A little yod and a rocking enormity

Reading 'Drafts'

Rachel Blau DuPlessis's “Drafts 15–XXX: The Fold” (1997); DuPlessis, photo by Me
Rachel Blau DuPlessis's “Drafts 15–XXX: The Fold” (1997); DuPlessis, photo by Melody Holmes.

Each draft in Rachel Blau DuPlessis’s long poem Drafts can be read as the opening draft, the first one through which you can enter the work. Each draft in the work is autonomous and capable of standing alone but only through a collective reading of Drafts will a reader attain the enormously rich, unquestionably challenging, but inevitably satisfying experience it offers. Drafts is not a linear work, but a spherical one. Think of it as an endlessly unrolling scroll that begins to fold upon itself on a desk. The circularity is made up of the recurrence of its themes, its interrogations, glosses, and commentary; its borrowings, appropriations, and writing through old drafts. Rewriting in the project does not supersede what was written before but enriches it by creating deep layers of sound and imagery that foster a sustained resonance. Begin reading Drafts anywhere then continue forward or back. The continuation only takes you deeper underground to make contact with its many reverberant strands.

Through a detailed reading of two drafts (“82: Hinge” and “15: Little”) this essay attempts to demonstrate that entry into Drafts can occur anywhere and initiate the beginning of a sustained and rewarding engagement with this landmark of contemporary poetry. Every poem in Drafts both leaves and anticipates traces of others. In reading these two drafts I recognize and trace recurrent words and themes. The keywords mark layers of concern as the poem grapples with articulations of the present and its continued struggle with loss and recovery, memory and time. The words include “hinge,” “rubble,” “pebble,” “enormous,” and “it.” The themes include the work site, the pinhole, the book, the worm (as collagist), the mite (as scholar), and trace elements. The methods include (but are by no means limited to) collage, midrash,[1] and nekuia (questioning of the dead).


“The book is a mine / of intersections” opens “Draft 82: Hinge.” “The book” is made up of “margins”; “statements” “spurt and overlap, / link and lack, / subject and answer, / declaration and perversity.”[2] A book of weblike intersections and associations is a likely outcome of work made largely in the mode of collage.[3] “Hinge” is in part a meditation on the act of writing and the dissemination of that writing into the world. It is aware of writing’s potential permanence and also the inevitable threat of its disappearance. From the bound book to sprayed graffiti, writing in many formats is tracked through each of the ten sections of “Hinge.” As a physical object “the book” has a connection to mining that is both metaphor and not metaphor. Mines are underground work sites: inside the earth, under ground surface, under the text or the world as it can be read. “Intersections” imply a complex of passages. “The book” as avatar for Drafts makes “Hinge” into a kind of general statement for Drafts itself. As “Hinge” echoes and parlays earlier images and motifs of the project, as it modifies them in new contexts, it also anticipates later ones by continuing to build upon the groundwork against which those will be read.

The five numbered sections of “Hinge” split into halves (like a hinge) with the first line, sometimes the first two, repeating. In its structure the sections mimic a mechanical hinge made of two wings and a pivot (pin). The wings and any objects mounted to them can be moved and the repeated line(s) serves as pin. The hinge of a bound book allows the cover to swing open. Without it, like a door off its hinges, pages fall from the book. The hinge of a book may also be literal as books were once held together by metal hinges attached across the covers and spines. Hinge is a term of rhetoric that marks the critical point of a debate or marks the turn of a discussion; specific to poetry, particularly as DuPlessis uses it as a literary term in her prose, “hinge” operates on a syntactic level (“syntactic hinge or pivot words”) and influences meaning.[4] The hinging of the sections then suggests a bifurcation of meaning in which starting points, the pin lines, offer an alternative reading in rewritten sections. They are restatements, modified comments; they supplement and complement rather than negate the other half. The wings in effect provide mutual support. The seedling format comes from “Draft 6: Midrush” (the first donor draft “in the line of 6” to “82: Hinge”). Certain stanzas of “Midrush” divide in two parallel stanzas that open to the left and right margins. This occurs four times and each time returns to a single centered stanza.[5]

The pin lines of “Hinge” contain the keywords “book,” “page,” “rubble,” “train,” “carving.” Each section contains acts of reading: book, page, train schedule, covenant, rubble, stories, graffiti, maps, Italian and Greek letters, newspaper, sentences. But there are obstacles. The book is scorched or falling apart, the page is tangled or falling loose from the book, the covenant is broken, the maps half-effaced, the newspaper closed. Commentary to be made on texts like these may be impossible. Indeed, simple reading is impossible. It’s the situation itself that requires comment and the situation seems tenuous. The first identifiable voice (“I”) appears in section 2, distressed: “I don’t know what to do, how to articulate it. / My stepping stippled feet feel cold. / There are clots in my ear from ashen coals” (Pitch, 28). The passage by “a strange train” provides a feeling of growing terror: “The present is dismembered. Undecipherable. The future is paralyzing.” The train ride suggests a dream state, one of terror, and one common to Drafts. The figure seems to be in constant existential despair: “… my life … / was it important? Did it matter? / Who broke these hinges? Who profits / from such resistance to turning” (29).

The pun of a claim progresses from mining (metals, minerals, etc.) to textual inquiry: “Here’s a single page that stakes a claim.” Digging as an intellectual endeavor. Drafts is primarily collage even as little narratives seem to burst from every overlap. The desire to untangle the claims and interplays of pages is strong: “the exposition / Being so complex. / Are you that surprised?” (28). Whose frustration is this: are we witnessing acts of reading in other texts, equally demanding, or does the question mirror our own reaction to the “hole and hold, dead and dread”? Patterns begin to emerge as they do when looking at (or reading) any collage of visual (non-word exclusive) materials. “Hole” and “hold” are repetitions from early drafts: “Draft 12: Diasporas” and also “Draft 14: Conjunctions” (“the hole, again I said hold, / I have in my head”) (Toll, 86, 93). In “Diasporas” they are drawn from a Walter Benjamin text (Toll, 270). The repetitions create an intensely complicated context in which to read this new placement. Intersections on the sides of each hinge (half of each section) recall earlier lines and earlier themes within this draft and as well as across the preceding eighty-two (counting “Draft Unnumbered: Précis”). We recognize trains, work sites, rubble, biblical allusions, and alphabetic characters as significant components of Drafts that have recurring roles, sometimes brief and sometimes extended. They will stretch to the end of the project when it concludes with Draft 114.

Sequentially, “Hinge” follows a draft (“81: Gap”) that chronicles a visit to a concentration camp, possibly Auschwitz. No location name is used in the poem and no note to the draft is offered. A sign in Polish is recorded: “Zakaz Wchadzenia Na Ruiny. / Keep Off the Ruins” (Pitch, 25). Other bits of language (part of the “undecipherable” of the present in “Hinge”) are considered: “This language uses many letters that are underused / In the Anglophone context. / Z and J and W and K. Plus Y. And C.” Where the figure in “82: Hinge” is disoriented and uncertain, the speaker in “81: Gap,” standing among other visitors who “take pictures with digital cameras” experiences anxiety but not despair.

Multiple readings are possible, and different impacts registered when considering “Hinge” and “81: Gap” back to back. Though each poem in Drafts is absolutely autonomous, materials and descriptive episodes easily migrate among one another. Materials for collage are cut up and divided among multiple drafts. It seems to be one of Drafts’ basic principles. Is the “spur-line train stop” (30) a locale used when visiting the historical Auschwitz site or when imagining the arrival of one of its victims? The inclusion of “sgraffito” on the wall says Italy, as does the “ostinato” and the “Acca acca acca” written on the right hand (31). So much context is needed to process “tacit greetings from soldiers” (30) or no context at all is necessary: we hear the soldier’s tacit greeting with what we’ve processed so far.

We may be reading across Drafts 81 and 82 a modified ritual of nekuia where the journey is made by train and hell is the concentration camp. Nekuia is the ancient Greek ritual of questioning the dead. Its best known literary episode is in The Odyssey. In “Hinge” the scorched book itself may be the sacrifice. The questioned is anonymous: a victim, a survivor, a scholar. Someone in despair whose life crisis is recalled in a meditative frame of mind: was my life “important? Did it matter? / Who broke these hinges?” (29). Or, who cared and will care for the work I’ve done? This is not, this doesn’t need to be, the poet save in giving voice to an unnamed person, actual or composite.

In the final section of “Hinge” the sensation of something being finished, an episode coming to its conclusion is palpable. The engraved hands open like books (like hinges). A newspaper page blown about in the wind becomes stuck to a pole, closed, but could be opened “like the palm and psalm of the written” and “be regarded” (32). It becomes a fable of loss that pivots on the word “hope” found in its closing lines, “the open hope of hinge.” There is a plea in “Hinge,” a call for a revaluing of literacy in cultural and textual domains. “The book” is a talisman that can serve as a safeguard against loss, many kinds of loss. By the activation of read sentences a transportive act occurs in which “you arrive nowhere, in order to explore what that ‘nothing’ will generate.” There is — there can be — “hope” but it’s not guaranteed (“sometimes there is not”) and then the effort, the work of poetry, scholarship, or anything transmitted through text is lost.

In part, this gloss on “the book” calls for the abolition of books. The end of the first section calls for doing away with poems, books, honors and “rhetorics dibbling in frill [and] decor” (27). Instead of books there would be “only acts of writing,” “austere and demanding” and “infinitely interpretable.” “Hinge” closes with a demand to read, a demand that these “work sites” be more deftly attended to, and the attentions demanded by them be given more rigor. This is the utopian polemic of a poet and scholar, made from hope. But it’s a hope well versed in the history of its pitfalls. The quote preceding this gloss, DuPlessis notes, is from American composer George Rochberg, himself providing a gloss on a letter by Rilke who despairs that art and theater didn’t prevent the First World War (174). The notion — Rilke’s — is reminiscent of Pound, whose sleep was troubled (satirically) by “The thought of what America would be like / If the Classics had a wide circulation.”[6] But the words — Rochberg’s — “we stand bewildered …” seem somehow to echo Oppen, whose collective “we” in “Of Being Numerous” has a similar portentous sweep: “if it is true we must do these things” and “bewildered / By the shipwreck.”[7] The echo is intensified by appearing in “Draft 85: Hard Copy,” DuPlessis’s writing through “Of Being Numerous” from which she takes the word in “Bewildering what happened” (Pitch, 46).

DuPlessis’s hope for a new kind of book is an indeterminate hope. “The book, the books contain our hopes.”[8] In no way do I read her as saying this or that would be better if people would just read more.[9] Instead a footnote to “Draft 57: Workplace: Nekuia” constructively redirects our attention. DuPlessis’s lines “For the book is never whole / no matter how it fills or why it makes those claims” is a gloss on the footnote, a quote from Zukofsky, to which it is tethered. Zukofsky proposes, perhaps following Mallarmé, that a single but defining book might be an adequate text for world culture, instead of a plethora of many books.[10] As in “Hinge” the perfect-enough book turns out not to be so: “If the full page folds / if another page comes loose as loss, / if corners of things rip.”[11] And in “Draft 76: Work Table with Scale Models” the book, perfect or no, is finally an object for further work:

found paper & thread
undid the book
low hum and rustle, voiceless
out of the fallen leaves of text.
Re-bound the folds with sweet reeds and whiplash

tied polylingual billets, doux ding-a-ling,

And punched andare-ritornare

tickets, there and back,

one for entering the book

one for escaping the book. (Torques, 131)

In its insistence of hope as an element of the written “Hinge” echoes lines from “Draft 60: Rebus”: “I wanted a whirling list of hopes / hopes hopes hopes whole alphabets of H’s” (Torques, 17) and answers it in Italian: “acca acca acca” the Italian letter “H” seen, or read, in the “flesh lines of my palm … read as letters” (Pitch, 31). Other pertinent echoes from all previous drafts become prominent in the din: “The book, the books contain our hopes” (Torques, 73); “The blood comes thru the book” (120). And with increasing volume, the long o sound of “hope” as in “type O blood dotted on the page. / Of openings. Over and over, and of an older hope” (84).

The images and words recalled, echoed, and repeated throughout Drafts have the effect of making multiple readings. A new reading yields a new pattern, an old one modified. The resulting patterns become ever sharper, however provisionally. Why is it important to trace them? As standalone poems the drafts in Drafts can be highly evocative. In its totality this evocative quality is unbelievably rich, creating meanings for the individual reader I am sure not even the author can fully anticipate. Tracing the words and themes illustrate a richness in composition by which layered materials reverberate in each passage. Possibilities for meanings accrue.

The idea of “donor drafts,” of folding the Drafts upon one another after each set of nineteen, means that “Hinge” unfolds “along the line of 6.” The predecessors of “Hinge” are “6: Midrush” (the originator of the line), “25: Segno,” “44: Stretto,” and “63: Dialogue of self and soul.” Drafts 101 and 120 will round it out. Drafts in a certain line will appropriate and recycle words, images, forms, and themes from previous drafts with many variations and modifications. Donor drafts are objects of conscious meditation in beginning a new one. Yet sometimes there is scant resemblance among drafts of a line. The method and extent of loans is not formalized. It is instructive to see what is borrowed as these themes inevitably develop into the strongest patterns and remain the most resilient poetic fibers of the work. From the line of 6 “Hinge” takes biblical allusions. The paired stanzas of “Midrush” and the bifurcated stanzas of “Hinge” are tethered to the story of the Ark and its animals, “cowering / pairs / in a tarred ark” and, again, writing: “pairing the letters / underneath / siting     citing / the writing under writing.” (Toll, 33). “Ark” is echoed as pun in both “Stretto” (“to arc the wine,” Pledge, 61) and “Dialogue of self and soul” (“inside some arc,” Torques, 38). No phoneme is too small to register.

Scripture returns in “63: Dialogue of self and soul” with the death of Eli upon learning the ark of covenant has been captured from Israel. “Draft 25: Segno” continues the theme of pairing — “Memory makes twins / from single rocks” — and further encounters, through dreams, with the dead: “The dream-speech of the dead / reverberates, a tunnel of echos” (Toll, 162, 163). Tunnels are found in “44: Stretto”: “the ear opens tunnels / behind itself” (Pledge, 56); they appear again in “63: Dialogue of self and soul”: “We’re caught inside our time, / a tunnel in a cave” (Torques, 38). The questions asked in this draft will be echoed in “Hinge”: “What’s the covenant? / who is propitiated? / who assuaged? who profited?” If we are not reading a gloss on the biblical ark of the covenant, the chest containing the written law as given by God, then the secular covenant of Drafts remains elusive beyond a symbol for the power of the written word. The “covenant of breaking” (Toll, 34) and “scattered tabernacle” (36) are glimpsed again in “Hinge” on the passing train: “The covenant? I understand that it is broken. Look — we have just passed the scattered tabernacle!” (Pitch, 28). Hints of what was desired in a covenant and what now stands as a loss, perhaps permanently, is found in “Draft 74: Wanderer”:

For few have found just covenants that hold.
For here and there are both displayed and crushed.

Should we assume there can be real covenant,
not given, not imposed, not crazed, but struggled
for and wide? Or should that hope be
given out as gone? (Torques, 108)

Covenant in section 24 of “Draft 85: Hard Copy,” whose corresponding section in Oppen’s “Of Being Numerous” reads in part “The covenant is / There shall be peoples,”[12] is pluralized and completely removed from sacred texts:

To resuscitate
The covenants that are
To fabricate them as
Humane and secular
And thereby to address
Wrongs of the world, ruthlessness,
Despoiling and injustices:
Is the agenda in front of us. (Pitch, 59)

Whether all previous occurrences of “covenant” in Drafts also respond in part to Oppen’s usage is impossible to determine.

“Draft 44: Stretto” provides phrases that will appear in “Hinge” — “spurt and overlap” and “subject and answer” (Pledge, 55) — and takes others from “25: Segno” —“Similars that materialize / maybe a little / behind the other” (Toll, 162). In “Stretto” the phrases are part of a descriptive passage of paintings, perfectly suitable for reuse in describing “the book,” which will give to “Hinge” its variations of “tangled in the long veil of the page.” For letters the “O” in “Midrush” (handwritten on the page, Toll, 34) is echoed in the “poetic O of moon” in “Dialogue of self and soul” (Torques, 36). In “Hinge” it is subtly employed again as traditional poetic interjection: “O, it would be austere and demanding; o, it would be infinitely interpretable!” (Pitch, 27). The long o in both “open” and “hope” (making it a hinge sound) is also strung throughout this line. With “Was this the hope, or that” (Torques, 39) coming after “paralysis” (meaning inaction or indecision, in both “Dialogue” and “Hinge”), hope gets the final say: the “open hope of hinge” (Pitch, 32).

I have made no mention of those most romantic of poetic images, as repeated and multilayered as the words discussed here: “heart” or “clouds” or “moon.” They each play heavy roles in Drafts. The examples cited here are by no means exhaustive and lie in plain sight. The borrowings of “Hinge” are not limited to its donor drafts. It is not uncommon to see intermingling and appropriation of words and images well off the donor lines. The patterns in Drafts are formalized by a donation system that is outlined in a grid, published in the front matter of Pitch. Practically speaking, it seems likely that the many images and themes occur where they are needed at any particular moment.

To read through Drafts is to take on a heightened awareness of certain words. Each usage may register a shift in meaning or add new meaning. Lapsed attention may be a lost chance for redemption. The word “hinge” maintains a consistent presence throughout Drafts varying in syntactic usage. It first appears in the opening line of “Draft 3: Of”: “Hinge-loss door, lack latch” (Toll, 19). An editorial mark in the margin instructs that this line and 49 others be cut from the poem (19–20). It appears again as a verb “(rude grey nobs of street junk hinge the rough grey ice)” (22) and as a noun rooted with discarded things in a meditation of syntax: “a hinge from word to word a thingk / of what grammatical conjuncture can seem / adequate to ‘of’?” (21). When it appears again (not coincidentally along the “line of 3”) in “Draft 22: Philadelphia Wireman” its contextual uses are similar. It is stretched and adapted to new uses: “Juncted agendas that twine their hinge” and “Grunge things junk things, things singed by light. / HOW hung the hinge from void to word / from word to work” (141). The last line is employed in reiteration toward the end: “Can you tie up Spirit Writing the hinge from void to word to work / on the wadded page randomize the flow of paths” (143). It is also recycled (off the grid lines of official folds) in “Draft 55: Quiptych”: “we shine about, we hinge / … / caught in mid-tunnel … / … among the ark of random things” (Pledge, 183). “Quiptych” begins with a telling epigraph on beauty from the “random gathering of things / insignificant of themselves” by Herakleitos (181), unfolds as a commentary on the methods of collage and finishes as an elegy for “an era of shame.” The connections are as explicit as juxtaposition can make. The larger pattern to see here is the use and reuse of words and themes, and how certain words become tied to ideas, as “hinge” is with junk. Junk is (or can be, should be) reused for art, thereby being redeemed as a valued thing. Meanwhile, “thingk” undergoes a de-hinging or decoupling: “words / as virtual hinges / and how it / survives! foraging like that / thinking / and thinging / of OF” (“Draft 41: Of This,” Pledge, 25).

Other uses of hinge are varied and far spread. Note the proximity to “pivot” in some instances. A pivot is a point at which one may turn on a single spot and move in another direction. Note the language of aerial movement in others: “oscillations,” “swings,” “wing of air.” Sometimes the hinge is linked with sounds — “a visible silence,” “little sounds” — and the ability of hinge to act as a light-source — “light leaking,” “brilliant” “hinges of light.” As the repetition, and variants of it, pile up it’s useful to list them:

being a hinge, constructing oscillations
fracture and hinge
back / hinge pivot inside the space
the door swings on its double-jointed hinge
intricacies that cross our paths, / a hinge, turning outward and inward, like a page
Sound. Hinge. / Wing of air.
light leaking through rents and cracks / through hinges
I wanted lines turning, / in linked gasps, on hinges   as if from a visible silence
the obdurate and brilliant hinge
Hinges of light
prefixes all of this, / hinging, half-hung / half-off
which hungers hinge to home
The great hinge allowed only small openings
There are little sounds / swung hinged / in the woods.[13]

As echoes of many drafts are heard throughout “Hinge,” some from “Draft 15: Little” echo loudest. One is the stalled train of “Hinge” which in “Little” was very much in motion, occurring in a dream state or limnal state of consciousness. In “Little” a train is passing “nickname-painted train stops” which triggers a series of disjunctive images:

                            … jerry-built victrolas,
canoes pulling away sloppily from simple docks
dribble and bonk of paddle,
a particular grab of grasses,
hairy stems of weeds,
and the afikomen so well hidden
plus misunderstood. (Toll, 100)

“Little” shifts with the ease of work built on segmentivity (like a train) to a descriptive recollection of “photographs of the war, / stripes under wire, / shadows scummed or smudged on pavement, / and starved locked rows.” This kind of haunting historical (or not so) imagery is frequent in Drafts, and frequently vague. In “Hinge” a correlative image is not explicitly a photograph though the figures could be easily mistaken for one: “eyes set deep / as refugees / in exile from illusions of another world / as from illusions of transcendence” (Pitch, 28). The “illusions” delineate one group from a certain kind of horror yet the alternative horrors remain just as real. “Little” participates in the intellectual autobiography (the title of Draft 29) that makes up a major component of Drafts. The images early in the poem may be necessarily vague childhood memories. The vagueness underscores not-quite-old-enough to understand memories of the war and postwar era. Not the war but photographs of it and of its victims with whom you learn at some point you have something in common. But the afikomen represents a tradition that a child actually participates in, a totem of heritage, meaning there should be less confusion around it.

“Little” has a narrative structure (beginning, middle, and end) uncommon in Drafts. The first line of “Little” is ambiguous and may be read as a continuation of the title. Instead of beginning “More than that is hard to say” the text progresses directly from the title (or, what can be read following a colon, the subtitle): “Little / More than that is hard to say.” Whether there is more than that, or little more than that, is hard to say. I read “Little” as a testament to a kind of political and artistic awakening, one whose beginnings arise from a deep sense of being unable to speak to things and especially to it. The theme of not being able to say much, not being able to write poetry, or talk about poetry and other subjects runs deep in Drafts. (See below.) But here this blankness is either a device or the mere admission of blockage has effectively unblocked the writing. The list of images that follow evoke childhood, a kind of misty half-remembrance or before-the-war montage of memory fragments recalled without “mourning” or “pleasure.” As a talisman of the poet’s Judaism the afikomen of childhood holidays speaks to a complicated heritage by being well-hidden (so well-hidden it could not be found?) and misunderstood. Then an awareness of war through photographs showing concentrations camps (“stripes under wire” and “starved locked rows”) that cannot fail to affect those who see it, and feel complicated even further. The knowledge that one is safe from immediate terrors doesn’t help to ease those complications. Life goes on, life is good, but life is strange. In the midst of peace and plenty come orders to “Take cover!” under the desk as “cowering shapes” (101). The turn comes, the hinge of the narrative, in a new awareness, an awakening: “From that point, those points, on, / the trace or shard, the thing / come passing darkly cross me / in the tunnel dirt of time / was mine” (101–102). Tripping across the word “it” (“I was part of all that it”), not even capitalized, easy to underestimate its significance, waiting for a grammatical gap to be filled: “I was part of all that it, / a lucky nothing / not in the way of particular harm, / half witness half witless” (100). “It” is born or made manifest in the consciousness, something to live with and negotiate. Was it knowledge of the Holocaust? Was it the threat of annihilation courtesy of the Cold War? Yes, yes. “It” was these things and more.  “It” is the signifier of enormous things in Drafts, vast and wicked: “multiplied,” “engulfing,” “excessive.”

“Little” is about loss and recovery: lost memories, lost lore, lost history. It involves the anxiety of not recovering them, or not recovering them in a way that can be used, a resignation to having only fragments, a confrontation of being “part of all that it” and a resolve to no longer be “a lucky nothing” and break the pattern of anxiety or guilt of being “half witness half witless.” The experience of “it” needs to be made valuable somehow, and one needs to manufacture its own redemption. The layered self-description of this passage is particularly brutal considering the self is still a child: a nothing, half witless, a “dot — a little / yod or yid” (100). “Little” is heard again, superimposed as an individual person in the shadow of staggering world events. Yod: the tenth and smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet; yid: derogatory name for a Jew. What, in retrospect, was she expected to know? One suspects the idea of it is on the folded newspaper page trapped by wind against a pole in “Draft 82: Hinge.”

The word “little” appears again three more times before the poem closes, twice to modify “mite,” a parasite that inhabits books, and once to describe a new stance or path of action in the resistance of “it.” Against “it,” against all the terror and despair to be found in “Hinge” and all throughout Drafts there is hope.

“It” like X that marks the spot, that is, the spots,
an ever wily while, a wilderness of hope.
The spot of almost hopeless hope.
Can barely credit it.
Thus my voice is empty, but I speak and sing
only of this.
The undersentences
that rise, tides of sentiment, the little
stuff agglutinating in time, debris
             I sing. (102)

In “Hinge,” where attention shifts from book and page suddenly to “I’ve jumped on a strange train,” so in “Little” do rapid pivots occur. Trains (always the same train?) are visible at times in Drafts in many modes. They run as ordinary transportation for commuters who can write as they ride (Toll, 44). “Draft 4: In” depicts the train as a metaphor of composition sequence (segmentivity) and also, by way of a fine pun, dream sequence “the tension of making a strange train. The run thru the / bi-lingual. Now a very long tunnel totally unexpected” (27). Similarly in “Draft 34: “To push thru the deep dream station / and still miss the train, / to tear up the stairs for the dream el / running ever / never to catch it” because the train is gone (237). The spur-line stop in “Hinge” is seen also in “Draft 49: Turns and Turns, an Interpretation”: “Dark tunnel   of an unusual train of thought. / Deeper and deeper (so long ago)   into the neglected train station” (Pledge, 111). The train provides two sources of anxiety: when trying to make a train it is missed, or might be; when on the train the stop is missed, or might be. Also while on the train (in Drafts 4 and 49) an additional dilemma is repeated, “Have no idea what stop I am.” In their commingled dream states like those evoked in “Little” and “Hinge” it is tempting to read too much literariness (not to mention amateur psychology) into things. H.D. dreamed of trains too: “Last night, I had my old train-nightmare. I am going somewhere vaguely undefined; … [I am] lost somewhere, on some dangerous way, down some steps. … There are so many associations with trains.”[14]

The train fades from “Little” and the woods (“the exile woods”) appear. In “Hinge” the formulation is “carrying [my heart] carefully into the woods.” In “Little” the woods are where the mite appears, a small but powerful figure. The mite appears early in Drafts as a self-identified thing, an identity-vehicle for the work done inside of books. Its size and virtual invisibility speak to the identity of a “dot – a little / yod” as well as the importance of “little / stuff agglutinating.” While the scholar-mite will testify in “Little” it is busy being born in “Draft 4: In”: “I am inside, / am a mite in the letter / a traveller thru are. the senses of dark holes tunneling grainy paper” (Toll, 27). This is an image that will split into many sustained directions in Drafts. The poet working, literally, inside the book. The mite as scholar, the size of and digging at the level of, a single letter (r), tunneling into pages, or elsewhere entering a text through pinholes. Digging and planting: “I began writing into the poems / I put words deep into the poems / As into a tunnel” (Pitch, 62). The mite is the tiny mark on the page, a dot, except this dot is on the move. The mite tunnels within books (“a mine of intersections”), exists on the edges and margins, an intellectual delver retrieving words, a worker bringing things to and from the surface: “What I made, I want to see: / bits and mites, codes and clots, / darts of lacerated clarity” (Pledge, 185–186).

Where the mite is engaged in textual scholarship, her companion the worm is more of a collagist. That they collaborate is beyond doubt. The name bookworm is common but actual worms in books belong to antiquity (like the metal hinges that once bound them). The book mite is a pscocid, a contemporary found in all libraries and homes. Worms dig in the ground, are segmented things essential to the success of composting and the health of soil, but in Drafts they enjoy the same status of mites as a worker engaged (from “Hinge”) in “the intelligence of textual scholarship” (Pitch, 29). From “Draft 42: Epistles”: “I can worm it out / with specific engorgements of words / and my inventions do rupture” (Pledge, 38). In another context — the fosse — time is the worm, whose action “worms out / its readable shard” or what lies buried (Toll, 189). The worm in “Draft 35: Verso” sees text as a meal, a symbiotic relationship between the collagist and its material, and a worksite that is verbally dense and complex in its imagery as “verse” plays off “vers,” the French word for worm.

I woke

a half-worm, lucent pink in grey
stoppen in its track
                            sidling juice: vers
                            o worm towards verse

Turn the page.
A verso puts one page
upon the next
thickening the compost of the text. (243)

And another: “My words are here among the layered pages / inside quickly moving time / intricate knobs with ‘wormholes’” (Torques, 10). Wormhole also may suggest a topological feature of space-time, a shortcut through time and space that is a useful analogy in considering collage works.

Wormhole echoes pinhole, a “needle-thin penpoint pushed into the page / a hole” (Toll, 49). The pin or needle disfigures the text and scars it in the attempt to mend it. The needle of “Hinge” belongs to the bookbinder and surgeon. What cannot be repaired is lost and becomes a shard, a fragment. A pinhole as a portal for mites. Time (found in “Little” and “Hinge”), bits, the small, the broken, the buried (in tunnels, in books, in the garden), and the voices speak through objects catalogued in the latter half of “Draft 11: Schwa”: in which “I quiver in my pinhole time / where bits of voice are buried / in broken, unrecoverable objects” (80). Another compilation helps illustrate:

How any thing ever holds together / homing to the pinhole!
Opening the yod that goes with this space / the book is awake // enters a tiny point
the pinhole chance / generating just that wonder / of human shadow over the
after years of poking along the long wall, / this declared that I had found the
               pinhole / and had entered it
The pinhole gleams
how to reach    the pinhole.[15]

A pinhole is a source of light in Drafts: “A pinhole / a limpid blur from the light / shimmering through it” (Toll, 49); “Pinhole Specks of light in labyrinthine misery” (Torques, 109); “a pinhole light blur” (Pledge, 188); “pinholes of the void. Like stars” (Pledge, 200); and “these pinholes, these spots of light” which in “Draft 85: Hard Copy” (Pitch, 50) borrows from Oppen’s “A spot of light on the curb.”[16] “Hard Copy” is a conversation with Oppen, making the pinhole a portal for light and for speaking to the dead. It occurs elsewhere in Drafts: “Person a pinhole through which / this death pound, opened, roars” (Torques, 54) as we see in examining the nekuia. 


The idea of the worksite is preeminent in Drafts. “Draft 16: Title” begins with a description of an art installation, itself a worksite, where the artist has modified and mounted ledgers “pulled from the abandoned worksite” (Toll, 103). The phrase is echoed in “Draft 85: Hard Copy,” a lament for “so many abandoned worksites,” in a gloss on the vocation of poetry (Pitch, 61). Abandoned worksites from which working materials may be culled are the companion sites and companion works to Drafts. DuPlessis writes that she “think[s] of Schwitters perpetually” as a model (Blue Studios, 214). His collages and Merzbau share an affinity with her poems, as does Tyree Guyton’s Heidelberg Project in Detroit. The Heidelberg Project is a collage of abandoned things arranged on the surfaces of abandoned houses. It appears in “Draft XXX: Fosse.” The raw, recycled materials of these works possess a strong bond with Drafts in that they create new perceptions by “imbedding shards and symbols onto one plane,” a reference to David Smith’s “Home of the Welder” in “Draft 38: Georgics and Shadow” (Toll, 265).

Part self-interview, “Draft 29: Intellectual Autobiography” lifts queries from the language of a grant application. It describes the author’s worksite. Asked about methods, the author replies: “Leaves torn from old notebooks / and mildewed subscription blanks    establishing / on the cut-off margins of newspapers” (Toll, 183). Shards and bits are a natural fit with collage and in a larger pattern also with endless commentary: “Propose a work, the work, a work of enormous dailiness, vagrant / responses inside the grief of a century” (Toll, 186).

From a collage worksite of shards and bits it is an easy step to the larger materials of worksite rubble and debris, equivocal as sources with any “odd books, [with] broken bindings” (46). We begin with the girder, what DuPlessis calls in a note to “Draft 24: Gap” the “objectivist talisman” (274). The word “debris” is specific to Drafts, while “girder” is an appropriation. “Rubble,” however, DuPlessis makes her own, despite its mite-extracted origins through the self-conscious quoting of Charles Reznikoff. “The girder amid, within, among, above / over, on     as if” suggests both a multi-directional twist of the original line, a play on the possibilities for misquoting it (as Oppen misquoted it), and new syntactic hinges for use in creating modified images from its unshakable self (159). But while the prepositions pivot along lines of possibility the girder, of course, remains itself.

The grafting of “rubble” onto “girder” is significant. Reznikoff’s original lines, part 69 of “Jerusalem the Golden,” reads “Among the heaps of brick and plaster lies / a girder, still itself among the rubbish.”[17] George Oppen quotes it often but inexactly, and consistently misremembers “rubble” for “rubbish.” Oppen cites the image many times as a kind life-saving talisman, a crucial poetic image that sustained him during a nightmarish time in a foxhole. In a 1958 letter to his daughter, speaking of Reznikoff, he writes: “And he noticed in one of those filthy vacant lots ‘a girder, still itself among the rubble.’”[18] In a 1959 letter to his half-sister, he quotes it without alteration or error.[19] In letters in 1965 and 1966 (one of them to the author of Drafts) it is firmly the formulation he has made his own: “the girder, still itself among the rubble.”[20] And in a 1981 interview George and Mary Oppen testify together to the importance of the image. Oppen says, “Quoting Rezy, too, ‘We wanted to be ourselves among the rubble’ which held us half in and half out of political doings. And that line to me is one of the most powerful lines in poetry.” Mary Oppen interjects, “The girder …” and George Oppen continues: “‘The girder still itself among the rubble’ and we recite that line over and over to ourselves — and we meant ourselves to be among the rubble — and it was rubble or it was very close to rubble.”[21] As a preface to the second volume of Reznikoff’s Collected Poems Oppen contributed this statement:

the girder, still itself / among the rubble

That line of Reznikoff’s and the poem of which it is a part, and line upon line of his perfect poems have been with me for the forty-eight years since I first came upon them. If we had no other poetry I think we could nevertheless live by virtue of these poems, these lives, these small precise these overwhelming gentle iron lines and images of all that is and our love and pride and our small life which is immeasurable as these lines which are still themselves among the rubble.[22]

Rubble in Drafts is the debris of culture, the data and material of cultural criticism. A standing girder post-demolition is a temporary trace of the structure it once supported, and no doubt it too will soon fall to the wrecking ball and be swept away with the rest of the rubble/rubbish. It may be found again as part of a landfill hundreds of miles away. But concrete is not carved marble, and so, who will care? Perhaps it ends as part of a jetty serving to keep the primordial waves from (further) erasing a beach. That last removal can be read as accomplished in the very next Draft: “one girder of smoke, / hovering, still, over rubble also of smoke” (Toll, 165). The concern with rubble, a preoccupation, is tied up with the critique and interrogation Drafts undertakes. Rubble is a name for remnants and traces of things once above that designation.

There is “rubble of failure” and the “rubble of loss” (Pledge, 197, 116). The rubble of Drafts is more than heaps of bricks and plaster. Are “rubble” and “debris” the same? There is the rubble of a worksite to be read, collected, and understood: “This is not simply the world as such / but a world stained with other times // the riddle of rubble” (Torques, 19) and there is “Rubble Unread” (85). What does it add up to? What can it amount to? “Is this // rubble accountable?” (Toll, 78). “Some things, broken down to rubble / need to be broken further” (Pledge, 140) and “translate compulsions of rubble / into the directness of rubble” (Pledge, 81). In “Hard Copy” there is “the directness / of rubble” (Pitch, 49), and in “Hinge” the rubble is (twice) “continually before me” (29).

DuPlessis seizes on the misquote when that objectivist talisman is directly referenced by using “rubble” not “rubbish” and so makes the work, if not the image, her own. Bricks and plaster are only a piece of the rubble that concerns Drafts. So when she makes use of it in “Draft 74: Wanderer” by quoting “So from the rubbish gathered up a stone” from Wordsworth the nod in that gesture, I feel, is toward Reznikoff. She modifies the quote in the next line: “Then from the rubble gathered up a stone” (Torques, 115). The poem continues with an exposition on collages and collage making: “began a rubble wall. / Random pieces placed in counter-poise” ending with “Voices of the dead give speeches on these principles of physics” (116). From Pitch:

the girder         amid, between, among, above
the rubble        under, on, from, next to, within (82).

Amid, between, among, etc., the rubble is an occasion of material survival found among the cycles of creation and destruction. The shards and bits are so much more than language. They are broken saucers, odd bits of pottery found parallel to the “hungry books / words / related to the torn debris” (Toll, 81). They are personal materials that once belonged to actual persons, economically recycled like the embroidered handkerchief (“random finds / some dead man’s debris”) picked up at a thrift shop (88). They are flowers pressed into dictionaries “long / ago by sentimental ladies” (69). They are the works of the Philadelphia Wireman, made from trash (rubbish) and left outside for trash pickup (after the artist’s presumed death) when they were discovered (273). They are the debris of the Heidelberg Project, and the debris of centuries past, worming out into the present, into our lives in a location as common as a backyard garden:

Always another little something —
a broken saucer flower fleck
unremarkable wedge, except its timing
working itself loose in the rain
thru the mum patch
and impatience
some glittery sharp a-flat the wet wide shade.
The house was built on a dump. (37)

Another illustrative instance is the nineteenth-century pottery works in a Philadelphia neighborhood unearthed (read: civic palimpsest) for new construction or a new park. The former industrial worksite becomes a temporary worksite of casual gleaners collecting souvenirs from the past before the machines return to continue their work. The bits and shards are now preserved through personal possession by the place of honor given them. These are things “you have made survive for now / by keeping it where you are, / and so the trace can cause happiness” (Pitch, 95). They become in a sense flowers pressed in a dictionary. Not everything can survive, even for a little while, despite the intentions of those doing the dropping. “Draft 17: Unnamed” cites the observer who does not pick up the “dozens of notes and addresses // tossed away / moments before their deaths” of Holocaust victims (Toll, 110). The act could have been critical somehow, and its omission remains a source of regret. The “trace elements” of Drafts delineated elegantly and thoughtfully in a draft of that title are crucial to the memory that “folds over itself / making residue when you least expect it to” (Pitch, 87). Part of the “theory of debris” of Drafts is that these traces “agglutinat[e] in time” and

function like poetry made
by standing where you are
patiently watching and listening,
patience for the layers
in things & words
in systems & syntaxes
waiting for the twist or quirk to coalesce
and signify and turn and disappear (97).

Another recurring worksite is the fosse, a word linked to Pound possibly even more than “draft” (see Blue Studios, 250, on the appropriation of “draft” from Pound). Pound opens The Cantos by rewriting the episode of Odysseus summoning shades that he might question Tiresias: “Dark blood flowed in the fosse.”[23] Nekuia is the ritual of speaking to the dead but no such dramatic scenes of sheep sacrifice are recreated in Drafts. The dead are present as early as “Midrush” (“Wraithes of poets …”) through acts of reading the work they left behind: “The poem is the fosse / in which to cower” (Torques, 40). (Another keyword operating slyly but powerfully within the work; cower: from animals on the ark to children under desks, a different context here which modifies the previous uses.) The nekuia of “Midrush” foreshadows later ones:

wreathing smoke-veils
my eyescreen tearing their insistent
opaque, startled
writing was speaking here was
saying words but,
befit a shady station,
sere swallowed up within the
mouths speaking
and all the words
dizzy with tears
passed away again. (Toll, 35)

What shade is summoned when DuPlessis writes, “Can visit him dead / bask in his anger and the dirty light / of poetry” (192)? “What rears and spurts and thickens / in the fosse?” asks “Draft 13: Haibun” (107). “[P]erson a pinhole through which / this death pound, opened, roars” echoes “Draft 67: Spirit Ditties” (Torques, 54). The encounters are focused on texts and memory, memory of people, and the words they wrote. The texts retain a power to speak directly to us as if the person who created it were actually in the room:

What visits us announcing where we are?

Who speaks; who writes?

The dead. (Torques, 15–16)

“This is the place I work” begins “Draft 57: Workplace: Nekuia,” “a pinhole light blur” (Pledge, 188). In the next numbered draft (skipping the unnumbered draft, “Précis”) “a student jumped from a window / of my workplace / a few tense days before the newest war” (Torques, 2). It is tempting to think of the student as Elpenor, the young comrade of Odysseus, who fell drunk to his death from Circe’s roof. The notes to “Draft 58: In Situ” dispel any such literary notion but when such things happen one is bound to hear the approaching “high-pitched twist / of sirens” (3).

Elpenor wants Odysseus to retrieve his body for burial and use his oar as a marker. Aside: oars and rowing have a curious role in Drafts: “skeletons that move their bony oars / and pump through the sky” (13); “Who was carrying oars? And why?” (Torques, 84); and the “dribble and bonk of paddle” in “Little.” Odysseus was compelled to find Tiresias in order to find his way back to Ithaca. Epics of loss and memory are undertaken in the same desire to find home. The fosse of Drafts is wherever the “wraithes of poets” and other interlocutors are found, in books, in words that one bores into, in trace elements or debris of whatever can be found, read, or heard. “Speak from the site / as if you were already dead” (Toll, 94). “Plan: a nekuia based on digression” (Pitch, 12). The nekuia undertaken with Oppen in “Draft 85: Hard Copy” is upended by the dialogue running against the traditional current. The ghost is being not interviewed but informed: it is saying this is what’s going on today. “Hard Copy” has forty numbered sections that match and correlate to the numbered sections of Oppen’s “Of Being Numerous.” A gloss on the nekuia is directed at the encounter,

                           … the vagueness
from which the now vague dead imaginarily
“watch” this
from the outside.
From the other side.
We no longer encounter them
in good conscience. (Pitch, 44)

For all the interrogating of Adorno’s writing that “Draft 52: Midrash” does, and for all the commentary the poem makes on what is almost a cliché regarding postwar poetry — that “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric” — the many doubts and justifications of poetry in Drafts has much in common with Adorno but rejects his statement at face value. Why is poetry “barbaric” and not painting, sculpture, cinema, etc. (Pledge, 142)? “Midrash” may well be Drafts’ most rigorous and in-depth example of midrash (commentary and gloss) going far beyond bits, shards, and fragments. There is a connection, however oblique, among Oppen’s “Difficult now to speak of poetry” found in section 27 of “Of Being Numerous,” DuPlessis’s similar and numerous formulations throughout Drafts,[24] and a separate writing of Adorno’s. In lectures given in 1965–66, the same time “Of Being Numerous” was beginning to take shape,[25] Adorno provides a midrash on the aspects of difficulty and hesitancy found in the poetics of both Oppen and DuPlessis:

I do not have even the slightest intention of suggesting that reflections on freedom might provide any scope at all for evading a confrontation with such experiences, that is to say, with everything that Auschwitz represents. I believe that every thought that fails to measure itself against such experiences is simply worthless, irrelevant and utterly trivial. A human being who is not mindful at every moment of the potential for extreme horror at the present time must be so bemused by the veil of ideology that he might just as well stop thinking at all. However, this very situation and reflection upon the facts that are at issue forces us into a radical process of interrogation that leaves far behind us such naïve questions as ‘Are you responsible or not responsible?’ Freedom in the sense of moral responsibility can only exist in a free society.[26]

Nearly any excerpt from DuPlessis’s “Midrash” would appropriately complement Adorno’s text. The following, for comparison, is a little more than halfway in:

the visceral undertow
of enormous unstoppable
powerlessness, not to speak of humiliations
scarifications expropriations permanent marks
self-disgust, as if you had been declared guilty,
plus ‘‘murder locations’’ all across the nations
In ‘‘forests, streets and squares, synagogues, gravel pits’’
Where are the words that would say this?
They are gross and vague, literal and flat, condensed and imploded.
“Auschwitz” is both metonymy and metaphor—no? Nu?
Therefore—to write poetry thinking you had words for
anything at all, after these particular policies and practices
is ridiculous—hard to approach the right nuance,
is inadequate, a misapplication of understanding,
self-congratulatory, narcissistic, overweening,
prettifying, or could even say
“barbaric.” It was a word chosen for rage.
But it, like any word, is a one-penny gesture
thrown into firestorms
beyond the page. (Pledge, 149–50)


Drafts invites an acute sensitivity to individual words. You keep an eye open for “mite” or its pun (might) in a usage or context that may offer a new sensibility or new meaning in the poem. A fresh articulation of “it,” perhaps in ways the author didn’t intend, presages a new register of hope. The repeated and varied use of words give a freshness to themes and also provide opportunities to deepen one’s own richly contextualized reading. The end of “Draft 81: Gap” leaves the reader with an image of so many pebbles on gravestones “it looked like the graves were piled with rubble” (Pitch, 26). In this cultural act of empathy with the dead the stones left behind give the appearance of unkemptness in what should be a sacred location. A multitude of images preceding this one in Drafts pulsate with the reading of it. Those pebbles say “we” remember and do so in the company of these similarly placed (and similarly anonymous) other pebbles, a de facto collective effort of memorializing. The pebble as marker debuts earlier in Drafts with a similar placement of “two midsized pebbles” in an unrelated location (Toll, 262).

Pebbles are a minor force in Drafts. Like tiny rubble, tiny traces, they appear everywhere if you have the attention to spot them and, as it were, pick them up. To be sure they surround the girder, busted free from all that plaster and brick. “Draft XXX: Fosse” is rife with pebbles, and a recollection of Hansel and Gretel. “The smallest pebbles” and “shiny pebbles” and “pebbled lines” lead back to “the book” covered in pebbles that precipitate its erosion (187–88). Disturbed pebbles are evidence on a path, a trace that someone (two children?) passed by, in “Draft 32: Renga” “Someone / Crossing thru this micro-space / Loosened the trail pebbles” (207), and later, differently, “pebbles fallen on a scree / or crumbs of bread upon a trail” (Pitch, 90). The foreshadowing in “81: Gap” and also in “Draft 69: Sentences” sees “the sentient / pebbles left on graves are hapless / markers of my in-strangement” (Torques, 72).

The seemingly inconsequential presence of something so small (yet considering the impact of the yod, dot, mite, smudge, blur, etc., nothing little can ever be inconsequential) makes for an interesting comparison with the strong presence of its gargantuan opposite. “Enormous” and “enormity” (adjective and noun) are the looming presences over all things “little” in the context of loss and lost things. They take sides with “it” throughout the work. A fine example of word ownership by a poet, “enormous” is found among the earliest drafts. Some contexts recall Pound, as in “the enormous tragedy of the dream” (Cantos, 439). One usage is a quote from Pound: “My mind stretched to the bursting point / with this enormity” (Torques, 23). Other instances recall Wordsworth, twice through quotation: “amid the depth / of those enormities” from The Prelude (Torques, 115, 142) and “a puff enormous, silver / edge of rain” (109).

They are present as shadows when “enormous” ideas occur. That is, when one’s attention is jarred by it not appearing where it might have. Two examples: “Thought is frightened / for it can’t think anywhere near the size of what has happened” (Pledge, 56) and “injustice, rage despair / large amid the subjects” (Torques, 12). How I wish she had said “enormous”! Used mostly to describe size, to say something is really big, the pervasiveness of “enormous” throughout Drafts led me to investigate other definitions, where I was reminded (if in fact I knew before) that its historical uses apply to divergences from standards. Enormous things are “unfettered by rules … mostly in the bad sense … monstrous, shocking.” Applied to people: “excessively wicked, flagitious, outrageous.” An enormity deviates from moral and legal codes; they are crimes, “gross and monstrous offence[s]” (Oxford English Dictionary). Out of awe then for the gravity of it, and realizing that some uses just mean “really big,” I offer this quotation collage:

enormities of / key-shaped air   enormous slant   enormous emptiness   an enormous amount of webbing   a rocking enormity   the enormities // of which one must, / if speaking, // speak   across enormous scrolls   his enormous X   a work of enormous dailiness   a point and an enormity // of nothing   Enormousness of universe, and enormity of what has happened   Given these enormities   énormément de langues qui s’oublient   the enormous periphrastic effort   a backdrop of enormous / emptiness   enormous curiosity   this / turned / enormous   those enormous encompassing Turns   enormous unstoppable / powerlessness   enormousness and enormity   enormous waves   constructed from enormous loss   Some who mean enormous will say enormity   enormous, chryselephantine   against an enormous emptiness   desire, enormity, care   enormous fastballs   the enormities / that they might suffer   enormous depths of daily anything   pipeline to the enormity of fact   enormous historical crimes   The implication of this gesture was enormous.[27]

The implication of “enormous” and “enormity” in Drafts, the manifestations of their wicked presences (for a good lot of them) is the dark and ever-present “it.” “It” is the title of the first Draft, and the underpinning force against which the poem pits its energetic resistance. In an interview with CAConrad, DuPlessis explains this pronoun that in “Little” she was unwittingly a part of: “I don’t write to express myself. I write to examine ‘it.’ There is a lot of ‘it’ out there.” Find “it” throughout and then attempt to read “it” anywhere in Drafts again without feeling oversensitized to its nuances? Hard to do. And best done by the Drafts themselves. “It lists, it tilts — The it of all of it” (Torques, 30). DuPlessis is eloquent on the subject — its roles and origins — in her prose,[28] but the poems emphasize the allusive, the traces of “it,” leaving a reader to think poetically about “it” and ultimately gain more by lingering in the evocative essence “it” distills. Multiplied, engulfing, excessive.

The words I chose to look at here are just a few choices among hundreds. There are many tangles and strands to follow. It is instructive to do, and it’s also fun. Time could be traced in Drafts — its relationship to astronomy, time as that “wristlet litmus π” (from “Little”) which gets lost over and over in Drafts. More words that have powerful capabilities of evoking complex responses could be looked at: “pitch” and “mist,” to name two. “Pitch” appears thirteen times with nearly as many usages in the book titled Pitch. “Mist” and its pun, “missed,” is another foundational word with many uses and meanings. What is the role of “apples” in Drafts? What is the role of clouds? And finally, curiously or maybe plain as day, the appearance of bread throughout, going backward: the bread recipe that “had got so stained with flour and oil // that the page looks edible” (Pitch, 37); “The letters are yeast / kneaded into an unregenerate bread” (Torques, 86); “to articulate the bread page” (Toll, 97); and “oil stains on the bread page” (Toll, 47).



1. Midrash is defined by DuPlessis in one instance as “doubled and redoubled commentary, poetry with its own gloss built in.” See Blue Studios: Poetry and Its Cultural Work (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2006), 210.

2. Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Pitch: Drafts 77–95 (Cambridge, UK: Salt Publishing, 2010), 27.

3. DuPlessis, Blue Studios, 214.

4. Ibid., 203, 209.

5. DuPlessis, Drafts 1–38, Toll (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2001), 33–38.

6. Ezra Pound, Personae (New York: New Directions, 1990), 182.

7. George Oppen, New Collected Poems (New York: New Directions, 2002), 173, 166.

8. DuPlessis, Torques: Drafts 58–76 (Cambridge, UK: Salt Publishing, 2007), 73.

9. “Let the mite live. Let the girl become literate” (Pitch, 135).

10. DuPlessis, Drafts 39–57, Pledge, with Draft, Unnumbered: Précis (Cambridge, UK: Salt Publishing, 2004), 193.

11. Ibid.

12. Oppen, New Collected Poems, 176.

13. “Draft 21: Cardinals” (Toll, 139); “Draft 24: Gap” (Toll, 158); “Draft 28: Facing Pages” (Toll, 175); “Draft 33: Deixis” (Toll, 225); “Draft 33: Deixis” (Toll, 229); “Draft 38: Georgics and Shadow” (Toll, 266); “Draft 47: Printed Matter” (Pledge, 79); “Draft 49: Turns & Turns, an Interpretation” (Pledge, 117); “Draft 56: Bildungsgedicht with Apple” (Pledge, 187); “Draft 60: Rebus” (Torques, 17); “Draft 61: Pyx” (Torques, 26); “Draft LXX: Lexicon” (Torques, 83); “Draft 71: Headlines, with Spoils” (Torques, 91); “Draft 78: Buzz Track” (Pitch, 5).

14. H.D., Tribute to Freud (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1975), 176.

15. “Draft LXX: Lexicon” (Torques, 78); “Draft 32: Renga” (Toll, 199); “Draft 32: Renga” (Toll, 204); “Draft, unnumbered: Précis” (Pledge, 198); “Draft, unnumbered: Précis” (Pledge, 199); “Draft 39: Split” (Pledge, 8).

16. Oppen, New Collected Poems, 169.

17. Charles Reznikoff, Poems 1918–1975: The Complete Poems of Charles Reznikoff (Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow Press, 1989), 107.

18. Oppen, Selected Letters, ed. Rachel Blau DuPlessis (Durham: Duke University Press, 1990), 14.

19. Ibid., 24.

20. Ibid., 133, 389.

21. Burton Hatlen and Tom Mandel, “Poetry and Politics: A Conversation with George and Mary Oppen,” in George Oppen: Man and Poet, ed. Hatlen (Orono, ME: National Poetry Foundation, 1981), 29.

22. Oppen, preface to Poems 1918-1975: The Complete Poems of Charles Reznikoff, 3.

23. Ezra Pound, The Cantos ( New York: New Directions, 1970), 3.

24. See, for example, “Impossible to write a poem” (Torques, 70) which is an odd opening (like “Little” with its “hard to say”) for a powerfully lucid and forceful poem like “Draft 69: Sentences.” The impossibility is overcome. The difficulty and impossibility are gestures. Midway through “Sentences”: “Impossible not to write” and, similarly, “cannot not speak. O poetry / — again and again no more poetry” (Toll, 120). Section 27 of “Hard Copy” is a gloss on why it is difficult for her to speak of poetry, responding to Oppen’s opening of his section 27: “It is difficult now to speak of poetry —” (Oppen, New Collected Poems, 180).

25. Oppen, Selected Letters, xviii.

26. Theodor W. Adorno, History and Freedom: Lectures 1964–1965 (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2001), 203.

27. “Draft 2: She” (Toll, 13); “Draft 3: Of” (Toll, 20); “Draft 8: The” (Toll, 46); “Draft 12: Diasporas” (Toll, 86); “Draft 15: Little” (Toll, 100); “Draft 19: Working Conditions” (Toll, 121); “Draft 23: Findings” (Toll, 147); “Draft 23: Findings” (Toll, 150); “Draft 29: Intellectual Autobiography” (Toll, 186); “Draft 32: Renga” (Toll, 208); “Draft 33: Deixis” (Toll, 235); “Draft 38: Georgics and Shadow” (Toll, 266); “Draft 42: Epistles” (Pledge, 40); “Draft 44: Stretto” (Pledge, 57); “Draft 46: Edge” (Pledge, 76); “Draft 49: Turns & Turns, an Interpretation” (Pledge, 111); “Draft 49: Turns & Turns, an Interpretation” (Pledge, 115); “Draft 49: Turns & Turns, an Interpretation” (Pledge, 125); “Draft 52: Midrash” (Pledge, 149); “Draft, unnumbered: Précis” (Pledge, 210); “Draft LXX: Lexicon” (Torques, 78); “Draft 73: Vertigo” (Torques, 102); “Draft 75: Doggerel” (Torques, 122); “Draft 78: Buzz Track” (Pitch, 7); “Draft 84: Juncture” (Pitch, 37); “Draft 84: Juncture” (Pitch, 37); “Draft 85: Hard Copy” (Pitch, 52); “Draft 85: Hard Copy” (Pitch, 66); “Draft 86: Scarpbook” (Pitch, 73); “Draft 87: Trace Elements” (Pitch, 96); “Draft 87: Trace Elements” (Pitch, 101); “Draft 91: Proverbs” (Pitch, 137).

28. See the four essays making up the section “Migrated Into” in Blue Studios for starters. Also, see DuPlessis’s essay on Beverly Dahlen’s writing, “‘While These Letters Were A-Reading,’” in The Pink Guitar: Writing as Feminist Practice (New York:  Routledge, 1990), 116–17.