Happy Birthday Alice Notley

Alice Notley – Photograph by Alan Bernheimer

Happy Birthday, Alice Notley, dear Alice

“When I was in my early twenties, I modeled for George Segal, and he made a life-sized statue of me (there’s a photo on-line of Allen Ginsberg discovering it. He covered my warm, nude body (with head of course) with plaster. When the plaster dried, he had a beautiful accurate frozen likeness. He then, as he always did, created a natural setting for the plaster body as if it were alive” – Alice Notley to Claudia Keelan, January 2014 in The Volta – Photograph of Allen Ginsberg with George Segal’s installation, “Alice Notley Listening To Her Poetry and Music ” (1971) by Möntmann (Munich, 1977)

Alice Notley is “always imaginative in exploring her thought paths, always generous with sympathies, always writing without regard to prominence..” (Allen Ginsberg in Horizon, November 1984)

In answer to Karin Schaim’s 2014 question in  CutBank “Have you, been personally, been pigeon-holed as a poet?” – “Oh I’m pigeon-holed all the time, usually by people who have only read one part of my oeuvre. I am second-generation New York School, or I am the poet that lives in Paris, I am feminist, or I am the person defined by having loved Ted Berrigan or Douglas Oliver I am personal, I am not personal, I am a poet of grief, etc,etc. Mostly, I just keep writing in whatever way I want to next. I am, at this point, an epic poet – I am like Virgil – and everybody better watch out because I am the one reshaping the myth and defining the world. I am international, interplanetary… ”

From another recent (2014) interview – ” (Yes) I knew Allen Ginsberg quite well. Also Philip Whalen who lived in San Francisco – he was a close friend. I met Gregory Corso, (William) Burroughs et al, more in passing. I actually worked for Allen for a while, in 1984, 1985, and saw him on a somewhat daily basis. I don’t think of the Beat Era as having ended. It hasn’t ended in my mind and it hasn’t ended in the minds of a lot of people who never knew the Beats, or else why these endless new movies starring the youngest people in the world? The Beats were replete with talent, had large interesting souls, and lived lives that are almost incomprehensible alongside the tiny ones current writers seem to lead..”

and from the same interview – “You speak for and as the dead in your poetry…Actually..this reminds me of one of my favorite early poems by you called “Jack Would Speak Through The Imperfect Medium of Alice”. How did that poem come about?” – Alice:  “Jack Would Speak..” was written after the first biographies of (Jack) Kerouac began to come out in the mid (19)70’s. I found them very irritating because none of the authors seemed interested in how good Kerouac’s writing is, only in certain facts or suppositions about his life. I didn’t care about his life as a life. I’m not sure I care about anyone’s life that way, as if it were a story told according to contemporary conventions in thinking and judging another’s (or one’s) personal existence. So I wrote the poem in defense of his writing, as if spoken by him – who knows? – maybe he told me what to say?


So I’m an alcoholic Catholic mother-lover
yet there is no sweetish nectar no fuzzed-peach
thing no song sing but the word
to which I’m starlessly unreachably faithful
you, pedant & you politically righteous & you, alive
you think you can peel my sober word apart from my drunken word
my Buddhist word apart from my white sugar Thérèse word my
word to comrade from my word to my mother
but all my words are one word my lives one
my last to first wound round in finally fiberless crystalline skein

I began as a drunkard & ended as a child
I began as an ordinary cruel lover & ended up a boy who
read radiant newsprint
I began physically embarrassing – “bloated” – &
ended as a perfect black-haired lady
I began unnaturally subservient to my mother &
ended in the crib of her goldenness
I began in a fatal hemorrhage & ended in a
tiny love’s body perfect smallest one

But I began in a word & I ended in a word &
I know that word better
Than any knows me or knows that word,
probably, but I only asked to know it –
That word is the word when I say me bloated
& when I say me manly it’s
The word that word I write perfectly lovingly
one & one after the other one

But you – you can only take it when it’s that one & not
some other one
Or you say, “he lost it” as if I (I so not hinged) could ever
lose the word
But when there’s only one word – when
you know them, the words –
The words are all only one word – the perfect
word –
My body my alcohol my pain my death are only
the perfect word as I
Tell it to you, poor sweet categorizers
Every me I was & wrote
were only and all (gently)
That one perfect word

[Alice may be heard reading this poem (after some brief prefatory remarks) – here

Alice’s PennSound page (which features a significant number of her readings) may be accessed here

More (video) readings may be accessed here (2012, the University of Chicago)  and here and here (2013, the University of California, Berkeley)

Between February 21-25, 2012, she was the Allen Ginsberg Visiting Fellow at Naropa University. The lecture she gave on that occasion is here

And (in four parts) her interview with Jack Kerouac School Director Michelle Naka Piercehere, here, here and here.

More interviews – from back in 2001 (with Brian Kim Steffans, and with Jennifer Dick), and from 2007, (C.A.Conrad, and a two-parter, here and here, Damian Rogers), 2008 – David Baker for the Kenyon Review and Sophie Erskine for 3AM. 2010, Anna Elena Eyre, 2013, with Lindsay Turner for the Boston Review, and, the following month, with Stephanie Anderson for The Conversant
Most recently, (May 2014), Marcia Garcia Teutsch and J.Hope Stein for the Henry Miller Library’s magazine, Ping Pong  here and here (excerpts)

Talking of interviews – two interviews not on line (yet?) – but essential, are (from 2002 Teachers and Writers (Vol. 34-35) – Anselm Berrigan Interviews Alice Notley on Descent of Alette, and, many years earlier, Alice Notley interviews George Schneeman

Intercapillary Space, out of London, in 2008, provides a useful “Constellation”

&, just a couple of weeks ago, the Alice Notley Symposium – Alette in Oakland. Here’s Eileen Myles giving the keynote address.

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