Sunday, March 28, 2010

It’s go in horizontal: Selected Poems 1974-2006

Scalapino, Leslie. It’s go in horizontal: Selected Poems 1974-2006. Berkeley, CA: University
of California Press, 2008.

Scalapino’s Selected Poems opens with pieces from her first book Considering How Exaggerated Music Is and continues on through her most recent writing in Day Ocean State of Stars’ Night. While there are some superficial shifts in poetic form that occur throughout her career, much of Scalapino’s work focuses on the specific aesthetic and conceptual concerns of “Movement (or shape in writing) [that] is a knowledge that isn’t one’s thinking per se. One’s thinking by itself is movement that is knowledge” (147); or stated differently, the poet explores the differences that occur between what one thinks and the language one employs when attempting to express those thoughts. For Scalapino, the difference is irreducible. Her writing, likewise, seeks to understand the act of reading as movement through language, not as communication between writer and reader; or, as Scalapino writes: “the mind is action literally, not departing from that—being events or movement outside, which is inside, so the mind collapsing into and action” (142). As such, the result of reading as “action” is the “collapsing” of the “movement outside” (i.e. the text) into the “inside” (i.e. the reader) so as to become an “event.” As far as aesthetic idiosyncrasies are concerned, the poet tends to write in a heavily fragmented style that lacks concrete imagery or normative punctuation and capitalization. Scalapino employs liberal use of the em-dash, parenthetical statements, and repetition, the latter of these traits finding its fullest expression in “The Floating Series”; these short, lyrical pieces concentrate on a finite set of words arranged in alternate orders with differing line breaks. For example, she writes: “the/ women—not in/ the immediate/ setting/ —putting the/ lily pads or/ bud of it/ in/ themselves” (72), and then: “not/ being able to/ see the/ other people—and/ to be sticking the/ lily pad/ in/ themselves” (75). These repetitions develop “reciprocal relationship[s]” that contain “a certain degree of relative autonomy” and “indeed must be unique” (60), even though they exhibit a high degree of superficial similarity. The series, then, demonstrates a tension between difference and repetition as one perpetually oscillates between the two. One of the more unique aspects of Scalapino’s writing occurs in Crowd and Not Evening or It. The collection contains a series of black and white photographs with short, lyrical phrases handwritten around the images. Most of the pictures are taken on or near the beach and their connection with the associated text tends to be oblique. For example, underneath an image of an elderly man in a bathing suit walking along the shoreline are the words “wading on the grass—trunk of woman on the grass/ in it” (133). Furthermore, the poet experiments with the genre of drama, as well as right-justified text.

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