Rachel Blau DuPlessis reads from Late Work and Around the Day in 80 Worlds

 

I’d been wanting to get Rachel Blau DuPlessis on my blog for a long time. In Philly at Temple University in the mid-seventies where I was studying Latin, French and Spanish, I heard her read a sparrow poem inspired by Catullus that has always stuck with me. Finally, via Zoom, a few weeks ago, I  recorded her reading from her recent book, Late Work. Her years as a scholar and teacher—and every good teacher is taught by her students as much as she teaches them; it’s very win-win—have given her unique insights as a poet into the possibilities of precisely meaning what she says. She knows her words, and I for one savor them and am appreciative. “Poetry is wit and seriousness, and all sorts of things,” Rachel says. It is also a lot of fun, which I think you will discover in the Vimeo below. Enjoy.

 

 

The poems in Late Work are long—ars longa, vita brevis; each could be its own chapbook—and have been written over a span of years. The poem below, “Useful Knots and How to Tie Them,” was begun in 2007 and finished in 2018. Just seeing the title, I was drawn to the poem because as a child it took me forever to learn to tie my shoes. Perhaps I was lazy or simply enjoyed having whoever was around do it, but as first grade approached, it was decided by the higher ups that I would have to do it on my own. I’m not sure when exactly I did learn—that trauma has blurred over time though I remember an aunt in particular becoming frustrated and telling me how stupid I was, a voice that I continue to hear from time to time whenever I falter and think how stupid I am so I approached this poem with the hope of learning something. Like a piece of rope, “Useful Knots and How to Tie Them,” is taut, loosens up and gets tangled at the end. Like a piece of rope it is long, and begins with very short lines, sometimes just a word or two that stretch across pages. It looks like what it is, a rope that from time to time grows into longer lines, a slack in its length that can be tied into a knot out of a loop or a bight as it is also called, a word I never knew before. Knots, like poems, come out of thoughts, a yearning in the mind that is finally created by the fingers, twisted or typed, opposites that are brought together and tied, a matter of facts: knots and poems hold and can be held, relied on. What starts in the mind by design is physically there after time, abstract before concrete:

………………..it was all there
………………..although also all air.

There is meaning, a word that is also its sound drawing us into hearing what is understood playfully intelligent and invented as this poet goes along. There is yearning and there is yarn.

 

Useful Knots and How to Tie Them



The medium
There is yearn, then there is yarn.
A strand is strung
from a number of yearns
twisted together.
Rope is twined
in a long building
by pulling cordage
out of sheer matter
in the endless twists of
how it matters, that it matters.
And what matters.
Space stands in for time.
Stringently.
 
The Overhand Knot
The overhand is
the simplest and smallest
of all knot forms
and the beginning
of many more difficult ones.
 
Instruction. Or Failure
This is one more lump
of the humped rope
inarticulate, snarled.
Stand ambiguates bight,
end-skeins twist.
Quick or careless tightening
results in a useless tangle.
If you do not follow the pattern,
you may get a different knot.
Even no knot at all.
 
Older Traction Points
Climbing
up fibrous ladders
and rope sways together,
you, and me, and others, specific,
needy, all unsortable,
there the ropy sway of acrobatic mountaineers
corded together, strung in a line,
toggled, cramponed.
And the climbing.
And the holding.
Bare ruinous coirs
threading athwart time.
There is everything to begin.
But it seemed as if nothing can or will or could
(tense problem)
begin.

Comradeship
It is node of
tightened snags;
is a knot garden;
is a splay of quipu;
it is many-colored shimmers drawn
with embroidery silks
around padding for trapunto;
it is “a more or less complex, compact intersection
of interlaced cord, ribbon, rope or the like.”
It is a power bundle
of peerless conjure and conjecture.
Impossible to do one metaphor only
given the sheer joy.
Of being like this.
But eventually one wakes
shaking out those silver streamers
from the nub, examining
their beauty, regarding them
suspiciously. Yet always
a little fondly.
Other moments
stayed vivid
in such flashes
as shoelaces.
Shoelaces!
As such!
What little tie will hold
when you are brought
to this edge?

The Fisherman’s Knot
Strings follow knots,
knots demand strings,
and journeys capitulate
to restlessness.
Sounds start how-where
in birds, chk-warble,
or in the poetic silences
of not-real fish flickering,
but they exist for you only
when you hear them or see them—
a problem of consciousness in the world.
For if you began thinking
of real birds, real fish,
actual water enchained and linked to actual air,
that is, of really being here,
then your sense of implication,
of perhaps infinite otherness, would become
quite a bit more complicated.
Now seeing at least two
separate lines clearly,
should we tie them?
To tie, lay the two ends together
each pointing in the opposite direction.
Tie an overhand knot in the end of each
around the standing part of the other.
When drawn tight
the two knots slide together
and will not slip.
This will hold different strings
and extend them by
reciprocal pressures along the juncture.
The many times we want to use this
might surprise you.

The Cat’s-Paw
A forty-five-foot train runs like a river
from her Red Dress.
Foldings and loopings of material
matter
more than rufflings,
though there are rutchings
a-plenty.
Then there is sheer
length to consider.
One is forced to reflect
on a Dress that Big.
Extent is flooded by its flag-bright color,
a singing carmine poured, pooling in sunlight.
If I were an engineer
I would schedule
site assessments,
public hearings,
maybe (though conceding
nothing) recalibrations.
But even without them, the ambition is clear.
A high wind roars in the valley of the seam.
The Cat’s-Paw is a hook hitch for heavy loads.
One grasps the two bights held well apart
twisting each away from you.
The strength occurs
in the double twist
and the oppositional direction
of their bearings.
The two loops thus pivoted into form
are brought together, tensile, vivid
and placed over one hook.

The walk on a blocked path
Itchy.
Itchy as the raw brown twine is
with the key strung around on my neck.
I walked along the obstructed path.
There was a drop on one side.
Twig piles and shagged-off branches
had been left thickly piled
to prevent more erosion.
But this
became a further impediment, a tangle
crisscrossed and cracking under foot.
Snakes hid in the side patches,
I, banging with a peeled stick
from the same woods
in which I was enmeshed.
I tripped. I pitched down.
I blamed myself.

Being
………………………………….a) in the middle
………………………………….of a woods, a
………………………………….wayward one,
………………………………….I, wayward,
………………………………….would design a way
………………………………….with words,
………………………………….but only stuttering
………………………………….way-off words.
………………………………….b) steadfast with the key still
………………………………….hung around my neck
………………………………….the twine-itch making a rash
………………………………….as I walked the key
………………………………….to the hidden mailbox
………………………………….with its little keyhole
………………………………….to see what was there.

Thus
The two struggled by design.
Neither could see the witless
witness, affirm the with-ness they denied,
though they were two ends
of the same rope,
wrestling with
themselves
locked into, snarled up and
roused beyond by power and by
seeking it. Or seeking
to be overcome
by contact and searing.

Cross and Twist
Is this possible—
being given, and driven by the knot?
this set of tracks
these woven intersections, intricate lines,
the turn and fold,
and the monumental desire and failure?
The ropes are scrolls
the scrolls are ropes,
Their rubric words remain bright red.
And these almost invisible bumps and swellings?
Nodules of commentary.
 
Any Regrets?
It was all necessary,
the desire, the loss, the itch, the anger,
the impossible push,
the separated cartilage.
And what now?
Acknowledge
that it was all necessary?
Or just refuse to concede?
 
String Theory
Inside there are three thick knots
by which one’s past is tied:
carrick bend
(for heavy ropes
that cannot be tightened by hand)
sheet bend
(unties easily
without injuring rope fibers)
and sheepshank
(used to shorten rope).
So bright and clear
in this billowy air,
there is no sense of solidity,
no sense of crux or knot.
Yet it is all knot,
knots to which one is apprenticed,
knots pulling contradictions tight,
spun solids spiraling into void,
wads of matter,
the efficiency of the splice,
the memorable torque:
it was all there
although also all air.
 
Another Metaphor
In the closet
the basket falls over.
nineteen spools of silky thread–
all the faded colors that chance had left here–
have rolled into a corner
noisily
on those old wooden spools
the way they knock about and ricochet
down the already tangled
warp of strangeness
pink notions, green cotton
mercerized,
thick black coat thread
a few pearly shirt buttons thrown in,
a hook, an eye, an allegory, a clew,
ball of old yarn rolled out
and traveling toward the center of the labyrinth.
Yards of yarn
loops of line,
texted and tangled
the wild loose threads, their unintended knots.
How did they manage such a colorful mix
from random thread spools knocking together in corners?
How could we not honor this urge for entanglement?
And intransigence—the thing that ties double knots.
Meaning that: First things are tied, then untied,
first raveled, then unraveled,
a joke
like flammable and inflammable.
So bound by the twine
that unwound in this labyrinth
quickened by the mystery of maze
we get tightened anew in the center of words,
clotted like blood and snared at the core
of former days.
……………………June-October 2007; November 2015, July 2018

Late Work is published by Black Square Editions. You can check it out here:
https://www.blacksquareeditions.org/product-page/late-work-by-rachel-blau-duplessis

 

Around the Day in 80 Worlds is published by BlazeVOX. You can check it out here:
https://www.spdbooks.org/Products/9781609643058/around-the-day-in-80-worlds.aspx

 

Rachel Blau DuPlessis, 2021. Photo by Ron Silliman

 

Here is an interview with Rachel Blau DuPlessis about her work:

https://www.asymptotejournal.com/visual/rachel-blau-duplessis-on-portals-poems-and-collage/

 

 

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