The Front Matter, Dead Souls

Leslie Scalapino

1996 • 96 pp. • $7.00
ISBN: 9780819562951
(Wesleyan University Press)

Purchase from Small Press Distribution

Leslie Scalapino is widely regarded as one of the best avant-garde writers in America today. This extraordinary new book is essay-fiction-poetry, an experiment in form, “a serial novel for publication in the newspaper” that collapses the distinction between documentary and fiction. Loosely set in Los Angeles, the book scrutinizes our image-making, producing extreme and vivid images-hyena, Muscle Beach in Venice, the Supreme Court, subway rides-in order for them to be real. Countering contemporary trends toward interiority, Scalapino’s work constitutes a unique effort to “be” objectively in the world. The writing is an action, a dynamic push to make intimacy in the public realm. She does not distinguish between poetry and “real events”: her writing is analogous to Buddhist notions of dreaming one is a butterfly, and becoming aware that actually being the butterfly is as real as dreaming it.

“Only a very few poets or writers of any disposition have such a formal enterprise as is here evident. In that sense one might qualify this work as being both the concept and demonstration in a way that would be akin to aspects of contemporary philosophy, or the most forward of international poetries. The formal brilliance of the construction is altogether dazzling. How Leslie Scalapino manages to make a ‘virtual reality’ in which reality itself becomes the determinant is an absolute wonder to me”
—Robert Creeley


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).


The thin day with the greyhound coagulating in it barely exists. Dead Souls on her way to the race track the officer on the long slender limbs floats by the coagulating dog. His slender black hand drifts in the air to open the car door for her.

He had been in the previous day with the fleck emerging to him when the limousines wallowing in the air with the sumos emerging coming in for the funeral grieving were rubbed by the crowd.

Dead Souls in the little high-heels comes to the car when there’s only thin air with the greyhound floating in it.

To the crowd before dawn, this is like what I dream but it isn’t the same thing. Floating, lying, why not? It’s only approaching that (what’s not dreamed). At dawn the crowd will rise. This has to be of conscious matter. He’ll be left there.

In the black the owls swoosh sailing where they eat the frogs. A sweep of them on the ‘field’ is barely seen as it’s night.

To look at one’s own death with utter attention at the time of it would be an onus at that moment. Maybe one could just die, more easily. The concentration on one’s own death at that moment seems impossible as attentive to the hole neither of which can be sustained.

The foreign workers in Kuwait after fake trials are executed. That’s a new poem.

The highest function of the mind is not to have pictures?

The action’s so bright that it’s infantile.

Sumo emerges in the dusk air.

Sumo carries the man. Greyhound flits in the air by him.

This isn’t dreamed. Corps who’s not dead yet is even with the night floating carried by sumo.

He’s even with the blue night

Being carried and changes.

To be not that

Moldering is produced in the blue night then worm in a silk suit flies toward him. Lying in it withdrawing the blade from it. The man in silk suit is sliced in half.

The sumo carrying the coil lying in gel hardly moves walking in blue.

The velvet gelatin stocks with a blue sash in between walk at night, where the man is lung in the sumo’s arms. Then floats out, still mounted in the arms, slashing the man in a silk suit who’s a worm flying to them.

Before this, sumo at night raises the man up to the dark in the lying bright crowd.

Walking, there’s no dark while that’s going on. The bright crowd’s in dark. Neither exists while one’s sleeping.

Between them this man’s carried sleeping and uncoils in it to slash the other man in a silk suit who flies up to them.

No rain is falling as it flies here.

Pouring so they’re in falling rain when it comes up flayed.

That is at the same time.

The flayed man in silk suit is in waves that pour on them, the heavy clothes sagging then.

The blood-red roses thick-petaled rose up fed on the rain.

Rose up fed on the rain.

Thick stems on poppies with their black seeds waved on it, since the globe is round.

Yet the thick petals wave off the waving black air. Huge blossoms unfold.

Nothing occurs when one sleeps so one is curious.

The work place is solely work, action is its core supposedly. Action is seen as the secretary think she is to serve the employer, that is her job per se. The secretary debases them as the nature of the work place. One has leapt out of one’s mind.

The man carried a hump by the sumo ejaculates a black ink in the night. He’s a hump as if squid curled in the arms, is just where it’s solely alone.

Being public isn’t action.

So I’m in it. I would be in sleep also, but not see it. There’s no existence of this other than in conscious observation.

The sumo wades in water up to his waist and then up to his arms carrying stick of samurai whom he raises above him in blue night. A hyena begins swimming. Another hyena is swimming in the middle of the water lying on it with a wake of water in a V stemming from it. Chest gel does not unfold as the hyenas swim to him and the sumo. There’s no translating this into sleep.

Beaten by a man in a silk suit who was begging, she is lying out.

The indigo night is out and she doesn’t occur on it. I write under a pen name.

We’re taken into the peaceful rim of nature from what?

The bubble of blue resting, she enters a fury which is only in herself.

They’re swimming in rain that’s the water, and there’s no rain with the worm flying to them who’s flayed there. Other events are united to them. Neither can be sustained.

Vertical space swims on deep red. The smear of sun swims. There’s no event which isn’t seen, so they unite.

Dragging him the limbs float out.

Akira being carried in the rain

where there’s no rain

curled in the blue

The burning fields billowing in another waft, open. Akira is H.D.’s thousand-petalled lily.

figures swim in the black ignited

a hyena swims to them

the light elation is history

The thousand-petalled lily on that aquamarine, a hawk is flapping not sustained, and drops. Then is flapping not sustained.

These men at a part were backbiting viciously.

They work themselves into a lather of hatred. Ads are the form of modern spatial sense.

They’re to induce seeing nonrealistically what is actually there: to produce our manipulated perception as the condition and ground for it.

Cord dragged behind out from woman wandering on the street in garbage is a rose.

All actions occur there.

Agonizing objectively is stilled

Moldering is produced in the blue night

Put people in charge of forests and streams who will benefit from robbery and pollution.

And a thigh moves from one.

A huge dog hunting me to destroy me turned into myself in a dream when I was fourteen. That was the first period of going after myself. I saw my isolated mind at peace outside for the first time.

Yet the ratlike faceless figures pursing have no relation to me or one.

A faceless ratlike figure randomly follows passersby on the street, who’re pumped full of bullets.

To base reality of this on it having to be printed in the newspaper, yet this isn’t accepted to be printed, the former president is a hyena trotting swiveling with an infant in his mouth then.

He says family values are what is occurring. A businessman beat a woman in robes.

Looking in the indigo night see a worm rising off a man.

The man runs in a crowd. Then.

It has no other appearance except in that public form. Yet isn’t seen there. Having to be public is the point of madness of what is entirely calm inside.

It isn’t itself thus.

Hyenas trotting on the blackened ground in oil drag a woman crumpled in black robes. Another entirely covered with no eyeholes runs with the bristled hyena swiveling lunging with thrust muzzle that tears her robe. The president’s wife trotting up disembowels her and runs with the intestine. The other flait at it, then twisting on each other are writhing. Black cakes on them, they’re illumined running in the fires.

Like looking at the thin shred of half moon in the blue sky, men in silk suits tear at other slumped figures there.

Soldiers drag a burning person. If this doesn’t imitate it, other occurs.

Then a woman down thrashing gives birth.

Goya’s L.A.

Green and Black: Selected Writings