From Publishers Weekly
After many years as an independently published poet, Notley did two stellar books with Penguin in the '90s: the 1996 long-poem, Descent of Alette, and 1998's Pulitzer runner-up, Mysteries of Small Houses, recounting, among other things, Notley's marriage to the late poet Ted Berrigan. This huge third Penguin volume from Notley outshines its predecessors, a tall order indeed. Like Alette, Disobedience is a long, serial, subterranean journey, taking on the search for spiritual life in a corporatized society and anger at persistent male dominance. Along the way, it crosses the worlds of the living and the dead, the real and the imaginary, the particular and the symbolic, vacating everyday life of its assigned non-meanings and granting them wild, personal resonances: "I don't want to create meaning;/ I want to kill it / You made meaning; I'm/ trying to make life stand still,/ long enough so I can exist./ I, truly, am speaking." Many fictional elements crop up, such as a character who is variably named Hardwood, Hardware, Hardon or Mitch-ham (after the actor Robert Mitchum), moving in and out of focus as the stream of thought determines. Hardwood, who at times appears to be a stand-in for Notley's late second husband, the poet Douglas Oliver, seems at others to be an interior persona, the "hard," even male, aspect of her own psyche that she uses to power her defenses against the world. The naturalness of Notley's idiom, the distinctive and uncompromising perspective of her thought, the almost Rimbaudian zeal to break free of convention, the sense that she is, after all, very vulnerable in her struggle all these contradictory elements fire Notley along a comet's path of spiritual discontent. This book traces its arc beautifully. (Oct.) Forecast: A near-miss last time around, Notley should garner at least one major prize nomination for this accessible, fast-moving epic. Magazine items will focus on Notley's two poetic marriages, but young protesters will find this book a contemplative inspiration, while Notley's peers will recognize the hard-won knowledge of a long spiritual search.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
By age 50, many established poets begin settling into a contemplative conservatism, both in style and substance. But Notley, a 1998 Pulitzer nominee, still has cultural axes to grind. Disobedience, a dense, poetic journal/dream diary written in Paris during the mid-1990s, ripples with outrage, sarcasm, and hard-boiled self-examination. Her explicit targets are often greed, racisim, and sexism ("Men want the cave in place and me in place..."), but her most insidious enemy is acquiescence to societal expectations, to the past, and to compromised conceptions of the self. The poet's anger affords an avenue by which her personal identity may be reclaimed from these oppressive forces: "So start, myself, start, where./ Before anyone invented me." Each poem is a lengthy, subdivided cascade of observations, reactions, and visions "Can you see that something inside/ keeps calling one home/ through dreams" that stops just short of free-association. Though rambling in appearance, this is a focused, acutely aware record of consciousness: ornery and off-putting, yes, but fascinating and inventive, too. It's the product of a mature poet who refuses to take either herself or her world for granted. Highly recommended. Fred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, NY
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.