cover image Certain Magical Acts

Certain Magical Acts

Alice Notley. Penguin, $20 (144p) ISBN 978-0-14-310816-0

“I’m/ trying to invent a new language; I was told to/ by someone who doesn’t exist,” exclaims Notley (Benediction) near the midpoint of her almost shockingly ambitious 36th book. An inspiration to countercultural writers since the 1970s, a recorder of visions, and a pioneer of feminist experiment, the Paris-based Notley announces in 13 capacious, direct poems (most of them sequences) her challenge to the rules that govern this world, including capitalism and militarism, as well as life and death. “I sing to discover the rude/ unboundedness of space, and to unite myself with it,” she declares; that poem’s title, “I Think Fiercely,” tells nothing less than truth. One set of quasi-sonnets locates the poet in the midst of a bombing (or terrorist attack); others use Greek parallels (Iphigenia, Cassandra) to grieve dead friends. Yet Notley’s aspiration is universal, a big prophetic multiplicity asking what “I” and “we” mean now, and where, and why. “I AM A MULTIPLE AGENT,” she says, “I am the story leading you to freedom.” What might be disorganization comes across, instead, as a late style impatient with niceties, eager to bring readers into her fold. “You still haven’t told me what/ happened to the world. I do know but don’t yet know how to say it,” Notley muses in “Black Violets”; and yet “I am giving you yourself.” (June)