Poet Alice Notley gave a reading to a packed Phillips Wing of Magill Library on Thursday, November 17. With all the chairs filled and students peering over the railing to watch from the second level, Notley read both old and new poems, including those from Grave of Light: New and Selected Poems, 1970-2005, as well as from her latest book, Certain Magical Acts.
In his introduction, Visiting Assistant Professor Thomas Devaney described Notley (who has earned The Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Poetry, the Griffin Prize, the Shelley Memorial Award, the Lenore Marshall Prize, and the Poetry Foundation’s Ruth Lilly Prize) as “bold, independent, open-hearted, integrity.” For him, her poetry is one “of constant renewal and honest thinking, where poetry is never a question, but all the questions seek it.” He compared her poetic force to the likes of James Baldwin, William Carlos Williams, Frank O’Hara, and Gertrude Stein.
Notley’s poetry grapples with the truth, the mystical, and the concept of a single consciousness that is also multitudinous. Her poetry’s epic forms are also meditations on her own poetic career. According to Devaney, it asks questions such as: “What might be a true female poetry? Is that possible?”
In one of her longer poems, “Fate,” the speaker asks, “Does fate relate to bacteria? The other species who seemed to have come to understand fate sooner and better than we and shape it to suit them better.” Hearing Notley’s own voice reading such lines instilled a new and different perspective on the rhythm of her work and how the lines should break. One student in Devaney’s “Contemporary Poetry” class later noted how Notley seemed to read a bit faster than she had imagined she would.
During her on-campus visit, Notley also gave a talk on “Homer’s Art” in Stokes. Devaney helped lead the conversation and, afterwards, invited Notley to a smaller discussion session in the Dining Center with students from his “Contemporary Poetry” class.
Her visit was sponsored by the Department of English and the John B. Hurford ’60 Center for the Arts and Humanities in conjunction with the Distinguished Visitors Program.
-Jenny Ahn ’17
Photos by Rau Yuan ’19