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Feminist poet, critic to visit ASU for reading, lecture

Rachel Blau DuPlessis
October 22, 2013

A writer whose major body of work is a single, 26-year-long poem will visit ASU for a reading and lecture on Wednesday, Oct. 23. 

Rachel Blau DuPlessis is known as a poet and essayist, and as a critic and scholar with a special interest in modern and contemporary poetry. From 1986 until 2012, DuPlessis has been engaged in a long poem project, collected in several book-length installments from Wesleyan University Press and Salt Publishing. The newest book, “Surge: Drafts 96-114” (2013), brings this 26-year-long project to a temporary fold. Her recent “Purple Passages: Pound, Eliot, Zukofsky, Olson, Creeley and the Ends of Patriarchal Poetry” is part of a feminist trilogy of works about gender and poetics.

DuPlessis will give a reading from her work for the ASU community from noon to 1 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 23  in the Social Sciences building, room 109, on the Tempe campus, as part of the Department of English Creative Writing program’s MFA Reading Series. Also on Oct. 23, DuPlessis will give a lecture, "Manifesting Literary Feminisms: A Conversation with Rachel Blau DuPlessis," at 4:30 p.m., in the Social Sciences building, room 109. The lecture is co-sponsored by the School of Social Transformation, the Institute for Humanities Research, the Department of English, the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing and the Office of the Associate Dean of Faculty.

The poems of “Surge: Drafts 96-114” are numbered and can be read as individual poems or as one, long serial poem. “Poems can also be read in any order,” said DuPlessis, “but they are joined together by all being ‘drafts.’ The work as a whole is not a sequence but a modular series. It is an anti-patriarchal maze with many threads. One can begin anywhere and read in any desired direction.”

The complex structure of DuPlessis’ “Drafts” is certainly unique. Her ambitious project features several layers of meaning and symbolism, some of which come into direct contact with each other, while others remain distinct, drifting in opposite directions, or even parallel to each other. “The interplay between sameness and difference constructs a profound structure of feeling about memory and loss,” says DuPlessis, “about recurrence and the unique instance, about fresh experience and iterated insistence, and also about changing relationships over time and to time. That is, by beginning again, by constructing a fold, or crease, or pleat across the work, I was making all the poems arranged vertically in a column somehow touch other parallel poems.”

There is a special, subtle lyricism to DuPlessis’ work – within the poems themselves – but also in the sense of her project as a whole. The poems intermingle with each other and even with the work found in adjacent books in the series. There is as much a sense of harmony in Duplessis’ massive volume of work as there is chaos. “I have no special tactic for musicality except to make sure I hear everything I am doing – and hear it repeatedly; I mean every phoneme – and also to accept large musicality with all of its symphonic possibilities, not only small scale musicality. I would say that I envelop and surround lyric poetry with something larger,” she said.

A signature of DuPlessis’ work is reflecting on the female poet's role in writing, taking into account the feminist perspective and struggle and viewing it from every angle imaginable. “I am a feminist, interested in gender analyses of culture, and I write poems,” said DuPlessis. “So my poems are work written by me – and that ‘me’ is a lot of social and political things all mixed up together, including gender information, gender feelings and observations. “

More information about DuPlessis’ visit is available at the MFA Reading Series site:

Written by Jake Adler and Dorothy Chan