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Rachel Blau DuPlessis




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Twisted, knotted, struck by events and emotions at our historical moment, these Drafts register and produce torques—exaltation and tension, torsion and force, in their symphonic and bantering surges. In this book, DuPlessis transposes Wordsworth, Mallarmé, Pound and Rilke; she writes doggerel, a lexicon, dialogues, a mini-manifesto, and lyrics from a spirit voice. This book continues the ambitious long poem project that Ron Silliman has called “one of the major poetic achievements of our time.” Drafts, begun in 1986, manifests thematic and emotional investments centering on loss, struggle, and hope, on the unsayable and “anguage”—the language of anguish. Two main formal and structural principles center this work, repetition and the fold. The works repeat themes and images throughout, a recontextualization of materials, a building of traces, and a repetitive repositioning of images and narrative that also suggests both the waywardness of experience and a pensive responsiveness to what happens. The works are organized on a periodicity of nineteen, what DuPlessis calls “the fold.” Each new draft corresponds in some sensuous, formal, intellectual, allusive way to specific “donor” drafts. This tactic creates a widely spaced recurrence among the poems, and a chained or meshed linkage whose regularity is both predictable and suggestive, textured with malleable and porous internal relationships. The key genre animating Drafts is a strategy from Hebrew interpretive practices called midrash. Midrash is a continuous and generations-long commentary on sacred texts. Drafts as a whole project alludes to—but secularizes—this genre of serious commentary, spiritual investment, and continuous gloss.

Praise for this Book

‘Rachel DuPlessis writes against the ravages of the torn world. After each draft another, blown in the winds. A loop, a map, a stare, a tone. There are folds inside these verses. Begin anywhere. Begin now.’ —Charles Bernstein

Reviews of this Book

‘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

‘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

‘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.’’ —Walter Kalaidjian

‘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

‘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

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