The distinction blurring is not a project originating with her, but there is in Scalapino's work the sense of a single voice rather than expected "car radio effect", the audio equivalent of Burroughs's cut-up method that would make a piece resembles an AM dial moved up and down a distorted, static-laden frequency. Leslie Scalapino's writing is one voice at different pitches responding to an intelligence aware of how it codes and decodes an object of perception. The work is fascinating, interrogations that wrestle with the act of witnessing. In the best sense of the comparison, her writing has traces of Gertrude Stein at her most concentrated, when she had considered the Cubism of Braque, Picasso, and Leger and sought an equivalent in writing of the effects they achieved in their painting and sculpture; a disassembling of the usual way that orders visual experience the effect of which reveals each perspective at the same time. This simultaneity of witness presents problems at first--head-scratching isn't an unusual response to first-timers even these days--but the beauty of the project is that the abstraction it produces in the work of the Cubists and with sympathetic experimental writers like Stein is that it allows for things that are normally hidden or ignored in favor of more flattering, svelte detail to be brought to the forefront. The world is less smooth and elegant as the former restraints vanish, and it becomes a considerable space filled with objects of infinite shape. Stein, though, was principally intrigued with the visual, and Scalapino's writing concerns itself with an investigation of one's own perception; there is a sense of frantic and sharply applied cuts in a film , different angles juxtaposed against one another, ideas revealed in contradictory shades of light. The poet pauses, repeats a phrase, restarts the narrative from the beginning, jumps to the end and then inserts the middle section. The jump cutting, the shuffling of details, repeated, reworded, the same scene addressed in all conceivable tenses--it's all dizzying, remarkable.
There is a fracturing of narrative flow, a rephrasing of what was formally said, a studied trek through a temporal sequence of events full of incidental images, smells, and sounds, any of which trigger associations linking the speaker, the witness to the phenomenon, to personal history and future one speculates about in limitless wondering. Scalapino's writing is a study of the mind conducting its habit as a device that forces order on an infinitely complex rush of details that would otherwise overwhelm the senses. Her poetry examines the canvas on which one draws their conceptualizations, a worrying presence on the margins of consolidated personality, ever aware of the filters one applies over the phenomenon.I haven't excerpted any of Scalapino's work here because the formatting of this blog wouldn't do justice to the arrangements of her lines on the page; the spatial arrangements are crucial in many of her poems for each sliver and shaving of nuance to fully work. But there are some choice links here you can follow to some of her works online, presented, I assume, as the author intended them to appear.