Sunday, June 26, 2011

Aimless Reading: The N's, Part 10.2 (Alice Notley)

Notley, Alice
Selected Poems of Alice Notley

Purchased at St. Mark's Books.

This was the first book of Alice's that I ever read. I bought it sometime in 1996 or 1997. I was living in New York, in the East Village, and I spent a lot of time sitting in cafes reading and writing. On of my favorites at the time was a place on, I think, 9th St. between Avenue A and First. It was called "No Bar." It did have a bar, but they did not serve alcohol. They just had the physical bar. It was owned by a couple of Iranian guys who were probably in their early thirties.

I remember it had wood floors and wood tables and wood stools and wood chairs. Everything was wood. They also had a lovely courtyard in the back where you could sit in the warm summer months. I had a cafe I liked to go to in the morning before work, Nation, but No bar was my favorite evening cafe. I think they also served food there, but I rarely had enough money to order more than a coffee and a bagel.

I mostly liked to sit and read and write in my journal. I remember the two brothers who owned the place were big music fans and they always had interesting music playing. One night I heard this incredible version of "Suzanne" by Leonard Cohen playing on the stereo. It was by Nina Simone. I have been searching for this version for nearly twenty years, but I have not heard it since.

It was not the version you usually hear, with Nina singing and playing piano. Nina is singing, but she's backed up only by rhythm guitar. It has more of an uptempo than other versions of the song I have heard, but it still has that same heartbreaking kind of feel to it. If anyone has it, I would love to hear it again!

I bring all this up because I also remember buying Selected Poem of Alice Notley and taking it with me to No Bar to read. I discovered the New York School of Poets in about 1996 and I read all the way through O'Hara and Ted Berrigan and then somewhere along the way, possibly through Eileen Myles, I heard about Alice Notley and so I went over to the store and bought this book.

I have a memory of sitting in the courtyard reading Alice Notley and waiting for someone to meet me there. Not sure who I was waiting for, or if they ever arrived.

from Selected Poems of Alice Notley

Dear Dark Continent

Dear Dark Continent:

               The quickening of
the palpable coffin
               fear so then the frantic
doing of everything experience is thought of

but I've ostensibly chosen
               my, a, family
so early! so early! (as is done always
as it would seems always) I'm a two
now three irrevocably
               I'm wife I'm mother I'm
myself and him and I'm myself and him and him

But isn't it only I in the real
whole long universe? Alone to be
in the whole long universe?

But I and this he (and he) makes ghosts of
I and all the hes there would be, won't be

because by now I am he, we are I, I am we.

We're not the completion of myself.

Not the completion of myself, but myself !
through the whole long universe.

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