Friday, February 22, 2008

 

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

 

Alain Robbe-Grillet has died at 85

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Rae Armantrout in The New Yorker

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Talking with Peter Gizzi

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The New York poetry scene

A new translation of Poet in New York

Michael Dirda on NYC & AWP

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The sound poems of bpNichol

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Conceptual poetry in Arizona

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Hugh MacDiarmid
& the Stone of
Scone

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Pound’s moody genius

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468CThyFuture:
video as book, book as video

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The Frost medal for Michael Harper

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Project: to read 200 books
in 2008 & blog it all

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The world’s most widely read
living poet

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If Robert Creeley
were a character in Peanuts,
would he be Linus?

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Christian Bök on Dennis Lee

& on chance in writing

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WorldCat:
find books in a library near you

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One more reason
to go to the library

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Almodovar to film Marcos Ana biopic

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Rachel Zucker’s Bad Wife Handbook

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Sharon Mesmer’s Annoying Diabetic Bitch

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Major Jackson’s Hoops

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Trevor Joyce’s What’s in Store

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The two sides of Paul Muldoon

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Jen Hadfield’s Nigh-No Place

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A memorial for Landis Everson at St. Marks

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The first e-book to reach one million downloads?

Percentage of students
who have bought e-textbooks: 18
(PDF)

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This week’s death-of-a-bookstore tales
come from Pittsburgh and Washington, DC

The role of supermarkets
in the decline of bookstores

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Where textbook dollars go (PDF)

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How to save money on books

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Talking with Philip Roth

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Irvan Perez has died, & with him
some of the last links to Ileños

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Talking with Hiram Larew
(part two)

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Lee Sharkey & the war on words

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A profile of Miguel Barnet

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Edward Byrne on
Patricia Fargnoli & B.H. Fairchild

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Anne Waldman chants the plight of manatees

John Flynn sings of their snot

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Ashraf Hossain’s On Behula’s Raft

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Getting a reading series going in Malaysia

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Videos of a youth slam
at Richard Hugo House

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The poetry of Roger Clemens

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Should Cathal Ó Searcaigh
stay in the curriculum?

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Robert Pinsky on Alan Shapiro

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How dumb are we?

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Is reading doomed?

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Writers as drunks

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The wit of Rye, NY

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Roberto Bolaño’s imaginary monsters

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£15,000 to imitate BART in Russia

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Vendler’s Yeats

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A profile of Henri Cole

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Is © foe heading for Congress?

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Talking with Carl Phillips

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The Library of America’s 979-page edition
of a poet who published just 90 poems

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Talking with Simon Armitage

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A portrait of the poet

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Charlie Simic in Delaware

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Theater and the suspicion of language

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The resurrection of Richard Yates

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James Wood: lost in translation

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Make Me a Supercritic

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(Art) journalism vs. blogging

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Julian Schnabel’s journey

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Dorothy Podber has died

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Frida Kahlo in Philadelphia

“with eyes half open”

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Art and the feminist revolution

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Philip Guston’s Poor Richard

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A renaissance in public art in the UK?

(Slideshow here)

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Illicit cultural property

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Japanese supreme court
overturns Mapplethorpe obscenity ruling

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Julian Bell on Lucian Freud

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Roscoe Mitchell, scientist of sound

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The problem of importantitis

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The alleged importance of publishers
in music

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Is listening gendered?

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You call this an arts policy?

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“How one interprets Modernism
depends on what one includes”

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

 

My instantaneous reaction on first seeing Rachel Blau DuPlessis’ Draft 68: Threshold was that it looked very much like my own FBI file. Here are the second and third stanzas:

It does not take much to figure out where the initiating theme of the “unsaid,” the effaced, the “roar of the missing,” which runs consistently through what DuPlessis calls the “line of eleven” of her life poem Drafts, happens to be.

In fact, even before the first redacted line “goes black” in the eighth line of the first stanza, there has been a more subtle erasure:

This what you wanted
      When you said you wanted “more”?

The absent term is, whether present or past tense, and which could appear either before or after the initial This is so slight, so apt to be skipped over in our own daily speech, that it’s omission here might not even be felt. It might be below the threshold of recognition.

Plus, the key term in this first sentence, literally the subject, This is not defined, at least not yet. Are we alluding to the text here at hand? A key literary journal of the 1970s? The project that is Drafts? The whole idea of poetry after not just Auschwitz, but also after Cambodia, Kosovo, Chechnya, Rwanda or Darfur? DuPlessis offers something toward a definition in the second sentence, a complex noun phrase that is short of a complete sentence: This being the other side of amusement. The third sentence is even shorter: Damage. And the fourth a quotation, “Boiling gurge of pulse.” The moment in Keats when he comes closest to foretelling directly the work of Clark Coolidge over a century later. It is not until the fifth sentence that we get one that actually has its master verb, which as it happens is all it has: Listen.

It is the sixth sentence where suddenly we get the full package of syntax, and it has the feel of water suddenly bursting through a wall or dam¹: You have stumbled across terrain and / Still could not escape this twisted langdscape. That last neologism is, however, a huge (and deliberate) stumbling block. No wonder sentence 7 asks What words? And the eighth, tho it has a final period, feels cut short (again deliberately): Eroded, choked, and stun.

It is here where we get our first black block of redacted text – an entire line’s worth. If it is a single word, it is a long one, since the block takes up the space of 40 letters, indented roughly three (unlike lines 2, 4 & 6, which have all had an indent equivalent to a tab bar: 5 spaces.) The question here is obvious – it’s the same one that I had when I first saw my FBI files some 30 years ago: What’s behind the block?

But, also like my FBI files, which were photocopied from a redacted original, there is no way here really to find out. Unlike, say, Joyce’s Finnegans Wake notebook up in the archives at SUNY Buffalo or the Archimedes Codex in Baltimore, you can’t x-ray or use spectral imaging to figure out what’s behind the surface. In printing, a black block is exactly that. WYSIWYG.

Which is a detail that has kept me awake at night. There are, I would think, two distinct ways to do this. One is to write actual text, then to block it out so that what remains carries within itself the weight of the missing. The other is the far simpler: the blocks are graphic elements only – there is no real “missing” text. Making it something of a game: is it or isn’t it. And if it is, if there is truly “hidden” writing here, is it something we will confront later, perhaps in Drafts 87 or possibly 106?

It is at the end of this first line of blocked, blacked-out text that DuPlessis writes the sentence that gives rise to the title of this book: You wanted to torque. That is a sentence that can be understood so many ways, from the purely linguistic to the completely erotic. And certainly the text above the redaction suggests something akin to a dreamscape & the psychological. But you ended up here – that may be the most frightening line in all of DuPlessis’ work. I don’t see how it can be read as anything other than an accusation, recalling as it does the opening lines of Dante’s Inferno. What follows is yet another incomplete sentence: Impotent rages locked in these mazes. Five syllables on each side of the caesura – we’re intended to hear the near-rhyme. The next line says what was evident the instant we confronted the look of this page: The page is slowly turning black. Note, however, that here there is no terminal period, because what follows – the last line of the first stanza – is our second moment with these redacted blocks:

My mind immediately wants to plug in the word as into that first block, but frankly I don’t know what to do with the two that end this sentence (note the period!). This is what I think of later in the second stanza (the first of two printed at the top of today’s note) as a truculent syntax threshold. Although, it is worth reminding myself, that’s not what that later phrase says either, exactly.

My point is not to close-read Threshold (tho ultimately I don’t see how you can read DuPlessis any other way) as it is to point to dimensions in the text that reverberate from section to section along the “line of eleven” within the sequence that is Drafts, to suggest just a little what this second direction of reading will get you to. You can see why, in one sense, reading Drafts is an athletic event. There are very few poets who build so much in to an extended text, to write with concision & density that we more often associated with writers of short, compacted texts (early Creeley perhaps, Rae Armantrout) and do so over such a broad expanse – Drafts is 622 pages long, just through number 76. And, as I suggested on Monday, the potential feels limitless. If Drafts is exhausting, it is in the same sense that, say, viewing all of The Godfather is similarly draining, because it engages all of the reader, all of the author, and all of the world.

 

¹ Recall the six-lined stanzas of the “failed” sestina in Drafts 49: Turns & Turns, an Interpretation.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

 


Photo by Ben Friedlander

It’s taken me years, decades in fact, to figure this out – in retrospect it seems obvious – but there are at least two ways to read through Rachel Blau DuPlessis’ Drafts. One might read, for example Drafts 68: Threshold between Drafts 67 & 69, the way it appears in Torques, the latest collection from this project. But one should also read it along what DuPlessis refers to as “the line of eleven,” following Draft 11: Schwa, Draft XXX: Fosse & Draft 49: Turns & Turns, an Interpretation, a reading that entails having at least three separate books out on the table more or less all at once. And, oh yes, Draft 87, which is not yet written tho the two that come immediately after are already “in print.”¹ This recognizes the underlying cycle of 19 poems that is reiterated as Drafts stretches out. 19 because, as DuPlessis once informed me, it just “felt right.” It’s yet another instance where poetry derives its metric, its measure from a prime number, the way we talk of iambic pentameter instead of ten-syllable lines, the way Williams built his stepped verse by what he termed a “triadic” line, the way haiku resolves into the numbers 3, 5, 7 and 17. So Drafts, because it is cyclical, growing richer & deeper with each sweep, is becoming not unlike Julio Cortázar’s great Oulipo-inflected novel, Hopscotch, a text that must be read in different directions.

I have an idea – maybe even a theory – that reading Drafts straight through accentuates the autonomous nature of the poems, to harken back to DuPlessis’ characterization of them as a “series of autonomous, but interdependent canto-like poems.” Reading them in this other direction, however, accentuates what is or can be interdependent between them. Thus I turn to the very first lines of Draft 11:Schwa and read this:

The “unsaid” is a shifting boundary
resisting even itself.
Something, the half-sayable,
goes speechless. Or it can’t

and Inbetween

what is, and
that it is

is ə Inside

……an offhand
sound, a howe or swallowed
shallow. Sayable Sign
of the un-.

This is followed by a line of twenty-five periods. As I type this, I’m not even certain that HTML will let me get away with a “ə” or that readers will see that the capital I in Inbetween and Inside is boldfaced. I know that I missed that the first time through.

Now remember this same passage as you read the opening words of Draft XXX: Fosse:

Imagine a book, a little book
        whose words are covered
                  one by one
with the smallest pebbles –
                  fossils imprinted, shale splinters,
slag and gnarls from fossick,
                  cheep sweepings arrayed,
a road of morse lines
        step by step
                  down the page.

It looks like poetry, runs along depths
        on the surface, slugs
                  of a text that is lost;
the instruction it offers
        is delicate,
                  may be misplaced.

The words and their syntax
        come
                  not to nothing
                  (for the lover of pebbles)
but to an irradiating splayed out
        Something
                  so large
it can only be
        marked thus:

+ It could say erosion of the book.

This as it happens is a description of an actual book by conceptual artist Ann Hamilton. Where in Schwa DuPlessis offers us the unsayable, the unmarked vowel that could be any vowel, or the silent “e” appended to a word (turning “how” itself into an allusion of poets Fanny & Susan), here we find language eroded, “a text that is lost.”

Draft 49: Turns & Turns, an Interpretation covers this same terrain, but in entirely different ways. The poem is itself two poems, not unlike Zukofsky’s “Mantis” and “’Mantis,” an Interpretation,” a work that at one point the “interpretation” discusses. While this is perhaps the closest DuPlessis gets an actual homage in any of the Drafts yet written, its substance comes from an entirely opposite direction, the tale of a dream, giving rise to an interpretation of the dream, to the process of interpretation itself, to the social roles of gender in that process –

Here is something!   women propelled   with analytic rages every day
”Adventurous for him”   turns “careless for me.”   “Prolific for him” comes
to “facile for me.”   He is opinionated   but I am hectoring;   he passionate,   I strident.
We see, we see, we see!   “We are demanding   an end   to hypocrisy!”

The long lines broken with visible (but not necessarily audible) caesurae is intended to remind some readers of Alice Notley’s The Descent of Alette. In this third round of the “unsaid,” what is effaced is nothing less than the role & contribution of women. “The roar of the missing,” DuPlessis calls it in the 25th of the poem’s 28 six-lined stanzas.

It is worth noting not only that “Turns, an Interpretation” begins with an epigram, but that the epigram itself is preceded by simple, but vital word:

or “To write history is so difficult that most historians
are forced to make concessions to the technique of legend.”

Thus Erich Auderbach in Mimesis. I might have said that narrative has its own demands. What follows is the closest moment to direct address thus far in all of Drafts, beginning by examining images from the dream & the ways in which her six-line model never successfully resolves into a sestina

Besides I don’t have the skill.
It is difficult enough even claiming
a “political poem” given I am hardly
writing “to program,”
with any correct itinerary or conclusion.
Could only propose
gender justice in the context of social justice
enacted in particular struggle or location.
Those six words (gender, justice, social, struggle, location, enacted)
might trace through the poem, and be repeated there,
but to use them as such was too positive, positivist.
I did not use them.

What I wanted was an openly “negative” poem turning on
contradictory feelings, the ungainliness
of those edgy feelings, the fullness
of what happened, but symbolized distantly.
Not one “side,” but the “technique of legend.”
For “the historical comprises
a great number of contradictory motives in each individual,
a hesitation and ambiguous groping
on the part of groups.”
Ongoing urgency, choice and act.
Unintended consequence, debates about fact.
Besides, “the woman’s side,”
the “other-side of everything” –
emerged with full force,
yet before that binary, there was
another kind of start --
a sense of juncted tracks,
woven intersections, knotted lines
with all their merges, switches, turns.

The contrast between the two sections, or poems, within this poem could not be more pronounced. Against the worked & tightly compact passages of the opening section, this free verse is meant to feel almost artless – at least until DuPlessis sticks in that end-rhyme of act & fact. “Turns, an Interpretation” continues for five more pages.³ Turning not only figures thoughts & second thoughts, but prefigures the concept of torque as well, the definition of which in physics is a vector that measures the tendency of a force to rotate some object about an axis. In short, it gives it a turn.

More tomorrow.

 

¹ Drafts 88 & 89 appear in Jacket 35 and can be found here & here. DuPlessis tells me that Draft 86 is approximately 99 percent done.

² Tho we note what DuPlessis does not, that the 28 stanzas carry within them the echo of a double-sonnet.

³ One of the interesting elements of Drafts 39-57, Pledge, with Draft, Unnumbered: Précis, as this volume is subtitled, is the length of its poems. DuPlessis has been quite consistent. The works in Drafts 1-38, Toll as well as Torques: Drafts 58-76 have averaged just a hair over seven pages each. Yet during this third run through the set of 19, the average swells up to 11, even factoring in the curious free-floating “unnumbered” poem. The obvious question is why – what is going on in this run that did not apply either before or, at least thus far, after?

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Monday, February 18, 2008

 

The only thing I’ve ever been able to find “wrong” with Rachel Blau DuPlessis’ marvelous life poem Drafts is the idea that some day it’s going to end, and that day is drawing increasingly near. Torques: Drafts 58-76 incorporates DuPlessis’ fourth pass of 19 poems – there is one “unnumbered” piece that was gathered in her last volume. The plan has been to have six cycles, tho I more than once have argued for more. More than any other text, Drafts has made me understand the difference between the longpoem and the life poem, and I read Drafts, like “A,” like The Cantos, like Bev Dahlen’s A Reading, like my own project, as an instance of the latter.

DuPlessis started Drafts in 1985 & the first two numbers first appeared in Leland Hickman’s great journal, Temblor, two years hence before being collected into a volume entitled Tabula Rosa, published by Peter Ganick’s Potes & Poets Press. I listened to Rachel read from Torques a week or so ago, then sat down with all my DuPlessis books going all the way back to Wells, published as a Montemora Supplement in 1980¹, and Gypsy / Moth, a chapbook that contains two poems from the sequence that makes up the first half or so of Tabula Rosa, “from ‘The ‘History of Poetry.’”

Sometimes the smallest things at, or surrounding, or before, the conscious beginning of a life poem will point you to things you might not notice until much much later. For example, Ezra Pound – a poet DuPlessis has characterized as “haunting” her work – sets up The Cantos so that one numbered section feeds right into the next in a way that is not nearly so sculptural or angled as are the individual sections of Mauberly. You can see Pound actively worrying about this connection right at the start. He ends the first canto with a colon – “So that:” – and ends the second with “And” followed by an ellipsis. It’s a curious step back from the abrupt shifts of Mauberly or those he gave to Eliot’s The Waste Land, and by the time we’ve reached the Van Buren cantos, the sameness from section to section, passage to passage, has begun taking its toll. It took the fall of Italy & Pound’s capture by the U.S. Army to finally shake him loose from this, which explains in part why the Pisan Cantos suddenly feel like such a great forward, even as they were written when Pound himself was almost certainly psychotic, writing on toilet paper in a cage in World War II’s version of Gitmo, awaiting trial for treason.

Happily, DuPlessis has had her own wits about her since Day One. Following Louis Zukofsky’s sense of the part:whole relation in the life poem more than Pound’s, she has characterized Drafts as a “series of autonomous, but interdependent canto-like poems.” But this process of cumulative poetry and of writing through, even writing over other texts – exactly what she refers to here as torquing – is what one finds in both “Writing” and the excerpts from ‘The “History of Poetry.”. Even in Wells, written entirely in the 1970s, we find DuPlessis engaging Grecian figures, the work of Emily Dickinson, the serial forms of George Oppen, offering us in one piece, “Oil,” alternate endings, even as they confront the present & the world (“Oil” is an extended metaphor for menstruation, a topic still not found all that often even in today’s post-feminist verse).

“The ‘History of Poetry’” – note exactly how those quotation marks fall – and “Writing” both read, twenty years later, like rehearsals for Drafts. “’History’” has never been published in its entirety & “Writing,” though it is included in the section of Tabular Rosa entitled “Drafts,” and is mentioned² in the acknowledgements to Drafts 1-38, Toll, has never again been published with it. Personally, I still want to see “The ‘History of Poetry’” complete in its own volume – I have no idea if the missing parts constitute 2 pages or 200 – with perhaps Wells and “Writing” combined in a volume of its own as well. This is because I think DuPlessis is one of the poets whom we need to have entirely available at all times. And I don’t want to wait forty years for the Library of America to figure this out.

It was Robert Duncan & Charles Olson who first recognized that one practical lesson of Ezra Pound’s Cantos was that writing is always also reading, not in the theory-driven fashion one might take from Derrida, but insofar as each of us walks around surrounded by (invaded by) these constellations of articulation that are our educations & literary passions. Not that one needs to get the footnotes – that is almost always the wrong way to read anything – but insofar as these voices whisper to & through us. Both “Writing” & “The ‘History of Poetry’” show DuPlessis wading right into this issue, trying to sort & shake things out. In Drafts she takes what she has learned there & turns with it to confront the world. Which may be why Drafts feels social, even political, overtly so at moments – tho not in the narrow sense of that term – rather than literary. In one way, I’ve always thought that Rachel Blau DuPlessis actually writes the work that Amiri Baraka always talks about writing, but never really does.

So it is no surprise that Torques is a masterpiece. DuPlessis is completely on top of her game & willing to do just about anything if it will further the poem. I find that I read one section and then have to think about it for days before I’m willing to go onto the next – that’s an effect I associate with very few poems – a few sections of “A,” individual sections of The Pisan Cantos, Barrett Watten’s Progress – & more akin to how I feel after a truly major motion picture (Children of Paradise, Weekend, Blow-Up, Pierrot le fou, The Red Desert, Ran). If you read a section of Drafts & it doesn’t completely drain you – and haunt you – you’re just skimming.

More tomorrow.

 

¹ Available here in PDF format from Duration Press.

² Where it is referred to as the “pre-Drafts work.”

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

 

Ten questions for Reginald Shepherd

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Stephen Burt on Robert Creeley

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The poets of Generation X

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“The Top Ten Lit Stars of 2008”

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Five rare books from the original found poet,
Bern Porter (all PDF)

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The German in Pierre Joris
translations of Paul Celan

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India to writer under fatwa:
stay hidden or leave

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Earliest recording of Howl
is found at
Reed College

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“Iconic Ottawa poet rob mclennan

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A statue for Al Purdy

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Charles Bernstein taking on Calvin Trillin
in the new issue of The Nation
(subscription required)

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Joel Bettridge on Bernstein’s Shadowtime

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PBS Newshour’s profile of Elizabeth Bishop

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Chris Tonelli of Ploughshares
weighs in on the post-avant debate

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The lasting impact of Chinese classical poetry

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A new collaboration between
Theodore A. Harris & Amiri Baraka

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A profile of Li-Young Lee

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The influence of Gwendolyn Brooks

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Peter Ciccariello’s The Remains of the Poet III

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Nikki Giovanni visits the school
where they named a bat in her honor

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On Don Paterson’s “Lyric Principle

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News that stays new, 2008 political debate style:
at Woodland Pattern, candidates for alderman
were invited to discuss three poems each

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A little-known award, with some big payouts

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Tao Lin:
The Interns Strike Back

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Renee Marie on Joanne Kyger

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A profile of Naomi Shihab Nye

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IBé Kaba & questions of poetry & class
in
Guinea

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A profile of Hiram Larew

§

Two ways of looking at a border

§

Performance poetry in Scotland:
Punk but no Guitar

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Some poems for Black History Month

§

So what makes it Jewish?

§

David Orr on Matthea Harvey

§

Another poet from Lawrence, MA

§

A profile of Duane Poole

§

Remembering Vi Gale

§

Bringing music to the poetry of Kate Light

§

A profile of Wendy Ronk

§

A profile of Mike Donnan

§

Elisabeth Workman’s Opolis

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Nostalgic Western-theme poetry

§

The words & music of Creative Tradition

§

Publishers are clueless re the web

§

“Spatial and Linguistic Aspects of Visual Imagery
in Sentence Comprehension”

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Reviving the Whorf hypothesis

§

Deafness, cognition & language

§

Meaning in the palm of your hand (PDF)

§

The letters of a chicken farmer

§

Doc Humes & the other side of The Paris Review

§

The latest death-of-a-bookshop piece
is from Venice, Florida

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One way to save a bookstore:
sell used books only

§

The bookstores-vs-online debate
goes on in
Viet Nam

§

Borders tries out a “big box digital bookstore

& gets okay to sell Australian stores

§

A rant on PCs vs. print

§

For bookstores, 2007 was pretty much a wash

§

Looking at bookstores from a
completely different point of view

§

The Thane of Cawdor in Brooklyn

§

Shakespeare not for Valentine’s Day

Think of it as Boxing Day instead

§

Life after Mary Oliver” –
reading series stretches out
all the way from A to B

§

Hungarian poetry for Hindi readers

§

The role of craft, if any

§

Talking with David Rieff about Susan Sontag

§

Are Americans idiots?

§

Putting politics out of sight

§

Wikipedia & the new curriculum

§

The potential (and limits) of blogging

§

Global campus, global ambition

§

Photography, materiality & the absence of film

§

Oliver Sacks on migraines & art

§

Helen’s Odyssey” by Eleanor Antin

§

Wayne Thiebaud takes the cake

§

Missing Basquiat turns up in NY warehouse

§

Cranach the Elder too sexy for the Tube?

§

When does appropriation become plagiarism?

§

Sculpture kills two – artist charged

§

When in London, check out Rodchenko

§

Danish papers republish “Muhammad” cartoons
to protest murder plot

§

Steve Gerber has died

§

Tutugate

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