Rachel Zucker on Alice Notley and Her Influence

Rachel Zucker

The poet Rachel Zucker pays tribute to Alice Notley on the blog Literary Mothers, which gathers short essays on female literary influence.  She recalls the serendipity of her first discovery of Notley:

“At [James] Schuyler’s San Diego archives I called up boxes and boxes of correspondence. I read many of Schuyler’s letters to Ashbery, which I found fascinating and boring. I requested Schuyler’s correspondence with David Trinidad, a poet I’d read in Wayne Koestenbaum’s class. It was there, in a letter from Trinidad to Schuyler, that I first saw Alice Notley’s name. Trinidad was praising Notley’s work, asking if Schuyler had read it, and, as I recall, recommending it for an anthology. I remember writing ‘Alice Notley??’ in my notebook.”

Zucker — who has become an important and influential poet of motherhood herself — acknowledges just how powerful she found Notley’s example to be:

“It is December 31, 2009, 5:07 PM. The sky is mauve-black. I should get up and make dinner. I don’t want to. Of course writing and mothering are in conflict. Always.

I wanted to write an essay about how, from beyond the grave, James Schuyler led me to Alice Notley.  How I found and stole Notley’s book How Spring Comes and read the poem ‘The Prophet’ and loved it but didn’t even know that this was the poet who would sustain me in my dark hours because I hadn’t yet come to live the life she was describing, hadn’t had children, not yet, but would.  I wanted to write about how Jorie Graham was another mother, a glorious queen-witch who frightened me just as my own mother frightened me, whereas Alice Notley wasn’t my mother but a future possible self, which is a kind of mother. I too would be the mother of sons.”

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