Leslie Scalapino

2000 • 121 pp. • $12.95
ISBN: 9781891190063
(Atelos Press)

Purchase from Small Press Distribution

Yet one figure sits on the huge lit green floor, stripped to the waist with his arms raised. The immense luminous billowed cloud sky is passing over him. Or Atlantis, the green floor flat lit is passing by its roof. Horses run on the floor.

It’s hard to describe Leslie Scalapino’s work—an altered perception, a mind expansion, a re-envisioning of the world—without sounding like a proponent of psychedelic drugs. A reader re-evaluating the world is what Scalapino wants. Take the paragraphs that open R-hu: “Introduction.//But if you have this view it doesn’t exist.” With these two sentences the reader’s perception is shifted; we are at a beginning but to become aware of that beginning instantaneously takes us somewhere past it. Only at the second sentence, we are also deep within the text.

R-hu is a collection of essays, broken into two sections, that asks the reader to engage these texts for what they are–the symbols of language on a page and the exploration of the intellectual content that the language represents. No one writes like Scalapino. She requires the reader to pay attention, to read carefully, to think critically. By making readers read slowly, almost meditatively, she breaks the too often acculturated habit of floating on the surface of any beautiful language and missing the astoundingly great depths. Lines like “just concentrate on what’s occurring is undoing reconstituting of one” do with the essay what Nietzsche’s use of the aphorism did with traditional, philosophic method–they acknowledge, subvert, and disempower.

In the book’s first section, “R-hu,” Scalapino explores the hows and whys of what she’s doing as a writer: “It’s spring. The state of that is not a goal of anyone. A line is left out and is distorted there too. Is my goal though?” For anybody who’s felt lost within Scalapino’s previous texts, “R-hu” may be a welcome guidepost. The second section, “Seamless Antilandscape,” is predominated by a critical dialectic with Marjorie Perloff’s ideas about Scalapino’s work, as well as the work of Ron Silliman and others. In both sections Scalapino offers essays about some of the other writers prowling around the turf of language. In almost book review fashion she explores Mei-mei Berssenbrugge’s Four Year Old Girl in the essay ““Irises, or kali”; later, in “transcription—(or lineage) as visual” she discusses Bernadette Mayer, Robert Grenier, and Philip Whalen.

As a part of the Atelos series, R-hu is “involved in some way with crossing traditional genre boundaries.” For Scalapino the crossover is from “poetry” to “criticism” and it is done without abandoning her exploration of the high-end of what can be, intellectually and artistically, made with language. R-hu gives the impression that it is part of a larger whole—writing is happening before it and will be happening after it. It is a bound book that is much bigger than its boundaries. In many ways the book feels wonderfully like “A Leslie Scalapino Reader”—it has the tight relationship between art and criticism that is the hallmark of postmodern aesthetics.
—Justin Maxwell


Leslie Scalapino (1944 – 2010) is the author of thirty books of poetry, prose inter-genre-fiction, plays, and essays. Granary Book just published a collaborative book by artist Kiki Smith and Leslie Scalapino, titled The Animal is in the World like Water in Water. Scalapino’s It’s go in horizontal/Selected Poems, 1974-2006 was published by University of California Press at Berkeley in 2008. Other books of Scalapino’s poetry include Day Ocean State of Stars’ Night (Green Integer), a collection of eight years; Zither & Autobiography (Wesleyan University Press), The Tango (Granary Press), Orchid Jetsam(Tuumba), Dahlia’s Iris—Secret Autobiography and Fiction (FC2 Publishers); a reprint of the prose work Defoe (Green Integer); and It’s Go In Quiet Illumined Grass Land (The Post-Apollo Press).