Alice Notley revels in poetics of disobedience
April 22, 2015 at 4:45 p.m.
"Get rid of all controls is what the Soul keeps screaming."
So states a line in Alice Notley's "Disobedience." The book reveals a notion of excess in life and in poetry central to what Notley has called the poetics of disobedience.
I am carrying around about 10 books of poetry by Notley in a tote bag. The average book of poetry is six inches wide and nine inches tall. None of the books I carry are that size, and very few of their pages feature neat columns of lines with just a few or several words in them. Notley's books are tall, wide, oversized and words burst out "the Soul keeps screaming" beyond prescribed boundaries.
Notley will be the final speaker in the spring 2015 University of Houston-Victoria/American Book Review Reading Series. She will read from noon to 1 p.m. Thursday in the Alcorn Auditorium at UHV University West, 3007 N. Ben Wilson St. The reading is free and open to the public.
Notley's rebellion begins with "The Descent of Alette," a work many readers consider originary.
"It was for me an immense act of rebellion against dominant social forces, against the fragmented forms of modern poetry, against the way a poem was supposed to look according to both past and contemporary practice," she said.
In her books that push against reality, both internally - through the mind, dream and psychology - and externally, the world as something, often, to reject whole and clear, Notley creates poetry like nothing else. In confrontation with work that does not conform to what we already know, the reader joins the poet and becomes disobedient, head full of "soaring icons and the words of all the living and all the dead, [the reader] sees and listens to it all and never lets on that there's all this beautiful, almost undifferentiation, inside - everything equal and almost undemarcated in the light of fundamental justice."
In other words, the world is flow, and we tend to filter it and organize it as neatly as we can. But what if we experience it as flow, as a whole whose parts swirl us around? In Notley, we find the flow scary, thrilling, mysterious, humorous and full of everything that we are but don't often let ourselves be.
The flow of the world becomes the cry of the poem, whose language is barely, or sometimes not, able to keep up with thought, as in "Reason and Other Women." She writes,
"swirling center became the altar changing stillness there must be a bright core a the
ruby light place the true singular one. the city in the center always in a sort of motion
is the real city always in motion."
We readers manage to catch the ride, to learn to be always in motion with Notley and to go on. We benefit from the thrill of that motion and from a subsequent enlargement of our consciousness, not only of the poem, but of the world around us.
Alice Notley has lived in Bisbee, Needles, San Francisco, Bolinas, Chicago, London and New York. Often associated with "New York School" poets, she cannot be contained in any school.
Since 1992, she has lived in Paris, often solitary, writing. When not writing, she has a life as a citizen, devouring the news of her locality and of the world, as fuel to what eventually becomes a stance in the world and part of which results in poetry. Her rewards for her work are many, yet it is we, the readers and friends who witness her poetry, who reap the greatest reward.
Charles Alexander is the University of Houston-Victoria poet and designer in residence, and director of the Master of Fine Arts in creative writing program. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.