In Their Own Words

The Speak Angel Series by Alice Notley

from The Speak Angel Series

from The House Gone

Poem of Leading

It’s like asking how did I wind up in Paris it’s just a story
But on the other side of the fabric maybe we aren’t friends I
Say to no one in particular I am the soul sheltering poor matter that’s
All maybe everyone’s just been playing a game with it matter I
Used to be angelic then I decided to be coarse and corpulent
It suited a mood to become ugly rocks it suited you to be seedy

I lead across the glass plain the mass of previous-
Ly pained entity some of the it remembering or bleeding
Do you know how to be different I call without looking
Back because we dreamed everything we once were
And now there may be new shapes to walk into
Tan whirlwinds or doors polished elemental what
Is really there a voice asks all I can remember from
When I was alive is that I was always wrong do you
Remember that it was in pieces or now I’m not
I died because he declaimed to me knew how to I didn’t
They all said what everything was I didn’t demeaned told
You some image you might recognize for we all tried
To be mirrors everyone does do the dead they see a
Partenariat wherever they look not a parrot they
Hear like this spontaneously to speak and create some being
When I lost my eyes someone says is this a renaissance
I am I say willing to say anything I feel you in
Place and gliding I didn’t know how to be it differently for
The adjustments are subtle first don’t think except as a
Poem and second it’s not that I shouldn’t hurt you I don’t
Know how to now it’s that you’re learning the segments
That aren’t sentences at all and converse with each other

So does he see you who I can’t look back I’m leading you
Words tap me they’ve always been visual slinky and carven
Somewhere here I walked into it leading where not breaks but bind-
Ing unperfunctorily what does any glyph said sing and the dark
Snakes near the old place into a river or chasm beginning as
Ancient the counterfeit was to see smartly I tell into the flood
Pushed back so we can walk on nothing leave the old past
Take the new past no can’t you seeing uncling any story dis-
Appears and the lipstick on judgment’s mostly wiped off
Not a face just a mouth and its demolished words I’m swept up in
To here for words rain down without discernment a role they
Say I have to lead I say why fated something was once I
Might lead myself out but I think I’m for you who are
Small in this one you’ve made so large that is billions and
Billions of light years is it really or is that a definition be-
Gun in the random quarters of a body once I’m vast I
Say leading you away from parochial conceptions of the cosmos
Not that it isn’t that big it’s that there is no big
Again I love you the arrow bloody heart of my deflection
There isn’t anything to call it anymore the snakes in the cave
Utmost speak called in stress like snapping winds we
Found it exactly here in our once variably shaped lengths our
Proneness whipping so stand among the words of your source
This basin near the wild vines is holy nothing made it
The words here are for you and your tired lips
Someone says vanquished by my foul deeds but I am beautiful
Vanquished by our foul deeds but we are what’s there
Voice clings across bats squealing brush your face tenderly
Swarmed from caves my loves word howl no fences
And I copped the air a voice says and I copped you if I could
Swearing to make a likeness to my active thought later
The images seared are these images I sealed my eyes extern-
Al and inward memory’s only of the words that fly and crawl
I like this storm I like the whirlwind conveying me to the
New justice of origin the beginning will judge what we’ve done

I’m following the map of forgetting on the other side
Of the memories of the alive I think I know where we are
For I have destroyed scale every part of the cosmos is where-
Ever the same size as one and as everything you think
This epic might be experienced any other way
With matter or image reinstalled as if I were another though
Being myself the observer that anyone has to be
Tell me then voice as I face frontward what can there be
Thought and how can you keep thoughts or voices apart
We martyred ourselves and each other to comparisons
And I told you one said and I told you as if telling were more
Words sudden the only thing of it help me speak them I say
You are there ahead of us in origin a voice behind me cries
They are the phosphenes to be said mother of phosphenes
Alive brutally someone says you can never be dead but
What you did is just a sound phosphene words map of a map
I remember you martyred me where birds crawl and blunt voices
Little nonthoughts scratching together I wanted to be here
Forgot everything to be here I forget where I came from they say
You’re rushing towards me for you don’t know who you are

To Paste On

Alice's Soul

I entered where I was sent wearing small earrings
don’t know if these are the right words from your mind
syntax gold that there was a glyph the universe I’m reading its mind
but I’m reading yours reading mine whenever we are somewhat enmeshed
I entered where I was sent to spy for the system I had come from
I had no form before I was madly born but I was there then who I am
the one you to make make others listen I know I suffered with you
there are red stripes across my unhappy face as you describe your calvaries
and then from as if afar I say or am I she to become you or am I you
so serene again I remember being this soul the spy and savior you are
it hurt you too to be neglected because you know too much so skilled
do skills have merit or does suffering do you now deserve to be me your soul
I don’t know if this is time but you have never been a piece of meat
resplendent from ashes grown tall we are ready to name ourselves

From The Speak Angel Series (Fonograf Editions, 2023). All rights reserved. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher.

Preface reprinted from The Speak Angel Series (Fonograf Editions, 2023)

Welcome to The Speak Angel Series. It is long and perhaps idiosyncratic, but friendly. It is a good book for now—a time of covid and environmental crisis, wars and panicky immigration—since it offers a future. There always is one, a future; speaking cosmically, everything is immortal because there's no nowhere for something to become nothing in . . .I think. Anyway, I offer a future made of recombination like a collage, a pasting on of things by a massive regrouping of the dead and alive in order to begin again, at this point, whatever you think this point is. I'm quickly going to tell you there are six books in The Speak Angel Series, The House Gone, Opera, Healing Matter, To Paste On, Out of Order, and The Poem.

I begin with a dream about my mother’s recent death—this is 2013— and a desire to use long lines for awhile. So the first book, The House Gone, becomes a journey in which I begin to lead everyone and -thing (people and mountains, quasars and whoever) to newness. One will keep forgetting what's happening, because whatever's happening at any time is Not the illustration of what's happening, it’s what's happening. You don’t always know who’s speaking, because a conversation is like that. So I become the leader and I lead to a point zero, where the current description, on earth, of the cosmos, ceases to exist. We are finally on the “other side of the story.” There are inset poems and also a tale with variants—as usual I didn’t know what I was doing until I’d done it. I saw this first book as somewhat literal happenstance, even though it obviously isn’t. That I believed everything that was happening became the mode, for me, of the whole series. I don't remember when I knew I was writing a “series.” Somewhere, though, in this first book the phrase “the speak angel series” was given to me in a dream.

The second book, Opera, is a kind of extension of Book I, a celebration of leading and arriving and a series of pasting-on’s—what could be included in the new collage. Everyone led comes to stand at the edge of a void, conversing. Gradually I began using caps for poetic stress, but emphasizing unexpected strings of words or phrases—not according to orthodox English verse patterns, but presenting what I was hearing in my mind. When I undertook to read extracts aloud to myself, I realized my voice was automatically being pitched into a sort of chanting or even singing. So the second book became an “opera.”

In the third book, Healing Matter, the protagonist, who is myself, takes off on her own, leaving all the “led” on the precipice of “ice” above the “abyss,” remaking. The protagonist enters the abyss. Writing this book I fell into a measure somewhat like that of my book The Descent of Alette, without the quotation marks of that book, as if there were no distance between my mind and the book itself. For the quotation marks in The Descent of Alette had created space between the author and the story, but in Healing Matter I felt no distance, though the events of the book are equally visionary. Two-thirds of the way through someone tells the protagonist (me) that he has been killed. That someone is Michael Brown, the young man who was shot, notoriously, in Ferguson, Missouri in the summer of 2014 while I was writing this particular book. He becomes a recurring presence in the series. 

To Paste On, the fourth book, is more referential to the “real world” and contains a number of individual poems and forms. It isn’t straight narration, though what has become the general narrative of the series constitutes the background. But there are dreams of (my) friends, references to the war in Syria, and to Ebola; and Michael Brown is here. A number of longish poems about the remaking of the universe are offered as events of remaking and healing; the pressure to do that continues. To heal the universe.

The fifth book, Out of Order, is itself a deliberate collage. I wrote in a notebook, out of order, not filling the pages chronologically and sometimes cutting and pasting. I don’t remember exactly how I determined the final order, not by a method. The book is just out of order—everything is, isn’t it? Unapologetically, here and in To Paste On I present myself as intermittently crucified. Anyone is, aren’t they? I know I am.

Book VI, The Poem, is deliberately modeled on The Descent of Alette, that is formally, again without the quotation marks. It’s divided into four sections—which in this case are titled—and each section contains roughly the same number of pages as the corresponding section of The Descent of Alette. I don’t remember exactly why I did that. The book contains encounters with the dead and descriptions of how the dead make art; references to contemporary events—various people whose deaths occurred during the compositional process join the poem. There is a battle—between the conscious and the unconscious, there is resolution and restatement of the need to remake, the ability to remake, the idea that we are and will be surrounded by the broken, but pieces are there to remake with, the dead are there, perhaps time isn’t any more.

Though I do use “I” throughout these books it might be useful to the reader to know that I'm influenced by older public forms of art: Greek epic and drama, Latin rhetoric and epic, the plays of Racine. I’m always conscious of foundation myths and stories that keep getting told, within cultures and also from culture to culture. One way to look at this work might be as a posited myth—in the myth I posit myself as the leader of a reconstruction. It is fictive, but I’m not doing fiction. Take it as you want, as you certainly will.

At this point my forms are simply whatever I’m using at this moment. Probably there are two Alette-form books to balance each other, there’s an opera because I started singing. There’s a big collage because I keep saying collage is the form of everything, the way you are a monkey, a horse mane, a bird-throated breasted-mammal flower-organed species-eater. In the midst of writing the sixth book, in Paris in the year of various terrorist attacks, 2015, I was jogging at dawn in the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont and heard a man praying out loud in anguish and tears, hidden by trees and darkness, to the Seigneur, praying, as I remember it, for himself and his family. That is part of this book too. I don’t know what happened to this man, and I'm not sure what “happen” is. This book, though he would never read it, is for him.

Alice Notley
January 1, 2022

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