'You are not great you are life': 50 Years of Alice Notley’s Poetics of Care (Roundtable)

American/Diaspora / Interdisciplinary Humanities

Nick Sturm (Emory University)

Jo Giardini (Johns Hopkins University)

The range, audacity, and radical commitments of Alice Notley’s poetry are unmatched in contemporary literature. Having published continuously for over 50 years, Notley is one of the most important and celebrated American poets of the 20th and 21st centuries. This roundtable aims to address the full scope of Notley’s writing and aesthetic activity from 1970 to the present, from the slant domesticity of her early volumes in the 1970s, to the investment in gendered urban publics in the 1980s, to an attention to environmental crisis in the early 1990s, to the more oracular interest in the relationship between “one” and “world” in recent volumes, in order to variously describe a poetics of care in Notley’s work.

This roundtable will be the first gesture in critically accounting for Notley’s writing from the full range of her career. Scholarly assessments tend to situate Notley’s The Descent of Alette (1996) as a breakthrough moment in career, although the 25 years of writing that precede Descent continue to be understudied. Additionally, the pace and scope of Notley’s ongoing publishing have made it challenging for readers to create continuity between her early and recent work. In 2017, Notley was asked in an interview what she thought about her work being talked about as if it is split into two halves. She said, “Oh, it’s not even that it’s two halves, it’s that nobody wants to take it all on. Everyone’s really fucking lazy. They want me to be one thing. They want to pin down everybody and they want them to be one thing that they can call confessional or experimental or whatever. And I tried them all out because I just have to.” This roundtable proposes to “take it all on” in an effort to explore and celebrate Notley’s illimitable interventions in contemporary poetics.

This roundtable seeks contributors about Alice Notley’s writing from 1970 to present, with particular focus on representations of gender, subjectivity, environmental crisis, genre, politics, voice, and vision. The roundtable welcomes contributions that think creatively across Notley’s five decades of publishing, to emphasize the diversity of Notley’s production as poet, artist, and critic, which will allow for appreciation of her work across scales, from the entangled domestic lyric of Songs for the Unborn Second Baby to the capacious sociolinguistic epic of For the Ride.