Cover image for Disobedience
Notley, Alice, 1945-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Penguin Poets, [2001]

Physical Description:
xi, 284 pages ; 23 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3564.O79 D57 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Alice Notley has earned a reputation as one of the most challenging and engaging radical female poets at work today. Her last collection, Mysteries of Small Houses , was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize in poetry and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Structured as a long series of interconnected poems in which one of the main elements is an ongoing dialogue with a seedy detective, Disobedience sets out to explore the visible as well as the unconscious. These poems, composed during a fifteen-month period, also deal with being a woman in France, with turning fifty, and with being a poet, and thus seemingly despised or at least ignored.

Author Notes

Alice Notley is a poet whose twenty previous titles include The Descent of Alette, Beginning with a Stain, Homer's Art , and Selected Poems . She wrote the introduction for her late first husband Ted Berrigan's Selected Poems . She lives in Paris.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

For Notley, a Pulitzer Prize finalist for Mysteries of Small Houses (1998), poetry isn't a tidy art created on paper but an amorphous realm of dreams in which she can speak freely, play games, be scornful and wild. In this spiky, witty, and questioning book of episodic and interconnected poems, she tells the story of a woman poet who, like herself, left America for Paris. There, lonely and perturbed by the invisibility of middle age, she conjures up a detective and a woman caught in a strange entanglement of watching, being watched, and being watched watching. All is mutable and cinematic as Robert Mitchum and other stars haunt Notley's thickly atmospheric and carnival-like universe, where she descends into the caves of a parallel world as bombs explode, strikes are declared, the past invades the present, and the elemental vies with the fashionable. As her alter ego wanders, ponders, and raves, Notley, a poet unbound, reels off a litany of shrewd social critiques and indictments of everything from war to commercialism to misogyny. Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.