Leslie Scalapino

This review was originally written in 2000 for Publisher’s Weekly with the imperative of making it accessible to audiences not familiar with “how to read” experimental poetry. Yet for me, Scalapino’s poetry is about the moment I am sitting down to read it, and so reflecting on it as an object stuck in time — to be “reviewed” is a gesture as moot as is it is contradictory to what the book is doing. Today, with Laura Hinton, spending time re-reading New Time – in response to the stillness that is her death — in body, but certainly not in language — the mental events that she created (40 books!) still waver and her voice — simultaneously strong and fragile — remains.

I originally wrote that New Time is a —
“blurring of distinctions” — “between worlds”

but is it? between worlds — as if they are mappable — which in Scalapino — they’re not.

I wrote that she writes into the “extended frame” of poetry … into fiction and plays”

Indeed there are blurs between these things, which Scalapino hears rather than obeys the conventions of…

I wrote that the book “touches upon the contradictions” — between “inner” and “outer” lives:

(yet like the word world “lives” — is not a mappable surface)

I quoted:

“sleep-deprived one / pressure so that the mind comes into the social unit—only / the flowering trees, that have nothing but swimming on sky.”

I said Scalapino is a “combination … of philosophical aphorisms and poetic musings”

(a line too declarative to convey what is more a simultaneous happening of mental event that sometimes seems to edge towards idea, and sometimes towards music.)

In reviewing there is the tendency to notice that

“this book is organized in terms of movements”

and “deliberately shuns narrative.”

(By which I now mean “shuns nothing except anchors”).

And perhaps this line, out of all of them, is closest —

“questioning writing’s ability”

“to trace but the fleeting and evasive phenomenon”

(a word I would now replace with “mind momentum”)

“of life”

(a word I would now replace with “exhausted body”).

Here’s the penultimate reviewers sentence:

“the form of this book replicates the mind’s mad race with time”:

(therein the nutshell — the over simplification — the tendency to clarify what in whose mind races.

“landscape, delicate—as sensory deprivation—military boys—wearing ‘training’ spurs of bottle caps—gas stations, differentiated—cattle being.”

So the reviewer’s vocabulary for this work dependent on:


“left over from”

“sensory perceptions”—

— a river in Kyoto, the darkness of night, taxies, gas stations—

“ground the poet”

“in time”

“to navigate the world”

“like Emily Dickinson and Gertrude Stein”

“unfolds a quirky logic” —

Here again the desire to sum up that this

“results in a mesmerizing reading experience.”

Mesmerizing — a word to convey the magician.

Which is what happens — body leaving time — but here, now: hot day berries falling — carpenter bees cool in house bricks — raven — so black she’s purple — there is “pressure that the mind comes into the social unit” — but not today. Not in today’s In Time.

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