For the Ride

Penguin. Mar. 2020. 144p. ISBN 9780143134572. pap. $20. POETRY
What happened after Noah tried to save the known world by filling the ark as compared with what could have happened: that’s the territory of this difficult, genre-bending 36th book from Ruth Lily Prize winner Notley (Certain Magical Acts). A preface suggests that the book began with the 74-year-old Notley standing in L’Orangerie in Paris looking at a canvas of Monet’s Water Lilies spread wall to wall and entering a trancelike state. Divided into 18 long poems containing several shorter ones (some written in French), the epic poem that resulted tells a variation of the story of Noah and the ark (or art, as Notley suggests). But instead of saving the world, a narrator tries to save the “word” from an apocalypse of rain and foggy grayness—restoring it to its original vibrancy. “One,” the poem’s protagonist, is dubbed The First Maker or The Celestial Presence and cannot stop vibrating/speaking, saying things like: “Let’s call this grey stuff light.”
VERDICT Written in a breathless e.e. cummings style, the poem fractures the rules of spelling, grammar, syntax, and formal poetry and is at times unintelligible. But it also brims with fresh, vibrant metaphors and irony, not the least being the religious innuendos that permeate the text. For sophisticated readers of poetry.
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