February 26, 2012

Notley: Internalizing Vowels

Alice Notley madness (in the best sense of the word) is now over. And I'm having a bit of separation anxiety. Her lecture on The Descent of Alette was charged. She revealed she got an owl tattoo on her shoulder for her 60th birthday. She is Alette. She is not Alette. And started off the talk with "A dream is a fact." And yes, it is a fact in that it happened. But it is not an easily recorded fact in that the dream does not unfold in time and space in the way most of us experience other facts. When writing many of the sections, she closed her eyes and then used the "initiating image" that came to mind. She said of the quotations that "white space by itself was just not enough." The quotes added that extra space needed in order to slow down the reading of the text, in order to capture the "sound events." The "measure was a thinking tool," which I'm still trying to wrap my mind around, and she internalized the long and short vowels as a means of writing the lines. Of the feminist experience she noted, "I don't need to read about it, but I need to write about it."

What you might not know about Notley is that she has a terrific sense of humor. She said that Leslie Scalapino hated the poem, and Barrett Watten "could hear the quotation marks." Over meals she revealed lots of dirt about JKS. At one point, she said, I think I know why I am telling you all these secrets...you're the director and you need to know these things to understand the past.

I interviewed her about Culture of One. We discussed language, borders, and the multiplicity of the self. The book is a "codex...about identity," bricolaging the diverse objects/emotions/ideas/and characters in the text. It forwards that identity is not fixed: there is movement in a "monoculture"; there is fluidity and expansiveness.

At her poetry chat, I was most struck by these comments:

  • You can't just heal yourself, you have to heal others, too. What good is it to heal just you.
  • The longer Douglas Oliver was in France, the more foreign it became to him.
  • I started to feel like I didn't belong anywhere (on writing The Descent of Alette).
  • I'm not interested in writing the same style again and again.
  • Chick on acid, chick on acid, chick freaked out on acid (you had to be there, but it was within the context of Jimi Hendrix playing his guitar).
  • Songs distort language. Her example, the Kinks: "Girl, I want to be with you all of THE time. All day and all of the night."
  • Poetry is reality.

On Friday, she read from her latest books and "Two of Swords": for which a limited edition broadside was created by Instructor Julia Seko and the JKS students. Read more about it by one of the Bombay Ginners here. And there are still a couple left. Let me know if you'd like to buy one!

It was a full week of poetry. An intense and expansive opening for JKS community minds. And when I asked her how bricolage, collage, or theft influenced her work, she replied: Theft...it's how you learn, isn't it.