This Plot, This Place

Pansy Maurer-Alvarez

“It is a case of dislocation, getting separated every night.” is the opening line of Alice Notley’s poem 'This Plot' from her collection In The Pines (Penguin, 2007). I read this poem as addressing connections of various kinds: emotional, geographical and linguistic. The poet connects with or feels disconnected from specific people (e.g. “the beloveds,” “Mme. Caizergues”) and “places” (e.g. “Boulevard Magenta,” “a book in English”) through physical presence, language, memory, thought, dream and love. Alice Notley is keenly aware of her physical surroundings and in her work she regularly mentions places where she lives/ has lived, in particular, California, New York and Paris. In 'This Plot,' some of the places where she connects or is separated from others are: Europe, downtown New York, a pharmacy in Paris. Siberia enters the conversation at the pharmacy to express how cold the day is. But not all the places can be found on a map and many are in the mind, memory and dream: such as “... at an airport, then on a highway, then later awake through the day. I won’t find you in any of these books, so what good is prose?” Place is nowhere and everywhere simultaneously, “Where are the people I love? Where am I? No one is where she thinks she is, and there is no absolute geography. I never know when I’ll discover that I can’t find you, that you aren’t here. Or that somehow you are.” Language is another means of connection or communication in the poem, as she worries about getting the right word (“so am I recepteur? recepteuse? No, receptive.”) And it is through language that she makes the final connection in the poem, with the kind pharmacist Mme. Caizergues.

In choosing a particular poem by Alice Notley to write a “response” to (I’m not sure how accurate I find that term), I was initially attracted to the poem 'Immigrants' which directly precedes 'This Plot' in the collection. In that poem Alice Notley is an immigrant speaking of other immigrants in Paris; I was an immigrant first in Switzerland, then after becoming a Swiss citizen and living there for many years, I moved to Paris and became an immigrant all over again. Place is big in my awareness, too. But while reading In The Pines I became more and more caught up with the geographical, emotional and linguistic connections addressed in 'This Plot.' I chose to concentrate on the linguistic aspects of living outside one’s country in my prose sonnet “Archaeology of the Living Component, These Syllables.”

Pansy Maurer-Alvarez
Zürich, July 2008

a prose sonnet for Alice Notley

Brokenhearted, clairvoyant and shrill, the old dream with the watchful eyes
now appears raw and ungrammatical. The rain is dream, the ache is real.
I can’t stop to analyze the spoken word here, I’m hurrying down the street
with my words still fragile, shiny and wet. In the dream I bend over a blue
armchair, I descend the métro steps at Poissonnière, and each moment a new
thought opens into its own sounds. Without imposing boundaries on
coherency, I let these acoustic relations fill my dailiness and you could record
them if you wanted to make them scientific and lasting.
                                                                                I keep returning to
the place of the poems, despite unrelenting loss of the mother tongue. I don’t
believe those CNN accents anymore. My language of grammar and other
memories is not that childhood sound I hear if my brother phones. That’s not
the way I’d say it. According to the American publisher, I can’t be described.

At la Place de Barcelone, Christian's Swiss German dialect mixes with my
American English: his emphatic consonants, my long ropes of Rs, the dark Ls.

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

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