Words for Alice Notley

Lisa Samuels

The following poems might function as a commentary on how Alice Notley and her poetry have affected me in the last ten years. I first read Margaret & Dusty and then read more of her poems on the occasion of a visit she made to Wisconsin in 2001, when I lived there. I was moved to write to her in 2003-04 when I was pregnant with my son. My reading of her poetry is liberating, so that I feel permitted in a transmutation of Robert Duncan’s ‘place of first permission,’ as though Alice’s poetry provides a writing body of first permission. That might explain why it was very easy to send her - whom I scarcely knew, personally - emails about how pregnancy was changing me.

Alice’s front-line witnessing, the body put forward into social space and dailyness and western ideologies, the person as verbal self absolutely self-permitting, is a powerful model for a writer like I usually am, transacted by literary imaginaries. As though I could walk out of the linguistic mirror and into the social dream where we are naked and not be so terrified because writing is the medium bridge. I think that bridge is why my reading of her poetry comes out as writing back. I mean a poem like ‘A Metaphysics of Emotion’, where she encrypts the diagonals of intercourse and death into a floating sense of self that both buffers and delivers her as a speaking writer, that poem has the imagination on the street. It makes me want to both write back and to take the time to speak with her in person whenever we have the chance.


Your tongue lightly stroking the words
impediment, slurred speech knows that
I cannot talk here cannot
say the telephone or other wedge
that keeps me from your door
the city is so keyed, so innumerable
such lovely vestments in the fine machinery
of your waters, little blue stripes, little ladies
swell and beach themselves on the truss

I crept to your door and waited until the last one left
her hands held out behind her wringing
I crept up as you took the telephone in your hand
and you put it down again saying how we do these things
I said please
you took the scarf knot off of my neck
and my held fell backwards
off the idea of entrapment, whose small idea’s
hardly waiting

Longing is a material circumstance
taking the genes and sifting them through the enormous
flowers we wear I have a hibiscus I have a bird of paradise
singeing out of my chest into the air beneath me
As I walk I have a straight-up glass of wine
whose edge I walk on as my feet traipse
toward the idea of your body lingering
with its petals flicked out to the imperium
by way of dockets, books, grief modules
that I pack in each of my pores and gently suck out
when in need of parturition

There’s the swamp of rooms
There’s the immediate circumstances of morality
they have nothing to do with flowers


We say an event never happens, accretions rather
but who is she rendering the aggregate as a multitude of
I voices? When we had lunch the waiter said we looked like family
the belief in the eyes always naked inside that brain
conveniently wielding one country for another, man the bridge

We get older and we want to be heard
the voice an echo chamber hollowing
and woman-tending we want to be heard
more chance of deception when the difference is small
but if you stitch it together she’ll be there

For the courage, who’s to say, of letting
your skin show the cartilage of broken state ideas,
the unhappy walk being not unhappy but a walk
as in a path in all directions self-belief could save the world

I myself am always exploding in the present
like an enormous quick flower
that’s the loosening of the voice I hear
the woman’s hand permitting by

Lisa Samuels, August 2008

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

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