"Alice ordered me to be made": As deconstruction of hearts or,- a hand of broken sonnets.

Susana Gardner

(Alice ordered me to be made, The Yellow Press, 1975)

The sea stood apart 
              she bewitched her
shining eyes

"Alice ordered me to be made" the title poem of the book as well as the starting section or suite of 9 poems. "Alice ordered me to be made" is also a hand, or 5 broken sonnets, a quint of hearts. The sonnets vary in lay-out, though are all consistently fragmented and scattered in the display of what most readers expect or conceive as a sonnet in delivery, as if in a seaming or threading throughout in what appears to have been an exercise to write out of something, or on the cuff, whether it be to keep writing, or for distraction or jest, like card playing. The reader is carried hypnotically to the finish.


intricate ship

Thing well
in my heart

"Alice ordered me to be made"

Waltz to Repel Invaders

machinery was in use by carving jade

bolts of silk instead of memory

at first they made only small,
ritual chopsticks

old rags to supplement advice

the heartlands and the furniture

the mist tiny human
bloodties study the first

throughout the rose
to prominence

The title is undoubtedly a part of the first sonnet, as is the dedication at the end of the fifth. Broken upon the page visually as free verse, the sequence can be measured roughly, in 5 fourteen line, 10 syllabic sonnets. Furthering the theme at hand, of the five broken sonnets of which hearts are contained in every section. 3 contain hearts explicitly, of the two that do not, one has a reverse and a pardon, both card tricks. The other references to the Trojan horse and soldiers elicit Helen, also known as the Queen of Hearts. Hearts is a game of trickery, as are Alice's broken sonnets. In the other sonnets hearts as hearts are explicit and thus obvious as the sequence unfolds, weaving itinerant stars, history, seeing, and less explicit references of Queens, Helen, Queen of Hearts and Athena, the “Angle/ round” Queen of Spades (the only non-heart in the game, Hearts). Spade as tool for unearthing, spade which uncovers the past, the intricate strata of time, allowing for an understanding of which becomes as analytic and philosophic as it is poetic unveiling how ‘it’ is and perhaps illuminating how ‘we’ might want or hope it to be.


                        lilaceous bus of the Missouri 
or an injury,  lights and darks reversed 
tend to attract affection, the 
shaft of a column constricted part- 
tooth to caress in love 
a body useful in combination 
how could you? the pardon with 
cosmetics over rocks out- 
guessing outside the rings, 
an act of shicking outskirts

Sound of a word tic waters. 
Of certain fabrics surface so 
formed, fine hair, downy, any 
of several American 
gooseflesh. A plain de- 
tached window openings. 
And saved to be sewn to- 
gether. And West Africa 
And black. horse. Angle 

In the weaving/spinning of the future-past of the poem, Notley ties together all time/s, weaving together myth as well as past and present & solidifies meaning true, for-telling and predicting a new poetic future, as well as her own poetic journey in turn. Travel, seas and ships appear throughout the sequence, also foreshadowing the appearance of Athena with her Neolithic origins as Goddess, Moon-Goddess, Creator of all things, Athena who was also known as Pallas, sonically evoking Alice, as in the story of Pallas Athena: as one myth goes, Athena killed her father, known as Pallas, thereby taking his name as epithet. I once met Alice in DC where she read at the Shakespeare Folger theatre, during which she described a very vivid feeling and/or vision where she had a direct shot of heroin or morphine to her forehead, in which visions of the world, all evil, powerful and unwieldly poured forth. At once Athena and Zeus, at once Alice and her dying father, as an very amazing and unique embodiment of Goddess stronger than the God as he feared she would be, thus the reason he swallowed her mother after sleeping with her. The God births his own daughter Athena, from his forehead. And she succeeds him. In relation to her own father, this sequence seems to vindicate that in death her father´s spirit will not be lost as she is him as much as he is her. Athena, patroness of weaving, Athena, protectress, representative of war, typically shown in full armor, bird-goddess, Athena, The Goddess, he the, Athena, with bright sharp eyes of the owl, Athena, weaver of fate. War appears among hearts, heartlands, initial markings of cards or language on chopsticks (as cards which originated in China) scattered throughout the sonnets among porcelain, stars, bloodties and roses (roses in some decks also represent hearts), and the ever vigilant watching of the watcher, Athena, Athene, Pallas Athena, Athene: Alice... Machinery is also indicative of Athena, patroness of weaving and crafts, the bird, the strange dance of the Gods, of battle, especially if a standard waltz at ¾ time, or the American version even, which involves breaking contact almost entirely. What is at once broken and shattered must be once again culled up, re-pieced and received and uncovered thus grounding and reifying the power, craft and usefulness of the broken sonnet. Lights and darks, the reds and blacks of the deck, a reverse. The owl appears again, nestled against branch and twig. And later, for me "Angle round" elicits the spade. The rogue but expert traveler as well as the beholder of the minoan labrys/ax Athena wields as she is born from the head of Zeus. Athena, patroness of weaving, Athena, who allies herself with the owl. This is also again evident in later works, Alma for example.

            and tell me 
twist amorphous 
flesh or dust to muscle, I 
mean if the leaves plant 
the Trojan War does the 
key wide true does the 
pretender smell God? 
As the twig is bent 
I nestle 
to retrace the radiant 
puddle of all remarks. Ravish 
raw hay thaw theater 
He was presumptuous enough to call 
the president by his first name: 
lost leaves. I had an impulse to 
strike all vaccinations 
but I leak too many burning 
of human affection 

The Spade, or the death card, the card not necessarily significant of death in and of itself, but change. Birth=Life=Death and then rebirth as Virgin-Mother-Crone ideology. Trickery. War. Stealth. Seething. The Trojan war. Horse. Black. Horse ( which are incidentally also found historically on war cards) cards used as recent as the Vietnam war as well as the current US lead Afghanistan and Iraqi wars. And then there is the Helen of Troy, Queen of Hearts. The pretender/s, those hiding in the horse, soldiers, so ingrained is their patriotism, that yes they think war, especially this particular war (whichever that might be) would be worthy of God, the watcher, variably extricating, unloosening, ever-watching, ever-changing, stars.


as warriors take position
thousands of them
as leaves and flowers appear in their season
hearts burning to break them
singers without memory
curved sea wandering the wild
where silver is first begotten
a thing shameful but bringing joy to the enemy
Colorful utter foolishness and utter sense
supposedly work well miracles together.
A miracle: not the crown jewels
are forbidding, but that per-
sonally who stars

I wicked as a lens or wine or legendary queen

shimmering lets fall a light
tear. Did this ever happen?

Poet as seer allows herself to show vulnerability as well as an awareness of her power in illustrating how she sees. She-owl, protectress, she Athene suddenly possible betrayer and she-enemy to even herself. That in we a greater possibility of loyalty as well as betrayal is begotten.


  She who is only a little thing 
first. The shining wine and
pleasuring the heart. Divine salt to light the ship, sacro- 
sanct, we are all held in a single honor, light as the 
strip. But around my own 
shelter and beside my black ship 
I think. 
I wicked as a lens or wine or legendary queen 
                          A libation to 
the divine Dawn, the 
lovely-haired flashes, the 
inward heart, circle and 
spear; the stars have gone far on their course 
         sounds rose 
         Dawn rose         
         the wearisome goddess 
         incessant rose 
         difficultly wrought iron 
         storm of 
         dust rose 
         the fire´s rush 
Single one sheer. Bless 
darkness and brazen slumber. 
    The sea stood apart 
            she bewitched her 
shining eyes. Shamefastedness 
and lovely with a veil pattern- 
pierced zone 
tears like a dark running 
sheer is the heart 
my love loves me. 
                                              Near my father dying in hospital 
                                              April 1975 

The distinction somehow weighs out collectively in greater justice and its subsequent truth and beauty. What ends the sequence, the little thing, the she who has become mythic and mesmerizing re-settles once again into the world of we, mortal, serving a libation, “she wicked as a lens or wine or legendary queen” She wicked and she wicked, whether that be mischievous or malevolent, or whether that be the threaded, braided fibers which provide light, both provoking, and eternally relevant. The shining eyes persevere, the shining eyes, “well” “Bless darkness and divine slumber.” The shining eyes also illustrate the gross and wild unknowingness and responsibility of the poet, on a mythic level, on a realistic level, not sacrificing truth for beauty, nor beauty for truth—our transparent heart.

Constellation: Alice Notley
[#] Birkbeck Centre for Poetics
[#] Openned Video Constellation of Readings
[#] Return to “Intercapillary Space” Notley Contents page

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