[Wgcp-whc] WGCP--Duplessis books have arrived

richard.deming at yale.edu richard.deming at yale.edu
Wed Mar 12 23:44:16 EDT 2008

Dear All,

I'm writing to say that the copies of Rachel Blau Duplessis's latest book of
poems is now available to be picked up.  They can be found in our mailbox in the
main office of
the Whitney Humanities Center.  We will be focusing on this book as well as some
of her essays for our next session, Friday March 28th.  Then Duplessis herself
will join us for an open discussion of her work, her debt to objectivism and
modernism and feminist poetics on April 11th.

DuPlessis, Professor of English at Temple University, is the author of Writing
Beyond the Ending: Narrative Strategies of Twentieth-Century Women Writers
(1985), H.D.: The Career of that Struggle (1986), both from Indiana University
Press, and The Pink Guitar: Writing as Feminist Practice (Routledge, 1990). She
is the editor of The Selected Letters of George Oppen (Duke University Press,
1990), and the co-editor with Peter Quartermain of The Objectivist Nexus:
Essays in Cultural Poetics (Alabama, 1999).  The Feminist Memoir Project:
Voices from Women?s Liberation, co-edited with Ann Snitow, and published in
1998, has been reprinted by Rutgers University Press (2007).  She is also the
co-editor with Susan Stanford Friedman, of Signets: Reading H.D. (University of
Wisconsin Press, 1990). Blue Studios: Poetry and Its Cultural Work, a book of
essays, was published by University of Alabama Press in 2006; in the same year,
Alabama reprinted DuPlessis?s classic work The Pink Guitar: Writing as
Feminist Practice. Another recent critical book by DuPlessis is Genders, Races,
and Religious Cultures in Modern American Poetry, 1908-1934 (Cambridge
University Press, 2001). Her recent books of poetry are Drafts 1-38, Toll
(Wesleyan University Press, 2001) and DRAFTS. Drafts 39-57, Pledge with Draft,
Unnumbered: Précis  (Salt Publishing, 2004).    In 2002, she was awarded the
third Roy Harvey Pearce / Archive for New Poetry Prize, given biennially to an
American poet/scholar who has made a significant lifetime contribution to
American poetry and literary scholarship. In 2002 she was also awarded a Pew
Fellowship in the Arts and in 2007 a residency for poetry at Bellagio,
sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation.

Her author page is here:

Also, because hearing the work is always important, especially with difficult
work, I strongly urge people to follow this link to soundfiles and even video
of Duplessis reading: http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/DuPlessis.html


When Rosmarie Waldrop visted last October, we discussed the role that femisim
played in her work.  We touched on this issue again with Rachel Back, whose
emphasis on motherhood and the domestic seemed to insist on this.  It seems
particularly apt that we would continue that line of inquiry with Duplessis.  To
contextualize a reading of Torques, I'll paste an except from an online essay of
hers where she discusses the role of gender in her work.

Arcade 21. So, you ask, am I a feminist poet? The easiest answer is yes. But in
fact, only in certain ways. Only by certain of the criteria, above. I would
resist some of the others. An easier question is, am I part of the Female
Nexus. There the answer is emphatically yes.

I am certainly a feminist who is a poet. I have had some feminist projects in
poetry, notably the revisionary myth poems "Eurydice" and "Medusa," in Wells
and "Crowbar," in Tabula Rosa. "Crowbar" is a work that angrily and thrillingly
takes on the voice of the "Lady" in trobar clus poetry, but she uses a language
crowbar to pry up and resist ideology about female figures. It's both overtly
feminist and verbally tricky, radical and elegant. ("Crowbar" is my anthology
piece, Susan Howe once winningly told me, but it was never in the anthologies
it should have been in. It, and the poem "Writing" are works of significant
leverage and turn in my writing.) My current project is inflected with gender
resistance to some of the "scripts" or ideologies of poetry as an institution.
I'd say, to cite Arcade13, that I have found myself "mounting an enormous
struggle" within culture, including poetry, because of its deeply constitutive
gender ideas.

My long poem Drafts has been going on since about 1985-86-so 2001 makes them 15
or 16 years old. I am rounding into having written about 47 of them (an average
of 3 per year-this statistic is mildly interesting to me-I am curious about all
the little functional details and deep positional feelings of writing a long
poem). The feeling of doing this work is sublime: it is a readied,
incorporative, flexible, and open form, that is also a grid of relationships.
As you know Wesleyan is bringing out Drafts 1-38, Toll in just a few months
(October 2001), and I am composing the next group of nineteen (the next
"fold"), Drafts 39-57. Drafts is poetry that at the same time as it reaches
deeply and saturatedly into poetic traditions of all kinds, wants enormously to
resist "poetry" and to reconfigure what it can do, how it is regarded, and what
its scope and meanings are. I really want to write (as Oppen did) a poetry of
critique. Of driven, stricken skepticism. This is a large thing to say, and
thinking the poem will be judged and read against this kind of statement makes
me---not frightened, but happy.

Arcade 22. My poetry has been a way, for a long time, of thinking about gender.
But some of these thoughts are registered indirectly. Thus-generally I work
with gender not directly through statement and image and theme (though
sometimes I do), but obliquely through consideration of the constitutive
structuring materials of any poetic text set in a critical, responsive
relationship to poetic tradition. For example, each of the new poems that I am
currently writing is dedicated to a specific person; thus the works in Drafts
39-57 construct a variety of "I-you" relations not typical of the power and
gender ideas often expressed in short lyrics, in which "I"/author has the power
of the word in relation to the "you"/listener, a generally female figure.
Instead, the poems create a varying inter-subjective space between addressee
and speaker. The creation of a "space of the between" has a gender meaning in
eroding the former I/you relations of poetry.

Feminist ideas about the position of women in discourse, conventions, and
culture, the works of certain male and female writers, and the position of
female figures inside poems are materials that I have examined throughout my
scholarly career; indeed, my critical work has helped to foreground these
issues. Some of the same concerns animate my poetry. I want consciously to
alter gender traditions that have been institutionalized as poetry itself
inside poems, often providing their climax, their justification, their
satisfactions. I mean such idea-embodiments as muse, female figures and their
relationship to language, poetess, male speakers/ female listeners or
recipients, poetry as transcendence of the real, even "feminine" rhyme as
lesser, light, comic, popular. With my poetry, as with my scholarship and my
essays, Pink Guitar-ish interventions, I want, essentially, to change poetry
and to change how poetry is understood.


I am also attaching a important interview with Duplessis. This will also help
situate Duplessis thinking about gender and the development of her poetry and


A few semesters ago we were visited by Kent Johnson, a figure at te cneter of
the Yasusada controversy. Evidently with all the hubbub about literary memoris
being uncovered as false, NPR mentioned Johnson and the Yasusada heteronym in a
negative way.  Those who remember Johnson's visit and our very prooductive
conversation might visit the soundfile of the NPR story by way of this blog
riposte by the critic David Kellogg


The Working Group in Contemporary Poetry and Poetics meets every other Friday
at 3.00 PM in room 116 at the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale University to
discuss problems and issues of contemporary poetry within international
alternative and /or avant-garde traditions of lyric poetry. All are welcome to


Richard Deming, Co-cordinator

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