Feature Poet: Rachel Blau DuPlessis (Philadelphia, USA)

Rachel Blau DuPlessis, author of the long and continually evolving poem “Drafts,”
skillfully blends elements of Objectivism, Language poetry, and standard lyricism. “Drafts” is a tapestry of wide scope and marked delicacy. DuPlessis treats the engaged reader to a sophisticated, cerebral, emotional, historical, anti-historical mélange of themes, thoughts, images, and allusions.

DuPlessis shares the post-structuralists’ fascination with “text” as an alternately equivocal and viable entity. DuPlessis’ text is rooted in a sensitive, finely-honed appreciation of its’ own “textuality”, the roots of language in more language, ending in final, unspeakable loss. Explorations of loss (whether personal, political, literary or otherwise) seem central to the logopoeia of “Drafts,” and Duplessis responds with a word-built mandala that transcends the ephemeral and ultimately affirms (a degree of) faith in the powers of writing.

An interview with Rachel Blau DuPlessis.


A half glass carafe,
a half-filled glass,
a choice red ochre chalk,
a felt-blue paper,
particular words for things
incite lines whose shadows
break in cryptic outlines.

The paper blue as sky, the chalk as red as ground.
These “vigorous scribbles”
do suggest “deep space.”
Lighter feather touches
fluttering letter-farfalle
do recall long scrolls.
Calligraphy crossing depiction,
scrolls sometimes annotated
by their owners; aside, say,
the four-stroke egret,
a note by the reader,
as we might write something
in the margins of a book.

Depth, length
and continuance
become responsible
in glistening webs of letters,
learning their ethics from poesis,
during fabrication.
Streaks, points, gleams, and transposition
articulate various desires,
and textures cry with pleasure
exacting the price of their plethora.

Such filiated evanescing “it” ‘s are there among
the apple gests we set to tempt the dead
with the happiness of making,
with the open bright of listening
as if to larky twits of finch
through light surround of air.
Awe-full Emily
dearest Sapph
weirded trumps of Gert,
alas, they cannot hear
although we talk to them.
We hold out a red box
and walk toward them,
the rainbow threads between
unrolling and reknotting
wanderful languages.

Splay of cardinal-pointed questions make a rayed-out rose
flooding the heart with alternative directions,
the rose of desire inside the poem’s patchouli
and not ironically.

How did desire get here? Hearby. By they-her or elles.
By elevation. A leg up. By He-and-she and birds,
by little one, big one, dog and good-bye dog,
baby-milk cup cracked and gone.
It was abrupt:
one death and then another
quick turns of the rope, like double Dutch.
And couldn’t hobble-hop those fast-turned twists.
Got dazed.
And tripped.

Was there enough kindling?
Dream of packing a dead girl
in a fold-over suitcase.
And therefore Years were lost.

Of covering women over
with gigantic cloths, of snagging them in nets,
was not a dream. More Years.

I zip my body bag, donate myself to science:
“feminist.” And secular to boot.
Wall-eyed between suitcase and body bag
I asked “are alterations possible?”
A poufed-out plastic bag blows by,
“Pathmark” ® is what it says.
This is an ambiguous answer
whatever the question.

Why use the alphabet to organize,
or why not? Discuss.
Suggest another mechanism of order.
One form and then another.
Something that sort of ends, but sort of not.
The alphabet is existentially funny.
Lettristic vaudeville, a blood-orange horizon.
Such obsidian wings
as talking points sashaying into zones.
I mean there’s satisfaction arriving at
(English) “zed,” and (American) “zee”
but no insistence that anything particular be.

Other end points where “arrival” is dissolved?
Maybe a grid with limits.
Maybe lengths of ribbon simply
cut to tie these presents.
Maybe qwerty or another
job-lot keyboard.
Pessoa’s was azerty.

But this is controversy
without particular point. One form or then another--
it means something, but in itself leads nowhere.
A Form itself, abstract thing, is not
self-evident in meaning.
It’s not one Anything.
“Form” is its particularized clot,
its histories and extensions, its situated outreach,
its power and prods.
Who has designs on us? and Why?
What is the force of our conviction?
Something had gotten away from us:
urgency for justice, intensities of ire,
lime-green as the after-image
in the eye of orange.

Where is it?
What are the real goals of this desire?

My words get alphabetized, montaged in Flash.
The frozen gits and their long, sweet liberality,
like talking points, dance.
Not to oedipalized,
Duh to enterprise,
Me to non.
Could be Anyone’s words,
Owed to Oz, or owed to ez.
Splitting words into letters’ high res
at the point of their affirmation
casting the pearly bits adrift.

How quick to fly they are.
Like cartoons, they’re bonked and clunked
but always return. See, they return!

I put my words in flesh
they flash in shadow,
n-wards, pull and probe
thru fleece and flask.
Something propelled this urgency, this task.

My words are here among the layered pages
inside quickly moving time
intricate knobs with “wormholes”
breaking cross themselves and turning inside out.
Dark matter they seek,
sediments of unfinished business.
These layers slide across and enter
each to each as naked palimpsests.

A page: where every line stands up affright
porcupines that run ahead
in sudden light.



Not here, not here, not here.

I’m wanting
to erase all words I ever wrote
they do not answer to what is.

And now
unbelievable was that?

Since every word is three, there is multiplication
that can not stop,
can never be called finally to account,
but is always accountable,
can only be ridden like a wave and then another wave,
folded in a thick green danger.

Since every word is four, there is concentration.
Blue light swells from earth
then black and there are stars
without lines and without stories,
no names, no myths;
just stark and starker far-ness.
Perhaps it is comforting
perhaps the rage of matter
but whatever else is there
living out our atom-laden recklessness:
fruta da época.

I wanted to know about making art and telling the truth.
Niente da vedere,
niente da nascondere.
And then the precise opposite
straining to see an other hidden side.
It is the way the day is
a yellow stain, a pool of pink
is it autumn? or spring magnolia?
The seasons fold
and pile upon the bone and slash.
The truth? It’s true.
Although I also laugh.

Is it possible to say what might be found here?
Every decade another list of shadows.
I was holding this list in my hand
optimistically. But find I am deceived.
It is getting harder and harder to read.
My eyes? smudges of the writing?
a twist of the eyeball tightening into hard blur?
the magic marker streaked in the downpour?
Dry tears over blood-type headlines?

Someone came to me and showed a place
where basic flesh had been cut out, hole deep,
and in the dark invisible fingers pointed.
That was one, one real dream.

Listing and listening
-- a great swath of names and citations
and the question was what were they
what had happened
these suffering bodies
riddled and scarified, bandied, branded,
can the poem speak of it, of this
injustice, rage, despair
large amid the subjects
it must confront
at the bountries where it stands
to reckon
with, to

I was sentenced to this bounty-boundary task
because sentences came and then I made them
but did not make them come.
They are skeletons that move their bony oars
and pump through sky
pulling their way across the wakes
of mist-laden
mote-dridden air
dedalean annunciations
of our yearning and failure.
Where is justice?
How to get it?

Along the cross-hatched backwash
is a pileup of boats to purgatory;
the dead are pulling the dead
up out of the water.

What co-insides with this?
where you leap (and where you land)
is the poem.
Being abandoned among detritus
in a plundered world.
I have lost a milky trail; I will never get it back,
but pick out well enough
red ocher marks randomized on turquoise skypaper.
Furia azul. And talk of this in reddened lines.
Enraged by our time. That simple.
That’s what I flash on.
So, now, with no further adieu,
I stand here in absolute frustration.
“This is an orientation to the crashing parts of the world.”

June 2003, October 2005

Notes to Draft 59: Flash Back. This draft was very loosely inspired in the aftermath of a chain work initiated by Dodie Bellamy for the Buffalo Poetics List in 2000. I participated with an untitled statement that proposed the instability of gender and sexuality in dreams and then offered a homophonic translation of this thought, thus creating a kind of “chora” or babble that matched and doubled the analytic proposal. The respondent to this was Brian Kim Stefans, who constructed a work called “The Dream Life of Letters” by alphabetizing the words in my statement, arranging them in mini-sections, and, using a Flash program, made, with serious wit and visual acumen, an animated text and a web poem from the words and letters, certainly transforming the text I wrote. The result, in his words, was a “long flash animation poem with a twist of avant-feminist lime.” URL http://www.ubuweb. In the poem “Not to oedipalized, Duh to enterprise, Me to non” are from Stefans’ index of the units of his work. In an e-mail interview from March 2001, Stefans also briefly discussed this set of tactics with Darren Wershler-Henry. Wershler-Henry asked whether the transformational tactics of this work did not compromise the feminist speculation in my statement. See Stefans, Fashionable Noise: On Digital Poetics (Atelos, 2003). To say I am of two minds about this event minimizes the minds; however, I have no critique of the fact of appropriation, nor any longing for “origin” as in “the original text.” The “wanderful”: Marisa Berna. “Vigorous scribbles” suggesting “deep space” is from the Jasper Johns show, February 1999, Philadelphia Museum of Art. Modifications of “Come, words, away” are based on a poem by Laura Riding. “From ‘Come, Words, Away’,” Selected Poem 2003. Niente da vedere, niente da nascondere means nothing to see, nothing to hide; it is a motto of Alighiero Boetti, from the Italian Arte Povera movement. The last line was said at a conference by Bonnie Costello. Donor drafts are the whole “line of 2”: She, Cardinals, and One Lyric. Originally published in CONJUNCTIONS, 2004.


The task is to see the riddle.
Heidegger, Epilogue, “The Origin of the Work of Art. ”

A moonlight fall across the ground
makes the dark nouns brown.

Owl passing through this place
frightens the dark, a moment rent.

Quotidian = astonishment.
This wind arrives from outer space.

How to articulate fermented strangeness,
how tell the junctures charging us?

What syntax exposes these relations
these helixed twists of filament?

To juncture, we are sentenced
inside a suppurating, blow-hard time.

It is the res, rebus conjugation
that offers of as pigment.

What visits us announcing where we are?
To say “angel” gets misunderstood.

But even a handkerchief, even
a spent bulb speak doubly

at once of loss and of ineffable
winged flashes of time.

Not possessions of possessives
but things requiring our Being,

equally breaking, slashed and torn.
Who speaks; who writes?

The dead. But they stay silent.
Who then moves words along

a little screen, blue-gray like sky?
C’était, ma soeur, la providence awry.

The living. Toggles of shame
and flame leech their veins.

Between these riddles,
Things present themselves like speech.

House bridge well tree
gate jug window tower

They say: it’s so beautiful
couldn’t you do better?

Or: you have made it; but then
you insisted on worship.


Suddenly from this mattedness
in and out of nowhere in a fettered place,

the pure Too-Little
swivels inside out

becomes an awe, Too-Much.
A plethora. Magnetic urgency.

Hinges of light, hallways, staircases turning,
spaces of being, force fields of ecstasy.

Now we feel surges of the overwhelming;
now we have a different angle on things.

Major dreams with guns. Must rescue children.
Everything I saw then was premonitory.

Everything goes wrong. Like a stone
a grey bread grows stale.

Can’t cut it, can’t soak it, unspeakably hard,
it’s a twisted loaf we thought was fine;

it is the rock of our politics
looming on the table.

I wanted another desire, one bread after another
the green or greener guide of lune

I wanted a whirling list of hopes
hopes hopes hopes whole alphabets of H’s

to evaporate and leave the sweet encrust,
a deep powder, a power inside the poetry

and inside the mind. I wanted--
it doesn’t matter because

I could not get it easily or even
did not understand myself in this,

wanted a new kind of climax
at the center of day, the Of

specifying itself, as juncted connection,
as counter-force, as transformation.

It seems as if I’m not living
on earth any more

at least the one I know.
The name of this place is--

Loss of Wishes?
Uncounted Dot? No-taste Fruit?

Headless Doll? Barbed Window?
Burning Book? Over-padded Chair?

Are these new Constellations
in our bell-vast sky?

Some They want to own the sky as
proof that They own us. Our Of is

our resistance. The poem offers
an exchange of rebuses, not a game.

This is not simply the world as such
but a world stained with other times

the riddle of rubble
that still speaks of

uncanny shame, of
alternatives that did not happen.

It’s strange now that the Constellations
lie upside down as if tumbled from behind

turned into another hemisphere:
the W of Cassiopeia now an M,

and it stands for moaning and
muttering, for occluded humming

and for wolfish maps. Why such misery,
why such merciless management?

Klage, Klage. The disinherited.
Malarial muck for drinking water.

The twisted limbs of children
servitude, desolation.

I wanted to show you things,
the patient code

of things in a row to read--
rock, rope, doll, well, road

crystal glycerin rebus
of an empty snakeskin.

What will we show now?
To whom shall we show it?

If I were to cry out,
who would hear me?

June-December 2003

Notes to Draft 60: Rebus. Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies (1922), especially certain lines, have long haunted me. Taking (on) some version of his lines and phrases and some of his situations finally became inevitable. I have underscored the citations, mainly using the A. Poulin, Jr. translation, sometimes with slight modifications. In his Preface to the Houghton Mifflin book (1977), Poulin says “I hope someone else will find a word or phrase to steal from these versions.” He meant other translators, of course, but I thank him for his generosity in any case. Donor Drafts are on the “line of 3”: Of, Philadelphia Wireman, and Of This. Originally published in LITERARY REVIEW 48.2, 2005.