Word of Leslie Scalapino's death reached us today. She was a relentlessly experimental poet. A five-page poem of hers, "Jumping-jack Flash," was chosen by John Ashbery for the inaugural volume of The Best American Poetry in 1988. The poem, which initially appeared in Conjunctions, is notable for its emphatic use of dashes and elliptical logic to subvert its apparent narrative intentions:
the young woman -- hassling
the old man,who'd been
seated quietly -- her -- screaming
in -- the movie theatre -- saying
he was old -- hurting him
Editing Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present (2003), I included Leslie Scalapino's erotically-charged sequence "That They Were at the Beach," This is how the piece begins: "She heard the sounds of a couple having intercourse and then getting up they went into the shower so that she caught a sight of them naked before hearing the water running. The parts of their bodies which had been covered by clothes were those of leopards." The unadorned first sentence, the flatness of the prose, underscores the strangeness of the leopards, who turn up only at the very end of the second sentence, as if magically transported from the pages of a Kafka parable. The narrative becomes a kind of essay on sexual difference. "She had intercourse with the man who had the features and organs of a leopard and whom she had first seen with the group of men who lacked these characteristics."
Scalapino died yesterday. Although her published date of birth is variously 1947 or 1948, I am told that she was born in 1944. -- DL