Famous poet discovers sixth sense

Alice Notely reads variety of works in Capen Hall

The Spectrum

Alice Notley talks to the dead.

But she isn't a medium. She's a poet.

In an audience of curious students and community members, a woman slumped in a chair and cried and one man couldn't contain his laughter. Alice Notley stood at the podium in front of the diverse crowd and zealously read her poetry aloud, evoking a variety of emotions. Notley, an American poet, was a guest speaker at the Poetry Collection in Capen Hall Thursday afternoon.

"Almost all of my good friends are dead so I kind of talk to them," Notley said. "I write a lot about talking to the dead. I feel as if they're talking to me and I'm talking back. Somehow there's work to be done that has to do with reconciling the live and the dead and getting them to talk to one another."

She read various selections of her work including excerpts from her newest book "Negativity's Kiss" and some unpublished pieces.

The wordsmith has been redefining American poetry since the '60s, according to Steve McCaffery, an English professor and the David Gray Chair of Poetry and Letters.

"She is a formative force and has set the direction of American poetry," McCaffery said. "She has a reputation coming from a particular generation"

He described it as "poetry that tried to break away from the fixed form of the previous generations."

Notely published her first book in 1971, when she was 26 years old.

Since then, she's written 30 books over the course of her career and has won an array of awards including an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America.

She feels she is the voice of "the new wife, and the new mother" in her own time, but that her first aim is to make a poem, rather than present a platform of social reform, according to poets.org.

Although Notley has been living in Paris since 1992, she lived in the Buffalo area for a few months. Her son, Anselm Berrigan, graduated from UB in 1994 with a BA in English and went on to study at Brooklyn College.

This isn't the first time the famous poet has read at UB.

"I have an old connection to Buffalo," Notley said. "I lived here for two months once. I used come read a lot in the '70s and '80s. I was a good friend of Robert Creeley's"

Creeley was a famous 20th century poet and former UB English department chair.

"I've always come back," she said. "I was quite delighted to be invited again."

In her writing, Notley addresses life and death, chaos and internal conflict. When read aloud, her poetry is similar to spoken word, filled with alliteration, rhymes and passion.

The writer beamed with pride when discussing her writing, but she can't pick a favorite, even the ones she's embarrassed of, she embraces. They are part of her work.

Her newest book displays her infatuation with detective novels and consists of a series of poems that read as a cohesive story. The poet explained the concept of the book before reading it, wanting to give her audience insight into her process.

Some audience members have differing opinions on her various types of work.

"I didn't like the crime noir stuff she started off with," said Anna Jacquinot, a freshman neuroscience major. "It was too refined and a little distant, so I didn't enjoy it the way I did the others."

She liked the pieces toward the second half of the reading when Notely began reading her more serious pieces that covered topics like cancer and death. Jacquinot thought they were more relatable.

"I didn't like the death one as much, because it made me remember a lot of things, but then I realized that it was because I remembered a lot of things that made it more relatable," Jacquinot said. "I also really like the way that she spoke; I liked her tone of voice."

Jordan Oscar contributed to this story

email: arts@ubspectrum.com