Friday, November 6, 2009

As Owl Alma

A few weeks ago, the New York Times Magazine featured their 2009 Fall Design Issue. Actually, small side note: neither myself nor my lovely neighbor received our Sunday papers that week. I let it go, and thought, next Sunday will come soon enough. But she apparently called and requested her intended copy pronto. And then, one random weekday, I come home to the paper at my door with a note from her saying, 'they sent two, here is yours.' Oh, sweet and thoughtful neighbor...

And because of her kindness, I have been enjoying the magazine lately, breezing through the latest and hottest trends. I came across the owl lamp (above photograph) in the "New Collectibles" column (subtitle: "To have and to not hold onto"). The lamp, designed by Parisian artist Marie Christophe, isn't really my taste at all, but it did make me think of last year during this time and the book I was reading...

This 344 page, genre-bender of a book was a suggestion from my teacher and bay area writer Miranda Mellis. She was one of my mentors during my M.F.A. program and is an inspirational person who taught me, above all, to be curious. She encouraged me to investigate those ideas and thoughts to which I am drawn, yet also those of which I am afraid. It is excellent writing advice and she also advised me on such things from tea concoctions to French philosophers (thank you, Miranda, for introducing me to Roland Barthes' "A Lover's Discourse.") Needless to say, she deserves a whole blog devoted to her brilliance and I strongly recommend her book "The Revisionist" to all you curious beings.

Alright, wow, I'm good at getting off topic. So...during the fall semester of my 2nd year the California College of the Arts, Miranda and I would get together every few weeks and discuss this daunting Notley text. For more about Notley, go here or, better yet, you can read one of her books, like "The Descent of Alette" or "The Mysteries of Small Houses." But, seriously, back to Alma...

As you can see from the cover image and the title above, it's not your average book of poetry. You probably wouldn't keep it on your nightstand for easy access before bed. No, this work is difficult, tragic, and exceptionally hypnotic. Notley comes from a school of thought that values the process of writing. This movement, also known as the New York School Generation (some poets that come from this era are Frank O'Hara, Ted Berrigan and John Ashbery) puts emphasis on the experience and immediacy of poetry writing. Many poets claim that the instances in which a voice is evoked and a line is measured is as important as the finished product, the poem. It has been said that as part of the writing process, Notley enters a trance-like state. Whatever she does works for me as I am continually captivated by her lyricism and transported by her craft.

Chapter by chapter, section by section, poem by poem, this book captures the mind in its forever roaming consciousness. Crossing between the genres of poetry/prose/comedy/tragedy and written surrounding the events of 9/11, Notley's speaks through Alma and her community of spirits, known as the Dead Women. Alma is a drug-addicted woman, but she is also the the dead women, the owl, and Alma is pain. She embodies suffering, while sending messages of healing along the way: that for a person to actively have a soul they must do more than just be born.

Plot and interpretations aside, the text has accompanied my writing journey far beyond the 4 months (!!!) it took me to finish. It might not be the lightest of reads, but it pushes me to keep writing and dares me to investigate my own unsettling nature.


  1. wow sissy - you're making me want to put down the new yorker and pick up a book. what should i read? elegance and hedgehog? find me a book for mexico,pretty please.