DuPlessis, Rachel Blau 1941–

views updated

DuPlessis, Rachel Blau 1941–


Surname is pronounced "dew-ple-see"; born December 14, 1941, in Brooklyn, NY; daughter of Joseph L. (a professor) and Eleanor (a librarian) Blau; married Robert Saint-Cyr DuPlessis (a history professor), September 7, 1968; children: two. Ethnicity: "White-ish." Education: Barnard College, B.A., 1963; Columbia University, M.A., 1964, Ph.D., 1970. Politics: "Left and feminist." Religion: "Non-practicing Jew." Hobbies and other interests: Travel.


Office—Department of English, Anderson Hall, Temple University, 1114 W. Berks St., Philadelphia, PA 19122-6090. E-mail—[email protected]


Rijksuniversiteit te Gent, Ghent, Belgium, suppléant, 1970-71; Université de Lille III, Lille, France, maître de conférence associé, 1970-72; Trenton State College, Trenton, NJ, assistant professor of English, 1972-73; Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, lecturer at Douglass College, 1973-74; Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, assistant professor, 1974-83, associate professor, 1983-87, professor of English, 1987—. Fulbright professor in Nijmegen, Netherlands, 1985. Member of editorial collective, Journal of Modern Literature.


Associated Writing Programs, PEN American Center, Modern Language Association of America (member of executive committee for Division of Twentieth-Century American Literature, 1992-97; division chair, 1995), Modernist Studies Association, Temple Association of University Professionals.


Grants from National Endowment for the Humanities, 1986, 1988; poetry fellow, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, 1990; resident, Le Centre de Poésie et Traductions, Fondation Royaumont, 1992; Fund for Poetry Award, 1993; Roy Harvey Pearce Prize, Archive for New Poetry, 2002; Pew fellow in the arts, 2002; Rockefeller Foundation resident at Bellagio, Lake Como, Italy, 2007.



Wells, Montemora (New York, NY), 1980.

Gypsy/Moth, Coincidence Press (Oakland, CA), 1984.

Tabula Rosa, Potes and Poets Press (Elmwood, CT), 1987.

Draft X: Letters, Singing Horse Press (Philadelphia, PA), 1991.

Drafts 3-14, Potes and Poets Press (Elmwood, CT), 1991.

Essais: Quatre poèmes, Editions Créaphis (Bar-le-Duc, France), 1996.

Drafts 15-XXX, The Fold, Potes and Poets Press (Elmwood, CT), 1997.

Renga: Draft 32, Beautiful Swimmer Press (Philadelphia, PA), 1998.

Drafts 1-38, Toll, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 2001.

Draft, Unnumbered: Précis, Nomados (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 2003.

Drafts 39-57, Pledge with Draft, Unnumbered: Précis, Salt Publishing (Cambridge, England), 2004.

Torques, Drafts 58-76, Salt Publishing (Cambridge, England), 2007.


Writing beyond the Ending: Narrative Strategies of Twentieth-Century Women Writers, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1985.

H.D.: The Career of That Struggle, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1986.

The Pink Guitar: Writing as Feminist Practice (essays), Routledge (New York, NY), 1990.

(Editor, with Susan Stanford Friedman) Signets: Reading H.D., University of Wisconsin Press (Madison, WI), 1990.

(Editor) The Selected Letters of George Oppen, Duke University Press (Durham, NC), 1990.

(Editor, with Ann Snitow) The Feminist Memoir Project: Voices of Women's Liberation, Crown (New York, NY), 1998, published with new preface, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 2007.

(Editor, with Peter Quartermain) The Objectivist Nexus: Essays in Cultural Poetics, University of Alabama Press (Tuscaloosa, AL), 1999.

Genders, Races, and Religious Cultures in Modern American Poetry, 1908-1934, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 2001.

Blue Studios: Poetry and Its Cultural Work, University of Alabama Press (Tuscaloosa, AL), 2006.

Contributor to books, including Changing Subjects: The Making of Feminist Literary Criticism, edited by Gayle Greene and Coppelia Kahn, Routledge (New York, NY), 1993; People of the Book: Thirty Scholars Reflect on Their Jewish Identity, edited by Rubin-Dorsky and Fishkin, University of Wisconsin Press (Madison, WI), 1996; Ambiguous Discourse: Feminist Narratology and British Women Writers, edited by Kathy Mezei, University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 1996; Artifice and Indeterminacy: An Anthology of New Poetics, edited by Christopher Beach, University of Alabama Press (Tuscaloosa, AL), 1998; and H.D. and Poets After, edited by Donna Krolik Hollenberg, University of Iowa Press (Iowa City, IA), 2000. Contributor to periodicals, including Kenyon Review and Iowa Review. Contributing editor, HOW(ever), 1983-89, and Sulfur; consulting editor for other periodicals.


Rachel Blau DuPlessis once told CA: "I write in three genres: I am a poet, an essayist, and a literary critic. I began writing poetry at age twelve. My first poem was called ‘Memory.’ It's astonishing that the issue that intrigues me now—of memory, erasure, remembering and creating a structure of memory inside the poetry—is prefigured by that young and innocent poem.

"Let me tell you something about the project in the long poem on which I've been working since 1986. These poems, all with the main title of ‘draft,’ but numbered and titled individually, make up a work of interdependent, but autonomous canto-length long poems. Each of the poems stands on its own, and can be read as an individual work, but they are also part of this long poem…. I deal by writing canto-length works that all start from the presumption of a provisionality—they are drafts. That means that none is perfect, iconic but rather open to its own revision and disassembling. I get that effect by repeating lines and materials throughout, as if any one poem is only a draft of something much larger, and unfinished. At the same time, I want each poem to be very finished and centered. So I play all the time with the paradox of open-ended form and closed form, of finish and process, of roughness and smoothness.

"This tactic of randomized repetition—recurrence of lines, phrases, situations, words—is a way of constructing the work like a gigantic memory of itself. Thus Drafts plays with memory and time, loss and gain, evanescent reminders, flashes, unexpectedness, and disappearances. The poems are works of investigation, concerned with the condition of ‘time going forward athwart,’ as ‘Draft XXX: Fosse’ says, and thus about memory, its loss, and its reconstitution. Themes are failing memory, strange memory, lost memory, construction of a texture of deja vu by the use of repetition. So I am building a work that mimics memory and its losses, which plays with the textures of memory, including its unexpectedness, its flashes, its fragmentations, and its erasures.

"In 1993, after seven years of writing these works, I wanted to complicate the horizontal vista and to create another kind of relationship among the poems. So I invented, in a flash, another structural principle: the fold. I created a way of folding the poems over onto each other. Beginning with ‘Draft 20: Incipit,’ each new draft corresponds in some sensuous, formal, intellectual, allusive, or even simple way to a specific ‘donor draft.’ This goes in strict numerical order…. The periodicity is nineteen. So ‘Draft 19: Working Conditions’ is related to ‘Draft 38: Georgics and Shadow’ whereupon there is another fold. This tactic creates a regular, though widely spaced, recurrence among the poems, and a chained or meshed linkage whose regularity is both predictable and suggestive. Having both a vertical and horizontal way of thinking about the relations of these poems was very liberating—the work was malleable and porous, and yet framed.

"The formal and structural principles that interest me exist in deep relation to the emotional and thematic ground of the work. Recurrent motifs and materials in many of these works occur on this ground of memory and its flux: home, homelessness, and exile, the death and the dead linked to the living, political grief and passion, including an attempt to look at the many corpses of the twentieth century. There is also silence, speaking and crying out, the sayable, the ineffable or unsayable. And the vastness of the universe and the littleness of the dot, or letter, or self, imagined as the Hebrew letter ‘yod.’ … In many of these poems I speak of the enormousness of the universe, and the enormities of what has happened in our milky corner of it.

"In Drafts, I began expressing, elaborating, exploring my very (very) secular Judaism. Motifs and materials from that cultural sphere and historical reality came to me, and I began articulating a variety of Jewish materials, such as the binding of Isaac and other Biblical stories (such as Jacob and the Angel). Among these is a textual strategy of continuous commentary called midrash, originally meaning writing on the margins of [sacred] texts by those invested with the authority to discuss them. I feel very called to certain elements of midrash—the continuities and debates of textual commentary, the historically situated necessity for interpretation and reinterpretation, the complex authority claims, the layering of the results in multiple gloss. I also found that I was, to say it bluntly, somewhat haunted by the murdered people of Shoah and the other twentieth-century genocides, and traces of that enormous enormity appear in my work.

"There is in all the Drafts a good deal of debris and fragment—à la Walter Benjamin—his angel of history, the sense of a displacement in the storm blowing the angel backwards into the future, while it is still staring stunned at history and its unfixable debris. My being haunted occurs at a further remove, but I am haunted by the loss of people, the moral nightmare, the randomness, haunted by the desire to exterminate a group, by the loss of cultures of Jewishness, the loss of languages, the loss of those who might have been. I am haunted by a sense of the disappeared—their shadow or the stain of them—and haunted by the non-exclusivity of this enormity—a sense of ghosts, but ghosts who do not even declare themselves.

"Mine is a poetry interested in resisting poetry as an institution, especially with the gender narratives long implied in poetry—muses, position of the female figure, questions of the decorative, even issues of claiming a seamless memorializing function. What is the figure that joins my Jewishness and my femaleness? Resistance.

"It was not only the gender group, women, but several ideas redefining that group that gave particular joy and interest to my writing career. What I found galvanic, beyond immediate female bonding felt intensely, and still very palpable to me, were the political and cultural ideas of feminism, and the idea of gender as a critical and compelling element of culture. From the earliest moment that second wave feminism emerged from the analytic and political scrutiny of institutions of power and hegemony, I established my interest in a feminism of critique. From 1968-1970 to today, I have felt that feminist re-vision would necessitate the multiple, forceful, and polyvocal invention of a completely new culture, and the critical destabilizing of the old. Such a critique of cultural representations and institutions would open all assumptions about image, myth, narrative, character, form, language, syntax, topoi and would destabilize the use that culture has made of female figures, and other parallel figures…. My whole career … has been challenging the politically quietist sheer-formalist and challenging the formally stolid narrowly construed political. Working the between.

"[My] essays take as topics those issues in the study of poetry with which I have been critically concerned throughout my career: subjectivity and gender, the female figures created in poetic texts, genre and gender, the psychodynamics of the poetic career, issues of authority and gender, and the issue of cultural memory and the recovery and reconsideration of lost or partially known writers…. If I chose to create desire, attention, loose ends, and an endless intersubjectivity between others as equals (undo ‘the’ binary—I have no goal but this), then I am putting a little bit of utopian change into writing. The essay is anti-patriarchal writing as a method of investigation. The essay expresses the need to make something that gives pleasure. That is, aesthetic pleasure as political pleasure—transformation. To the degree that we all live in some form of political, economic, sexual, social, and intellectual complicity with forms of the patriarchal, this choice of writing might not be possible. Or seem possible. Yet it is possible and it remains possible."



Armand, Louis, editor, Avant-Post: The Avant-garde under "Post"-Conditions, Litteratia Pragensia (Prague, Czech Republic), 2006, pp. 133-159.

Hollenberg, Donna Krolik, editor, H.D. and Poets After, University of Iowa Press (Iowa City, IA), pp. 130-162.

Kalaidjian, Walter, The Edge of Modernism: American Poetry and the Traumatic Past, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 2006, pp. 86-96.

Keller, Lynn, Forms of Expansion: Recent Long Poems by Women, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1997, pp. 239-301.

Lazer, Hank, Opposing Poetries, Volume 2: Readings, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1996, pp. 34-59.

Mark, Alison, and Deryn Rees-Jones, editors, Contemporary Women's Poetry: Reading/Writing/Practice, Macmillan (London, England), 2000.


American Book Review, November-December, 2002, Catherine Daly, review of Drafts 1-38, Toll, pp. 22, 24.

Parataxis: Modernism and Modern Writing, springsummer, 1994, Caroline Bergvall, "Writing the Undone," pp. 90-93.

Philadelphia Inquirer, May 11, 1997, Robert Long, "A Collection that Defies Today's Boundaries of Poetry," p. 9; August 21, 2005, Andrew Ervin, "It's Truly Poetry in Motion," p. H12.

Small Press, June, 1988, Gary Burnett, review of Tabula Rosa.

Sulfur, fall, 1997, Dan Featherston, "Commentary," pp. 164-169.


Rachel Blau DuPlessis Home Page,http://buffalo.edu/epc/authors/duplessis (January 20, 2008).