Alice Notley's disobedient cities

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The American poet Alice Notley has described one of her goals as being to take up ‘as much literary space as any male poet’ (Notley, 2005: 6), a phrase that questions the nature of ‘literary space’, and its relationship to material and political spaces. In Disobedience (2001), as in her earlier book The Descent of Alette (1992), the city is imagined in relation to what lies beneath it. Both of these extended poem sequences set up urban underground geographies, Alette – a mythical underground of caves and ghostly trains, and Disobedience – a largely subterranean Paris that shifts between the ‘real’ metro and a series of filmic dreamscapes. In challenging the scope and scale of canonical epics with feminist reconfigurations of form, her work engages with the public space of the city. This article will explore the connection between the extended poetic forms she uses in these two books, and ways in which her work conceptualizes the gendering of city space through relationships between the body and language. Through reference to readings of Michel de Certeau by Meaghan Morris and Doreen Massey, I will show how Notley's approach to problems of language and form, and their potential solutions, are not only enmeshed in certain spatial concepts but also able to offer a critique of them.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-105
JournalFeminist Review
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2010
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