The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Spotlight on … Alice Notley How Spring Comes (1981)


How Spring Comes is a poetry collection of thirteen poems written by the American poet Alice Notley (1945-). it was published by Toothpaste Press in 1981. This can be considered as one of her early works. This book was followed by When I Was Alive. These two books differ greatly as the majority of poems in ‘’How Spring Comes’’ are long extensive poems that typically take up more than one page. “September’s Book” is thirteen pages long for example. These poems revolve around her experiences in the past. Alice Notley meticulously uses specific details from each experience she recalls and transforms them into these poems.

‘The poems in this book were written over the span of a few years from 1976 to 1979 during her “Notebook Period,” which took place during the 1970’s. Some of the poems from this novel appeared in 432 Review, Mag City, United Artists, In The House and ZZZZZZ. In addition to these magazines and reviews, some of these poems were also included in one of her more well-known poetry books, Grave of Light: New and Selected Poems. The poems that were included were “How Spring Comes,” “Poem”(“You hear that heroic big land music?”), and “The Prophet.” The title page drawing was done by George Schneeman who she met through Ted Berrigan. She found herself having a lot of interest in George Schneeman’s works. She was very interested in his process. You can find other of her books that have Schneeman drawings as book covers and title pages.

‘Throughout each of these poems, Alice Notley creates stories from various collections of past experiences. It’s how she makes each of them unique. She delves into a range of topics in a single poem, such as “The Prophet”, she converses about toilets, different countries, and the idea of marriage, and somehow she’s able to bring all of these farfetched ideas together. These ideas are all very tangible, yet somewhat unconnected when conversed about and referred to. She’s also very explicit with language and sexual references which contributes to all of the ideas she mentions throughout. She uses a different writing style in terms of rhymes, spacing, content, and length, in each poem. She writes poems without previous knowledge of what to write. She writes spontaneously as all her poems differ from each other.

‘In How Spring Comes, Alice Notley “proves herself virtuoso of the word games and mingled voices, rhapsodic and goofy by turns, that characterize poetry decisively influenced by, among others, Frank O’Hara…she also asserts a startlingly individual fire and oddness” in her poem “When Spring Comes.” Throughout this poem, you can find that her style “involves playful manipulation of a verbal surface that happens to represent bottomless subjective depths.” She would typically take a line, and make slight alterations to them, which would result in huge effects on “correlatives of a sensibility that shuttles riskily between fantasy and reality, literary dandyism and a daily life of family, friends, and money worries.” Other contemporary poets could achieve this; however, Alice Notley writes poems that could be considered successful, and others not.Her poems, “The Prophet and “How Spring Comes,” show signs a successful poem with its charm, “positively gallant performances,” and applicability.

‘One of the most notable things about Alice Notley’s poems in How Spring Comes is the freedom of each line. From one line to the other, there is no guarantee on what’s going to happen as the previous line doesn’t restrict the next. Punctuation, pronouns, and tones shift unknowingly, which allows the poems to be so personal.’ — E.W.



Alice Notley @ Poetry Foundation
Alice Notley @ Twitter
Alice Notley and the Art of Not Giving a Damn
Seeing the Future: A Conversation with Alice Notley
AN @ PennSound
Alice Notley by Robert Dewhurst
Hold Back and Give: a profile of Alice Notley
“At the Mercy of My Poetic Voice”: An Interview with Alice Notley
Humour and Gravity: The Poetry of Alice Notley
AN @ goodreads
Bodies, near and far: Alice Notley
Unceasing Museums: Alice Notley’s “Modern Americans in Their Place at Chicago Art Institute”
The Afternoon We Spent With Alice Notley
Alice Notley’s Culture of One
Nine and Ten, by Alice Notley
“An Especially Peculiar Undertaking”: Alice Notley’s Epic
How We Cause the Universe to Exist, by Alice Notley
Nothing Keeps Me Company! An Interview with Alice Notley
Between the Living and the Dead: An Interview with Alice Notley
unique and splendid, compressed and layered, sonic and cognitive: alice notley
Podcast: The Afternoon We Spent With Alice Notley
Lullaby & Labor: Alice Notley and the Work of Poetry
Alice Notley’s Crystal City of In-betweenness



Alice Notley, “The Poetry of Everyday Life” (1988)

Myles Eileen and Notley Alice Public Access Poetry 6 16 77

Alice Notley on Poetry

Alice Notley Reading

Alice Notley reads Ted Berrigan’s ‘Easter Monday’


from The Poetry Society


Erkut Tokman
You once commented, “Writing poetry is what I am. I wouldn’t know what else to be.” When did it first occur to you that you had such a special relationship with poetry, that it was your destiny?

Alice Notley
Hard to say. I began as a fiction writer; my first intentional works of art were short stories written while I was an undergraduate at Barnard College in New York. I read poetry and liked it, but it never occurred to me to write it as I was starting out. I still don’t know why. But when I arrived at the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa I immediately met young poets and immediately began to write poems. I wasn’t sure, for a year or two, whether I was a fiction writer or poet, and my degree, my MFA, was in both fiction and poetry. I found poems more fascinating to work on, and fiction more fictionalized, made-up. Fiction is a veneer of life – it’s fictional and I don’t believe it or have any use for it but as escape from my mind. Poetry seems much more beautiful, truthful, and monumental to me. I don’t really like characters, plot, and so on. I do like dialogue, and there’s a lot of dialogue in my poems. Also I have characters, plot, and so on in my long poems, but ruefully.

How did your friendship with Ted Berrigan and Anselm Hollo at the Writers’ Workshop in Iowa in 1967 influence your writing and your poetics prior to the publication of your very first poetry book, 165 Meeting House Lane, in 1971?

I met Anselm first, in 1968. He was this rather wild but also totally cultivated Finn, extremely well-read, who (like Ted) was eleven years older than I was. I’ve never been sure what his influence was or is on my writing, though I know it’s there. We were always friends, and I am still flattered that he chose me as a friend. He liked my first poems, though I couldn’t see much merit in them, and so he encouraged me. He liked things. He liked me. Ted I met about a year later – I took a break from Iowa, lived in San Francisco then traveled in Spain and Morocco. When I returned to Iowa City in early 1969, Ted was there, and he and Anselm were, amazingly, new friends. Ted was the catalyst, really, for my choosing poetry. I read his books, I listened to his talk – he talked a lot, and I followed his suggestions as to what I might write or write like in order to become myself as poet. My first book, 165 Meeting House Lane, is a sonnet sequence influenced by the Later Sonnets of Edwin Denby. At that time they hadn’t yet appeared in book form. Ted was staying at Rudy Burkhardt’s loft in New York, found them in a closet, secretly photocopied them and gave the copy to me – we were living on Long Island – and I proceeded to imitate them. I found myself, through the act of imitating someone else’s voice and form, dredging things up out of myself to say that I would never have previously thought of. Afterwards, I always sought to recreate this experience, though I eventually stopped imitating others.

You don’t see yourself as being part of the second generation of the New York School, and you’ve objected to your writing being pigeonholed as autobiographical, political, primarily concerned with addressing sexism, focused on motherhood, and so on. You once stated, “I serve the poem, no one.” So what is your poetry bound to? Do you see your poetry as a corridor, with doors opening up into multiple rooms that you have never inhabited but only passed through? In the same way that you have never been part of a poetic movement but rather a visitor. Is the disobedience of your poetry a form of rebellion against existing rules?

Poetry is an ancient, ancient art – a first art, unlike, say, the novel or film. People must need it – I guess I must think it’s crucial to people’s existence. When I began writing poetry, and for many years afterwards, I just asked of it that it let me get better at writing it. I tried out a lot of forms, procedures, and tones of voice. I wanted to be able to do everything it is possible to do in poetry. Now I think I’m really looking for where poetry might be most crucial to everyone’s knowledge and also pleasure. To do this, I rather often have to go against what people think it is. The mainstream of poetry is always stuck in some past version of the form and of things to say in poems; I refuse to be stuck in any past version of it, even if it’s a recent past version and is what my supposed generation does. I don’t have a generation when someone’s reading my poems, they’re reading them right now in the moment of reading. They’re not thinking about literary history.

You once said this in a lecture on Allen Ginsberg’s poetry: “There is only one interconnected, possibly damaged world.” You continued by asking, “But who is saying kaddish right now for the dead of Ghouta? (March 2018) in Syria, abandoned by America and all the world.” You went on to quote William Blake, who famously proffered: “we are led to believe a lie / when we see with, not through, the eye.” In your own poems you cry out, “I want this economic and political structure to collapse soon / that will be so painful for us / As painful as mourning is?” (Certain Magical Acts). How do you perceive this clash between art and politics in our post-truth era? Do you think the poetic act can gain the kind of role it had for the Beat generation or at the time you were an editor for Chicago, Gare du Nord and Scarlet?

I don’t think poetry and politics clash necessarily or even at all. In my poetry I usually let in whatever’s going on in the world or universe, and so I have to let in politics or social problems or the behavior of governments, but I do this in the language and form of poetry, including the actual speech of living people. What I don’t believe in is separating things or people or topics or situations from each other. I never have, either in politics or my life. My poetry and existence are very impure. When I was an editor, I published whatever I liked really; though sometimes it felt necessary to shout, particularly as an editor, since a journal is a somewhat public place. But I write whatever I feel like writing. My politics are never conventional, they adhere to no systems or parties, they aim at love, which dissolves all the names of such things into more beautiful formations and feelings. I learned from Allen Ginsberg, and from Ted Berrigan, and Doug Oliver, and my parents, the possibilities inherent in accepting and liking people; I aim for a more relaxed and genial existence. And I have said Kaddish in my own way, in my poems, for the recent dead of Syria, because it felt so necessary. Because my poetry cares for people, more than I am capable of as a person in daily life on the streets of Paris. I have my poetry to care with.

In their analyses of the era of the New York School and the St Mark’s Poetry Project, some critics have underlined the role of women poets, claiming that this has previously been underestimated or even neglected. What do you think of this view? Was sexism a salient issue?

Sexism was certainly there, everywhere, when I started writing and trying to publish. I was born in 1945 so I am one of a first-ever group of women poets in the United States and there was a tremendous effort necessary on my part. Basically I had to convince all the male poets to pay attention to me and see how good I was and let me into their poetry world – for it was certainly theirs. I had no trouble with men like Ted or Anselm, but there were plenty of men who didn’t want women to be there as practitioners, as equals. The territory of poetry, the material everyday power positions related to it, are quite limited, since poetry doesn’t figure at all in the greater economy or money world. And nobody likes to give up their hold on things. Luckily for me I’m not interested in that power part, but I do want wider publication. And I did want to be seen for my talent and achievements, which at that time could only be seen through male or male-dominated eyes. All of this has been rather trying, though it’s better now.

You have said, “Society is a huge cohesive emotion; I can extract myself from that emotion for moments.” What do this cohesiveness and your desire to extract yourself from it bring to your poetry?

The truth! and better language. If you can stop thinking in society’s language and feeling society’s supposed feelings, you might actually be able to write some poems. Poetry exists in a parallel reality, perhaps the realest reality. At the moment I’m being told by both media and my friends to hate Trump, for example, but I don’t feel like hating anyone. I don’t feel like being inside the social detestation process.

What do you see as the most contradictory and the most powerful aspects of your poetry?

I suspect my poetry thrives on contradiction, which is simply a linguistic idea. I don’t know if there is such a thing as contradiction outside of language. Poems are certainly made of language but would seem to try to resolve contradiction by placing contradictory elements next to each other in a state of friendship or love, no? The most powerful aspect of my poetry is probably how it changes your body and mind when you read it aloud.

I can’t stop reading your line “I’m the singer of tales of / bliss and structure of universe yet unperceived.” In fact, it may also be one of the best ways to describe you. I perceive you as a modern thinker who philosophizes wisdom within poetry, and another critic has dubbed you “the Homer of our time”. What can heal the poetry of today?

Poetry heals, as I just indicated, by getting deeply inside your physiology and psyche and changing you. This happens most purely when one reads it aloud. My poetry can change the way you see things, and change the way you feel – can make you feel better or more interested or even smarter. But you have to give it a chance to do these things. It can make you be so much more interested in something besides yourself that you forget your problems long enough to calm down, without stirring you up in a phony emotional way like music or pretending that the world exists in a such-and-such way like novels. The world isn’t really there like that, and if you forget about the version you’ve been trained to participate in, for long enough, you might suddenly “come to” in a different world. Poetry performs changes through a very peculiar use of language that exploits its minutest parts – sound, meaning, as they too are composed of little tiny particles that change into minute bundles of waves, and so on. We are all quivering, and our bodies are in motion as we sit still. We have decided we have boundaries, each, but do we? My poems quiver and make your mind and body do the same.

You are the mother of two sons who both later became poets, and your two husbands have been poets. With this family milieu and various circles of poets, you managed to create a magnetic field that stretched across different cities and cultures. What was it that magnetized all those people from different generations around you? What was, as it were, the magic behind the scenes that raised the curtain between you on the stage and the audience? Do you remember any particular unforgettable or untold moments in that process?

I think we as a small group have been magnetizing because we all care so much, or in the case of the dead did care, about poetry. We cared about other people’s poems as well as our own and were open perpetually to a discussion of poetry and the other arts. We were and are open. Also, of course, we have talent, what one might call an objective sense of how words and parts of words relate to each other to sound out unpredictable but recognizable meanings that are also pleasurable. But meanwhile, I have secrets and intend to take them, as they say, to my grave.



Alice Notley How Spring Comes
Toothpaste Press

‘In 1981, Alice Notley published two superb, groundbreaking collections of poetry, How Spring Comes and Waltzing Matilda. These books illustrated how a poet can absorb her influences (in this case, mostly male) and assert her own complex, unique, and deeply experimental sensibility. A prolific “process” poet, Notley has published numerous volumes since the early ’80s, including a dark epic poem, The Descent of Alette.’ — David Trinidad





p.s. Hey. ** Misanthrope, Obviously happy to hear the correction on your mom’s pain front was that simple. Me too: very curious about the McCarthy double-header. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, B. I’m glad you liked it. Yeah, it’s a cool album. I’ve heard a little from the Dopplereffekt album, and it sounded really good. ** Dominik, Hi!!! Yeah, the MM scene is just kind of like a music video and seems really gratuitous and shoved in there for mysterious reasons. Our producer mess is way too complicated and long to lay out here, but we’re just going through yet another very difficult phase that wouldn’t even be happening if he wasn’t such an arrogant, incompetent jerk basically. We’re just trying to find our way through it, and we will. That’s odd, the hot water was off in my kitchen yesterday, but only there, weirdly, and now it’s back, weirdly. Did love fulfill your request? Love making mosquitoes scared to death of my apartment (I may have asked love to do that before, apologies, but as mosquitoes currently seem to think my apartment is Mecca, I’m forced to call in the ultimate weapon), G. ** Steve Erickson, I’m happy you liked some of the stuff. That Carl Stone album is really fun. I’ll look for Yokubari. Oh, I haven’t actually watched that many films lately, but documentaries are what my tastes are beelining for. I watched the Abercrombie & Fitch doc, and a really good new French doc about drug addiction Texas that was released here and whose title I’m blanking on at the moment. I’ll try to remember it. How was ‘CotF’? Could it possibly live up to the hype? ** Ian, Oh, good, that was fast. Really glad the turn around has started. And I’m obviously thrilled you liked the Kristof. That’s great. A really singular work, or works. I hope your today follows your yesterday’s suit. ** John Newton, Hi. Mm, music helps. I adore the band Guided by Voices, and, when I listen  to them, joy usually overtakes me, so sometimes it’s that simple. Also, weirdly, sometimes a sexual fantasy can do it. Not sure how that works. No, I don’t go to Germany all that much. To Berlin occasionally. And otherwise sometimes to here or there to see art or hit a theme park. Unfortunately I don’t speak or read German. I used to be sort of fluent in Dutch years ago, but that doesn’t help all that much. Do you go to Germany much? Is it a place of particular interest? I saw your email, and I’ll get back to ASAP. I’m preparing to make a new film with my friend/collaborator Zac Farley, and making a film is always difficult to set up, but we’re currently beset with problems that we shouldn’t be having due to the nightmarish personal/professional qualities of the project’s higher up. In France, it feels very post-Covid, even though it isn’t, but, yes, prices … yikes. Thanks! Take care! ** RYYYY, Hey, bud. Well, that’s awesome news about your job decrease/increase. Congrats! That is a hell of a costume to imagine, yes, indeed! Your brain is ruling. The theme park trip was a super blast. I  highly recommend that park: Phantasialand. Pretty and trippy as hell. See ya! ** politekid, Aw, thanks, dude. I’ll be fine. Although my ‘always land on my feet’ tendency is being bit too tested at the moment. Do knock digitally, or, hey, come visit! Although I’ll need to give you two door codes to actually get close enough to my real door to bump your knuckles against it. You said it yourself: ‘dumb reasons’. Keep that firmly in mind. Dumbness and you are not like soup and sandwich, my friend. Quite the opposite. I just read something somewhere about some new viral thing involving the ‘Goldeneye’ game, but I can’t remember what it is. Biggest Wednesday on earth to you!!! ** Okay. Today I spotlight my favorite book by the unimpeachable poet Alice Notley. I also chose it partly as an excuse to share the poem I use as the excerpt because it’s one of the great long poems in American literature if you ask me. Enjoy please. See you tomorrow.


  1. Dominik


    Waking up, I had no idea that what I needed was exactly this Alice Notley poem. I can’t tell you how much I loved it – certain lines especially but the poem as a whole as well. Thank you dearly!

    Yeah, I looked it up, the Marilyn Manson scene, and it’s indeed pretty much a music video just… inserted into the film for whatever reason. Although, to be fair, David Lynch does tend to have pretty mysterious reasons for certain elements of his work, haha.

    Shit, even this much sounds awful. I’m so sorry you have to deal with this with your producer – again.

    What’s up with hot water…? Love did fulfill my request. Not right away, but it simply came back at some point. And again – what’s up with mosquitos over there?? I’ve only met maybe… three this year so far. Shit. I do hope love does his job properly this time! Love figuring out the ultimate method to calm dogs during storms, Od.

  2. David Ehrenstein

    And Now Our National Anthem

  3. Misanthrope

    Dennis, Thanks for that. I think she’s gonna be all right.

    Yeah, the one sounds pretty good, and the other…hmm, I’m iffy on it, though I could see it being the better one. RE: McCarthy’s two new ones. We’ll see.

  4. Jack Skelley

    DC Comic: Yay, How Spring Comes incl. “The Prophet” (as we know joyous, essentialist NY School). And Yay, yesterday’s Carl Stone album (among others). And Yay, day before yesterdays’ Giles Goat Boy and Edwin Mulhouse (among more). I just got back from NY where my daughter graduated (NYU commencements at Yankee Stadium and Radio City). Sick of flying (literally), but hope you fly here soon! Really hope the film flim-flam higher-ups probs get sorted-out. I fear I’m losing the Botox wars, or its recent battles anyway. Currently nursing excessive migraine pain. Ouch. Mucho reading, writing and publishing. New work is in BlazeVOX Journal and Court Green and a review in Fugitives and Futurists . This Friday going to see Nadia Lee Cohen show at Jeffrey Deitch. What think you of her work? Sorry for over-wording here. Can’t wait to see you! xo Jack


    Hi, great post. Thanks once again. I think that over time my English has improved but I still run into some insurmountable difficulties, next month I have an exam and here you see me wasting my time clumsily. I would like to be able to carry out a blog with as much fidelity as you are capable of, a ritual that in some way, although you do not exactly have a string of confessed fans, gives me that I find fewer and fewer comments but those that They are very faithful to your meticulous work every day. My computer is overloaded and I can’t avoid having several windows open while the captures, the videos, etc., are downloaded as I read, sometimes there are too many and I have to close other tabs for everything to work correctly. I feel unusually tired, not from life but physically, emotionally, caffeine, sometimes I feel bad but it is essential for my proper functioning, I limit myself to a couple of coffees a day but they do not seem enough. I hope you liked my list of favorite books, we agree on some and that, far from exasperating me, makes me happy, I can always resort to literature, to the same books, because sometimes the book falls out of my hands and I don’t feel like Sometimes something very brainy, I settle for something that is instructive and then develop in the depths of my head, something that is immediately useful to me. Your books have given me a certain distance from real life and that is why sometimes I feel like reading them again from cover to cover, waiting in vain for some publisher to publish something new about it. Reading the 120 days of Sodom is more disturbing to me than anything, but I don’t want to console myself with such a bizarre narrative.

  6. _Black_Acrylic

    Alice Notley is a new name for me and this is my introduction to The Prophet, which I enjoyed a great deal. Thank you!

    I’ve been watching more docs and films, what with the football season finishing now. Saw the Abercrombie and Fitch documentary this week as well. Amazing how throughly they can cancel their own brand haha.

  7. Steve Erickson

    CRIMES OF THE FUTURE is pretty good, but no, it does not quite live up to the hype. Out of all of Cronenberg’s films, it reminds me most of eXistenZ. It creates a believable future world whose production design looks like a decaying Abstract Expressionist painting. But it’s too cozy – Cronenberg is doing what his fans wanted, returning to strange, gory body-horror, which leads to an odd nostalgia for transgression. I learned about the shooting in Texas immediately after the screening ended, which cast a pall over the experience.

    The Abercrombie & Fitch film was informative, but the way Netflix docs all follow the same structural and visual formulas saps my interest in them.

    Do you expect your issues with the producer to continue into the shoot itself?

  8. l@rst


    Seriously love that excerpt. Thank you! That opening paragraph sure hit home. I can truly say I’m doing much better at reducing such hungover days. A decade ago they were in the majority and now I can count them on one hand monthly.

    I’m thinking of joining a weekly “Poetry Studio” that runs weekly this Oct-May. I want to take writing my poems more seriously and really work them up into a collection that maybe someone else will publish, even if it means paying some money to keep me motivated. And meet some new writers. I like what the dude who runs it has written, both his poems and what he writes about other poems. We’ll see.


  9. l@rst

    oh P.S.-

    Have you read Darconville’s Cat? I’m digging it but definitely need a clear head when I read it.

  10. politekid

    i’m deffo still planning on visiting you!! as soon as things calm down this side, one way or the other — and before/after you’ve jetted off to LA to do what i’m convinced will be some beautiful filming — i’m booking my tickets and bothering you irl.
    i did have a big wednesday as well! went with my sister to a lecture on early british cybernetic art. lots of yellowing typewritten flowcharts and diagrams, and chunky building-sized computers, plus some time on Gustav Metzger’s machines that were planned to destroy themselves (which are a favourite of mine). another cybernetic artist from the time, Ernest Edmonds (who i’d never heard of before this — ever come across him?) was ‘in conversation’ afterwards. he was interesting, tho the lecturer kept talking over him and answering her own questions and he looked increasingly annoyed about it. still, some super brain food. i hope your wednesday ruled too!

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