occurring” (as opposed to “occurrence,” the common expression) is also a different “occurring,” or difference “occurs,” for me, reading and re-reading Scalapino’s text. We see this (re- but “different” occurring over and over, yet in the difference that is time and space), in Leslie’s fine philosophical essays, her take on a “reality” based in that of language (which is all, but always partial / part of it); in her prose poems and novellas (my favorite being, yes, The Return of Painting), in her fragmented lyrical lines, like those now here in front of me reading, New Time. What is perhaps most remarkable about Leslie’s work, why one never grows tired while one is still exhausted by the effort of reading her, is this writer’s uncanny ability to detect difference: in being (not a “being” or “entity”), in events or “occurrences” (which are on-going “activity”), in the language of the image / the image of that language that discerns, then splits, strips away, at the “outside” she charges in New Time as being the authentic “inside.” (And is this what a physicist might call “matter” -- but what she would call “real.”)

These lines from New Time are both a social critique and an existential drama and a linguistic analysis at once:

Why would they dismiss it because it’s not the same?

It exists because its not the same

I do hear Leslie’s voice – I hear the mind/perspective, and the astonishment that things and expression would otherwise (other / wise) be. Wise to the “other /wise,” aware of “reality” of complex perspective through the deflection of “be-ing” rather than an image, a “comfort,” in some false reflectiveness of language.

No mirrors here. And this “new time” encompasses, or opens up, a new space:

To make a boundless space, in the sense of bounding in it...

The text itself “floats”:

that’s only – (the body) – just the floating sky

For me, it will be a “new time” without Leslie out there. For she who has commented on the loneliness of the world – “people don’t respond, ever, it’s not one’s” – her presence will be missed.



Leslie Scalapino, New Time (Middletown, CT: Weslyan University Press, 1999).


Laura Hinton is the editor and main writer of this blog.

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