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Poet Leslie Scalapino passed away on May 28, 2010 in Berkeley

Leslie Scalapino passed away on May 28, 2010 in Berkeley, California. She was born in Santa Barbara in 1944 and raised in Berkeley, California. After Berkeley High School, she attended Reed College in Portland, Oregon and received her B.A. in Literature in 1966. She received her M.A. in English from the University of California at Berkeley in 1969, after which she began to focus on writing poetry. Leslie Scalapino lived with Tom White, her husband and friend of 35 years, in Oakland, California.

In childhood, she traveled with her father Robert Scalapino, founder of UC Berkeley’s Institute for Asian Studies, her mother Dee Scalapino, known for her love of music, and her two sisters, Diane and Lynne, throughout Asia, Africa and Europe. She and Tom continued these travels including trips to Tibet, Bhutan, Japan, India, Yemen, Mongolia, Libya and elsewhere. Her writing was intensely influenced by these travels. She published her first book O and Other Poems in 1976, and since then has published thirty books of poetry, prose, inter-genre fiction, plays, essays, and collaborations. Scalapino’s most recent publications include a collaboration with artist Kiki Smith, The Animal is in the World like Water in Water (Granary Books), and  Floats Horse-Floats or Horse-Flows (Starcherone Books), and her selected poems It’s go in horizontal / Selected Poems 1974-2006 (UC Press) was published in 2008. In 1988, her long poem way received the Poetry Center Award,  the Lawrence Lipton Prize, and the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. Her plays have been performed in San Francisco at New Langton Arts, The Lab, Venue 9, and Forum; in New York by The Eye and Ear Theater and at Barnard College; and in Los Angeles at Beyond Baroque.

In 1986, Scalapino founded O Books as a publishing outlet for young and emerging poets, as well as prominent, innovative writers, and the list of nearly 100 titles includes authors such as Ted Berrigan, Robert Grenier, Fanny Howe, Tom Raworth, Norma Cole, Will Alexander, Alice Notley, Norman Fischer, Laura Moriarty, Michael McClure, Judith Goldman and many others. Scalapino is also the editor of four editions of O anthologies, as well as the periodicals Enough (with Rick London) and War and Peace (with Judith Goldman).

Scalapino taught writing at various institutions, including 16 years in the MFA program at Bard College, Mills College, the San Francisco Art Institute, California College of the Arts in San Francisco, San Francisco State University, UC San Diego, and the Naropa Institute.

Of her own writing, Scalapino says “my sense of a practice of writing and of action, the apprehension itself that ‘one is not oneself for even an instant’ – should not be,’ is to be participation in/is a social act. That is, the nature of this practice that’s to be ‘social act’ is it is without formation or custom.” Her writing, unbound by a single format, her collaborations with artists and other writers, her teaching, and publishing are evidence of this sense of her own practice, social acts that were her practice. Her generosity and fiercely engaged intelligence were everywhere evident to those who had the fortune to know her.

Scalapino has three books forthcoming in 2010. A book of two plays published in one volume, Flow-Winged Crocodile and A Pair / Actions Are Erased / Appear will come out in June 2010 from Chax Press; a new prose work, The Dihedrons Gazelle-Dihredals Zoom will be released this summer by Post-Apollo Press; and a revised and expanded collection of her essays and plays, How Phenomena Appear to Unfold (originally published by Potes & Poets) will be published in the fall by Litmus Press.

Her play Flow-Winged Crocodile will be performed in New York at Poets House on June 19th at 7pm and June 20th at 2pm by the performance group The Relationship, directed by Fiona Templeton and with Katie Brown, Stephanie Silver, and Julie Troost. Dance by Molissa Fenley, music by Joan Jeanrenaud, and projected drawings by Eve Biddle. This production is co-sponsored by Belladonna* and the Poetry Project.

There will be a memorial event for Scalapino at St. Mark’s Poetry Project on Monday, June 21st.

A Zen Buddhist funeral ceremony will be conducted by Abbott Norman Fisher in about a month with the arrangements in a subsequent announcement. Tom requests that in lieu of flowers, Leslie’s friends consider a charitable donation in her memory to: Poets in Need, PO Box 5411, Berkeley, CA 94705;  Reed College for the Leslie Scalapino Scholarship, 3203 Southeast Woodstock Boulevard, Portland, OR 97202-8199;  The AYCO Charitable Foundation, PO Box 15203, Albany, NY 12212-5203 for the Leslie Scalapino-O Books Fund to support innovative works of poetry, prose and art; or to a charitable organization of their choice. Condolence cards may be sent to Tom & Leslie’s home address, 5744 Presley Way, Oakland, California 94618-1633.

to make my mind be actions outside only. which they are. that collapses in
grey-red bars. actions are life per se only without it.
(so) events are minute — even (voluptuous)
––Leslie Scalapino

This note was written by Scalapino’s family

EPC page

Leslie Loses Her Breath

Leslie Scalapino
Leslie was in New York for the Poetry Project panels on her work. She came by our place for lox & bagels. I asked her about the time she literally lost her breath in Tibet.
November 12, 2006
(mp4, 48 seconds, 7.8 mb)

Norman Fischer took this picture of Leslie, Tom, and me a few weeks ago, in front of their house in Oakland. I took the photo at top in 2006.


Excerpts from The Tango

some are

standing or curling rose — is not — rose (they rose)


subjectivity/language is — the delicate food system
disturbed famine reappears — ?
were killed practicing in the monasteries — shipped
to labor, dying, trains shipping them, ringed in by barbed
wire haul on dam sites tunnels exhaustion famine in lines.
the same figure repeated everywhere changes it there as if
changed by not either from within or without that


if the back’s constructed — and moves the light — is
subjectivity/language only — they’re not ‘speaking’
that is ‘speaking’ — social — both

subjectivity/language constructed also and those men
move the light — so —
social isn’t anything? there — walking — either


moon rose — that is — appears to
moon rose
on or resting on mountain’s top — edge
horizon —
men’s delicate backs standing move — is separate —
from them
there at all — both


future — movement
is ‘not’ night — or
‘in’ ‘night’ — either yet
ahead — so there are not functions ever


the man standing and curling while the backs lying.
— in the place.
social — (is ‘getting along with’ people only?) or one
“doesn’t get along with people” — is functions only
(someone makes that occur — by ostracism —
one has no function then)


the man has kindness — is standing lying — or at
night curling
one holds his back
at ‘night’ — ?


must ‘accept’ death of others. — except them. except
him. (can’t) is them him also.

at ‘night’ any night is can’t


day. moon. rose. — is on a mountain -is one’s own
back — is any night — ( isn’t the same as night)
is can’t. their separation is there.


the flesh is not asleep while one’s sleeping. at any
time? — no difference between ‘apprehension’ —
it’s the same in one?
— blossoming trees — outside — or ‘there not being
memory at all’ if the flesh is not asleep ever
or that’s rest as not sleeping
the relation between ‘no memory occurring’ ever
(only constructing — thought as motion — in anyone — is
and the flesh not asleep ever (even while one’s
sleeping) is blossoming trees ‘outside’, that is also


the relation between the dog’s crushed back and its
apprehension isn’t by itself even. both.

crushed isn’t by itself — either skittering from side of
hurtling car on flimsy countryside


some friend wanted faceless mother slaves. whatever
not to speak, is social as people being functions? they
‘think’ it is — not to see people’s faces — there — is no
on their part.
— duty — is nothing — no functions as one. both.
is wasting — wanting — speaking — social

one’s subjectivity/ language is one’s back’s motion


he says — one suffering as is inferior then (free of
suffering being itself bliss, i.e. ‘indication’ that one is free)
and ‘that one is free’

(though it could just be — ‘materialism’ — social
acceptability. acting and speaking as ‘free of suffering’ being
that: social acceptability only)
but everyone is suffering — they’ve been killed

people’s feelings, one’s sufferings, is there wild. moon
rose and is people’s feelings wild
one’s suffering, one’s kindness — is ‘isn’t the same as


hemmed in streaming — being attached — as
conception also
others streaming being attacked — all over the place
— she says ‘it’s never happened to her
isn’t hemmed in streaming walking — there is no
‘outside’ — ?

she’s so protected — ‘it’s never happened to her’ —
and it’s everywhere — there’s no place. —


as their sense that ‘the flesh itself isn’t anything’ as
opposing others et al

then it’s only one — in their ‘social’ realm — neither,
as there’s no memory et al — and the flesh’s ‘memory of
being free’ ‘as’ ‘there’


— one’s subjectivity/language is their or one’s motion
seeing being only a motion even (in walking, say)

one has no back — yet. — not even ‘in’ ‘night’ —
not even past movements’ ‘night’ — either and is
future ‘nights’
where (?) no movement of one’s occurs — future is
same as one’s motions without extension now

one’s motion ahead — is only one now — nights rose


to find something out — one’s motions without
extension in this place — not even — past movements’
extension now —either — nights rose.

forward into a motion where?
subjectivity/language constructed also and moves the
light — so — social isn’t ‘anything’ ? — there. — walking —


he’s walking — hemmed in streaming — being

in the flesh not ever being asleep while (one’s)
sleeping — hemmed in streaming — also

at ‘nightany night is can’t — he’s/one’s ‘outside’ in it
— both