Alice Notley was born in Bisbee, Arizona in 1945 and grew up in Needles, California in the Mojave Desert. She was educated in the Needles public schools, Barnard College, and The Writers Workshop, University of Iowa. She has lived most extensively in Needles, in New York, and since 1992 in Paris, France. She is the author of numerous books of poetry, and of essays and talks on poetry, and has edited and co-edited books by Ted Berrigan and Douglas Oliver. She edited the magazine CHICAGO in the 70s and co-edited with Oliver the magazines SCARLET and Gare du Nord in the 90s. She is the recipient of various prizes and awards, including the Los Angeles Times Book Award (for Mysteries of Small Houses, which was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize), the Griffin Prize (for Disobedience), the Academy of American Poets’ Lenore Marshall Prize (for Grave of Light, Selected Poems 1970-2005), and the Poetry Foundation’s Ruth Lilly Prize, a lifetime achievement award. She is also a collagiste and cover artist. Above all she is a full-time poet, at this point an internationalist and haunter of Paris, remaining an American, an ex-New-Yorker, and a desert denizen. Her most recent book is Certain Magical Acts, from Penguin.
TWO OF SWORDS
I’m blind with my arms crossed over my breasts, sword in each hand.
I seek justice in countervailing sharpnesses: you are in force
and you are in force. I can’t help but be both of you. I wanted
to be able to take a side and will never again. These blades could slice
my skin, standing as they do for our fierceness, or should I say,
stupidity? If I drop both swords and rip off the blindfold, I still can’t
leave, for I can’t leave this world except internally. Who wants to
see us anyway? Two parties, or two sexes, two countries -- armies -- or
two religions, two debaters, two gladiators, two contenders for one
space. Is there such a thing as one space? Don’t you want
to go with the winners? you ask. I want this noise within me to die down.
Democracy isn’t efficient, and the only politics I recognize lies
between us, undefined, requiring no casting of votes. It asks that we
admit we’re both present, all present, in the same multiform space --
within me or you. I would never ask that you follow me; I will never
acknowledge a leader. I am my president. But also, I am
everyone, trying to be with you, because I exist, and always have.