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Culture of One

Penguin Poets. Apr. 2011. c.142p. ISBN 9780143118930. pap. $18. POETRY
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With stunning metaphors, intriguing wordplay, and an engaging though confusing story line, Notley's latest collection ostensibly concerns Marie, who resides in the town dump. But as Griffin and Lenore Marshall prize winner Notley writes in the poem "The Book of Lies," none of this is true—what these poems say is not what they mean. Marie and the other characters live in the narrator's psyche and are extensions of her present and future selves, as described in "The Doodad Affair." Or, as in "Squint," "I couldn't stop being Marie, or Eve Love—even in Paris. I couldn't stop being Mercy or Leroy." Ultimately, even though this is a collection of innovative, shape-shifting language poems, they don't seem like poems at all. They seem like the schizophrenic musings among several characters with an I-narrator often breaking in—which adds a dose of the real or the surreal depending on your perspective.
VERDICT If this is art, it insists on its own terms and can be appreciated only by readers who accept them.

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