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Rachel Blau DuPlessis Life in Handkerchiefs (selection)

Life in Handkerchiefs is a work in 61 pages (completed in June 2017) all 8,5 x 11. Fabric, lace, artificial flower trimmings, vintage handkerchiefs, string, paper (including tickets, origami paper). Printed on white paper and some colored paper with collaged materials.
This is a collage-poem 61 pages long. It is loosely a progress through life, with the emphasis on a female life, especially given the suggestiveness of hankies as charming accessory that is now a little old-fashioned.  I had quite a number of handkerchiefs from family and tag sales, accumulated over the years. But I also I put out a little “call” and got random responses from friends and acquaintances and was quite pleased to have some more things/bits of the “medium” [hankies] to choose from. I decided to use at least one scrap from every person who has given/donated any hanky materials to this project. And I did. This is very like my 1979 essay “For the Etruscans,” in which I tried a collective authorship in a modified way, using every citation in response that people in that seminar sent to me.
Who can say what this work is about? Well, the title does allude very loosely to Lyn Hejinian’s My Life, and I was aware of this, making as a tip of the hat to that work. But it is really our lives, times and gender, mainly female. Men do, and still do, use handkerchiefs, of course, but there is a particular odd charm to all the very femme hankies we used to have, and get gifts boxes of, use both every day and for special pretty occasions. The work is compounded of sense of talismans—because people like me had saved them for years—and loss, decay (rips, holes, worn-ness) and the wonder of the pretty (why not have a pretty flower embroidered in your life?), while also blood, mucus and dirt may gather on them. Is this the work where I come to terms with and forgive the “feminine”? where I work through my ambivalence to the feminine as an ideology?
In fact, I just showed this work to some friends and one said something that moved me—the work made her sad. I was stunned, because it is also a very bright and cheerful collection, and when I managed to ask her why, she said exactly what had motivated me: the sense of loss (of objects, people, time), the sense that things get stained, ripped, broken, the quantity of one small personal life and memory that can be compressed or encoded into these little “nothing” objects. It is quite evocative and poignant.







Rachel Blau DuPlessis. In 2017, her Days and Works (which she describes as re-folded Hesiod with newspaper clippings) came out from Ahsahta Press; the collage poem Graphic Novella was published by Xexoxial Editions in 2015. And the full-length collage-poem Numbers is forthcoming in 2018 from Materialist Press.
/ | © alligator 2017