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Mysteries of Small Houses
     

Mysteries of Small Houses

by Alice Notley
 

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Alice Notley vividly reconstructs the mysteries, longings, and emotions of her past in this brilliant new collection of poems that charts her growth from young girl to young woman to accomplished artist. In this volume, memories of her childhood in the California desert spring to life through evocative renderings of the American landscape, circa 1950. Likewise, her

Overview

Alice Notley vividly reconstructs the mysteries, longings, and emotions of her past in this brilliant new collection of poems that charts her growth from young girl to young woman to accomplished artist. In this volume, memories of her childhood in the California desert spring to life through evocative renderings of the American landscape, circa 1950. Likewise, her coming of age as a poet in the turbulent sixties is evoked through the era's angry, creative energy. As she looks backward with the perspective that time and age allows, Notley ably captures the immediacy of youth's passion while offering her own dry-eyed interpretations of the events of a life lived close to the bone. Like the colorful collages she assembles from paper and other found materials, Notley erects structures of image and feeling to house the memories that swirl around her in the present.In their feverish, intelligent renderings of moments both precise and ephemeral, Notley's poems manage to mirror and transcend the times they evoke. Her profound tributes to the stages of her life and to the identities she has assumed—child, youth, lover, poet, wife, mother, friend, and widow—are remarkable for their insight and wisdom, and for the courage of their unblinking gaze.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In her latest collection, Notley takes a step back from the body of work she has amassed over the last three decades (The Descent of Alette; Selected Poems; etc.) to compose a kind of quasi-autobiography in verse. Casual, forthright and perceptive, it is a culminating effort. Notley, as is her style, rarely shies away from unabashed, almost Whitmanesque generalizations, and here her bravery pays off. Again and again, she asks herself what poetry in America is and was, turning moments later to provide her own answers: "...`So little/ tenderness in American poetry' as/ Robert Duncan once told mewho was he?/ Who was anyone? unstarred brightest equality." Contemporary poetry's recent past shadows Notley more closely and intimately than most: her late husband, the poet Ted Berrigan, commands a small but devoted following, and many of these poems try to make sense of his work and his early death ("Grief's not a social invention./ Grief is visible, substantial, I've literally seen it") while retaining a sense of her own trajectory ("The Subject/ of this poem is not how a woman's imagination/ may be dominated by a man's"). We follow her in a loose chronology from a West Coast childhood to New York City, first as a pre-feminism college student, then as a 1970s East Village poet in a scene full of humid friendships, wordsmithery and pill-taking, and through to Paris, where she lives today. Occasionally, Notley slips into the automatic writing-like phrases and personal myth-making that was the Achilles' Heel of the late New York School. But even these moments, with their rock 'n' roll bio shading, make for compelling reading. (June) (PW best book of 1998)
Kirkus Reviews
With some 20 books of poetry to her credit, Notley (The Descent of Alette, 1996, etc.) continues to combine Beat blather and New York School patter in her sprawling, self-mythologizing verse; her long, un-punctuated lines rehearses the key events in her life: growing up in Needles, California; coming east to college; meeting her husband, the poet Ted Berrigan, at Univ. of Iowa; and following him to his Lower East Side haunts, where they not only become speed freaks, but also have two children before Berrigan dies young of liver disease. The mostly realist but occasionally off-the-wall narratives, with their wild surreal flourishes, follow the poet chronologically as she uses þwords to cure the tamenessþ she bemoans among the squares. Proving her bohemianism, she uses lots of dirty words, and writes of sex, but her radical feminist self makes sure thereþs nothing sexy in all the vulgarity. Notleyþs tough postures include herself as true poet who hates Iowa City (þtoo boringþ and full of þassholesþ), where þeveryoneþs an academic poetry/groupie,þ and the women offer themselves to the visiting stars. Notley interrupts her manic musings to rant against the middle class, þthe stupid fucking workersþ who vote Republican, and all those feminists who identify her solely with her late husband. In poem after poemþand they all read like one congealed massþNotley claims to disdain the opinions of others, yet she continually worries about þsocial graces,þ the þsocial ego,þ þsocialization,þ and þthe hustle for statusþ(to which she does not seem immune). Perhapsþliving is a poem,þ as Notley confidently avers, but her life on the page isnþt necessarily poetry youþd care to read.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780140588965
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
06/28/1998
Series:
Poets, Penguin Series
Pages:
160
Sales rank:
788,245
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.40(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Alice Notley is a poet whose twenty previous titles include The Descent of Alette, Beginning with a Stain, Homer's Art, and Selected Poems. She wrote the introduction for her late first husband Ted Berrigan's Selected Poems. She lives in Paris.

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