Jon Curley: Can you envision what kinds of poems, whether structurally or thematically, you might consider writing beyond the realm of your past practice? Are there elements of poems outside your usual patterns and activities you might try to integrate into your work?
Rachel Blau DuPlessis: The easy, straight-forward answers are “yes” and “yes.” But all the interest would lie in what these “yeses” might plausibly mean. So the answers might also be “no” and “no.” Let’s see what all this means.
You are asking the question in the aftermath of the so-called “end” of Drafts. In the summer of 2012 (just about a year ago), I completed Draft 114 and wrote a preface to that volume and to the whole, a preface now published in Surge: Drafts 96-114. This book came out in March 2013, one of the last books of poetry from Salt Publishing, as they shifted to fiction. Speak of lasts! The project called Drafts took 26 years, represents 114/115 long poems (one is unnumbered), is probably over 900 pages long (I’ve not yet counted) and has been a tremendous gift to me throughout. A companion, really. A parallel life.
So now what? Well, as I indicated rather clearly in my debates over “ending,” both in the final poem (“Draft 114: Exergue and Volta”) and in the preface to this book, I distinguish between finishing/completing, and ending/stopping. The poem has ended. Is it complete? No. The very premise (and promise) of Drafts precludes this idea. No work is definitive. No work has one final answer, even if every poem has a completed form or shape. Every closing somehow implies an opening, however small and attenuated, or even painful this pinhole is. In Drafts as a whole, I depend a good deal on the Steinian invitation: beginning again and again. And on H.D.’s paradoxical remark: pivoting constantly between the same and different, different but the same as before. These principles in poetics have been true throughout the writing of the poem, and are true as well at its terminus, which is a stopping place, a pause after a period of effort and of poesis—a period of intense fabrication.
During this whole 26-year period, I wrote perhaps only five other short poetic objects (apart from critical works), and all of these were, in my view, one-offs. Most of these objects did not appear as a whole in Drafts, but were to the side (done for an artist who wanted flower writing for her work, for someone who wanted to make a “wee book,” for an event calling for a poem on one letter, and so on). A few lines from these one-offs came into Drafts, that’s all. The energy and compelling force of this larger project was all-consuming. Everything was Drafts.
It remains so. Having a 26-year habit of all work in poetry being or contributing to this poem, what I will now do continues this “work of oeuvre,” but differently. What I foresee currently are several shorter, interstitial books between Drafts (I think I retired that title— though I am truly not sure) and another work within the long poem, shorter than Drafts, parallel in impulse, and, as I just said, probably under another title-rubric.
One of these books, titled precisely Interstices, will be published by SubPress Collective in November 2013, with a copyright date of 2014. It consists of letters (to people and/or to letters of the alphabet, thus 26 shorter works) alternating with ledgers (entries in an account book, a record—in its shortest definition) that match these letters, thus another 26 works.
Right now I am working on something called Graphic Novella. This emerges from the collage poems of Drafts, because it is another work with a visual component and a poetry part, as well as self-commentary. This, too, is a full-length book. It will need a publisher.
I am hoping to write several more of these interstitial works in the next few years.
I would also say that Drafts as an item and a cultural adventure was and is very capacious. Almost every poem is in a different genre (for example), though the fundamental basis is both midrash (intellectually) and the serial poem (formally). Line length (a kind of metrics) varies enormously in the work overall and often within individual works. The sound or tone ranges from an effusion of sublimity to the starkest aphorism. Rhyme is used at times (including in two poems completely rhyme-based) and is meant seriously and lovingly as one poetic resource. Traditional forms are both variously alluded to and specifically deployed (sonnet, canzone, cento, quatrain, ballad, doggerel, renga, haibun). Pronouns and terms of address are varied, even champing at the bit (that there are not “enough” pronouns is one finding). Because the work as a whole is capacious, it is hard to find things “beyond” Drafts, except specifically shorter poems! (Even though there are three deliberately short poems in Drafts: “Draft 31: Serving Writ”; “Draft 62: Gap”; “Draft 93: Romantic Fragment Poem.”) So I guess the only “right” answer for what is beyond Drafts is, I am currently writing shorter works! This is slightly comic, after all. (Kevin Varrone bears some responsibility here: he recently, in the spirit of amiable challenge, said “I’d like to see you write a short poem, Rachel.” Well, OK, I thought.)
It is easy enough to see that these impulses on which I am currently working have not fallen very far from the “tree” of Drafts. The generative words—or concepts (if your mind runs in that direction)—interstices/the between, letters/the alphabet, ledger, graphic work intermingling with poetry, visual text, self-debate, gloss—are all thoroughly idiomatic to Drafts, but are specific intensifications of thematic, cultural and conceptual materials within them.
Is this a program? Well, what IS a program? Drafts and its aftermath cannot have any program that is not heuristic and discovered or rediscovered in the course of writing. The only “program” is following the train of a thought within poetry—it is thinking inside a poetic text.
Does this future plan involve a structure or a shape? Yes, possibly. But if it were to be called a structure, this structure would certainly be neither symmetrical nor balanced. This, of course, is a principle. The other fundamental principle of structure is symmetry and balance. Both—and they are kind of opposites—are visible in Drafts as it stands.
Actually, given what a long poem is, these two (in struggle? in tension? in historical and ideological debate?) are necessarily always visible in long poems as a practice. How could it be otherwise?
In any event, until more work is completed, I’d rather call all this a set of possibilities. Is it “beyond my past practice”? And now we change these answers to “no.” No, all this is precisely integrated with, and following upon my past practice. Is it thematically different? Well, really, that I could not possibly tell you until I write the poems! I don’t preplan themes. Things come up—that’s all. It’s not like a relationship with a well-trained dog. “Here doggie, doggie,” and the right themes come along when they are called. I feel I am wildly running after things, after themes, maybe. The doggie is on the other foot, so to speak.
Your word “envision” in your first question is precisely right. I envision possibilities. I “project a project,” as I used to say to students: proJECT a PROject. If you think about them, visualize them, you can see whether any given thought of a project is (for you, in your best judgment) a cul de sac and not worth bothering with, or whether it is generative. I proJECT a lot of PROjects—not all of them written. But nothing makes sense until it becomes words, which means works. So the envisioning process is like pre- thinking of shapes and possibilities.
Rachel Blau DuPlessis is the author of the long poem Drafts. Her newest book is Surge: Drafts 96-114, from Salt in 2013. The first “interstitial” work, Interstices, will appear from SubPress Collective in 2013. Also in 2013, translations of Drafts into Italian and French were published: Dieci Bozze (trans. Morresi) from Vydia editore, and Brouillons (trans. Auxeméry) from Corti.
Other volumes include The Collage Poems of Drafts, Pitch: Drafts 77-95, Torques: Drafts 58-76 and Drafts 39-57, Pledge, with Draft unnumbered: Précis, all from Salt, as well as Drafts 1-38, Toll from Wesleyan U.P.
Her recent critical book Purple Passages: Pound, Eliot, Zukofsky, Olson, Creeley and the Ends of Patriarchal Poetry is part of a trilogy of works about gender and poetics that includes The Pink Guitar: Writing as Feminist Practice and Blue Studios: Poetry and its Cultural Work, both from University of Alabama Press.