Selections from reviews of Rachel Blau DuPlessis’s work in Drafts, the long poem project.
comments on Drafts
“DuPlessis’ ongoing long poem Drafts is proving to be one of the major poetic achievements of our time.” Ron Silliman, Silliman’s Blog, April 2004
“Rachel Blau DuPlessis’ long poem “Drafts” forges a generic field somewhere between a series and a sequence, a mutually constitutive life-poem in drafts and an accumulation of autonomous though recursive episodes. The trajectory — toward coherence or liberated from its strictures — remains indefinite, precisely because this generic field is a construct of the “Drafts,” nothing at all taken for granted or based on received wisdom, though radical modernist long poems provide clear precedents, right to the project’s overall texture of allusion made familiar by, among others, Melvin Tolson’s Harlem Gallery, H.D.’s Trilogy, and especially Ezra Pound’s Cantos.” Patrick Durgin, [Review of Torques] Jacket 35 (2008).http://jacketmagazine.com/35/r-duplessis-rb-durgin.shtml
“In Drafts, DuPlessis combines narrative and lyric elements, crosses genres (documentary, report, ode, elegy, autobiography, midrash), creates palimpsests, uses gloss, creolisation, over-writing, multiple fonts, punning, and word-hinges, all of which contribute to a sense of the text as being at once inclusive (polyvocal, multi-cultural, and symphonic) as well as filled with gaps, hesitant, and conflicted. Blacked-out patches of text in “Draft 5: Gap,” “Draft 52: Midrash,” and “Draft 68: Threshold” remind the reader of the overlay of social censorship that regulate such tracings of the past.” Ann Vickery, “From Being Drafted to a Draft of Being: Rachel Blau DuPlessis and the Reconceptualisation of the Feminist Avant-Garde.” In Avant-Post: The Avant-Garde under “Post-“ Conditions. Ed. Louis Armand. Prague: Litteraria Pragensia, 2006, 156.
“More than a craft, the poet’s job of work for DuPlessis assumes the ethical demands of a ‘vocation.’ Such a calling, moreover, borders on the priestly, speaking as it does here out of the ‘ossuarial shadows’ that connote literally the crypt where the bones of the dead are interred. Not unlike Wallace Stevens’s poet as ‘metaphysician in the dark,’ DuPlessis’s authorial personal is committed to working conditions that demand a special form of attention to the via negativa wherein is revealed ‘[n]othing that is not there and the nothing that is.’ “ (p. 87) Walter Kalaidjian, The Edge of Modernism: American Poetry and the Traumatic Past. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.
“Given the beauty and complexity of these drafts, it’s not much of an exaggeration to say that DuPlessis has invented a new way of integrating poetic form and content. Hers is a massive, cathedral-size project unlike any other in contemporary literature.” “From what I can tell, DuPlessis doesn’t write poems so much as build them. The manner in which she does that is what makes [her] one of the most exciting and inventive writers of our time.” Andrew Ervin, “It’s truly poetry in motion,” Philadelphia Inquirer (August 21, 2005): H 12.
“DuPlessis asks us to take seriously Olson’s call for the poetry-page as a wide-open field on which historical, theoretical, social and aesthetic problematics unfurl, twist, evolve and mutate dialectically and/or dialogically, bouncing off each other in collision or play, interlocking in agonistic intensity or affectionate rapprochement. Drafts (the series and the present volume under review) is one manifestation of that Duncian meadow to which we are permitted to return as often as we can handle the immersion it compels. … DuPlessis is after nothing less than a “dolce stil nuovo” for “women’s poetry” –one that is “outside gender” but indebted to the insights of the women’s movement in which she participated. A new form. New forms, unpredictable, that inch into being as the poems find their appropriate forms. … Adorno and his tortured dialectic, especially in the wake of the European Jewish genocide, also become interlocutors as the poet searches for rigorous but supple means of reckoning with history and the wayward intellect. Knots, quipus and other textile figures abound as models for poetry, for language and for thinking; so does terrain, textual or terrestrial, verdant or menacing, florally bucolic (“Draft 40: One Lyric”) or gutted by an imperial warfare (“Draft 47: Printed Matter”) in which the poet, as US citizen, is implicated.” Maria Damon. [Review of Drafts 39-57, Pledge, with Draft Unnumbered: Précis]. HOW2, posted May-June 2006. http://www.how2journal.com
“DuPlessis has created one of the most sustained and magnificent meditations written by a contemporary poet on loss, presence, and the haunting persistence of language to redeem what has vanished …. The order of the world in Drafts may be predicated on loss, but it’s a loss that’s redeemed by its being folded over into a capacious, labyrinthine process of response that turns the never-ending occasion of depletion into a recurring event of plenitude.” … ‘What is here’ is both the full run of experience that the synaptic range of the poem is capable of registering in a dazzling variety of pitches and timbres and its ineluctable evaporation, which leaves in its wake fragments and debris for the poet to take up as theme, ruminate over, turn to song. The scale of Drafts is monumental; its focus anti-monumental.” Patrick Pritchett, On Drafts. Jacket 22: http://jacketmagazine.com/22/prit-dupless.html.
“Only if you have both a deaf and a tin ear will you not be pleased by this dazzling achievement, which celebrates dazzling achievements.” (p. 22) “Explicitly playful and serious, generative, and interpretive, Rachel Blau DuPlessis’s Drafts are essential writing and reading.” (p. 24) Catherine Daly, “Drafting and Folding,” American Book Review (November-December 2002): 22, 24.
“True to their name [Drafts], the poems accent provisionality, risk, the absence of guarantee, delving into words and word parts with a heteroglossic verve that seems vengeance at times. With recourse to an astonishing range of techniques and material devices, formal concern as inclination and qualm, these poems register, lament, react to and wrestle with erosions on multiple fronts—psychic, social, historical, somatic….They affirm and negate the toll history takes on letter and spirit, affirming and negating and navigating a way between.” Nathaniel Mackey, Chancellors’ Reading List, in American Poet (Spring 2003).
“Life-works in the Pound/Zukofsky/Olson tradition have become scarce in the last few decades, with Ron Silliman’s The Alphabet project being one of only a handful. DuPlessis’s Drafts is another, and this large volume collecting pieces of the project published over the past 15 years arrives with a certain antique aura, reminding one of the stirring beauties and frequent lapses of those sprawling, open-ended works. DuPlessis, who has written extensively about Zukofsky and the Objectivist poets, adopts a whole series of tones and methods from the modernists, resulting in a fragmentary, intellectual, autobiographical style, in which pieces of history, stray thoughts, voices from different poems, hand-drawn icons (recalling Pound’s use of Chinese ideograms), unglossed references and rapid juxtapositions prevail, held together by the author’s expositing ego. What differentiates DuPlessis’s style from her models, though, is a concern with memory, witness, the metaphysical dynamics of text (presence vs. absence, reference vs. free-floating signifier, the Deleuzian “rhizome” and “fold”) and an overarching concern with knowledge of the “other,” who at times is problematized as a mirror of the “I.” At times, DuPlessis ruminates beautifully on these issues, and the poem takes on the feel of a strange mental database governed by principles of quantum physics: “Blessed, one could say,/ with a bad, with almost no/ memory,/ gifted with it,/ the flowers was always / false forget-me-not,/ tender blue, very like the real,/ those sugar’d golden-pinky eyes / but not right, a lack–/ something / of how the texture of memory/ puckers,/ slippage./ It’s never what you think….” Perhaps too often, “[t]his kind of speaking/ doubles the unspeakable” as one Draft begins, and doesn’t get much less abstract. At its best, though, the poem resembles A.R. Ammons’s longer improvisations, with DuPlessis opening the mind’s floodgates and finding the perfect rhythm for channeling its contents.” Michael Scharf and Jeff Zalesky, on Drafts 1-38: Toll. Publishers Weekly 248. 4 (11/19/2001).
“In sheer propulsive force, in its capacity to engage the world while simultaneously keeping a close eye on those (always treacherous) words through which we define our place among the things of this world, in its polyphonic exploration of a full range of experience from the personal through the historical to the religious, in its sheer pleasure in the physicality of language, the poetry of Rachel Blau DuPlessis seems to me as satisfying as the work of any poet writing today.” (p. 157) Burton Hatlen, “Renewing the Open Engagement: H.D. and Rachel Blau DuPlessis.” H.D. and Poets After. Ed. Donna Krolik Hollenberg. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2000: 130-162.
“The draft form in which DuPlessis has been writing for over a decade now is uniquely suited to her poetic goals, as it incorporates into the flow of discourse the random one-thing-after-anotherness of daily life, and the eruption into that life of History, and the writer’s experience of facing again the blank page and strewing it with words, and, always, the moment by moment rediscovery of a world that is insistently there, beyond our will and intentionality.” (p. 151) Burton Hatlen, “Renewing the Open Engagement: H.D. and Rachel Blau DuPlessis.” H.D. and Poets After. Ed. Donna Krolik Hollenberg. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2000: 130-162.
“Rachel Blau DuPlessis does what all good poets must do: She crosses, and indeed transcends, boundaries. There’s something of the ‘language’ poet to her: She’s obsessed with syntax (her poems are ‘about’ themselves as much as they are about any exterior subject, and tend to comment on themselves as they proceed), and she pays much attention to the sheer music of words as they butt up against each other on the page. … I’ve cited contemporaries with whom DuPlessis’ work seems sympathetic, but it’s Pound and Zukofsky and Oppen I think of must when reading her. DuPlessis’ images can be as sharp and clear as those in the best work of Oppen, and she has the big-poem ambitions of the makers of Pound’s The Cantos and Zukofsky’s long poem A. … She has a masterful feel for form–lines are launched successfully from uniform flush-left margins to roam the page. And her ear can be astonishing: there’s not a page in the book that doesn’t contain unexpected combinations of sound. Like Ives, she’s fond of all kinds of sound, and her tone, too, can leap from the colloquial to the starchily academic in a matter of a few words. Her visual imagination is rich, and her capacity for wordplay is considerable.” (p. 9) Robert Long “A collection that defies today’s boundaries of poetry,” Philadelphia Inquirer (Sunday, May 11, 1997): 9
“In the intense, ruminating interrogation of a ‘random strewing of debris,’ Rachel Blau DuPlessis inscribes the working of her Drafts–a collection of polyvocal texts which seeks to explore through the multiple displaying of poetical styles and typographies, through the ‘line marks names’ of her writing, the cumulative slippages of sense as they threaten the very plausibility of a closed self…. DuPlessis is haunted by the precarious closures, ‘hinge-loss door, lack latch’, that have come to undermine the idea of presence. … Writing the undone across what she calls ‘the historical dead’, Rachel Blau DuPlessis thus manages to inscribe the finest of equilibriums between a burning loss of identity, its increasing impossibility and the urge to avoid purifying whatever else is being shaped to take its place.” (pp. 90, 93) Caroline Bergvall. “’Writing the Undone.’ Review: Rachel Blau DuPlessis’ Drafts.” Parataxis: modernism and modern writing, 6 (Spring-Summer 1994): 90-93.
“…I think DuPlessis’s poem–the draft, the fold, and the whole of the unfolding series–places considerable hope in its own voracious and eccentric methods. DuPlessis’s Drafts, and Dahlen’s A Reading as well, suggest that interminable ‘pattern-breaking’ experiments like theirs may succeed in exploding inherited restrictions / inscriptions of gender. They do so by resisting the deliberately beautiful, by devouring dense sediment of intellectual and material detritus, by approaching all experiential and cultural materials as matter for incorportion and serious intellectual analysis. In the process, they may expose alternative forms of enlightenment and empowerment, and even alternative models of beauty….” (p. 301) Lynn Keller, Forms of Expansion: Recent Women’s Long Poems. University of Chicago Press, 1997: 239-301.
“Rachel Blau DuPlessis’s Drafts 3-14 is maximal poetry. Her rich and manifold range of reference and expression–emotional, intellectual, and observational–is illuminated through a dazzling array of techniques. These poems never let us settle down and never let us down. Strong feeling, complex thought, precise observation, a superb technique–what more do we need?” (back cover comment) Jackson MacLow, comment on Drafts (3-14).
“…DuPlessis’s longer works open up onto ‘folding,’ a multiplicity of thought, voice, and rhetoric that is less possible within a lyric of attention. As I shall also be claiming, the residue of that lyric-apprenticeship enhances the longer poems, giving them pith and beauty, a tension that calls for attention. Thus her longer poems, by virtue of their proximity to a lyrical desire, have a dialectical force, their openness and multiplicity existing proximate to an impulse to narrow and to pare.” (p. 40) Hank Lazer, Opposing Poetries, Volume II: Readings. Northwestern University Press, 1996.
“Rachel Blau DuPlessis’ Drafts 15-XXX, The Fold situates itself within this paradox of covering and recovering, folding back on earlier drafts as acts of ‘correspondence.’ Like the notes that correspond to each draft, the earlier writing becomes a scene of reading: not as telos, not to occupy an ideal position of reader-writer, here-there, then-now, but reading the earlier drafts as ‘conspicuous oracles,’ fragments ‘pressed down unfinished overwritten refolded’ (28). Thus, each poem acts as a kind of event horizon in which both language and ‘event’ fold and disperse, fuse and scatter….” (p. 166)
Dan Featherston, “Review [of Waldman, DuPlessis, Riding],” Sulfur 41 (Fall 1997): 164-169.