This digital publishing project seeks to make available fully searchable facsimile PDF editions of the magazines edited by poet Alice Notley. The project currently includes the complete runs of Scarlet (1990-1991) and Gare du Nord (1997-1999), both co-edited with Douglas Oliver. Notley's Chicago, a legal-size mimeograph magazine published from 1972-1974 in Chicago and Wivenhoe in Essex, England, will be added to the collection in the near future. These magazines have generously been made available courtesy of Alice Notley. Please share widely.
A strange thing has been happening where when Alice Notley's work is described it's started to sound as if The Descent of Alette is the beginning of her career when, of course, there's more than twenty years of work that precedes it and an incredible amount of work since. Last year I asked Alice what she thought about her work being talked about as if it's split into two halves. She said: "Oh, it’s not even that it’s two halves, it’s that nobody wants to take it all on. Everyone’s really fucking lazy. They want me to be one thing. They want to pin down everybody and they want them to be one thing that they can call confessional or experimental or whatever. And I tried them all out because I just have to. And I’m not one thing. Hardly anyone does me justice therefore."
One of the many things that Alice has been and done is to be an editor, so I'm interested in these two magazines, Scarlet and Gare du Nord, because they open a set of interlocking stories and questions about Notley's work and about the afterlives of the New York School. For example, as someone who primarily studies the work of Ted Berrigan, which has meant becoming someone who also primarily studies the work of Alice Notley, why haven't I also always been reading the work of Doug Oliver? Or, if a book like The Descent of Alette has become the de facto marker of Notley's "mainstream" breakthrough, whatever that means, why doesn't anyone care to look at the origins of that poem in Scarlet or to read it in relationship with Oliver's work, like Penniless Politics, which can and should be read as interconnected, parallel works of mythic resistance and political justice? Or, if the poetry Notley started to write in the 1990s is the poetry for which she has received the most critical and celebratory attention--Descent, Mysteries of Small Houses, Disobedience--why doesn't her work editing Scarlet and Gare du Nord enter into that conversation? Or, more simply, what's the deal with these magazines and why doesn't anyone ever talk about them? If these magazines have fallen outside conversations about Notley's work, if they have not shown up on the radar of scholars of the New York School, and if they're too recent to be included in important archival indexes like From a Secret Location on the Lower East Side, how should we begin to describe and contextualize their importance? It shouldn't be surprising that Notley's editing of two magazines in the 90s goes mostly unnoticed since her editing of the magazine Chicago in the 1970s has also gone mostly unnoticed. As Alice said to me last year, "Everybody insisted that Chicago magazine was edited by Ted! They wouldn't let me have it. They wouldn't let me have anything." One of the goals of this digital publishing project collecting the complete runs of the three magazines edited by Notley is to create open access to the record of Notley's achievement as an editor and insist that these documents, so far only half-captured between the archive, antiquarian bookseller, and occasional footnote, but absent from the way we introduce and talk to one another about Notley's life and work, are read, remembered, and publicly accounted for.
Bookending a decade of incredible work and new life, Scarlet and Gare du Nord are vital records of the collaborative refusal and care that Notley and Oliver produced together as they moved between New York City and Paris. Scarlet, published in five issues from 1990-1991, seeks to establish a poetry newspaper that is "guided by right spirit," a tacit reference to the political party "Spirit" founded by Will Penniless and friends in Penniless Politics, and tracks the shifting literary and political landscapes concurrent with the First Gulf War and the ongoing AIDS crisis. The magazine's run concluded in March 1992 with the publication of The Scarlet Cabinet, a compendium of books by Notley and Oliver, including the first complete publications of The Descent of Alette and Penniless Politics, both of which were serialized in the magazine. The end of Scarlet also marks the end of Notley's life in New York City in the iconic apartment at 101 St. Marks Place. Five years later in Paris, Notley and Oliver began publishing Gare du Nord, a magazine "to act as a rail crossing-point" between glossy poetry magazines and the emergence of online poetry websites, and more widely, between cultures, between genders, and between genres. The five issues of Gare du Nord span from 1997-1999. The "right spirit" of Scarlet, what they describe as "work which unities vision to concern," extends to Gare du Nord in Notley's and Oliver's commitment to a radical editorial vision that values magazine publishing as an extension of those intimacies, truths, and questions which are the subject of one's life, not a personal marketing strategy or poetic allegiance.
Designed on computers, printed, and stapled, both magazines are early examples of the intersection of analog and digital publication methods and share a similar formatting template that utilizes newspaper-like columns influenced by Oliver's background as a journalist. The columns create a non-linear, generative reading experience, as works in different genres and of different lengths extend over multiple pages in a variety of formatted columns, side-bars, and sections, producing a visual-textual arrangement that sparks convergences of voices and ideas. For example, in Scarlet No. 2 a conversation between Leslie Scalapino and Philip Whalen extends over four pages alongside a section from The Descent of Alette, so that when Whalen is hilariously disparaging Charles Olson's "Projective Verse"--"that God-awful essay that everyone just loves to death"-- as "a lot of smartass babble," we can simultaneously read a section of Notley's feminist epic that up-ends and surpasses Olson's masculine-civic founding of a new poetics of the syllable and the line. This formatting is starkly different than Notley's editorial approach in Chicago, where poems appeared individually on large, open pages, an approach that she likened to the placement of paintings on the spacious walls of a gallery. The content-rich design of both magazines also positions them between the traditional magazine and the literary newsletter. Scarlet's folded, stapled pages and the absence of a stand-alone cover make it reminiscent of The Poetry Project Newsletter. Gare du Nord's design is more immediately that of a magazine, side-stapled with a series of different colored-covers by Laurent Baude, though the interior design is very similar to Scarlet. As Alice says, "Doug wanted our magazine to have production values. [He] had journalist experience and so he wanted to do these beautiful magazines although we still stapled them." And they are beautiful, rare objects.
In addition to publishing a unique lineup of writers variously cross-listed as New Cambridge, New York School, and just new--Scarlet and Gare du Nord are also linked through the range of ways that they insist on their own voices being arranged in the space of the magazine. In addition to both poets' epic works being serialized, sets of recurring columns by Notley and Oliver unify both magazines. These include editorial statements and an incredible "Dream Gossip" column in Scarlet, along with a reader inquiry feature, Notley's "Cosmic Chat" pieces in the style of Disobedience, and a series of "chats" between Notley and Oliver about various subjects as the interlocutors "X" and "Y," all of which appear in Gare du Nord. What Notley describes in the introduction to The Scarlet Cabinet is applicable to their editorial approach to both magazines: "[O]ne must not make poetry boring by reasoning the human figure, the poet with mouth & tongue, out of it--leaving only the mannered tracings of a mind which, by constantly denying its own existence as 'someone,' becomes of interest only to translators of difficult discourse, to critics." In a 1997 autobiographical essay, Oliver remarks on the origins and work of Scarlet: "Alice had been working on several poem sequences, including her now-celebrated The Descent of Alette. I had a Robert Louis Steveson pastiche ready--Sophia Scarlett, a feminist version of a novel Stevenson had projected before his death. And we had begun a newspaper-style poetry magazine, Scarlet. It was Gulf War time, so we had plenty to editorialize--and agonize--about; Alice ran a "Dream Gossip" column, which printed everyone's scandalous dreams; Anselm Hollo had a regular filler features of aperçus called Hollograms; and we were called one of the brightest new small poetry reviews for a while. We serialized The Descent of Alette and Penniless Politics and our final issue was a fat book, called, to continue our scarlet thematics, The Scarlet Cabinet." The "X" and "Y" chats of Gare du Nord--a series of discussions between Notley and Oliver transcribed from tape recordings--are particularly noteworthy, tracking the editors' raw, thoughtful conversations on topics like syntax, chauvinism, tone, and politics as they relate to poetry and living. Nearly 20 pages longer per-issue and more thoroughly collaborative than Scarlet, a reader can feel the increasingly intertwined joys and critiques that the editors' lives together are producing. It's useful to read Notley's comments in a 1997 interview as a kind of stage for how Gare du Nord operates: "At the moment I work most in conjunction with Doug. We're interested in the same kinds of forms and share so many of the same concerns, but speak so differently from each other, being American and English, that we're enriched by the different textures of our languages. And also the differing textures of the ways in which we think. I also always want to know what people like Ron Padgett, Lorenzo Thomas, Anne Waldman, Anselm Hollo, etc. think about things. I continue to be interested in the work of Leslie Scalapino, Eileen Myles, Joanne Kyger, Lyn Hejinian. I want to know how mature minds are dealing with what's going on in the world. And I'm waiting to see what the very young will come up with in terms of forms and techniques."
As a way in, here are my top five hits from both magazines, in no fixed order:
1. Gare du Nord Vol. 1 No. 1, 1997: Joe Brainard, from "Joe's Secret Journals 1961": "At times like this I really know, though I rarely admit it to myself, I and the world are great and so fucked. I'll never be happy or satisfied, I'll always be like this, so fucked. Yet so excited by everything....Just realized that though I'm writing this for myself and for the sake of writing, Ted will read it (and I want him to) therefore will discuss a point which I know will be in his mind after reading this far. We have both expected (at least outward) that the reward for an artist is the act of creating. This is a beautiful theory and how I wish I could believe in it. But I seldom 'enjoy' the process of painting. It's hard work. And so often what I want to say is painful; so often I don't want to admit it. In fact I usually do it subconsciously. And when it's finished it's not what I wanted. It's never completely honest. Here again I need to undress."
2. Gare du Nord Vol. 1 No. 3, 1998: Lyn Hejinian's and Beulah Notley's ghost story contributions to reader inquiry feature, "That Psychic View": Hejinian: "I wasn't at all afraid and sat up. His presence was sweet--he seemed friendly and amused. We continued looking at each other, and he began to fade away. The last thing to disappear was his head, which floated above the chair and then drifted off." Notley: "One time when Mamma was much older and was living with me I was taking her to Phoenix because I was going on a trip. She had been quite sick and as were driving along she said, 'Pods, when I am sick a little blond-haired girl comes and stands besides my bed.' Coming from Mamma this was something because she was always so down-to-earth. I told her that maybe it was her guardian angel, but she said she didn't know."
3. Gare du Nord Vol. 2 No. 1, 1998: Renne Gladman, "Proportion Surviving"--An incredible story about an obsession with juice after an enigmatic, undescribed environmental disaster that results in a world without apple juice, with some of the most joyful, bent repetitions of the word "juice." Here are some of the amazing sentences from the story: "I was fond of doing many things at home, but my favorite was drinking juice. When my friends came by...I had to tell them I was busy with my juice"; "The poems I had written were failures, but dense ones;" "I had a way of reminding my friends that we were all in pain, but in a fruit tart kind of pain strangers can't help but enjoy"; "So the loss of light was emotional and the lost state--demographic"; "I was happy. I mean, I was in my juice"; "All but the third Sunday of each month, I would walk in and find all kinds of juice on sale. Not to buy, but stand next to"; "The foundation of anyone feeling that they must get away is need; at the bottom of any body based need is grace"; "All the time while I was growing up I put a lot of demands on my juice"; "The juice on my mind was no longer juice. There was an absence there, but one so constant it became familiar. I did not want to drink it."
4. Scarlet No. 1, September 1990: Alice Notley, "From an Untitled Long Poem"--The first publication of a section of what would become, by Scarlet No. 3, The Descent of Alette. Beginning with the note "Pages from the first section which takes place in a Subway," this portion of the poem appears in the middle of Book One in the book-length publication. Oliver's Penniless Politics, published here as simply Penniless, is also first serialized in this issue.
5. Scarlet No. 1-5: Every single one of the "Dream Gossip" columns, paired with a drawing of a white cat by Joe Brainard, is incredible. Dreams sent in by writers and artists are playfully framed through the editors' witty, charming introductions. Notley's devotion to dreams as an irreducible event for her poetry is documented in her books and interviews, and "Dream Gossip" can be read as an early sharing of this process. As the inaugural "Dream Gossip" column describes: "We asked our contributors to send us their dreams; most did not. A few did. One sent us some, & then withdrew ('censored') one. Dreams have gossip value--containing what didn't happen that was so salacious. We offer this column as a random sampling of events in the night world; if you want to use it as a remark on the nature of the poet's (or painter's) soul, that's your concern. We're afraid that dream happenings are merely more of what goes on." The full list of participating dreamers includes: Sparrow, Joe Brainard, Leslie Scalapino, Doug Oliver, Ed Friedman, John Godfrey, Elinor Nauen, Ed Foster, Edmund Berrigan, Anselm Hollo, Sal Salasin, David Trinidad, Susie Timmons, Sharon Mesmer, George Schneeman, Rudy Burckhardt, Anthony Barnett, Anne Waldman, Tom Savage, Tony Towle, Pat Nolan, Will Yackulic, Lita Hornick, Albert Glover. The "Dream Gossip" column culminates in an essay by Notley, "What Can Be Learned From Dreams?", which appears in issue No. 5. Two excerpts from the essay: "Dream seems to give us answers all of the time without ever knowing what the questions are. We don't seem to think we should ask if anything--we think we should ask science & philosophy about origin. And we think we should ask psychology about dreams. We rarely ask ourselves anything"; and "Suppose a world leader were in touch with his dreams? Would he finally have the delicacy of understanding necessary to conduct a conversation, a real conversation, with foreigners, with others? without leaping into Action?"