The next couple months thru January I will host the Segue reading series with Evelyn Reilly. The following is my first introduction for the series, which I read last night to introduce Leslie Scalapino:
In a letter to Charles Bernstein dated May 25th, 1989, Hannah Weiner writes:
"I think there are four ways the poet of the future can work, and you can combine them also. One is to work politically, ecologically, whatever work that needs to be done in the world, one is to raise the level of as I explained consciousness (this I think is done by like us language some other poets of course using disjunctive, non-sequential techniques) one is to work with power, and disguise yourself that quits keep clear about writing new poetry. Meaning grounds you in every day speaking consciousness and cannot alter the mind by technique. Alter the mind and you work politically with greater effect […] The mind obeys unconsciously giving strict orders that are agreed upon by someone who twice dying explains without clear motive like once clairvoyant journal explained." (163)
When I read this letter, excerpted by Patrick Durgin in the collection of Weiner’s writing, Hannah Weiner’s Open House, I cannot help but think of Leslie Scalapino, who for the past thirty-five some odd years has fulfilled all four of Weiner’s "ways," combining them with dedication and passion through writing, teaching and her Bay Area based press, O Books—a press which continues to publish new writing, and organize a discourse about language, politics, and social responsibility. What’s more, Scalapino makes Weiner’s four ways seamless by discovering a writing radically hybrid and anti-categorical that abolishes traditionalist distinctions between poetry and philosophy opting instead to activate thinking through acts of composition. The proof is in the gerund (think-ing) as Scalapino advances many of the problems most famously articulated by Stein, whereby writing must continually enact meaning and not merely describe it. Composition as explanation; but also composition as that which charges experience with meaning.
To immerse one’s self in Scalapino’s work, and track its evolution (and to do so is now made a little bit easier for many of us by the recent publication of Scalapino’s selected poems, It’s go in horizontal) is to also witness one of the most rigorous practitioners of what Weiner calls “twice dying”. As I understand it, to “twice die” is to undergo thinking as that which interrupts a psychological “stream of consciousness,” and thus presents the otherwise within eidetic experience (ideation, perception, memory). This, of course, is not achieved by thinking alone, but by thinking as it is mediated and made possible though writing. Like the yoga master or Sufi, the thing is (lifting a term from Jalal Toufic’s work) to die before dying; that is, to experience living itself as a discontinuous condition. It is an interruptive dialogism (or dialogic interlocution) which perhaps describes Scalapino’s writing most succinctly, as one is not only never in the same syntactical stream twice, but neither before nor after a nexus of subjects and objects determined by event (what occurs, and what happens as what is). To twice die, as Weiner’s statement insists to me, is to give shape to new thought-forms which themselves may raise consciousness, in tandem affecting the political and social as those realms wherein the struggle for a new subject, and therefore new actualities, are born. More than ever we need these emergent thought-forms, and it is with great pleasure and a deep admiration that I often look for them in Leslie Scalapino’s ongoing work.