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With some 20 books of poetry to her credit, Notley (The Descent of Alette, 1996, etc.) continues to combine Beat blather and New York School patter in her sprawling, self-mythologizing verse; her long, un-punctuated lines rehearses the key events in her life: growing up in Needles, California; coming east to college; meeting her husband, the poet Ted Berrigan, at Univ. of Iowa; and following him to his Lower East Side haunts, where they not only become speed freaks, but also have two children before Berrigan dies young of liver disease. The mostly realist but occasionally off-the-wall narratives, with their wild surreal flourishes, follow the poet chronologically as she uses —words to cure the tameness— she bemoans among the squares. Proving her bohemianism, she uses lots of dirty words, and writes of sex, but her radical feminist self makes sure there’s nothing sexy in all the vulgarity. Notley’s tough postures include herself as true poet who hates Iowa City (—too boring— and full of —assholes—), where —everyone’s an academic poetry/groupie,— and the women offer themselves to the visiting stars. Notley interrupts her manic musings to rant against the middle class, —the stupid fucking workers— who vote Republican, and all those feminists who identify her solely with her late husband. In poem after poem—and they all read like one congealed mass—Notley claims to disdain the opinions of others, yet she continually worries about ’social graces,— the ’social ego,— ’socialization,— and —the hustle for status—(to which she does not seem immune). Perhaps —living is a poem,— as Notley confidently avers, but her life on the page isn—t necessarily poetry you—d care to read.

Pub Date: June 2nd, 1998
ISBN: 0-14-058896-5
Page count: 140pp
Publisher: Penguin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1998