Leslie Scalapino - Poetic action novel: World of fresh encounters where the 'hartebeest is wandering' and the 'vast shimmying fractionation is heard'

Leslie Scalapino, Floats Horse-Floats or Horse-Flows (Starcherone Books, 2010)

«Miners, polar bears, insurgents sweeping the desert in Toyota pickups, a detective on the trail of illegal fur traders, Venus Williams' deconstructed forehand, wild horses, blooming chrysanthemums, tadpoles eating corpses in the Euphrates, and so much more - Leslie Scalapino's Floats Horse-Floats or Horse-Flows is a startlingly beautiful, politically engaged, poetic novel. Narrative moments arrive out of inchoate states - an alexia where unknown words create a future - and the reader is continually and unexpectedly moved by the buoyancy and breathtaking velocity of Leslie Scalapino's language.»

"This is a jewel book that has come out of the spagyric hinterlands of purest imagination, where it has lain for an immeasurable time alongside Burroughs's Cities of the Red Night, Hans Arp's poetry, Monkey's Journey to the West, and Mark Twain's Mysterious Stranger - and it blows with the elegance of a horse - or a wolf... Virginia Woolf." - Michael McClure

"Leslie Scalapino's writing reveals how far language - and therefore thought itself - can go beyond what we are accustomed to, and the forms in which she writes delightfully defy our expectations. Yet her work is infused with a seriousness, a passion, a timeliness, and an intelligence with which we profoundly identify. A new book by Leslie Scalapino is - always! - cause for celebration." - Lydia Davis

"What is an event anyway? This is a question Scalapino has explored before, but never quite as she does here. There is the known world where 'one-box-fits-all-words' make 'even plants indistinguishable from humans.' And then there is the world Scalapino creates, a world of fresh encounters where the 'hartebeest is wandering' and the 'vast shimmying fractionation is heard.' This other world isn't Eden, though it might seem so at first. Like the one we know, this world is filled with disaster and violence. The difference is that here we don't see it coming; we can't hide behind dead verbiage; we can't brace ourselves." - Rae Armantrout

"Floats Horse-floats or Horse-flows is an action novel. Using aspects of adventure, science fiction, and crime, Leslie Scalapino presents and represents an interwoven series that carries you along, ready or not. In fact, in this writing the sense of the present is the central action for the writer and the reader, as well as for the characters. 'No really it's one thing at a time but all at once...' There are horses and they do float and flow. In fact, there are pictures of this, as well as other photos. The sense of floating and flow is intricately, one might almost say intimately, maintained. There is time travel or, at least multiple times… It is a wild ride." - Laura Moriarty

An excerpt:


The same as Chrysanthemum having no feelings but she is only feelings. That pass over her seemingly, that is, lying as the heaving rolling hills of orange mail wet petals plastering her. A tiny dot on the hill is amidst the wave. The debutante offspring of Chrysanthemum is a copy, that is, unable to perceive anyone outside herself. No one is born. The miners are already there, drown, then more are in mine shafts. Also unperceived babies of many equal creatures are emerging, are there then in the wet. But any being born are dead. Though swimming. That wood is to be born. In the wood an oar borne on the orange flexing mail can’t move in it, short-circuits the pink shit. Aiding-Chrysanthemum the older can’t do good ever having never started to flips in the air glee at whatever suffering of others she sees which if she has not caused in notoriety tale-bearing carrying to inseminate she draws or brewing so others will be R sick at heart from it flat can’t do good having never started to is being lost here citizens already blow-torched by soldiers and being so, blow-torched by soldiers, dot the orange mail of petals pink in places that are waves with people’s blood and red mallards


circular petals of the chrysanthemum, not remembering what she’s said even as she’s speaking. But Petals replaces everything objects people silent with savaging. Mirrors for gold they’re barely reflected in her (Chrysanthemum’s) rage oar not even reflected to her. Globate roses bob in the sea of rain on boughs. The rain hangs on women who out wearing folds that expanding are black velvet rain then. Neither forest or air are fractionation: the forest and long grass being silent, the fractionation that isn’t the baby blue air either which quiet is later cobalt is an oar in it. Same as the insurgents’ oar? Resistance. A factor of Violet née Chrysanthemum being sightless is her pretending sightlessness? The passersby can’t tell if she’s pretending, supposing they thought of it and were asked. They’re mute. Because Violet’s mouth is a raging maw unlike violet flowers that are glinting, similar to the Cheshire cat chewing mouth in the sky. Sound apparently only floating mouth as autosuggestion. Her disembodied then cleistogamous smile hovering in the air seen red chrysanthemum trembling (seen by the fleeing doctor’s ear as he swims in the filthy street) moves on over sewage or dewage, since these are the same translated in the process of alexia imposed onto people who may even be writing chatter-boxes reading at three—they begin choosing words which they compare in the air, appearance and disappearance in sound there.

city harp

The cake of bullying had imbibed smarmy manner that seemed not so much to charm others, technical assistants, nurses, social workers, but to enforce her steely will laced as swine jelly with them, who may be innocent and kind or smarmy sourpusses too, both in an aspic of what’s expected by a ‘society’ apparently, though the Chrysanthemum never imagines anything outside. It seems still as throttling. City harp of sewage by those running in it or driving, horses at the same time, the cough of engines echoing on the rippling pool is in the midst of the hartel so workers walk stagnant. This outside present is invisible to Violet (violent, actually red) Chrysanthemum just as a yellow cheetah is with the present. She makes no presentation except her facial moods. Words can just be substituted. Outside is ignorant in her then hers is violent, her saying any cruel thing that comes into her mouth is stagnancy of a leaden smile or chrysanthemum, any negative motives of hers being opened outward as others doing something. Sherri’s face is always winking with hatred screwed up in a ball uttering vicious, neglectful, and lazy remarks, they’re violent, a friend of Violet’s (Chrysanthemum) she’s always there to help bully. Without there being any alteration of the individuals or the circumstance of that time, nothing forgotten, the wound heals, it closes up. The lips in air disappear sucked from inside into that inside."

See also:

Leslie Scalapino, Dihedrons Gazelle-Dihedrals Zoom, The Post-Apollo Press, 2010.

"This is not a poem or a story but a mystical vision. No one could imitate or reproduce it. It exists by chance to tell us about our ever-imminent present. It was in darkness that they saw a great light. So it was that word-blindness was the chosen method for writing this book. And from that blindness Leslie Scalapino has picked her way along an ocean now petroleum where gelatinous forms of life are left, a powder monkey, horse and owl, and slave boys and girls sleep on abandoned cars. Many enslaved children, just as there are in this real world. The gazelle-dihedrons are those that move fast-forward seen as only frontal spine slats of rib-cage zoom in to one almost as if omitting space. This writing (a full flower) stems from an act of heroic attention to the future." - Fanny Howe

"Here is more of Scalapino s jewel book that has come out of the spagyric hinterlands of purest imagination, where it has lain for an immeasurable time alongside Burroughs's Cities of the Red Night, Han Arp s poetry, Monkey's Journey to the West, and Mark Twain's Mysterious Stranger and it zooms with the elegance of a gazelle or a wolf... Virginia Woolf." - Michael McClure

"The intensity of Leslie Scalapino s poetic vision is staggering. The Dihedrons Gazelle-Dihedrals Zoom is the Divine Comedy for our age, with, if one could say, more humanity and more derision." - Etel Adnan

"The Dihedrons Gazelle-Dihedrals Zoom is an ekphrastic implosion inside our severed human-body/animal-mind. "Memory isn't the origin of events," Scalapino writes early in this magisterial work, which restores the synthesis of events to its place as meanings' origin. The Dihedrons Gazelle-Dihedrals Zoom - as much a work of grotesque science fiction as a poem -- cracks open the imaginary reality astride reality. In the stadium of its visionary composition, te everyday floats vivid strange: in time, as time, with time, beside time." — Charles Bernstein

"Scalapino, who died this past May, two months before her 66th birthday, is often clubbed together with her Bay Area Language Poet peers, and the designation is certainly not wrong. But it is beginning to be clear that Scalapino is one of the great Zen poets of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, one who reinvents the relations of poetry and practice with effortless movements of mind, sense, and sound in each book. This collection is the companion volume to Floats Horse-Floats or Horse Flows, published earlier this year. Written in prose, it has a complex "plot," which finds the diverse conflagration of "human-like creatures" from the title pivoting around the recent terrorist attack on Mumbai. Illustrations from artists Kiki Smith and Jess are interspersed, in a scene where "Day begins anywhere." The whole has a Bladerunner-ish quality to it, with avatars multiplying and "base runners" populating the "emerald dark." While Way (1988) remains the place to start with Scalapino's work, and posthumously prepared manuscripts are sure to see publication, this collection pulses with life and Scalapino's unmistakable voice." - Publishers Weekly

"The Dihedrons Gazelle-Dihedrals Zoom, though a complete and separate work, is the second book or pair of the prose work titled Floats Horse-Floats or Horse-Flows. The Dihedrons Gazelle-Dihedrals Zoom, in short chapters usually not more than a page or half page, was composed by process of alexia, word-blindness: unknown words were chosen by randomly leafing through Webster's Dictionary; these generate characters and events that cohere as a sci-fi novel in which the characters are apparently divided from their senses (said to be dysaphic, they are seemingly without tactile senses, without memory or seeing?though they are also said to see and touch); by virtue of this dysaphic quality they act to heal mind-body split visibly demonstrated by the dihedrons and the gazelle-dihedrals, humanlike creatures with structures opened to show their organs and muscles?who inhabit the emerald dark apparently either cyber or real space. These umbra creatures have been affected by "idea" being the goal and description of everything, divided from "being" itself.
The Dihedrons Gazelle-Dihedrals Zoom is an endless landscape in which new characters arising from the words, with their own lives and actions that briefly refer to outside events and history (such as Sara Palin, one of the characters for an instant), access spatial-sound openings, tactile and aural sensations, the conception being that we've been split distorted, cut off from our present-future-past, time acknowledged as really non-existent as we conventionally define it. The characters are particularly the abandoned orphan girls (left by parents or placed in orphanages as is occurring at present in China and India but here location is not specified, is as if a futuristic everywhere), millions of whom stream through the sci-fi realms in which horses roam as in Mongolia. Leafing through the dictionary I ran across the two words "base runner" from this, a main character arose, the base runner who is trapped in an emerald dark freezing space where he runs to reach widely separated bases, no one else present in the game from which he can't depart (if he does he will be killed); he's bound apparently in a cyber program possibly gulag from which terrorist actions arise or are reflected. One such event, the attack on Mumbai, is the origin and connection of all the events of the book. The avatars of the base runner are an eagle and an octopus; the latter frees the base runner by making love to a woman (another main character named the distaffer) as she is swimming in the sea after her plane with a load of orphans has crashed into the sea. The octopus and the woman "come" allowing the base runner to come to them breaking through from the emerald dark. The dihedrons (seen only sideways, they arrive without appearing to move) and the gazelle-dihedrals (different manifestation of the same creature but this version zooms only forward) are completely opened in the sense that their organs-musculature-skeletons are simultaneously displayed to be literally outside and inside at once. These creatures are either protective or threatening, akin to Tantric Buddhist figures; they are present while the human characters catch on fire in the emerald zone, the living people protected by their avatars (an octopus, a Silvertip grizzly, a white wolf-dog, an eagle).
The characters alter by their experience. Some who are the abandoned girl-orphans growing up become manifestations of characters (loosely conceived) from Greek myths. One main character is "the deb" (the debutant) who is the daughter of a slut named Chrysanthemum (a manifestation of a fiery red Mongolian wrathful deity, a figure of enlightenment); given the hardship of having such a mother, the daughter grows up to be Artemis whose avatars are a Silvertip grizzly and the Silver Wattle Tree. Another main character is a child, one of the abandoned girl-orphans, who grows up to be Venus/Aphrodite (also Venus Williams, the tennis champ). One minor character is Hera, a harridan who is abusive to one of the abandoned orphans.
The intent of this work is free rein of the imagination, as if "on a run" pushing it as far as can be to break through to have it "unite" with a sense of being real. The intent is also that one as reader have the sense of seeing one's separation from one's own senses in living in our society as our separation from paradise and as reading, to have even a tactile as well as mental sense of union with that paradise. Though since it is real, paradise as the book's reality includes also terrifying events of the actual world (as well as daily events, sometimes humorous).
The Dihedrons Gazelle-Dihedrals Zoom contains images by Jess, Masami Teraoka, and Kiki Smith. Images by Jess and Masami Teraoka (an octopus sucking a woman) are part of the meaning of the text, as if the images are memories of events in the lives of the characters (who have only single memories arising occasionally, or are devoid of memories until these begin to break through). Kiki Smith has given permission to use images from her Spinster Series, included as part of my text. Her figure of a girl (from her already existing series) is used as a reference to a figure of a girl in the emerald dark. The images by these artists are thus real events already existing outside, already experienced in the text independently, neither illustrating the other verifying each other as part of a huge background of sensory events.
The inside of action and of being in these actions at the same time?have the tactile sense that there is no present even seeing there in its midst experiencing sensations. The characters, the deb (debutant), the distaffer, and the base runner, with their avatars - so they have more than one manifestation at once - exist alongside and somehow programmed in relation to real-time events: a recent terrorist attacks on a cricket team and the recent attack on Mumbai (the two events conflated as if one). Akin to Henry Darger's endless landscapes, narrative is from the outside always?at the same time the intent is for the writing to be the sensation of having/being other people's sensations as well as non-human, that of flowers?not only to have the pleasure of this vivid life but the sense of not struggling for future.
This work, possibly referencing a cyber Alice in Wonderland is based in the sound of words intended to make a sensory realm, as if the characters while not having senses, have these given to them as the writing being all of the senses." - Leslie Scalapino

"I mentioned the difficulty of reading Leslie Scalapino’s wordfall, The Dihedrons Gazelle-Dihedrals Zoom, to Lindsey Boldt, who published the book with Post Apollo Press. She responded generously, saying
I agree that Scalapino’s work can feel very difficult, and this book I think feels especially daunting. Its prose is incredibly tangled and slippery to an almost maddening degree, which is what makes it so taxing but also so rewarding. I felt really anxious when I first sat down to read it and really fought to understand it on a sense-meaning level. I don’t think I’d faced such a literary challenge since college. I finally caved at some point and just let it turn into a sensory experience, which turned out to be really fun.
Certainly that’s an adequate and lovely review in itself, though it hardly matches the book’s blurbs: Fanny Howe calls it a “mystical vision” and Charles Bernstein said the book “is an ekphrastic implosion inside our severed human-body/animal-mind.” Talk about whoa! Michael McClure said the book comes from the “spagyric hinterlands of purest imagination,” and Etel Adnan called it our Divine Comedy but with “more humanity and more derision.”
So how is it that these syntactically dense word sets come to matter? Even the 176-page book itself is difficult to characterize; the jacket is fuzzy, kind of ugly, an aesthetic that goes hand-in-hand with difficult work in the same way that academic journals forgo cover art for a table of contents–a de facto caveat emptor: there’s no gloss here. In spite of that, this book is glossy, and justifies its $29 price tag with heavy, bright paper and fourteen provocative images by artists like Kiki Smith and Jess (Jess Collins). It feels as dense as it is.
Accordingly, I’m interested in how the bookiness affects the work; at first it increases the austerity and limits my interaction. The artifact in particular makes the writing challenging, while the writing challenges the book’s function; how do you design a serious but inviting book? I think Scalapino and her editors were conscious of the challenge, and the integration of the pictures helps (it’s made explicit, however, that the pictures are not illustrations of the work, or inspirations for it — just representations of the same reality).
But if you check out these excerpts from the book, you’ll see the poems don’t actually seem all that hard. In fact, its language is just the sort of thing an htmlgiant reader might expect to find propped here. I bet Chris Higgs will agree that this first sentence glows: “Out of which the silent dactylology from emerald wastes little girls crossing the roads arriving the green meadows full they do the cakewalk and are celebrated with cakes for their most intricate steps.” Like Lindsey Boldt said, as a sensory experience that linguistic pile-on is a blast.
From the introductory note by Leslie Scalapino:
'The Dihedrons Gazelle-Dihedrals Zoom was written by leafing through Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary choosing words at random by process of alexia, not as mental disorder but word-blindness: trance-like stream overriding meaning, choice, and inhibition. The intention to bring about an unknown future was offset by this action of alexia making as it happens sensual exquisite corpses—leading to the discovery that there isn’t any future, isn’t even any present. Such an exquisite corpse, read, is in an instant yet not even in ‘a present.’ Outside’s events unite gluing to each other a single object. That which had already existed is by chance.'
Even that introduction frustrated me with how much it takes for granted. I understand how choosing random words can create sensual exquisite corpses, and I’m big into theories of time, but I am not following how these strings of words illustrate that the future and the present don’t exist. I don’t even know what that means. But when I read an introduction to a process, I’m just looking for a lucid explanation of what to expect. Scalapino isn’t providing a key for the reader, just another lock.
The more I read from the collection, though, the more I understand that in a meaningful way, through sonic and syntactic recurrence, through oblique references to things-which-stand-not-for-themselves (eg. Palin, planes, deb, something complicated about the basics of baseball), the text unlocks itself. Included in this unlocking are the ideas of time that Scalapino mentions in her note, and in that way I think the book becomes more than just a fun book for Kool-Aid drinkers of langpo. There is indeed some ekphrastic implosion, though I wonder if ekphrasis is the best way to characterize it. To me it seems more eschatological, or whatever eschatology would be if it didn’t exist. (It’s a keen strength that the book deprioritizes any thesis, allowing for this kind of joyful, highfalutin response, or this one: Bernstein’s nuts! It’s not ekphrastic, it’s clearly eschatology that’s imploding!) More than anything, the Scalapino dialectic is one of openness. The book can be ekphrastic or phenomenological, sociological or even geometrical, as the title indicates.
At this point I figure I have dabbled in the book, and it has rewarded that dabbling with (yes) a fun experience and an inkling of what is possible from this literature. A couple weeks ago I mentioned to Jamie Townsend, of the New Philadelphia Poets, that I was trying to read Scalapino and he smiled, saying something like, “That’s what everyone does.” I don’t know that one has to try, though, so much as to read her twice. Now that I have sense of the topology of her writing, I’m now going to read her a second time.
Close to the end of The Dihedrons Gazelle-Dihedrals Zoom, Scalapino unwrites her author’s note, enjambing the lines, deleting phrases and adding even more presumptuous ones, and by this time I have accustomed myself to her demands. What works best about this dilapidation, this uncutting of the stone, reminds me of what I like best about the second section of The Sound and the Fury. Faulkner forgoes chronology and structure the closer Quentin comes to death." - Adam Robinson

From The Dihedrons Gazelle-Dihedrals Zoom


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