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“the thing that refuses to be consoled”

By Alan Gilbert

In the second of his “Vast Eternity” posts, D.A. Powell quotes an extended excerpt from an interview with Philip Levine; in her most recent post, Daisy Fried links to an LA Times profile of August Kleinzahler. This prompts me to post a link (at the bottom of this entry) to my favorite poet interview so far this year: it’s one that CAConrad conducted via email with Rachel Blau DuPlessis, and featured on the PhillySound collective blog (always an interesting source of information for political and poetry news that extends far beyond Philadelphia).

The interview begins with a discussion of how in the 1970s DuPlessis’s poetry was considered “too feminist for the Objectivists, and too Objectivist for the feminists.” The rest of the interview tells a personal history that’s a literary and also a social history—specifically, a brief chronicle of the triumphs, failures, solidarities, and conflicts within second wave feminism, and particularly the poetry it produced.
I don’t even know if she’d agree with me, but DuPlessis seems to have remained located more between, as opposed to within, different poetry and scholarly communities. She’s always struck me as someone not Language Poetry enough for the Language Poets, but too Language Poet-ry for less experimentally inclined poetry worlds. Similarly, her scholarship was too (what’s now generally called) cultural studies-oriented for the avant-garde (after all, her groundbreaking book The Pink Guitar: Writing as Feminist Practice was being written when her fellow poet-critics [Powell’s “pitics” or “croets”] were still debating the finer points of Roman Jakobson and Viktor Shklovsky—not that she wasn’t engaged with these theorists’ work); yet she was too interested in modernist and postmodernist formal experimentation for more traditional literary studies. It doesn’t help matters that she continues to insist on the oppositional role of poetry and criticism: “I make the analytic, the speculative, the oppositional, the intricate, the thing that refuses to be consoled.”
I like and admire this sense of independence and in-betweenness in her poetry and scholarship. But it’s led to a longer struggle for recognition, which she touches on in the interview. She also succinctly defines critical analysis in a way close to my heart (“The trick is to speak about social location, the layered nuance of the formal detail of the poem, and cultural meaning all at once.”), as well as emphasizes an important distinction (in the context of second wave feminist writing) between critique and belief: “Gender analysis is a secular tool of critical understanding, not a religious or quasi-religious structure of feeling.”
Having blogged last month about the Naropa Summer Writing program, I’ll say in passing that of the numerous poet talks and presentations I saw there during years of passing through, she gave one of the very best: on the crucial role women and queer writers played in the development of modernism, or, as she reprises the argument in her interview: “Indeed, a tendentious argument would hold that women writers invented modernist strategies: Moore invents collage; Loy invents the serial poem; Stein invents radical writing; Richardson invents stream of consciousness—before the Men of 1914 get there.”
The interview is long, not always breezy, but it’s insightful, historical, and an illuminating crash-course in certain aspects of second wave (and after) feminist theory. Check it out: http://phillysound.blogspot.com/2008_03_01_archive.html.

Comments (2)

  • On August 5, 2008 at 1:13 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    I agree it’s a superbly interesting interview, Alan, and glad that you discussed it and linked.
    Strong interviews on poetry are harder to pull off than many people may think (“well, all you have to do is ask questions, who can’t do that?”). I’d just like to add that I think CA Conrad is a fabulous interviewer, too, and he is very much part of what makes the piece so rich and thought-provoking.
    Well, I’m sure you won’t disagree!

  • On August 5, 2008 at 8:05 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    Thanks for this, and I also urge people to check out the interview. It’s insightful, generous and inspiring.

Posted in Uncategorized on Monday, August 4th, 2008 by Alan Gilbert.