Books by Leslie Scalapino

R-HU by Leslie Scalapino
Released: Sept. 1, 2000

"Demanding and strange, at times curiously affecting, more often simply infuriating."
The r-hu, we're told, is a Mongolian stringed instrument. We're also told that the poems here were written partly in Mongolia—although, aside from occasional references to yaks and "the vertical black Arctic Ocean," Scalapino seems less interested in describing locales than fluctuating states of mind. She combines dreams, story fragments, poems, personal and critical essays, explications of her own previous work, and responses to essays by critic Marjorie Perloff—and the result is . . . what? Most of the collection is in prose, although occasional line breaks appear in the text. In a section called "Seamless Antilandscape," blocks of words pile up like "Warhol's coke bottles." A construction such as "hysteria light hysteria hysteria moon hysteria night" is repeated a dozen times with slight variations, unfortunately not adding up to much at all. Scalapino's poetry has long sagged under a profusion of gerunds, passive verb constructions, and variations of the verb "to be"—at one point here she actually asks, "So how can we be being killed?" Those with patience for grammatical and syntactical eccentricities will discover many darkly beautiful, imagistic passages. Scraps of narrative float by: salt miners, guns that shoot digitalis, MTV, and murderous goings-on in some sinister, authoritarian shadow-world. In the latter passages, Scalapino alludes to the hierarchical (sometimes tyrannical) nature of language and thought while evoking Stein and Burroughs: "Requiring all individuals to be wired to receive incoming directives at all times, punished if the wires are detached—this dictate accepted because further demands were threatened if it were not accepted, but further demands were made anyway—." Read full book review >
Released: May 15, 1991

From poet Scalapino, three anti-novellas that are composed in about equal parts of the automatic writing of Gertrude Stein, the self-parodying storytelling of, say, Robbe-Grillet, and the epistemological doubts of Beckett that words and reality are connectedwith combined results, however ambitious or high- intended, that are in about equal degrees unreadable, unpleasant, and unrewarding. What's commonly called ``characterization'' plays no part here as a woman, in a voice that seems to be her own, goes monotonously on and on from incident to incident, then often back again from incident to incidentshootings, killings, walkings on beaches and highways, laconic sexual episodes, shoppings at marketswith care never to allow a climax to be developed, a clear image to emerge for longer than half a breath, or a resting placewhere reader could pause, savor, or (merciful god) understand and relaxto take place. To make things tougher, syntax is routinely crumpled out of shape, lest the reader be allowed to get up some comforting speed or stride in this arid and self-destructing mine field or anti- story: ``As the person being nothing, in that Ronald Reagan (so it's not in the future) as the old aged apparently formed by Nancy as if light dancers in shorts orange and in green tops skipping (their) frolickingand no connection which there isn't to them those dancers really, in grueling repression of circumstance.'' What is the meaning of all this? Perhaps it can be plucked out in lines like these, about unrelatedness: ``She returns to the clinic. She has no relation to this. Though there is a relation to the retina. There is no way to live.'' Both society and language, it seems, are repressive and built on lies, unrelated to reality, leaving as a way toward truth only writing and the selfboth of these, too, gravely in doubt. Everything is solipsism. However fascinating its philosophic underpinnings, the result here is lamentably without even the distantmost warmths of beauty, allure, or enchantment. In a word: tedious, oh tedious, most tedious! Read full book review >