Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Leslie Scalapino, How Phenomena Appear to Unfold

How Phenomena Appear to Unfold, first edition published in 1989 by the poetry press Potes & Poets, is conceived as an ongoing, flexible structure that incorporates demonstrations of its gestures, such as poem-plays and poem-sequences alongside essays, the essays also demonstrations—of my own poetics and of other poets' works. I have expanded the first edition of How Phenomena Appear to Unfold, omitting some pieces and adding by interweaving twenty-one new essays (only three of which have been published in previous books) and seven additional poetic works.

The intention in this book is that the unfolding structure of the book mime and demonstrate—be (and be seeing) the process and the instant of—the inside and the outside simultaneously creating each other. (“Tracking of 'being' and the instant of occurrence,” Author's Preface to How Penomena Appear to Unfold)
When Oakland, California poet, editor, publisher and critic Leslie Scalapino died on May 28, 2010, she had but a month before finished the “Author's Preface” to the new edition of her collection of essays, How Phenomena Appear to Unfold (Litmus Press, 2011), newly published as my own introduction to the work of a writer I've long heard of, but not been fortunate enough to explore the work of, yet. This collection of formal and informally-formal essays, with the occasional poem and photography work slipped in, and, at some three hundred pages, represents an impressive introduction, with essays (often more than one on the same author/artist) on the works of Robert Creeley, “Larkin on Beckett,” Robert Duncan, Robert Grenier, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Aaron Shurin, H.D., kari edwards, Philip Whalen, Lyn Hejinian and Susan Howe, among others.
Lyn Hejinian described to me her work in progress, The Border Comedy, as being instigated by the notion of a collaboration in which one sends one line to someone else and the other person adds to it; yet in The Border Comedy she writes one line, then allows time to pass and comes back to it. She couldn't get a line sufficiently unfamiliar, so began to work on all fifteen books of The Border Comedy (it is intended to be modeled on the fifteen books of Ovid's Metamorphosis) at the same time, perhaps only returning to one spot in the work a couple of weeks after it was written and only looking at a few lines on the computer at once (in order not to 'remember' the background). “In order to keep writing fresh the memory of it has to fade. Unfamiliar, it is 'of the moment.'”

In language horizontal and vertical time can occur at the same moment. Hejinian says that the unfamiliarity of the writing is a prompt; it prompts the future. (“The Radical Nature of Experience [on Philip Whalen, Lyn Heijinian, Susan Howe, and Leslie Scalapino]”)
The expansive nature of the project, which could have broadened further over years, is only one of many regrets such a volume can't help but contain, as well as an awe in the kind of work she'd been able to accomplish, adding further to the conversation of a number of writers and their works. When any writer dies, there is always the question of what we didn't know about, what works might not have yet appeared in print, a natural impulse against the fear of never seeing new work by that writer ever again. Throughout these essays, explorations, poems and prose-works, Scalapino unfolds, appears to unfold, and perhaps unfolds, one layer at a slowly time.

Apparently a selected poems appeared not too long ago, It's go in horizontal/Selected poems, 1974-2006 (University of California Press, 2008), which hopefully exists as a worthy counterpoint to the current volume, and one wonders if there might be further work, whether unpublished, uncollected, or the opportunity for a potentially-expanded selected?

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