Helen Vendler titled one of her books, “The Music Of What Happens,” a quote from the poet Seamus Heaney, whom she greatly admires.

But music doesn’t happen—music which moves us has an inevitable quality, just as mathematical science reveals nature’s permanence to our rolling eyes, just as beautiful verses make their statement like stone.

Leslie Scalapino, vying for Sweet Sixteen against Carolyn Creedon, is the supreme poet of what happens.  APR excerpted Ms. Scalapino’s that they were at the beach—one of four long parts in their anthology The Body Electric, source of Scarriet’s 2011 March (May) Madness Tournament.  I laughed when I read this:

Beginning to honk, because a man in a car behind me looked as if he were going to take my parking space, it’s near shops, is crowded—I honked before seeing that he’s old.  And it appearing he hadn’t wanted the parking place.

Here is poetry that happens, and this is Scalapino’s genius—no poetry happens quite like hers.  It lives in the present—reading her poem you think along with her in the present.  If poetry is news that stays news, Scalapino is the most up-to-the-minute news of all, because no one immerses you in happening right now like her.

As we pointed out during her second-round victory,  Scalapino’s poetry is nerdy and helpless and sensitive—which makes her absolutely adorable; she is so much in the present, the poem always moving forward so engagingly and innocently and vigilantly and anxiously and hopelessly, that as ‘experimental’ as perhaps this is, I actually enjoy reading her.

It would be a mistake, however, to think of Scalapino’s poetry( “I’m not retroactive—corresponds to making jokes because it’s in the past”) as bizarre or mysterious, because it’s the opposite of that—it’s plain to an extreme degree.  It represents the anti-spiritual, the anti-intellectual, the plain person who just wants to belong to the world in a plain way.

If you want what happens, read Scalapino.

If you want inevitable, read Creedon.

We read “Litany” by Carolyn Creedon with wonder and horror.  Its end is contained in its beginning.  We knew her poem had to end this way.

The details of Creedon’s poem come to us, not as events that are happening, as in that they were at the beach, but as images from a dream, which we turn over in our minds long afterwards.

The Tom of Creedon’s poem will love the narrator nevermore.

The Scalapino washes over us.  It is essentially comic.

The Creedon haunts us.  It is essentially tragic.

This whole Osama Bin Laden business:  not only is it rooted in horror and tragedy, but it has a secret, conspiratorial aspect. There are temperaments that look for conspiracy—and here we might genius, or we might find paranoia.  Usually paranoia—but we never should dissuade genius.  A conspiracy of a conspiracy is a natural development, for facts matter less in puzzling politicial matters than the factions it inevitably creates, with one side content they do not believe in conspiracies, and the other side tortured that they do.

Creedon’s poem speaks to the torture, Scalapino’s to the blandness associated with existing beneath the status quo in a world of sense experience—a world without conspiracy that happens by chance.

Creedon’s poem thinks: it was inevitable that Tom would leave me.

In this torture is a certain kind of art’s highest pleasure.

Creedon defeats Scalapino 101-100.

It had to be.


I’m only Tom, cheering helplessly from the stands.


Tom, will you let me love you in your restaurant?
i will let you make me a sandwich of your invention and i will eat it and call
it a carolyn sandwich. then you will kiss my lips and taste the mayonnaise and
that is how you shall love me in my restaurant

Tom, will you come to my empty beige apartment and help me set up my daybed?
yes, and i will put the screws in loosely so that when we move on it, later,
it will rock like a cradle and then you will know you are my baby

Tom, I am sitting on my dirt bike on the deck. Will you come out from the kitchen
and watch the people with me?
yes, and then we will race to your bedroom. i will win and we will tangle up
on your comforter while the sweat rains from our stomachs and foreheads

Tom, the stars are sitting in tonight like gumball gems in a little girl’s
jewelry box. Later can we walk to the duck pond?
yes, and we can even go the long way past the jungle gym. i will push you on
the swing, but promise me you’ll hold tight. if you fall i might disappear

Tom, can we make a baby together? I want to be a big pregnant woman with a loved face and give you a squalling red daughter.
no, but i will come inside you and you will be my daughter

Tom, will you stay the night with me and sleep so close that we are one person?
no, but i will lay down on your sheets and taste you. there will be feathers
of you on my tongue and then i will never forget you

Tom, when we are in line at the convenience store can I put my hands in your
back pockets and my lips and nose in your baseball shirt and feel the crook
of your shoulder blade?
no, but later you can lay against me and almost touch me and when i go i will
leave my shirt for you to sleep in so that always at night you will be pressed
up against the thought of me

Tom, if I weep and want to wait until you need me will you promise that someday
you will need me?
no, but i will sit in silence while you rage. you can knock the chairs down
any mountain. i will always be the same and you will always wait

Tom, will you climb on top of the dumpster and steal the sun for me? It’s just
hanging there and I want it.
no, it will burn my fingers. no one can have the sun: it’s on loan from god.
but i will draw a picture of it and send it to you from richmond and then you
can smooth out the paper and you will have a piece of me as well as the sun

Tom, it’s so hot here, and I think I’m being born. Will you come back from
Richmond and baptise me with sex and cool water?
i will come back from richmond. i will smooth the damp spiky hairs from the
back of your wet neck and then i will lick the salt off it. then i will leave

Tom, Richmond is so far away. How will I know how you love me?
i have left you. that is how you will know

Carolyn Creedon



  1. Nooch said,

    May 11, 2011 at 11:58 am

    For Scalapino, “what happens”
    Seems less important than her interpretation—
    For almost every event recounted in her poem,
    Is given a specific classification.

    She’s clearly one of the chosen few,
    And deserving of a Marla Muse interview.

    • thomasbrady said,

      May 14, 2011 at 12:00 pm

      Classifying rocks and pepples,
      Tuning the dials’ basses and trebles,
      Scalapino is perhaps doing more
      Than ‘happening’—but what’s her classifying for?
      Perhaps Marla Muse can ask the poet—
      She’ll reply, and then we’ll know it.

      • Nooch & Link support said,

        May 14, 2011 at 12:32 pm

        Leslie would no doubt speak
        With scalpel-like precision
        (Or not)—by the way, ever hear
        Of the “Great Crush Collision”?

        Scott Joplin himself
        May have been there—
        In any case, the piece he wrote
        Based on it’s far from square.


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