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DAHLEN, BEVERLY (1934- ) Working in the broadly defined avant-garde tradition, Beverly Dahlen experiments with form in her poetry while drawing from a range of sources for her thematic concerns, including art, philosophy, psychology, and critical theory. Robert duncan offered both inspiration and support for Dahlen's early work. Like H. D. and Gertrude STEIN before her, Dahlen brings intellectual breadth to her feminist exploration of the relationship between thought and language. Interested in examining the operations of language itself, Dahlen is most often associated with the language school of poetry.
Dahlen was born on November 7, 1934, in Portland, Oregon. She earned a B.A. from California State University, Humboldt, and attended San Francisco State University for postgraduate studies. Dahlen's verse and essays have appeared in numerous journals, and she has published six collections of poetry. Her major poetic work, A Reading, is published in three volumes: A Reading (1-7) (1985), A Reading (11-17) (1989), and A Reading (8-10) (1992).
Conceived as a lifelong project, A Reading suggests that writing is a process of discovery rather than mere description. Dahlen's subject in the work's untitled, numbered sections is, in the broadest sense, herself: a self comprised of lived experience, an unconscious, language, culture, and history. Modeled after Sigmund Freud's (1856-1939) method of free association in psychoanalysis and composed in verse as well as prose, A Reading resists any final conclusions. Through this "interminable reading. the infinite analysis" (1985), Dahlen is trying to reveal the contents of the unconscious itself. And because "there is nothing in the unconscious which corresponds to no" (1985), A Reading is all inclusive as well, roping in memory, dreams, myth, literary theory, psychology, and a range of other poetry.
Dahlen is especially concerned with Western definitions of gender that sharply distinguish between male and female. She resists these, as well as fixed and lim ited notions of femininity, by conceiving a self always in the process of construction. In A Reading (1-7), she writes, "this interminable work is women's work, it is never done, it is there again and again. I live here, an unreconstructed housewife" (1985). The "house" is the "here" where the speaker lives, the writing/reading process itself. Like the poem, her identity is indeterminate, fluid, and multiple; the speaker can write and rewrite herself.
Dahlen's desire to know, the primary impetus of A Reading, is tied up with a profound sense of languages limited abilities actually to reveal or represent reality: "language language it is all made of language" (1989). The way to proceed, then, is by direct engagement with language, its play and endless possibilities.
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