Brief commentary, new slants, current scholarly finds are invited for our Alerts section. Poets and scholars are equally welcome to comment.

Excerpts from "How Phenomena Appear To Unfold" by Leslie Scalapino

H.D.: The Poet in Wartime, by Adalaide Morris

A Palimpsest for Barbara Guest, by Dale Going

Unowned Voice(s) from Kathy Acker's Humility

Quoting Leslie Scalapino:
from How Phenomena Appear To Unfold


The form of Alice Notley's poem "White Phosphorus" is phrases and words in quotation marks, beside each other in stanzas; they are in quotes because it is what we say, it is a mask, it is outside, and yet it is also "center of senses," "center of, moment."

The 'context' is that of a brother actually having died from having been in the war in Vietnam. His death has occurred in the present long after that war. The context is the war. It is the moment "before we were born?"; after death; inside this moment; it is "seen through his eyes"; actual death; it is what people say, which is history.

"In this moment" "before" "anyone, ever" "died" "before we were born?" / "in this moment forever before" "before we went to a war" / "Before we died" "In this moment, now" "In this moment before, it is / not before" "In this very moment" "where is it" "where we / haven't died" "or died inside" "In this moment we haven't" "in this / moment, no one" "in this moment, no one has ever, died" ("But I have / been born") "in this moment" "where, where is it" "in moment" "who's here" / "Catch it catch it" "moment where we are" "merely as it is autonomous,"

The phrases are in the frames of their quotes. The moments or particles are autonomous, existing separately beside each other in the poem which is without a frame (without quotes).

(knowledge, so endless" "is nothing") "A war" "more news, more / to know about, to know" "Excuse for anger" "indignation" "you can still / keep your money" "know the terms of news" "terms" "Know what news knows" / "What words know" "Do words know?" "No they don't, only flesh knows only / soul knows" "in the words" "A mask is rigid" "on warm flesh on / dreaming mind" "on fleshly mind" "rigid" "But my brother now is / nature, pure nature" "however that be" "Or I have dreamed so" "Owl, / not an albatross" "He's an owl," "not an albatross" "I have twice / "dreamed that Al" "is an owl" "intricate with" "feathers" "texture of

The idea of history -- which has been created by the "country," by "America," "soldiers," "us" -- has become a form 'within' the context of the poem (it is its inside). It is our view of it. The 'form' has become an apparatus, a device for transforming actual life and death.

I am concerned in my own work with the sense that phenomena appear to unfold. (What is it or) how is it that the viewer sees the impression of history created, created by oneself though it's occurring outside?

Multiple perspective (in these works), in which the viewer and speaker are 'within' (being its inside) the work, allows reality to leak from many holes all around. As (spatially) infinity is all around one, it creates a perspective that is socially democratic, individual (in the sense of specific) and limitless.

--Leslie Scalapino

Leslie Scalapino, editor of O Books, has recently published The Return Of Painting (Dia Art) and Way (North Point). This passage is excerpted from the title essay of How Phenomena Appear To Unfold (Potes & Poets, 1989: pp. 118-119).

A selection from Alice Notley's long poem in progress appeared in HOW(ever) Vol. V, No. 4. Her recent book At Night The Stars is available from The Yellow Press, Chicago.

(Because of our more condensed format, line breaks quoted from Notley's poem are indicated by / marks.)

Morris on H.D.:
The Poet In Wartime


Born at least a generation earlier than most of the prominent chaos theorists, H.D. suffered not only the terrors of World War I and World War II but also a persistent nightmare of the impending holocaust of World War III. For this reason, I believe, the urgency behind her work is not just intellectual and aesthetic but also moral. In looking for the fine structure hidden within disorderly streams of data, she is also looking for the ways in which a poet's local intervention might avert global disaster. This ambitious project is a consequence of her understanding of the manner in which small scales intermesh with large. "Sensitive dependence on initial conditions" suggests that poets in wartime are not "useless" or "pathetic," for the stroke of a poet's pen might change the course of the world. If to a scientist like Lorenz the Butterfly Effect meant that even the most informed forecast is speculative, to an artist like H.D. the Butterfly Effect means the possibility of metamorphosis. This is the nonscientific but nonetheless fervent hope that gives her search for recursive structures its distinctive energy and edge.

--from Science and The Mythopoetic Mind in Chaos and Order edited by N. Katherine Hayles, (U. of Chicago Press, 1991)

. . . . I would like to ponder the way of the artist in a time of war by exploring the mixture of feminism, politics, and mysticism in a long poem H.D. clacked out on an antiquated typewriter in the flat she shared with Bryher. First called the War Trilogy and then, more simply, Trilogy, this poem can be interpreted as. . . a warning, a command, an incitement to conserted action. To read a lyric sequence as a signal is to insist that a poem not only means but does. Instead of emphasizing the intricacies of the poem's signifying structures, I would like to foreground the work it performs, for whatever its nuances of meaning -- and they are many and strange -- it labors to create a formal break with everyday life, a ritual space that invites the reader to return to, reexamine, and rearrange the ethos of a community in crisis. The work Trilogy initiates is the work of cultural reconstruction.

--from Signaling: Feminism, Politics, and Mysticism In H.D.'s War Trilogy

A contributing editor to HOW(ever), Adalaide Morris teaches at the University of Iowa. These excerpts are part of an on-going exploration of H.D.'s poetry and poetics, tentatively titled H.D.'s Lexicon.


The urge toward quotation is connective, expansive, textural. Foregrounding what has been submerged, recessive. Accentuating the withdrawn, redrawing with a dark line the distant position.

The quote is the invisible thread made vivid in a different texture.

Refabricating context. Quoting not to repeat what has been said, but to retrieve other meanings.

Frank O'Hara intended a certain inclusiveness when he wrote, "Not to say it as justification, but simply as fact, abstract expressionism is the art of serious men. They are serious because they are not isolated." Reverse the fabric. Threads stand out, pick a pattern of exclusion: serious men, not isolated, simply as fact. What is excluded exists, hidden, obscured in invisible stitches, silence, the long loose weave of the back of the fabric.

"A Palimpsest for Barbara Guest" is taken from "Cavallon Paints a Picture," an essay by Frank O'Hara in his Art Chronicles 1954-66. Reading his art criticism around the same time I was reading Guest's novel/poem, Seeking Air.

Noting that the male poets of the New York School are all selected, collected or complete, their prose and art criticism as well. Flip the fabric, silences in Guest's publishing history are vivid as silences in her poems. Although she was the first of her friends to write for Art News in the fifties, her criticism was never collected, her book on artist Robert Goodnough published only in Paris. Her poetry is yet to be selected, collected. It is nearly impossible to "discover" her work -- one has to be introduced.

In the single critical essay dedicated to Guest's work, Kathleen Fraser writes, "Guest opts for the half-seen clue, the private notation. . . " The half-seen clue leads to what is excluded.

White/space/unsaid/invisible thread. Morgan Flew in Seeking Air writing a critique of "Dark". In the last chapter, "Dark being edged out by White," I noticed the half-seen clue, here make my private notation/quotation public. What surfaced in reading "Cavallon Paints a Picture" is an aptly textured description of Guest's work.

"A Palimpsest for Barbara Guest" which follows is excerpted and slightly improvised from O'Hara's text. Inserting Barbara Guest for Cavallon, Gertrude Stein for Picasso, and H.D. for Mondrian.

What made an abstract poem an abstraction? Unlike many other poets, Guest did not look to Stein for help with this problem; Stein did not seem pertinent to her own work. Stein, who seems even now never to have felt anything a problem but to have simply faced and given a face to all that occurred to her imagination, thus offering innumerable problems to others, should they wish to impose them upon themselves.

Light is all-important in Guest's work and in this connection one notices in her poems and in the poems of H.D. to which they seem to be related, the source of light is the image on the page toward which the viewer looks for illumination. . .

Guest went unerringly to the one quality in H.D. which set her apart, the quality of the surface. However reticently one may confess the meaning of her universal images to one's own eye, it is the extra, therefore the essential quality which sets H.D. apart from the broad and tedious purity of much modernism.

For most poets, the work of H.D. has spelled exclusivity, the influence has been toward what should not happen; for Guest, it pointed the way to a new richness: it had not to do with specific form, but with conviction finally stripped of restraint.

With Guest, the inital gesture is not necessarily the basis for the composition, but a start with and against which to work. It may operate as a plot of word emphasis, or it may indicate the psychological area in which events are about to take place, or a formal preference which she will presently violate.

Addition by addition, the words erect a wall of space upon which to operate and linearity totally disappears.

Differentiations of value are created and absorbed. There seems to be no prejudice exercised. Guest observes a great deal.

The warmth of luminosity and the strength of illumination are particularly strong. . .

A studied and intense poet, the drama of meaning occurs in the composition rather than on the printed page. I do not say this as a preferential remark, but as a cue to her particular quality, breathing, articulate and final.

This final luminosity is achieved by white.

Guest adds whites, whites with a past, whites with purity, whites with their differentiations. At a certain point the whole poem seems to be becoming white. But you can't have just light, which would be a position taken toward the poem, rather than in the poem toward experience. . .

It is difficult to convey the power and conviction of Guest's work, its precise, yet airy and sensual, logic. One of the least expressionistic and most abstract writers of the New York School, her method is private and mute. The finished poem is, however, completely articulate in the noninsistent way that true conviction is.

And white, by its preponderance and variety in her work, assumes the role of an acute intelligence, correcting, uniting, discovering the universal meaning of all the particular perceptions which have gone before, making this meaning suddenly familiar.

--Dale Going

Frank O'Hara, Art Chronicles 1954-1966. New York: George Braziller, 1975.
Barbara Guest, Seeking Air. Santa Barbara, CA: Black Sparrow Press, 1978.
Kathleen Fraser, "One Hundred and Three Chapters of Little Times: Collapsed and Transfigured Moments in the Fiction of Barbara Guest," in Breaking the Sequence: Women's Experimental Fiction, edited by Ellen G. Friedman and Miriam Fuchs. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989.


Barbara Guest's most recent book of poems is Fair Realism, published by Sun & Moon Press in 1989.

Selections from Dale Going's book of poems, As/Of The Whole, appear on pages 4 and 5 of this issue.

Unowned Voice(s)
from Kathy Acker's Humility

. . . Later she would think about ownership and copyright. I'm constantly being given language. Since this language world is rich and always changing, flowing, when I write, I enter a world which has complex relations and is, perhaps, illimitable. This world both represents and is human history, public memories and private memories turned public . . .

So where is 'my voice'?

Wanted to be a writer.

Since couldn't find 'her voice', decided she'd first have to learn what a Black Mountain poet meant by 'his voice'. What did he do when he wrote?

A writer who had found his own voice presented a viewpoint. Created meaning. The writer took a certain amount of language, verbal material, forced that language to stop radiating in multiple, even unnumerable directions, to radiate in only one direction so there could be his meaning.

The writer's voice wasn't exactly this meaning. The writer's voice was a process, how he had forced that language to obey him, his will. The writer's voice is the voice of the writer as God.

Writer thought, don't want to be God; have never wanted to be God. All these male poets want to be the top poet, as if, since they can't be a dictator in the political realm, can be dictator of this world.

Want to play. Be left alone to play. Want to be a sailor who journeys at every edge and even into the unknown. See strange sights, see . . . If had to force language to be uni-directional, I'd be helping my own prison to be constructed.

There are enough prisons outside, outside language.

Decided, no. Decided that to find her own voice would be negotiating against her joy. That's what the culture seemed to be trying to tell her to do . . .

Decided that since what she wanted to do was just to write, not to find her own voice, could and would write by using anyone's voice, anyone's text, whatever materials she wanted to use.

Had a dream while waking that was running with animals. Wild horses, leopards, red fox, kangaroos, mountain lions, wild dogs. Running over rolling hills. Was able to keep up with the animals and they accepted her.

Wildness was writing and writing was wildness. . .

Excerpted from Humility by Kathy Acker in The Seven Cardinal Virtues edited by Alison Fell (Serpent's Tail, 1990: pages 116-117). The artist Capitol involves her Writer Doll in a 'scenario' where her free appropriation of texts (notably from a Harold Robbins novel) embroils her in a struggle over ownership/propriety/censorship -- a case history for writers working/playing with quotation.