Rachel Blau DuPlessis Draft 111: Arte Povera

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It’s all impossible
the gesture impossible
the language impossible
the suture impossible:

a feather bead
                                        kept in a useful bundle, with
                                        one thing after another, mica, baby teeth,
                                        satin fabric, weathered pebble, twine,
                                        each layer wrapped and rapt.
                                        A veritable vertigo of


One and one and one make 111
by some calculi. Some tumuli.
Some cumulus or cumuli.
A house of clouds, its corridor
“shells, feathers, mirror, glass,
seaweed, sand and cut paper,”
opened onto a similarly
encrusted room.


In the world as such
DNA dumplings
(with thin skin wrapped around them)
spatter recklessly
(unwittingly? uncannily?)
because of randomized events
in a politics of explosion.

How then?
Shaking with the instability
of calculations,
more in anger than in fear
one “shows one’s work.”

This is written entirely on off-cuts.
an internal translation of itself
marking shards with mackle.

It’s true the work must be redone.
This time scribbling mirror-wise,
an addition(al) problem
with uncountable vectors.


Suppose after all this, one just listed
house, book, mug, window,
daughter, dogs (gone), desk, Apple ™.
Suppose it was budded tree limb, hair-thread fingers—
the baby oak in spring, rain “heavy at times,”
and the cleared branches of fall, suppose
yellow gusting in a greeny-pinkish light,
a dark red pear leaf blown into the room,
suppose a salvaged shmoo-like basil plant
eager, even in winter, to give pesto,
or a fondness, a warmth, eros
blue as the sky, could it be otherwise?
the apt healing of a wound, even with
its startling scar—
unaccountable enumerations:
the oddly glistening, the half-started language.
The half-startled. Twisting together
choice exemplars of exquisite debris:
“a cigar label, a metal buckle, a ballpoint pen,
a bottle cap, a bolt, a hair curler,
a drafting compass, a plastic bottle,
yellow tape, aluminum foil, drinking straws,
green paper,
broken blue glass.”


Would this be enough?
What would be enough?
It is never enough.

The task is unfinished,
the persons, unfinished.
The structure is unfinished.

Verso becomes a promise to turn back.

The sum total of “old furniture, planks and upside-down drawers, cardboard cutouts,
scraps of insulation board, discarded light bulbs, jelly glasses, flower vases, hollow cardboard cylinders, mirror fragments,” with foil sheets of gold and silver covering it all.


When she had no canvas,
she took the wooden back
from a broken dresser drawer,
a board spotted, stained with dirt and with streaks
of paint jobs, color of the walls,
and painted a rag she saw hanging from the window
painted looking out from her window:
wall of brick and saturated rag hung limp,
the spots of grey, the grey spots on the board of the dresser
are now the snow falling, dirty, through the city.


It’s little things—a turquoise baby ring,
a shirt, upholstery tacks, cancelled stamps,
a box, a yellowing obit, and memories
of disasters of the past, or simply fountain pens,
or paper scraps with the writing
of the dead, or lists,
to speak of sheer lists,
that don’t recognize
themselves as offering an outline
of rescue, of witness, and of care—
What can be done with them?

Part of the strangeness of writing,
the despair of it,
its ridiculous pretense,
and its nobility – is —
no song nor chime can be proposed
to animate regrets so small,
twisted and suffused
with our enormity.

The sound of this
is far more jagged, more like chunks:
“lilting Sprechstimme, synth dub interruptions,
howling tapecut-ups, and dust-bundles
of fuzz, static, and noise.”
“You will know
that you will never know.”


Could list cloud-names
for the world’s puff,
wisp, nacre and elegance,
moving above the world’s implacable substance,
billowing over death, joy, rage,
lies, irreducible fractions
—over it all.
Poetry is not the goal.
The goal
is something smaller,
something more direct.
It doesn’t seek for “poetry”
as overarching rubric name.

Wants simply to be present to itself,
neither to slide into astronomical despair,
nor into minutiae and only those,
(“shirt collars, sample skeins
of embroidery thread,
rubber bands, shoelaces
and old darned socks”),
but still the stuff still shines.
It accumulates scintillation.
It is impossible to avoid
fractions of joy.


Get all this down in time,
the collecting and sorting,
the car mirror smashed, the gusts of trash,
the candy wrappers on the street
bright with sweetish silvery-paper shine
against concrete.
And “metal, glass, neon, slate,
wax, earth & wood,” facing
“air, wax, mirrors, lead,
newspaper, neon, pipe, and fabric”—
each mirroring each.


Runnymede, Mnemosyne, a little brook
a little book, a little brucha,
a la-dee-da, a deed, you nested idioms
you vestiges, you remains,
these assemblages for
mixing things and words,
the ledges and ledgers,
the noman-dic measures
of sheer blessing,
the orange sun,
the storm/orage,
the orange moon:

you are instructed by the inner voice to
“bring all this with you into the silent room”

and also to carry a messier collect:
“scrap metal, off-cuts of wood,
broken machine parts, torn fabrics, buttons and coins.”



present themselves
as if prescient
about their own responsibility
to resist abandonment.
They will address
the imprint of our time:
interpreting its murky path
with the force of their postulates
about the unfinished.

We have an unreckonable fleshy pile
of the damages.
We have an unrecognizable fleshy pile
of the damages.
We have the cantata of anguishes,

“the enigmatic sigil of more, for, there, now, without, not, if, already, save, who, I, when, neither, henceforth, he, beforehand, ah!, et cetera, etc.” and/or “le sigle énigmatique de plus, car, là, or, sans, pas, si, déjà, sauf, qui, je, quand, ni, désormais, il, auparavant, eh!, et caetera, etc.”

December 2011-April 2012

Notes to Draft 111: Arte Povera
Section 1. The full citation is “Her assemblages are constructed of both found and fabricated materials, ranging from lockers, cupboards, and wineglasses to plywood and knitted wire.” Dorothy Cross, Power House, Philadelphia ICA exhibit, 1991. One word remains. Section 2. Brochure for A La Ronde, House of Shells, A 376 in the direction of Exmouth, South-east of Exeter, England. Section 3. “Internal translation,” a concept from Hölderlin, noted by Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Heidegger and the Politics of Poetry, trans. Jeff Fort (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2007), 69. Section 4. The “shmoo” is an amiable creature created by Al Capp in his L'il Abner comic strip. List of some of the many Wireman objects (slightly reorganized) from Brendan Greaves, “Bare Wires” in Philadelphia Wireman catalog, Fleisher/Ollman Gallery, 2011. Section 5. Smithsonian Museum of American Art’s description (slightly cut) of the materials in James Hampton’s ca. 1950-64 work The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly, Washington D.C. Section 6. The artist mentioned is Alice Neel. Section 7. The “lilting Sprechstimme...,” by John Corbett on David Grubbs—found in my folder for Draft 35: Verso, but have no idea where it comes from. There is also a citation from Maurice Blanchot, Writing the Disaster, 82. Section 8. “Shirt collars...,” part of the list of Sheila Hicks’s materials; Joan Simon, from Simon and Susan Faxton, Sheila Hicks: 50 Years, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010, 112. Section 9. “Metal, glass...,” Tate Modern description on internet of Zero to Infinity, Arte Povera 1962-1972; “air, wax, mirrors...,” Walker Art Gallery description of materials in the same show. Section 10. From a Quaker pamphlet found at Briggflatts. And “scrap metal...” from Roger Cardinal and Gwendolen Webster, Kurt Schwitters, Kurt Schwitters: A Journey Through Art (Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz, 2011), 39. Section 11. “the enigmatic sigil ...” and “le sigle énigmatique...,” Jacques Derrida, Signéponge/ Signsponge, trans. Richard Rand (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984), 118-119. This poem is on the “line of 16.”
[A further note from RBD: there is a slight difference in the translations between the Italian and the French. Renata Morresi translated the version of Draft 111 without the Shmoo (a cartoon character) in section 4. Auxeméry translated the version with the Shmoo — it is a matter of one line. This came about because the author changed her mind between the English version that Morresi used, as published first in Feminist Studies, and the English version that Auxeméry used, the version that became final, as published in Surge: Drafts 96-114.]

Draft 111: Arte Povera. In Surge: Drafts 96-114. Salt Publishing (www.saltpublishing.com), 2013.
© Rachel Blau DuPlessis and Salt Publishing, 2013
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