Charles Bernstein

Leslie Scalapino's phenomenal essays

How Phenomena Appear to Unfold
Leslie Scalapino

2011 • 312 pp. • $24.00 • ISBN: 978-1-933959-12-2
Litmus Press  | Cover sculpture by Petah Coyne.

Scalapino is always just ahead, inventing the essay anew, as a necessary means for the exploration of consciousness, perception,  and meaning in and for language, with full engagement with, and acknowledgement of, the political valences of every poetic act as it falls into, or fails, the social. In the expanded field of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, Scalapino's essays are central: a model not just of possibilities but of "landing sites" to use the term of Madeline Gins and Arakawa.

Tracy Grinnell has done a superb job assembling this collection, which Scalapino was working on at the time of her death about a year ago. As always, Scalapino pushes beyond any easy sense of essay. What unfolds here is the startling unexpectedness of thought, articulated in visual and verbal forms that confound genre categories. In this book, Scalapino creates fields for thinking-as-perception, in which the poem emerges from the essay as counterpoint and newly forming foundation. The complex of disparate parts creates working models for a social formalism. Scalapino introduces the terms "seamless antilandscape" to acknowledge that an aversion to traditionl representation does not produce disjunction but rather a syncretic perceptual experience.

This is a touchstone work of pataque(e)rics.

The Claudius App

Jeff Nagy and Eric Linsker released today the first issue of the their web magazine, The Claudius App, coinciding with the visit of Kate Middleton to Canada and the Royal Wedding in Monaco, and the collapse of the case against DSK. Coincidence? It’s hard to say, for The Claudius App is billed as the home of a new movement, or moment, as movements are always moments writ large – Fast Poetry. When I first heard the term, I thought at last some young poets were picking up on Hannah Weiner’s iconic work The Fast: a new poetry of spiritual quest and cleansing, purging the toxic poetics that surround us in North America. (And maybe they have.) But I slowly came to what sense I still have command over: this was fast in the sense of rapid or quick, in the sense of not slow, or possibly in the sense of dissipated, unreliable, loose, without scruples; entirely unrelated to Yom Kippur and penitence. 

Emma's Nursery Rimes

Two works from 1991

Emma, Susan, and I moved to Buffao in August of 1990. I did these works in the following Spring, when Emma was turning five.  Some of these xerox-generated pieces, an extension of Veil, and many of which focussed on my own hand-written mss and notebooks, were collected in Ray DiPalma's Hot Bird Mfg as Language of Bouquets  in 1991 (9 sheets, stapled at top).  This set of work involved overpriting, rather thant overwriting, as in Veil.  The two images here are quite different that the others in this series: I overlayed a drawing of Emma's over the printout of "Emma's Nursery Rimes." The poems, from July 1990,  were published as part of a  collaborative book with Bee, Little Orphan Anagram (New York: Granary Books, 1997) and later collected in  Girly Man. Emma always said she wrote them.

My Veils

At the time I was creating the series  Veil (1976 EPC didital edition) [also pdf of Xexoxial Edition], I also made some other Veil-like works. A couple are in the Sackner collection:"I became a consultant to the world outside" (left) and the horizontal veil below. & then there were two Veil postcards, the latter one published by Station Hill Press in 1980. The conceptual key to the Veil works were that they involved overwriting not overprinting: that is, I overwrote my writing as a composition process. They are a form of writing, not design.

"furnishings in the house of the voice": an interview with Hank Lazer

by Lisa Russ Spaar

photo by Charles Bernstein

In the fall of 1975, while a second-year undergraduate at the University of Virginia, I attempted to enroll in an introduction to poetry writing course being taught by a doctoral student named Hank Lazer.  I went to the first class meeting and found some 40-plus eager students hoping to gain a spot in the 15-person workshop.  At the front of the room sat our long-haired, handsome, almost beatific instructor, distributing questionnaires meant to assess our interest in the class.  What kind of music stirred us?  Did we engage with visual art?  How?  By whom?  Who was our favorite philosopher?  Why?  What foods did we most enjoy?

 A 19-year-old from New Jersey, I had never met anyone quite like Hank, fresh from California’s Stanford University, in his Earth Shoes, sipping apple juice.  Nor had anyone had ever asked me about myself and my artistic and extra-literary inclinations in quite this way.  I’m still not sure how I gained a spot in Hank’s class, though I thank whatever compelled me to erase “Bachmann Turner Overdrive” and replace BTO with Rachmaninoff, whose compositions, brought to life by Arthur Rubenstein, scratched out of the family stereo cabinet throughout my childhood in a way I suddenly felt invited to appreciate.