Brooklyn Public Library


Poem as Talisman

Apr 13, 2009 3:35 PM | 0 comments

Alice Notley and Ron Padgett read in the Poets Coffeehouse series at the Dweck Center on April 15. Here is part two of our Q & A with the poets; Alice Notley gives her two cents about poetry and the writing life, below. 

Alice Notley grew up in Needles, California, and then moved frequently, settling in New York's Lower East Side in the 1970s where she became involved in the local literary scene. Her books include Grave of Light: New and Selected Poems 1970-2005 and Alma, or The Dead Woman. 

Q: What do you find is the biggest challenge in being a poet; the biggest reward?
A: Perhaps the biggest challenge now lies in continuing to treat poetry as the greatest and most primary of the arts, being up to that assessment of it when I sit down to write, in the face of the world's ignoring (that is, ignorance) of it. The biggest reward is the state of writing itself, a state of grace. 

Q: What role can poetry have now that it seems difficult to keep people reading it?
A: Each of my books sells several thousand copies, and that's an audience the size of the town I grew up in. Maybe the mega-audience of the bad best-seller isn't the target; maybe it's a thoughtful, smaller community...Recently my 90-year old mother was playing computer poker in a casino…and for some reason she had occasion to cry out aloud, "My strength is as the strength of ten," and the old man next to her turned and said the next bit, "Because my heart is pure." That's how poetry operates. It becomes scripture.

Q: Are there subjects or themes you find yourself revisiting in your work?
A: I like to tell bizarre, mythic stories about the beginning of the world or the end of an old world and the beginning of a new one. I like to try to talk to the dead. I write angry poems about how women have had no political power through the ages and have none now.

Q: What insight or piece of advice would you give to a poet early in her career?
A: Don't get a teaching job.

The Poets Coffeehouse series continues throughout April. Find books by these and other poets at your local library.

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