The Sniper Says

Leslie Scalapino - another segment from Can't is Night (0'37"). One of the major discursive changes in this soundfile comes at about the two minute mark (second 115), when the poet, after a brief (.325 second) pause—much briefer in fact than the scale of the topic shift would seem to demand—begins quoting the speech of an army sharpshooter stationed in Iraq. In the next twenty-three seconds, she weaves between directly reported speech (which I'll abbreviate DRS) and parenthetically inserted framing information about that speech's source (which I'll abbreviate F). The pattern, with time values in seconds, looks like this:

DRS (2.92): we dropped a few civilians ' but what do you do?

XXF (1.24): the sniper says

DRS (9.83): 1 Iraqi soldier ' and 25 women and children I didn't take the[e] ' shot ' but 1 Iraqi soldier standing among 2 or 3 civilians

XXF (6.32): sharpshooter Sergeant Schrumpf ' remembering ' uh ' the woman going down

DRS (1.22): the chick was in the way

While Scalapino does not alter her pitch range when voicing the soldier's words—a strategy often used by storytellers and professional actors hired to recite poetry—she does increase her tempo considerably, moving from the crisply demarcated and carefully articulated words of her "poetic" mode into the connected, informal speech heard in the long middle instance of DRS. The pauses, filled with audible intakes of breath, on either side of the loudly delivered word "shot" contrasts with the rapid, linked speech leading up to it and can sound, on first listening, like an error (though on repeated listenings it seems an intentional act of emphasis). In the second instance of framing language ("Sharpshooter Sgt. Schrumpf remembering the woman going down"), another break occurs, this time probably unintentional: between "remembering" and "the woman" Scalapino inhales, pauses, and releases an "uh" before regaining her tempo. Even here, though, the performative "mistake" (if it is one) works expressively, offering a kind of acoustical equivalent to the downward movement of the bullet-struck civilian body. The fluidity of the DRS that follows ("the chick was in the way")—which Scalapino reproduces smoothly and without editorializing paralinguistic effects—is all the more startling (and sickening) by contrast.

Voice visualization

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Thursday -- 31 May 2007 -- permalink

The Lipstick of Noise is a product of the Third Factory • Inspired by the music blogs • And by Paul Blackburn's reel-to-reel deck. Intending to make good use of PENNSound and other sources of digital audio files of poetry • Comments welcomeXML.