That They Were at the Beach

Leslie Scalapino

1985 • 111 pp. • $9.50
ISBN: 9780865472112
(North Point Press)

Purchase from Small Press Distribution

“I enjoy the solidity of Leslie Scalapino’s work: a specific sensibility moving in a particular world…Here is elegant presentation of particular facts known uniquely by a powerful artist.”
—Philip Whalen

“Here she proves the absolute master of a uniquely compact perception and an intelligence that can track a plurality of relationships in very few words indeed.”
—Robert Creeley

“A major poet, and somebody worth watching very closely through long passages and infinitely subtle variations.”
—Andrei Codrescu, Baltimore Sun

“The range and sophistication of Leslie Scalapino’s abilities as a writer have long been impressive. Here she proves the absolute master of a uniquely compact perception and an intelligence that can track a plurality of relationships in very few words indeed. I know of no one more able to bring writing back from its confusion of genres to the authority of specific articulation.”
—Robert Creeley

“Leslie Scalapino’s poetry is among the most interesting, arresting, and original writing of the present time…. It is finally the rhythm of the language and the choral patterns created by her repetitions that create the musical coherence that marks this as poetry of the highest order.”
—Charles Bernstein

Leslie Scalapino’s new book of poems, “That They Were at the Beach — Aeolotropic Series”, could probably be taught in a physics class. Not because its title in part derives from physics, nor because it addresses that science directly. Rather, the work grasps the emotional quality of perception redefined by 20th century thinkers. The news is the creation of a form that captures the felt sense of the shifting difference between inner and outer worlds. You may have heard: the Newtonian distinction between the subjective and the objective is dead. But it’s not theory Scalapino’s expressing — especially, as in the case of most literary experimentation, some idea that will crutch the work as it hobbles into dry obscurity. Listen to her articulation:

“I work, yet seeing someone who was old I had the feeling that she was walking since she was worried about her age. This is in an area where there are hotels and limousines pulling up to them yet at the time there was no one on any of the streets. I was the only one — except for the woman — and so I was happy. The situation should occur again.”

As soon as the context changes, emotion changes — the feeling of how things are. And the beauty of the work is how it depends on the “little” words and a powerful sense of rhythm. Conjunctions. Sentences with the balance and syntax of logic yet with the sense unhinged by the connective. The disequilibrium equals the interpenetration of the inner and outer worlds. And it is further articulated by Scalapino’s structural building of the poem. Phrases, motifs, appear and reappear, each time singular yet echoing earlier occurrence. This structuring, so much closer to the way experience actually feels, creates an elaborate, provocative music. It takes the place of plot and other narrative devices normally employed to make a long poem coherent. The four poems of “That They Were at the Beach,” along with Scalapino’s earlier work, establish her as one of the most original and successful poets around.
— Keith Shein, San Francisco Examiner (December 9, 1985)


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).


from buildings are at the far end

A ship (so it’s mechanical) is behind the sailor, who’s older than I––
his not being old though––their isn’t action. In front of that I’m by
the person who’s lying near the buildings. People older than I but not
old walking in front of me, the person who’s the beggar would just be
seen and not act.
And have been inactive actually in life. Having really occurred.


The ship (so it’s in the foreground)––with the man who’s the beggar
in back of it, the soil is in back of him––is active. So it’s mechanical––
there aren’t other people’s actions––I don’t know how old the man in
back is. Who’s older than I, desire’d been had by him for something
else. I’m not old.
And with him being inactive back then/


no one else in the wealthy area:
so money is funneled outside, is in companies. It isn’t in the future.
The people in offices are new, therefore it isn’t in terms of the past––
the bus which is mechanical being in the foreground––it doesn’t
matter if it’s active––I don’t know how old the man is, who’s old.


They’re not the same people.
(So they’re seen, and not active)
from that they were at the beach––aeolotropic series
A man mugging me––therefore inverted, not just in relation to
maturity––seeing I’m frightened is almost considerate by not hitting
me when I struggle with him, though finally giving him the purse.
The naivet––on my part––he’s depressed


He’s depressed––by mugging me––corresponds to my having a job
Having an employer, I’d made jokes seen by him to be inappropriate,
had offended him––I make jokes because it’s in the past (is therefore
sentient––I’m fairly immature in age and my offending him is un-


Winos were lying on the sidewalk, it’s a warehouse district; I happen
to be wearing a silk blouse, so it’s jealousy, not that they’re jealous of
me necessarily.
They’re not receded, and are inert––as it happens are bums––so it’s
being creamed; because it’s contemporary in time––jealousy because
of that.


The bums happen to be lying in the street, it really occurs that I wear
a silk blouse.
So it’s mechanical––because of the winos being there––not from the
blouse which I’d happened to wear though going into the warehouse


Stevedores––I’m immature in age––who are now made to live away
from their families to work, the division is by color; they’re allowed
to form unions but not act––so it’s evanescent.
(Because it’s inactive––not just in the situation itself. Or in their later
not coming to the docks––so they were striking, regardless of them
being fired which occurs then).


The man having been in government––it’s evanescent because it’s
inactive, our being immature in age––he’s assassinated at an airport
where we happen to come in that morning. We get on a bus which
goes to the ocean––it’s also beefcake but not because of the man
already having died, is mature.
(We haven’t seen him––as with the sailors it’s contemporary in time).


A microcosm, but it’s of sailors––so it’s in the foreground, is
beefcake––is in the past
(Therefore is contemporary in time while being seen then––so
beefcake is in the past––similar to the situation of the other girls
also refusing as I had to walk out onto the field, my then being im-
mediately required to––not just in relation to them cooperating


It’s the mechanical birds because of my having gone out on the field
then––is the men
So it’s sexual coming––anyone––but corresponds to the floating
world, seeing men on the street.


not in relation to there being too many of them standing around on a


It’s hot weather––so it’s recent––corresponds to them
(though the floating world was in the past). To others as well––is in
the setting of me being on a boardwalk seeing crowds of people walk-
ing or rollerskating. Some happening to be immature in age––it’s not


Being in the past––is jealousy on my part––in general
Not in relation to the people I happened to see who were immature in
age––on the boardwalk––necessarily


Their not being sentient


The reserves––they weren’t using the police, so it’s inverted––were
wearing battle-gear, it’s beautiful weather––they were old––is
not occurring now––and their being frightened of the crowd, so it’s
inverted because of that––I’m there but jealousy on my part, in
general–stemming from that


I’m not retroactive––corresponds to making jokes because it’s in
the past
(Not retroactive because of the beautiful weather. And taking the car
to be repaired; the mechanic coming out to test drive, its tires have
gone flat in the short time I was in the shop. The man and I get out of
the car, laugh, I walk somewhere else to have its tires filled, drive
away. Buying a dip stick then, I’d done what was necessary to it my-
self apparently).