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Jayme Stayer


Rachel Blau DuPlessis is a poet-scholar known for feminist experimentation (see female voice, female language). Her work is associated with the language school and the objectivist ideals of George oppen and Louis zukofsky, especially in its attention to the relationships between poetics, language, and lived social practices. Additionally DuPlessis's poetry continues the experimentation of modernist writers, including William Carlos WILLIAMS, Ezra pound, and H. D. (see modernism).

DuPlessis was born in Brooklyn, New York, and remained a New Yorker through her childhood and college years. In 1973 DuPlessis settled in the Philadelphia region, where she has been a professor of English at Temple University. She has published seven books of poetry since 1980, including a long, continuing project, DRAFTS. She has received a Pennsylvania Council of the Arts grant for poetry (1990), a Fund for Poetry award (1993), and Temple University's Creative Achievement Award (1999).

Formal innovation in DuPlessis's poetry calls attention to reading and language practices. At times Du-Plessis's page resembles a painter's canvas layered with texts. "Writing" in Tabula Rosa (1987), for example, includes regular type, bold handwriting, and reproduced collages of text, and it describes this as an "interplay between selection, / imbedding, and loss." DuPlessis regularly disrupts her own writing with the awareness that utterances are always partial, yet she revels in possibilities of language as she plays with words and syntax. "Draft 6: Midrush," for instance, makes a theme of loss and the irrecoverable ("'Where are they now / dead people?' / 'Nowhere'"), but it regularly uses phrases that resonate with multiple meanings, as in "had to be set rite" or "How even is with odd." DuPlessiss poetry acknowledges the limits and possibilities of language while proposing a poetics of process.

This play with form and language is intimately related to the political nuances of DuPlessis's poetry. As Burton Hatlen explains, DuPlessis "writes always as a feminist" (131). Often, then, the poetry recognizes and resists patriarchal traditions that render women voiceless, as in this ironic quote from "Draft 2: She": "'I be good girl with my magic / markers.'" DuPlessis's feminism is expressed more subtly, how ever, in her refusal of authoritative writing practices that position the poet as the bearer of truth who enlightens worthy readers, often by relying on a single, lyric voice and the objectification of others. Instead DuPlessis favors layered meanings and disruptions to form a theme that encourage a dialogue between poet and reader. This open form, along with a merging of the everyday with the historical, is used to encourage careful attention to social practices and related belief systems.

DuPlessis's poetry is at once unsettling and invigorating, highlighting the problems involved in representation while challenging the reader to participate in meaning-making. In her writing closure is temporary, because more can always be said.

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