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.

Jun 23, 2010

Streaming / Reading Memorial to Leslie Scalapino

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

"I feel a Chill” – and a Desert Memory

From Barbara Henning
New York City

In the early 90's, I paired Leslie's book Crowd and Not Evening or Light with Emily Dickinson's poems for a graduate/under-grad course entitled Melancholia and American Literature, as examples of two experimental poets from the 19th and 20th centuries. We also read several novels and theoretical work by Kristeva, Freud and Klein. At the time I was also reading Lacan. When I open up Leslie's book now, those swings and the waves—I feel a chill—and a paper falls out with some questions I was asking my class back then. Is she breaking the law, the customary laws of linearity in poetry? Is an opening being created here? A possibility? To "see" something, to defamiliarize it, the boundaries that depict it must change, loosen up, then when we see it, do we lose it again in its movement toward familiarity? Is she creating an opening out of the container of melancholia? How does she escape the violence of definition? I still love this book, the handwriting, photos, dashes, words.


I was lucky to be living in Tucson in May of 2008 when Leslie read for POG, a poetry collective. I finally had the opportunity to spend time with her. You can follow the link to the reading and see photos of her at http://www.gopog.org/ . During that same visit, Laynie Browne, Tenney Nathanson, Charles Alexander and I performed with Leslie in her play: "As: All Occurrence in Structure, Unseen." I remember we were supposed to all wear similar colors but for some reason we were diverse. It was a serious-nonsense upside-down love and death and humor and confusion, a law-breaker, redefining the familiar, and opening up the space between words. It was a lot of fun and a shame that the recording equipment broke down. I also spent an afternoon with Leslie at the Desert Museum. Lots of space between our sentences. Lots of quiet walking. I remember she was suffering from serious back pain, but that didn't stop her from taking the entire walk around the grounds. In the photo above, Leslie is wearing one of my hats. Even though she was in pain, she cracks a little smile because there is a lizard above her and she wanted to be in the photo with the lizard.

When I heard that Leslie was ill, I thought she'd be with us for a while, but then voom she was gone so quickly. As it is –

PHOTO above of Leslie Scalapino at the Tucson Desert Museum, by Barbara Henning.


Barbara Henning is the author of three novels and seven books of poetry. Her most recent are a collection of poetry and prose, Cities & Memory (Chax Press) and a novel, Thirty Miles from Rosebud (BlazeVox). She teaches for Long Island University in Brooklyn, as well at Naropa University. She blogs at: http://barbarahenning.blogspot.com/

Jun 21, 2010

Streaming / Reading Memorial to Leslie Scalapino

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

This is Not “A Barbie Doll with Horns”

(Line from Flow—Winged Crocodile)

From Laura Hinton
New York City

Flow – Winged Crocodile
, by Leslie Scalapino, is a multi-media poetry play in two acts, cast and directed through the phenomenal stage imagination of Fiona Templeton.


The scripted text of Flow- Winged Crocodile enacts – is – both “flow” and “winged,” embodied through the dance performance of Molissa Fenley, and the stage personas called “Left Side of the Brain” and “Right Side of the Brain," who move and flow and wing their way into creative flight.


Performed this weekend at Poets House in New York City (I saw the Sunday afternoon matinee), the poetry play begins in a gallery-like space. Stark. Shiny wooden floors. An opaque window in the back. A scratchy drawing of a table and chairs projected on the wall. Into this atmosphere, most of the audience standing in back, Fenley begins the piece: a fluttery ballet-styled modern dance.

According to the stage notes,* this fluttery winged creature is “the CROCODILE-MICHELIN-RHINO." I read that she has: “small green wings on her back.” But we also learn from the notes beginning Act 1 that

She is the body, pure kinetic daemonic motion that has no language.

This is the play written by the body in pain seeking a language. Having no language.


Left and Right brain – dressed in white and black dresses (played by Stephanie Silver and Katie Brown of The Relationship) -- rest in space. They gradually begin to assert their presence by joining in the dance with the "winged crocodile," and then finally open into the poetry of Scalapino. The image of a “Green-winged crocodile” haunts the “L” (as she is called in the published script):

...a winged crocodile dismembering people whirling into them as swimming in them in a different light ...”*

The “brain” begins to interact. Not only with itself, but with the fantasy memory of “Tanya.” Remember Tanya from the Patty Hearst on-the-run days? 1970s. Symbionese Liberation Front. Bank-holdup on videotape. Cocky beret. Parents didn’t know her. The syndrome of the captive: brainwashing is an effect – but only for the rich.

So this third speaking part in the play is named "Tanya" – who we read in the script is “a young woman dressed to imitate the appearance of Patty Hearst in the photos of her in the bank heist with the SLA...” and carrying a toy gun.

Silly Tanya. So much more in the world to worry about.


The language of play enacts – embodies – all kinds of acts of violence. Soul violence, broken- friendship violence, and a friend “Hit by a van," yet "– a different person ... / unharmed miraculously.” It is about “seeing”: “this one sees everything / negatively reverses there.” It is about being criticized for seeing – and being—at once. It is about “being” – everything at the same time: the object and the dance, the watched dance and the watcher, the speaker speaking through embodiment and, meanwhile, the machine of a remote voice-over. It is about visual space (distance and detachment) and embodied space (presence and immediacy). This dialectic is itself "embodied" at the end of Act 1, when a marvelous “door window” -- as the backdrop turns out to be -- folds open. The space of the "inside" gallery becomes the "outside" of a Manhattan rock garden. The audience is coaxed into leaving Environment 1, for the Environment (open but urban) that already surrounds it. And we begin, Act 2.


Act 2: everyone is irritated. Tanya criticizes the constraints of her society:

hierarchy is being outside only · exists

A “man in black robes” circulates in the brain of the Left:

Ventriloquist for man in black robes speaks
Sometimes misspeaks/omits to program ...

He has “contempt for people ... who’re in desperation.,” those “in physical pain” – who become the “rhino / hologram of green-winged croc...”

Is the rhino a signifier for the “pain” that has no language? A signifier of the unsignified body-gesture reading interior / exterior at once?

And L perceives again:

If we only exist in -- injury – --winged swim in blood iridescent limb – corpse in it.

“R,” as Right Brain, complains about the lack of language appropriate for the body’s

dis/hell/bliss space without words as if vomiting the outside from the one in side....

But this Right Brain – girding herself with creative resources, always not thinking in linear desperation -- “imitates herself by suddenly (after trying to remember how) resuming position of standing ...” (according to the stage directions) and she comments:

the brain recycles – only – is from something happening
the outside it is nothing in itself?


As in every Scalapino work, the boundaries between inside / outside do not dissolve, but do not remain contrary. They are not binary institutions of “being” but describe being as all at once, in every fold of interior and exterior perceptual space. As Tanya (who is played by Asta Hansen) comments about the Crocodile ... Rhino: “he can’t get one bite / in – or vomiting invisible outside.”


That damn Rhino. Or Crocodile (in a Michelan-Tire-Man suit?). Whatever he is, he doesn’t have a name. “He” only has a winged shape. He flows, he floats – in the guise of a gorgeous and lithe female dancer as “he” TRANSFORMS

the brain of duality into rhythm, as sense

the pain of the dying into poetry

(These are my words.)


I am taking photographs (attached here to this blog entry). I am left speechless watching the performance, just as my camera runs out of memory, out of recorded possibilities. Because I think about how much its author would have loved this play. She died as it was in production.

And I am thinking about how some of Scalapino’s most powerful and “transforming” work – Flow-Winged Crocodile is "about" transformation -- comes at the end.

Photo (ABOVE) of poet Brenda Iijima and the play's director, Fiona Templeton, watching yesterday's matinee performance. All other photos are of dancer Molissa Fenley, and actors the troupe called The Relationship, in order from the TOP: Katie Brown, Stephanie Silver, and Asta Hansen. (Photos by Laura Hinton.)



The script of Flow- Winged Crocodile is quoted from Scalapino's new book, just out from Chax Press (2010).

Laura Hinton is the editor and main writer of Chant de la Sirene blog.