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Alice Notley Alice Notley WED, APR 5, 2017, 7:30 PM McCaw Hall \ Nesholm Family Lecture Hall

“In the true American vein, Alice Notley’s work has created and nourished a line of deeply democratic work in poetry and prose that is as extensive as it is uncategorizable. Her writing is fresh year after year in a career spanning four decades. Like Whitman, she is simultaneously one of a kind and a poet for each of us: an exemplary, humane, and ultimately essential writer.” —Don Share, Poetry

“The range, comprehensiveness, and empathetic imagination of Alice Notley’s poems are among the major astonishments of contemporary poetry. Book by surprising book, she reinvents not only herself as a poet, but also what it means for anyone to write a poem at this volatile moment in our history.” —Robert Polito, Poetry

"It's necessary to maintain a state of disobedience against. . . everything." —Alice Notley 

Awarded the 2015 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, one of American literature’s most distinguished honors, Alice Notley has become one of the most highly regarded figures in American poetry. Her newest collection, Certain Magical Acts, sets out to explore the world and its difficulties, from the recent economic crisis and climate change to the sorrow of violence and the disappointment of democracy and other political systems.

Artist Rudy Burkhardt once wrote that Notley may be “our present-day Homer.” He might be right. In this 147 page tour-de-force, Notley channels the political and the personal in a mix of several longer poems—one is a kind of spy novella in which the author is discovered to be a secret agent of the dead, another an extended message found in a manuscript in a future defunct world—with some unique shorter pieces. Varying formally between long expansive lines, a mysteriously cohering sequence in meters reminiscent of ancient Latin, a narration with a postmodern broken surface, and the occasional sonnet, these are grand poems, inviting the reader to be grand enough to survive, spiritually, a planet’s ruin.

Alice Notley was born in Bisbee, Arizona in 1945 and grew up in Needles, California. She is the author of over 35 books of poetry, including Mysteries of Small Houses, Disobedience, and Grave of Light: New and Selected Poems 1970 - 2005, which received the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. Her honors also include an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and The Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America. She lives and works in Paris.

The Poem:

They leave you up there he said calling you names
As it gets dark remember for you’ve had the experience
Retaining barely a consciousness the body’d shrink away
But there’s only exposure the necessary fasting you are seen
They want to watch you all humans being empathic predators

And then I said when there is no conventional body
And little recognition of forms as in a violently painful half-sleep
You become your other after they have had you like a feast
This is done everywhere in many ways often subtly in an instant

You may so be done away with I had seen the impossibility
Of living with others yet loving for that was my condition
At the crossroads when they asked me to partake of rules as in
A commune of pretension I left unruly
Who stands by me now he or I say and I said last night
Holding the world together by my total recall
At anyone’s distress they are so sorry sounding like pigeons
They who call themselves poets and have no letters

Selected Works:

Songs and Stories of the Ghouls (2011)
Culture of One (2011)
In the Pines
Grave of Light: New and Selected Poems 1970-2005—
won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize
In the Pines
Alma, or the Dead Women
From the Beginning
(2001)won the Griffin International Poetry Prize
Mysteries of Small Houses
(1998)won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize
The Descent of Alette
To Say You
Homer's Art
From a Work in Progress
Margaret & Dusty
Waltzing Matilda
How Spring Comes 
(1981)won the San Francisco Poetry Award
For Frank O'Hara's Birthday
Incidentals in the Day World
Phoebe Light (1973)
65 Meeting House Lane (


Alice Notley Awarded 2015 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize
Penguin-Random House: Certain Magical Acts by Alice Notley
Poetry Foundation Biography
Bomb Magazine: Artists in Conversation
Kenyon Review in Conversation with Alice Notley
Rachel Zucker on Alice Notley

WITS Student
A WITS student from View Ridge Elementary School reads his newly published work at the Book Launch. Photo by Libby Lewis