29 May, 2010

Leslie Scalapino

I'm very sad to hear of Leslie Scalapino's death today. When I read about this, I reached for a copy of The Front Matter, Dead Souls, a book that has always been important to me. The cover, done by Scalapino herself, was a collage she'd made of a piece by Ukiyo-e artist Tsukioka Yoshitoshi. It's lyric essay, or it's a novel in verse, or it's poetry maximalized against the containment of the line--spilling over. It's poetry. The idea of Ukiyo-e (the "floating world") plays a large role in the book. This is the record (as she conceived that the book is a record, is news, to be printed in newspapers, billboards, and murals, especially in an election year) of the experience of ecstatic poetic astral/aerial/empathic projection of free floating incorporeal selfhood into the world and past it into the underworld or into purgatorial space, sometimes heavenly, sometimes hellish, sometimes Los Angeles, sometimes Venice Beach, and it moves through a (often literary) community of the living and the dead. The book both haunts and celebrates, operates in the shadow of death without fear.

Honestly, as I read this book again this afternoon, the weight of its sublimity and the presence of the knowledge of her death, and subsequently the book's seeming prescience, was crushing.

I met Leslie Scalapino in 1999 when I worked at Diesel Bookstore on College Avenue in Oakland, and she came in frequently. She was teaching classes at CCA down the street. I talked to her a few times about her work, and asked her about the classes she was teaching, and she was very gracious to me. I didn't know her well, but her poetry has been important to me. And I always respected what she was doing with O Books, especially the Enough anthologies.

Here is the unsentimental end of The Front Matter, Dead Souls, the last vision of the projected self, this active dreamer with eyes closed and iris open, seeing people recently (and long ago, for there is no real passage of time here) arrive to the (an) afterlife:
...People are helpless in life.
Crowds are in a dirge for a man who having been ill is dying.

The crowd in the dusk crying has only empty retinas.
In the blazing blue they cry for infants.

There's an inflammation, an iris, between them

Amerigo Vespucci couples a deer. Collaboration is calm.
The flickering tongue of the blind woman on the visible Red Sea, the water's red, is in the visual reality -- for her.
The flaps of the iris are in her within blind flicking her tongue outside.
Some are naked as in being ferried on Lethé and an iris is between them here and there now in the water.

1 comment:

Johannes said...

Wow that's really shocking. She was awesome.