Tuesday, July 25, 2017



Days and Works by Rachel Blau DuPlessis
(Ahsahta Press, Boise, ID, 2017)

I’ve often admired Ahsahta (and Omnidawn Press) for the thoughtful press material they send out with their review copies. It was the reading of such accompanying “Extended Author Bio” and “Author Statement” that made me review Rachel Blau DuPlessis’ new release, Days and Works. Specifically, I was intrigued by DuPlessis’ thoughts on the long poem (the entirety of her Statement can be found HERE): 

Writing a long poem (Drafts) and making its recent companions (like Days and Works, like collage poems such as Graphic Novella, Numbers and Life in Handkerchiefs) have interwoven private and public temporalities. Because of the variables set in play, one has (as a producer) deeply to desire that kind of activity in time. It’s a kind of erotic charge as well as an ambition—both expressing excess and need—a longing and a sense of a vow. That is, long poems, endless poems are a passionate activity, constituted to engage various personal and historical necessities via poesis. It isn’t so much making a big Thing, but entering into a continuing situation of responsiveness, a compact with that desire. It is a literary desire—and something larger.

I take long poems—it is virtually an unarguable assumption—to concern things that are too large in relation to things that are too small—this is work in an excessive scale far beyond any humanist tempering. By too large I mean the universe, the earth, our history and politics, the sense of the past, and the more febrile sense of the future: in short, plethora, hyper-stimulation, an overwhelmedness to which one responds. The tension between control and beyond control is a condition of one’s employment.

The poem “wants” to be created as more of itself, with you as the medium. There is always a next thing, a next move that feels idiomatic to what went before—in tone, in structure (if not in specific forms or genres), in your conviction about it, or in your habit of specific accumulations. And you want more of it, more saturation in it, because it has become itself (with a life of its own) and has been illuminated by doubling your life. It's a double act of socio-aesthetic citizenship—real citizenship and citizenship in your own self-invented "site."

Finished and unfinished have nothing to do with this. The operable terms for the long poem are activity (praxis or poesis—the practice or the making) and desire. Of course one wants to manifest “craft” and wit and knowledge and artfulness, one wants to create a cunning version of the interesting and pleasurable—that all goes without saying. But fundamentally, the long poems, the serial poems, the book length works show a desire or drive to be endlessly making something “all about everything,” inside poesis itself. The desire to be in your own poetic universe, to create a parallel world of form and word accounting for this world, are the pursuits that pursues you. The blessing is poesis. Who can want to mark or to experience “the end”?

I appreciate the above thoughts as (in my experience, which may be too limited but is what is mine) such thinking about the nature of the long poem is rare. DuPlessis’ bio and statement also provide a de facto standard by which one—e.g. a critic—might assess the poem, to see if the poem succeeded by its maker’s desired standards. Thus, did I proceed to the book and poem (I wrote my engagement as I read through its pages, which is to say, I wrote it in real time of the reading experience rather than reading the whole thing and then looking back to provide an assessment.)

From its start, the poem enacts its interest in simultaneity—what I’ve called elsewhere as “indigenous time” where time collapses such that there are no differentiations called “past,” “present” and “future.” DuPlessis, in her Author Statement, says Days and Works “enacts how joy, bafflement, ethical demands, wonder and investigation of experience all occur simultaneously, all part of implacable, unanswerable life.” Within its first three pages, the writer and reader moves from genesis—

“Was life created in the deep hot jets of undersea minerals or in the delivery of left-handed amino acids from outer space?”—

to a writer’s literary concern—

“Accept the desire to puncture the page, maybe with the penetrating awl created by a Capital ‘I,” with its specific pinhole or pin-hold of light. There would be nothing to say if we did not have these languages with their imperfect pile of pronouns. Creation and boson pulse would surge and furl, but who would know, who would care, who would ask, who would interpret or delight?”

The (at this point of the reading anticipated but confirmed by reading’s end) desire by the poet and the poem to be inclusive of every topic is also reflected in the use of collage, e.g. this in the middle of Page 3

A simple test of effectiveness here is reading the juxtaposition of the personal (so to speak) writing with the found material and judging whether it coheres. By my read, it does, in part by how “The toll” is reflected in the smaller collaged text, from which the reading continues to the next paragraph/stanza which begins

“The days go slow and fast. I’m totally out of phase.”

All because, as the poem asks to end that third page:

“How can so many things occupy the same space?”

Perhaps this admirable coherence from what *should* be an incoherent “mess” may be better shown by a snapshot of a single page—thus, here is Page 22:

Page 22, for me, is a stellar example of DuPlessis’ poetic mastery for effecting a sense of logic notwithstanding its unexpected swerves from one paragraph to the next. It also complies with DuPlessis’ stated “standard” from her Extended Author Bio:

The poem “wants” to be created as more of itself, with you as the medium. There is always a next thing, a next move that feels idiomatic to what went before—in tone, in structure (if not in specific forms or genres), in your conviction about it, or in your habit of specific accumulations.

But perhaps all this would mostly be an interesting way to create a diary were it not for the poem’s gems from observation and meditation. For example, from Page 5

Or from Page 29

Consequently, as I read through the (about) first half of the book, I mostly admire how the poem is embodying the poet’s thoughts about the long poem as well as an ars poetica I sensed from some lines on Page 14:

The poet said he cleaned his desk
of clippings, insistent squibs,
all he had saved for 15 years
and put them on the page.
A test of how much poetry can hold,
precipitate and saturate.
I want not to know
which is margin, which is text,
which is writing, which is gloss.
And I won’t.

Indeed, the above stanza is presented as such on this page—

—and the non-normative presentation on this page of quad-right stanzas, by disrupting the usual (quad-left) presentation of writing and the subsequent white space when lines end, synchronizes with “I want not to know / which is margin, which is text”.

However, I sense that as one gets more into the poem, a questioning arises about the feasibility of such an inclusive approach. The above excerpt from Page 29 already hinted at the poem’s unease about inclusivity—what the poet notes in her Author Statement: “How can so many opposite things and washes of multiple emotion and event occupy the same daily space?” From Page 29:

“… the alphabet. Whose?”

“An ambition to get everything in and then evacuate the question itself, for now all things were fused.”

“’Holistic’: a Edenic reversion to something never was. Plus that false etymology with its touch of ‘holy.’ Holistic—interdependent—of course—but in the sense of having no friction, no strife? Now this seems unlikely, and always did.”

Thus, the read continues and notes certain statements like

“The examined life is too complicated to live.” (P. 42)


We proceed then to Page 49 to see

so that we finally arrive at Page 50 with its

“Books are universe of edges.

Books are edges of the universe.”

I love that—in the sense that I read the above as that books are not universes themselves, entire upon themselves. We continue reading now to enjoy such phrases as

Write with the threads visible. (57)

Understand that internal translation will never cease (59)

“Every poem writes, rewrites, or reassembles some part of the former history of poetry and yet penetrates that misty float, creating its own rain. (60)

Do not seek wholeness but further fields of unevenness. (68)

In the poem’s self-consciousness of word as worlds and worlds as words, it delivers a killer ending. It ends

“Not another word.”

and there isn’t, because the book ends—and ends marvelously on point.


Eileen Tabios is the editor of Galatea ResurrectsHer 2017 poetry releases include two books, two booklets and six poetry chaps. The latter includes a new fundraising chap, MARAWI, co-authored with Albert Alejo. Forthcoming later this fall is a new poetry collection, MANHATTAN: An Archaeology (Paloma Press). She does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor, but she is pleased to point you elsewhere for a recent review of her work: M. Earl Smith reviews Excavating the Filipino In Me for The FilAm Magazine!  More info about her work at http://eileenrtabios.com

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