Purple Passages

Purple Passages

Pound, Eliot, Zukofsky, Olson, Creeley, and the Ends of Patriarchal Poetry

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“In Purple Passages, Rachel Blau DuPlessis again brings her considerable critical skills to bear on the implications of gender in poetry. Here, her focus is on contemporary poetry by men, but it is equally a book about the impact of nascent feminism on a generation of poets who forged homosocial bonds to reinforce beset masculinity or, perhaps more subtly, ward off moral panic. Purple Passages will be welcomed by longtime fans of DuPlessis’s other books and by new scholars of modernist poetry anxious to explore the gender politics of modern poets. It will also serve as a model of how feminist scholarship can—must—be adapted to the study of masculinity.”—Michael Davidson, author, Guys Like Us and Concerto for the Left Hand 

“In writing that nods to various ways her analyses mean and might mean, Rachel Blau DuPlessis’s Purple Passages is situated within a discussion current in U.S. poetry criticism—that is, it is a conversation among friends, some of whom are also poet-critics. Nevertheless, DuPlessis also writes within a more generalized U.S. critical language of literary and cultural studies. I appreciate that situatedness, just as I admire her assiduousness in mentioning, crediting, including, and writing in relation to recent relevant U.S. and U.K. critical work.”—Lisa Samuels, author, Mama Mortality Corridos and Anti M

What is patriarchal poetry? How can it be both attractive and tempting and yet be so hegemonic that it is invisible? How does it combine various mixes of masculinity, femininity, effeminacy, and eroticism? At once passionate and dispassionate, Rachel Blau DuPlessis meticulously outlines key moments of choice and debate about masculinity among writers as disparate as Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Louis Zukofsky, Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, and Allen Ginsberg, choices that construct consequential models for institutions of poetic practice.

As DuPlessis writes, “There are no genderless subjects in any relationship structuring literary culture: not in production, dissemination, or reception; not in objects, discourses, or practices; not in reading experiences or in interpretations.” And, as she reveals in careful and enthralling detail, for the poets at the center of this book, questions of masculinity loomed large and were continuously articulated in their self-creation as writers, in literary bonding, and in its deployment.

These gender-laden choices, debates, and contradictions all have a striking influence today. In this empathic yet critical historical polemic, DuPlessis reveals the outcomes of these many investments in the radical reconstruction of masculinity, in their strains, incompleteness, tensions—and failures. At the heart of modernist maleness and poetic practices are contradictions and urgencies, gender ideas both progressive and defensive.In a striking book on male behavior in poetic dyads, the third book in a feminist critical trilogy, DuPlessis tracks the poetic debates and arguments about gender that continuously affirm patriarchal poetry.