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NOTLEY, ALICE (1945- ) Alice Notley's poetry attempts, in her words, to "re-center" the "I," to find how, in the wake of postmodernist criticism, one can situate the first person at the center of a poem ("Small"). She has also insisted on full freedom to speak with a woman's voice, including during an interview published in Talisman (2002): "[I] never identified with a poetics outside myself really. Partly I had such trouble with the concept of the [poetic] line. ... As I've said so many times, it seemed so male-owned" (531). Although her poetics are uniquely her own, William Carlos WILLIAMS, Philip whalen, and Ted berrigan, in their respective ways showed the route to the independence that is Notley's trademark.
Notley grew up in Needles, California, in the Sonoma Desert. She graduated from Barnard College in 1967 and two years later received an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa's Writers' Workshop, where she met Berrigan, her future husband. They had two sons, Anselm and Edmund, both now established poets in their own right. Notley and Berrigan settled in New York's Lower East Side in 1976, where she was soon recognized as a major figure in the second generation of the new YORK school. Berrigan died seven years later, but Notley remained in New York until 1992, when she moved to Paris with her second husband, the British poet Douglas Oliver. Her long poem Mysteries of Small Houses received the Los Angeles Times Book of the Year Award in 1998, and in 2002 she received an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, the Griffin Poetry Prize for her long poem Disobedience, and the Shelley Memorial Award of the Poetry Society of America.
In The Descent of Alette (1992), Notley uses quotation marks to isolate and emphasize words as spoken units: "it smelled of mice," "smelled of warm fir" "& meek blood." Drawing on Notley's dreams, the poem concerns a "descent" into mythic depths where a domineering man, the tyrant, must be deposed. A woman's epic (a genre traditionally reserved for men), the poem was originally published in Notley's and Oliver's The Scarlet Cabinet (1992). Reissued in 1996, it has become an important work in the feminist poetic canon.
Notley's Selected Poems (1993) brought together a massive range of innovative writing, from 165 Meeting House Lane (1971) to At Night the States (1988). The Descent of Alette was followed by Mysteries of Small Houses (1998) and Disobedience (2001). "It's necessary to maintain a state of disobedience against . . . everything," Notley said in a lecture at King's College, London, in 1998 ("Poetics"). Her poetry is always evolving, always finding new forms and material. Disobedient to all traditions, it is among those most closely watched by avant-garde poets and critics today.
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