left to right: jean donnelly , mark mcmorris, tom orange, ?, rod smith, christian bök, alice notley

More notes from the poetry boardroom.

During a recent period, Notley said, she was unable to read much more than "trashy noir" novels, and so she spent much of her time listening to music CDs. Around the same time, she added, her son Anselm was asked by a journalist what he thought of poetry readings, because the journalist assumed the main purpose of such events was to sell books. "No," replied Anselm, "performance is part of my practice." Notley is thinking a lot, then, a lot about performance, and her talked mainly circled around how she sees musical influences as a way to think about such performances. She added a caveat that she is an amateur at music and has not been trained since piano lessons about 30 years ago (which is "a great story," she said, but didn't elaborate).

Notley suggested "music has more to do with company than poetry," at least as she sees it now. She recalled reading a Beowulf translation to a gathering in a small room and how everyone could catch the meter and the cadence, since the poem, even in translation, was meant to be read aloud. She read to us from Beowulf, and then added, "I always write as a kind of measurer." "I am indebted to William Carlos Williams' variable foot."

Notley has been listening to Flamenco music while she writes. One singer she likes was a friend of Lorca's. (Help me on this name?) Notley types while the music plays, but she tries to break the old patterns (or cadences). She read us a selection of flamenco lyrics, then a translation, "My husband is gone, he is gone into France in the war..."

Her talk was interspersed with selections from her own poems. She read "Necklace" from Alma, or the Dead Women, one of her newer works that is still not in print. (See Tom for more on Notley's many unpublished works.)

Then Notley discussed Bob Dylan. She writer "to and back to" Dylan. As an example she read from "In the Pines" (right title?). She is influenced by the long line of Dylan, also Woody Guthrie and the Surrealist poets...and I might have missed a name or two here, but what a mix! She's also interested in Maria Calis, because she knows "the art of performing someone else." Calis says, "When you sing, aim for the center of the note." In poetry, Notley said, she must "aim for the center of the issue or technique." Notley thinks of her work as characteristically "recitative and narrative." (I probably have the name Calis wrong...)

She turned to new unpublished work including Songs and Stories of the Ghouls. Notley writes imagining the performance. Once upon a time she would imagine the spacious acoustics of St. Mark's Poetry Project, but now she imagines a kind of "room." She added, "Poetry occurs in a room."

She once heard Dylan at the Zenith in Paris, a large performance center "that had no hearing in it." Last year one of her sons heard Dylan at a smaller place the Beacon in NY, and he sent her a tape that made Dylan sound far more intimate.

Notley: "When I write I feel no emotion. I'm trying to do the thing which I can't express. I go to another place. Like a state of grace."

Tom asked a question about Spicer, to which Notley replied, "I'm a complete channeler at this point. The voices resemble me but also other things..."

Notley talked often of cadences. She realized several months ago that "Twas the Night Before Christmas" can be sung to the tune of "The Man in the Long Black Coat."

See Tom for more.

Comments on ""


Blogger Laura Carter said ... (7:53 PM) : 

Maria Callas!

Wow, what a cool connection to read about here.

Hitting the center of the note is really really hard.


Blogger -k said ... (7:08 PM) : 

thanks for the spelling! i am a flamenco idiot... but it sounds like maria callas is a good place to start though.


post a comment