Certain Magical Acts
Author: Alice Notley
Publisher: Penguin Poets (2016)
Alice Notley has become one of the most highly regarded figures in American poetry, a master of the visionary mode acclaimed for genre-bending book-length poems of great ambition and adventurousness. Her newest work sets out to explore the world and its difficulties, from the recent economic crisis and climate change to the sorrow of violence and the disappointment of democracy or any other political system. Notley channels these themes in a mix of several longer poems—one is a kind of spy novella in which the author is discovered to be a secret agent of the dead, another an extended message found in a manuscript in a future defunct world—with some unique shorter pieces. Varying formally between long expansive lines, a mysteriously cohering sequence in meters reminiscent of ancient Latin, a narration with a postmodern broken surface, and the occasional sonnet, these are grand poems, inviting the reader to be grand enough to survive, spiritually, a planet's ruin.
“These are not poems of one world; they are poems of worlds within a world. Each world bears its own stories—‘story’ being a recurrent term and motif in the book. Among them are resonances of today’s dire events and dread conditions, darkening the spirit of the ‘I’ whose soliloquies register the facts and forms of the worlds, and assesses them. Notley muses in the spirit of Nietzsche but with her own glorious and inspired honesty. No book by Alice Notley is ever less than magnificent, and Certain Magical Acts is exactly that.”
“Alice Notley made language surrender its deepest lie: that it matters. Making language do what it no longer has faith in, she restored its power. Language acquiesces to the authority of Notley's speech like a hypnotized leopard, a ferocious and devoted pet who sees itself only as an enactment of the poet's body, which is itself an enactment of a ‘body.’ Notley owns the magic of the luminous illusion of being here now in the place of enactments. Her work shatters, and always has, any expectation..”