THE DARKEST GUSH: EMILY DICKINSON AND THE TEXTUAL MARK
by Rachel Blau DuPlessis
My Drafts are done to produce heterogeneric work which calls attention to, or mimics, the non-iconic quality of drafts themselves. The principle contained in the title proposes that the works (which of course aim at being quite well-wrought) behave as if they were provisional, that is, as if they were "drafts" of some other, or of some larger, work. It is a peculiarity of a draft, generically speaking, that a line, a phrase, a word, a sentence or statement can be temporarily placed in any of several positions within the text. Naturally, the impact of that element will alter, depending on its context or position. I wrote poems which use some of the same units of language and materials in different contexts. Images, lines, phrases from one "Draft" may enter others freely, as if they had not found a final home in any one poem, or as if they enjoyed the processes of circulation. The poems have a strong acceptance of the unfinished, and make allusions to changeability and incompleteness.
And many of the "Drafts" are built on impressionistic simultaneity. Nothing is centered, everything is marginal to everything else; it is all happening on the side. In many poems, there are in fact two sides, or simultaneous alternative passages in the same page space. This clearly is still a heritage of "Oil" and Dickinson. Another of their features, in which I again see the shadow of Dickinson (along with other modernist page practices) is the way all the works make visual and textual allusion to marks and markings, marks which are normally invisible, and are rarely used as a part of the language of poetry. There are incipit initials, palimpsested words, bracketed material as if "cut," contrasting typography. There are censored (blackened) rectangles covering unreadable parts. There are odd signs on the page--a child-written letter, a hieroglyphic eye. There are many poems with a kind of binary page, an irregular fissure down the middle, the two sides operating like two hands in piano music-rubati and registers passing with intense sensual tension, from side to side. All these visual and discursive gestures are meant to bring the physical codes of writing and presentation up to scrutiny.
Tactics which deny or subvert the authoritative text have haunted me. I wanted polyphony; I wanted excess. I wanted to achieve uncontrollable elements. I wanted to layer and propose discontinuities until there was almost no "poem"--no "art object." Ever since "For the Etruscans" (1979; rpt. The Pink Guitar, Routledge 1991), and even before, I proposed on my page the contradictory. The unfinished. The processual. Multiple beginnings, multiple middles, and eroded endings. The simultaneous discharge of materials. The wayward and unpredictable epiphany which can be caused by anything understressed, obtuse, destabilizing. The polyphonic. the polygynous--married to many female subject positions. To make a work as if undone. My words: borderlines of the unutterable pluralities of a gushing text.
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Last updated on March 10, 2008