THE DARKEST GUSH: EMILY DICKINSON AND THE TEXTUAL MARK
by Rachel Blau DuPlessis
When I was preparing Tabula Rosa for publication in 1987 (Potes & Poets Press), I decided to reprint "Oil" in my second book of poems. This repetition was a fairly wayward and unconventional act which again signaled the seminal/germinal quality of this text. "Oil" and Dickinson were thereby given a curious status--as link, as doubled statement in two different positions in two different books. Why did I choose to repeat the poem "Oil"? It was the seed of both kinds of cultural work in Tabula Rosa (pun on "tabula rasa," a phrase that implies a theory of mind and a description of a writing surface; my changed phrase implied that both mind and writing space are infused and inflected with gender in manifold ways; the page is never blank; it is already written with conventions, prior texts, and cultural ideas; my task as a writer is to face this complicated page). Tabula Rosa: the critical rupturing of the lyric tradition, and the formal rupturing of page space.
Two main tactics of representation in Tabula Rosa occur in each of the two parts. In the section sub-titled "The 'History of Poetry'" I reinterpret the past. I invent a history of poetry by making counterfactual poems. Considering, citing, deforming the lyric tradition, I criticized the notions of the lyric based on the silences, beauties, and muse-functions of women. These poems are based on my pretense that at all ages there were women writers (some real, like Sappho, Praxilla, Dickinson; some my inventions, like the "Crowbar"-- not trobar--poet). These women writers wrote a poetry inflected with, and commenting upon their position in the lyric tradition. This is a thematic experiment, an experiment in voice, and in citation strategy, the souped-up appropriations of the already-written (as running Keats' "Ode to Psyche" backwards through my poem "Moth"). This is a "new anthology," and as with every anthology, there is both suspicious adjustment and respectful intervention into "canons." Of course, Dickinson has her place in this anthology.
The work of the second part of Tabula Rosa is called "Drafts", and continues in my third book, Drafts 3-14 (Potes & Poets Press 1991). In the Drafts there is an attempt simply to ignore the lyric and the issues of beauty, unity, finish and the female positions within these, and to instead articulate the claims and questions of Otherness--"she" or "it" or "gap" or "the." Drafts is also a way of ignoring binary systems of limit: subject/object; male/female; speech/silence; Jew/non- Jew; dead/living; lyric beauty/encyclopedic inclusion; memory/invention.
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