Leslie Scalapino Memorial Lecture in 21st Century Poetics--Simone White & Divya Victor

On  the glorious afternoon of June 1st, Small Press Traffic hosted the 4th annual Leslie Scalapino Memorial Lecture in 21st Century Poetics at Timken Hall at the California College of the Arts (CCA). This year the lecture included two of the more provocative Scalapino lectures thus far.

Simone White & Divya Victor
photo courtesy of Jocelyn Saidenberg

Simone White began her talk by noticing that when she received the invitation to deliver one of the two Scalapino lectures, she asked "why me?" suggesting that this question marks her "increasingly thorny engagement with the problematic relations between poetic togetherness, isolation (togetherness' ostensible opposite) and the baseline set of qualities that make writing that is hard to do and hard to read, capable of being read in togetherness or solitude" (1). White's talk asks timely, crucial questions about innovative, oppositional black art--its past, present and future.

Tracing both her own association with Scalapino's work and an original, beautifully speculative and critically powerful reading of Nathaniel Mackey's serial prose project From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate, White keeps in the forefront of her considerations the politics of audience, an attempt to engage a "willingness to lose the floor of subjectivity," to negotiate the "tensions between the desire to work inside a poetics that explores infinitesimal possibility with respect to the subject's relation to its outside and a materially and theoretically separate tradition, a black one, that holds close iconicity, a tradition that implicitly treasures and elevates heroic acts by specific subjects of the past" (5).

Critiquing the longstanding emphasis on black music as the "oppositional technique" that enables a possible "entering into the realm of the free" (6),White argues that "the complexity and importance of the poetic project of theorizing the practices and meanings of black music far surpasses the expressive capacities of contemporary black music" (8).  Turning to Mackey's Broken Bottle, she uncovers how Mackey simultaneously engages the possibilities for black personhood through music-- as the characters in the series of books are members in a band whose relations are embedded in the music, music elevated to a kind of sacred communal practice--and writing--via the several novels comprising From a Broken Bottle and Mackey's construction of word balloons that emanate from the band's music and sometimes from their mouths though they occasionally also appear when the band's records are played.
Simone's talk kept me on my toes and on the edge of my seat. She is graciously sharing that talk here.

After performing a brief joint reading with Simone, Divya Victor began by recounting her first meeting with Michael Cross at SUNY Buffalo some seven years ago, during which she remembered him telling her "'If you want something' he said 'and it is not there in the place you are in: you must make it'” (1). Citing an interview that Michael did with Leslie, which you can read here, Victor noted that three words from Scalapino in Cross's interview--peel, expose, use--would serve as actions she would attempt in her talk. Scalapino claimed that voice was antithetical to the projects of her writing; Victor exposes the constructed, historical, political, and ideological functioning of voice and tongue, the "mouth in transit," that emerges as an "abiding alienation" in the post-colonial situation. Here's an excerpt where Divya sets up this nexus:

In Considering how exaggerated music is, Scalapino describes a dream in which a woman, parenthetically, a speaker, “woke up in bed [obviously she had been dreaming] and said that she had one of them, a cicada, in her mouth so that she was pressing it with her tongue to the roof of her mouth to make the sound come out [saying to him as she woke up ‘I was spitting its innards out’]” The mouth-in-transit, the roving mouth is a cradle for such cicadas. Derrida has called this an ‘abiding alienation’— the hosting of an alien form in your own body so that it becomes “alienation without alienation, [an] in alienable alienation.”

The cicada is pressed against and popped so that its innards trickle into your innards.

The host and the guest— into the colon of the colony. One does not merely clear one’s throat of this. One does, however, ventriloquize. There is a whole chorus of cicadas up in this mother.

I want to speak with you today about this “abiding alienation”—about this condition of having cicadas in one’s mouth— not just a dream, but a lived reality for some of us. This condition comes out of the post-colonial situation— which produces the mouth in transit, a mouth not at home with itself. And I want to talk about the forms this takes in contemporary poetics, even when the poets or the poetries may not be explicitly post-colonial, and are, rather, intra-imperial or imbricated within American imperial citizenry (2).

Victor's talk develops an argument for the complexity of a poetics of ventriloquism, a poetics that peels, exposes, uses--embodied distance,"a wound sound," abiding alienation.

Divya has also generously agreed to share her talk with us here.

Both of these talks are provocative and demand your attention. Victor and White use Scalapino's writing as a point of departure from which to unfold disparate but somehow related projects invested in thinking anew about the already said.