Leslie Scalapino Essay - Critical Essays


Since first gaining recognition during the 1970’s, Leslie Scalapino experimented with language. She has been considered a Language poet because of her fascination with how words connect to one another, but she was more than a member of any movement. Scalapino was most certainly an independent voice who strove to probe to the core of things. She was willing to take on how language has been constructed, how it reflects a male bias. Words have meaning and words have consequence, and this poet refused to let the language of politics, of gender, or of memory speak with merely one point of view.

It is as though, like a child, she questioned why language had to remain the way it had been used. For her, language could not remain the same or it would become stagnant and oppressive to so many millions of people in the world. While she was associated with Language poets such as Lyn Hejinian, Charles Bernstein, and Ron Silliman, Scalapino incorporated other traditions into her writing in order to shape her own perspective. It has been pointed out that she was influenced by the avant-garde writings of Gertrude Stein. In addition to Stein’s use of repetitive patterns, Buddhist philosophy and the visual arts also influenced Scalapino’s writings. She took inspiration not only from Eastern thought but also from several other philosophical teachings. Her writing can be seen as being snapshots of a present that is continually on the move. Freedom and movement can be considered hallmarks of what Scalapino was all about. The traditional beginning, middle, and end really serve no purpose in what she hoped to express.

Considering How Exaggerated Music Is

Published in 1982, Considering How Exaggerated Music Is brings together three previous volumes that had been published by small presses and many new poems. Even in her early poetry, Scalapino did not copy others, and she did not shy away from taking on eroticism as a valid subject for examination. She creates narratives that have at the center of them a richly textured sexual fantasy. She probes the very animalistic nature of desire, of the sexual impulse, while the narrator seems detached from what is happening, from the very sexual act.

The poem “hmmmm” (which was first published in The Woman Who Could Read the Minds of Dogs) has been built by a series of seemingly confused narratives. These narratives introduce an almost surreal sexual landscape....

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