Monday, March 29, 2010

Leslie Scalapino's Zither & Autobiography

Just hit 200 reviewsof poetry books on Goodreads and dont exactly know why. Partly its cheerleading, partly compulsiveness, partly the online fun of watching numbers climb. If I arrange them right, I wonder if they’d show a coherent poetics, or a map of friendships and affinities that amounts to the same thing. Ill post some here, for the few who still read blogs between Facebook updates, and who dropped away from Goodreads long ago.
Leslie Scalapino’s been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve admired the seriousness and dedication apparent in her work for years, but my mind just doesn’t work like hers. Consequently, as often happens in these cases, I’ve tended to take her sui generis explorations of time, memory, and the experience of subjectivity as prescriptive, even admonishing, like I ought to be taking in the world that way myself.

Somehow Zither & Autobiography helped get me over that hang-up. It couples a fairly accessible, straight-up narration written for Gale Research with a poetic “commentary” on the prose half that sort of writes through King Lear (“he hath ever but slenderly known himself”) to explore themes familiar from Scalapino’s other books: the slips and stutters of consciousness as it works to locate itself in the evanescent present. Together, the two contrasting texts make a diptych that highlights the strengths and limits of both approaches to narrating the story of one’s life, or even puzzling out which of the multiform pulses of consciousness count as “one’s” “life.”

The notes say that Gale rejected the prose section for being too weird, but if you’re familiar with Scalapino’s poetry, it helps to locate some of her philosophical and political commitments among her relationships within an exceptional academic family whose travels and interests inflect her heightened alertness to dislocation, the artifice of normative linguistic conventions, and Buddhistic insight. A great way in if you’re looking to get experienced with Scalapino’s work. No time like the present.

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