"Quanta...like spit in the dust of a baseball field" - Cody

May 06, 2003

Rachel Blau DuPlessis

There's nothing like a brilliant poet to make an amateur, like me, feel his unblossomed and unschooled potential. In other words, kinda dumb and in need of development.

DuPlessis is the kind of poet you want to run into at a writers' workshop because her poetics (why she writes what she writes, the theory behind the poetry) are challenging. Her poetry dismantles the assumptions we make about language to the point where it's questionable whether there can be a subject in poetry other than language itself. Can you write a poem about a tree? Or is that poem inevitably "about" the way language strives to convey the idea of a tree? Beginning poets make assumptions all the time about how their poems will be read, and DuPlessis' body of work inverts, upturns, and distorts assumptions, which is a very fertile ground for a poet to grow in.

Here is an excerpt from Crowbar, which is a poem that incessently challenges the way we read words:

lay dee hist! story
l'idée mystery
lay dés My hyster y

I found that while I was reading Tabula Rosa and Drafts 15-XXXX, The Fold, I was drawn to the lines and passages that were less difficult, out of relief. This is what is so great about the conventions of language: they allow communication on a non-meta level. In my poetry I hope to become more convential, while still allowing myself to play with language, and always being true to what I want to communicate instead of voicing my frustrations with the limitations of language.

EPC has a great page of links to DuPlessis poems and essays on writing.

Here are her Bio and working notes for WRITING, an excerpt, by RACHEL BLAU DuPLESSIS

Her poem, Draft 42: Epistle, Studios, appears in Jacket Magazine.

Kerry Sherin made an eloquent introduction for DuPlessis at the Kelly Writers House in 2002.

I selected the next excerpt because the sounds slip into each other with a rhythm that's unstoppable.


The grub is in dirt.
Never at peace with the immeasurable moistness
of hope,
did branch its thought beyond one swirled
single slug,
eye-dawn rising over eye dark midnight.

Not breaking, hardly breathing, apnea
of the worm
in the dewy carbon of the ground
wakens itself as from a bubbling pool
of silent drowning.
The acrid space it seized
rich with lichens against which it takes its ease.

Most times the intellectual content of DuPlessis' poetry escapes me. So when I came across the following stanza, with its ambition and frustration clearly rendered, I let out a self-satisfied squeal. From Blues:

Wanted to turn my life's work
inside out
Yeah she said she wanted to turn
her work into something else,
said she wanted to talk about
spitting into a drought.

This next quote seems to apply to the politics of protest, although I'm not quite sure exactly how. From Draft 21: Cardinals, E. Diary of days that may have existed:

There are uncountable ranges of failed excess.
It is hard to situate, hard to encompass direction,
call it "true north" or
"true blue," whatever.
What's to find in the woods
anyway? The news says
the body of a woman has been found.
The point of this statement is crude,
like a statement about concrete barrels of dreck
packed "with aquisitions, consolidations,
spinoffs, mergers, and layoffs"
being dumped, with calculation,
deep in the everlasting ocean.

Posted by cbsisco at May 6, 2003 02:59 PM

What a great entry! Most of the time, contemporary poetry either escapes me or reminds me of something else. Not that I'm completely getting the exerpts of DuPlessis' poetry you've included (it still felt like I was reading math or logic), but there was something intriguing about it. I may have to investigate on this.

Je Verrai (Jeah, right).

Posted by: K.A. Nizami at May 27, 2003 03:07 PM

Please share the results of your investigations, K.A.

I've had "the grub is in dirt" running through my head all day.

Posted by: Cody at May 28, 2003 02:58 PM

Auditing a poetry workshop in which we had to memorize a poem from "Wild and Whirling Words", I chose Draft 31: Serving Writ." The professor Phil Brady, asked me why. It's the challenge of the language, resisting sense and yet mesmerizing. I've discovered an American poet who really IS.

Posted by: Melissa at April 4, 2005 07:10 PM