cover image Culture of One

Culture of One

Alice Notley. Penguin, $18 trade paper (162p) ISBN 978-0-14-311893-0

Notley's newest book (she's written over 30) is a verse narrative about a woman named Marie who lives in a dump and makes art. She is based on a real person Notley encountered in her youth in the American Southwest, though decades after the real Marie's death, her character becomes an archetypal outsider artist who "made figures out of wood and rocks and cord and burntness and whatever." She's orbited by characters who move through a kind of sideways story that isn't really the point of the book (really, it's a collection of linked lyric poems in fluid, prosy lines). There's the (sort-of) romantic interest, Leroy, who "had been lying so/ much he couldn't think straight," at least he lies until a rattlesnake bite cures him. There's also the rock star, Eve Love, and a few others. Plus, there's the embodiment of Mercy, who "was a concept.../ No, I was a little girl." Hovering above them all is Notley herself, whose memory and imagination blend together: "I couldn't stop being Marie%E2%80%94/ or Eve Love%E2%80%94even in Paris" (where Notley lives). Marie and her cohort are embodiments of Notley's definition of culture, which this book and Notley's life serve to illustrate again and again: "What does culture come from? It comes from the materials you do it with." (Apr.)