2nd ANNUAL NAPOMO 30/30/30 :: DAY 8 :: MONTANA RAY ON ALICE NOTLEY
Alice Notley. Alice Notley. Alice Notley is a miracle worker. That much we know is true. I heard –from Rachel Zucker– she didn’t care where she published. See: the tightly wound ball of rage that is “As Good as Anything.” See here: “Written and judged by. Those befoibled guys / who think –you know– / the poetic moment’s a pocket in / pool; where can I publish it; what can / I do to my second or third wife now. / Nothing happens in Iowa, so / can I myself change here?”
Notley’s whole young life bled right into her poems. She didn’t hide the pain of being a young woman and an artist: she didn’t suck up the pain for the reward. She laughed at the reward. And at reward culture. And somehow she ends up being published by Penguin. Living in Paris and having wine for lunch. While her poems… Nurse sick kids. Suffer fevers. Dispense meds. Take pills and watch others take pills. Mourn. Confront America. Merge with nature and merge with the city. I’m so sick of models, but here is one life I would lead. I mean that. I don’t know Alice Notley personally. I’ve only asked her one question, when she visited Georgetown University while I was a student: did you write the book Mysteries of Small Houses in chronological order. She didn’t – it was someone else’s decision to arrange the poems chronologically.
But she did say, to write those poems she’d first put herself into a hypnotic trance, by which she’d enter her childhood house, which would act as a portal to other houses she’d lived in – thus allowing her to write about various times in her life, based on setting, with great immediacy. She says more on all that to CA Conrad here.
I’m moved as much by Notley’s validation of her own feelings/experiences as I am that she achieves this validation via disciplined experimentation. In Inferno, Eileen Myles says the New York incarnation of Alice Notley worked hard. Her work created one possible female voice, collaboratively with Anne Waldman and Bernadette Mayer, all three born in 1945. All praises! And, indeed, I feel I should emphasize the collaborative aspect of this voice – because it’s easy for women to be isolated, historically, as genius or beauty – thus taking power from the wave of liberation. If you know what I mean. I mean this cluster of women (along with other clusters, see this gorgeous group) opened the floodgates to what is our contemporary tidal wave of exciting feminist art.
Grave of Light is an excellent selection of Notley’s work from 1970-2005 — and I have returned to it as a student, poet, and teacher. As a teacher, I give kids and adults alike her Postcards from the early 80s, “Dear Fuckface, / Everyone thinks you’re / the Goddess of Compassion…How about some bucks, / Goddess Baby? any amount / above five I’d appreciate & / continue to light at your / altar the incense I steal / from the neo-Rocky Mountain / healthfood store. I / still like you either way, / Love, / Bubbles.”
In addition to the poems, I give my students actual postcards and a time limit to write a Postcard poem from one character to another, following Notley’s enjambment as a formal guide. Enjambment can represent our faltering, impeded human thought process. As a poet, I spent a summer writing a poem everyday in the form of “At Night the States,” Notley’s poem of mourning for her first husband Ted Berrigan. I feel as though this process offered me much about the powerful combo. of repetition (method) and enjambment (disruption).
But back to the Postcard poems: Characters! Students of poetry need to learn to create characters! Need to imagine their way out of the psyche sometimes for the sake of Poetry— glutted as the poor genre is with half-ass self-expression. Notley is a master of character development by the time of Culture of One (2011), which I read looking at the ocean in Jamaica…as though it were a novel. In all my novel reading life, a voluptuous and frolicsome history, I don’t think I’ve seen characters as clearly as I saw Marie and Leroy! Notley’s “novel in poems” isn’t a novel so much as exploration of storytelling as that which a poem is capable of. And, you know what I learned from a friend who bumped into Alice Notley at Unnameable Books? I learned, Alice Notley, as I suspected, loves Faulkner.
At Night the States
At night the states I forget them or I wish I was there in that one under the Stars. It smells like June in this night so sweet like air. I may have decided that the States are not that tired Or I have thought so. I have thought that. At night the states And the world not that tired of everyone Maybe. Honey, I think that to say is in light. Or whoever. We will never replace You. We will never re- place You. But in like a dream the floor is no longer discursive To me it doesn't please me by being the vistas out my window, do you know what Of course (not) I mean? I have no dreams of wake- fulness. In wakefulness. And so to begin. (my love.) At night the states talk. My initial continuing contra- diction my love for you & that for me deep down in the Purple Plant the oldest dust of it is sweetest but sates no longer how I would feel. Shirt that shirt has been in your arms And I have that shirt is how I feel At night the states will you continue in this as- sociation of matters, my Dearest? down the street from where the public plaque reminds that of private loving the consequential chain trail is matters At night the states that it doesn't matter that I don't say them, remember them at the end of this claustro- phobic the dance, I wish I could see I wish I could dance her. At this night the states say them out there. That I am, am them indefinitely so and so wishful passive historic fated and matter- simple, matter-simple, an eyeful. I wish but I don't and little melody. Sorry that these little things don't happen any more. The states have drained their magicks for I have not seen them. Best not to tell. But you you would always remain, I trust, as I will always be alone. At night the states whistle. Anyone can live. I can. I am not doing any- thing doing this. I discover I love as I figure. Wed- nesday I wanted to say something in particular. I have been where. I have seen it. The God can. The people do some more. At night the states I let go of, have let, don't let Some, and some, in Florida, doing. What takes you so long? I am still with you in that part of the park, and vice will continue, but I'll have a cleaning Maine. Who loses these names loses. I can't bring it up yet, keeping my opinions to herself. Everybody in any room is a smuggler. I walked fiery and talked in the stars of the automatic weapons and partly for you Which you. You know. At night the states have told it already. Have told it. I know it. But more that they don't know, I know it too. At night the states whom I do stand before in judgment, I think that they will find me fair, not that they care in fact nor do I, right now though indeed I am they and we say that not that I've erred nor lost my way though perhaps they did (did they) and now he is dead but you you are not. Yet I am this one, lost again? lost & found by one- self Who are you to dare sing to me? At night the states accompany me while I sit here or drums there are alwavs drums what for so I won't lose my way the name of a personality, say, not California I am not sad for you though I could be I remember climbing up a hill under tall trees getting home. I guess we got home. I was going to say that the air was fair (I was always saying something like that) but that's not it now, and that that's not it isn't it either At night the states dare sing to me they who seem tawdry any more I've not thought I loved them, only you it's you whom I love the states are not good to me as I am to them though perhaps I am not when I think of your being so beautiful but is that your beauty or could it be theirs I'm having such a hard time remembering any of their names your being beautiful belongs to nothing I don't believe they should praise you but I seem to believe they should somehow let you go At night the states and when you go down to Washington witness how perfectly anything in particular sheets of thoughts what a waste of sheets at night. I remember something about an up-to-date theory of time. I have my own white rose for I have done something well but I'm not clear what it is. Weathered, perhaps but that's never done. What's done is perfection. At night the states ride the train to Baltimore we will try to acknowledge what was but that's not the real mirror is it? nor is it empty, or only my eyes are Ride the car home from Washington no they are not. Ride the subway home from Pennsylvania Station. The states are blind eyes stony smooth shut in moon- light. My French is the shape of this book that means I. At night the states the 14 pieces. I couldn't just walk on by. Why aren't they beautiful enough in a way that does not beg to wring something from a dry (wet) something Call my name At night the states making life, not explaining anything but all the popular songs say call my name oh call my name, and if I call it out myself to you, call mine out instead as our poets do will you still walk on by? I have loved you for so long. You died and on the wind they sang your name to me but you said nothing. Yet you said once before and there it is, there, but it is so still. Oh being alone I call out my name and once you did and do still in a way you do call out your name to these states whose way is to walk on by that's why I write too much At night the states whoever you love that's who you love the difference between chaos and star I believe and in that difference they believed in some funny way but that wasn't what I I believed that out of this fatigue would be born a light, what is fatigue there is a man whose face changes continually but I will never, something I will never with regard to it or never regard I will regard yours tomorrow I will wear purple will I and call my name At night the states you who are alive, you who are dead when I love you alone all night and that is what I do until I could never write from your being enough I don't want that trick of making it be coaxed from the words not tonight I want it coaxed from myself but being not that. But I'd feel more comfortable about it being words if it were if that's what it were for these are the States where what words are true are words Not myself. Montana. Illinois. Escondido.–Alice Notley from a “Grave of Light”
This summer I wrote a poem almost everyday in the form of “At Night the States”:
Tonight is deadstill,
no motion to October.
Except his heaving chest
& when he rises
he talks about the shadows.
Early morn, I’m buying coffee
in my nightgown & heels
while Manuel takes eggs
out of a plastic carton
& puts them in a wicker basket.
I’d rather be a warm cliché,
than hanging around
this overpriced grocery
Rumdrunk in Treasure Beach
I’m inhaling the balmy night. & Tanya Stephens
brings an inhaler on stage.
my malebodied local calls her,
“U don’t think she’s hard on men
bc u can’t understand her lyrics.”
Manhouse, more of a Manshare,
I want shelter
so hard the colors mash-up
the liquor store sign turns pink.
Asthmatic song, a tuggawar
do I pray or
administer the meds.
I sucked his dick in the bathrm.
last night & then he told me
to kiss my son as he was leaving
to keep my chaps shut.
I explained to the sitter
about the meds. I gave him a puff
before I left.
the sitter has nephews & nieces
who have asthma.
Asthmatic song, fantastic song
sing it to me back in BK,
while I type
to the sound of municipal workers
outside my window,
I’m closing in
on consciousness, burning
myself on it. Then I’m
“Mommy mommy mommy.”
I grab him
by the middle, “U have to sleep,”
I scream through grit teeth.
He was born
of my will to survive
& he sucks at air like he means to.
I don’t want this to be our story
just some feelings we walk through
like a sculpture garden.
The alternative is the playground,
& I hate the parents in the sandbox
who encourage their children
to possess a toy truck.
I’ll tell u where u can shovel
ur mindful parenting workshops.
What does it mean
to be undeveloped?
Well, u cd go in any direction
“What are you feeling?”
My son asks me all the time.
I cd feel this for no man
lover, I mean. The split between
what is good for me & loving u
& knowing too that loving u
is good for me, it must be.
Would I die for u? Do I
wish u were dead. I love u
like a raccoon.
It’s our little joke.
“My joke is a bird,” he said.
In her own words: “Montana Ray is a feminist — OMG enough already! She is also a mother and poet-translator and co-hosts the Brooklyn Ladies Text-based Salon.”
2nd Annual 30/30/30 Poetry Month Series:
DAY 7 :: JOEL ALLEGRETTI ON LEONARD COHEN
DAY 9 :: BIBI DEITZ ON LYRAE VAN CLIEF-STEFANON