Alice Notley reading featured laughter, musing between the lines

The Poetry Foundation/Courtesy

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The intimate selections of poetry read by Alice Notley and Simona Schneider at UC Berkeley’s Holloway Reading Series on Thursday made for a night of contradictions; the poets’ performances were lovely yet severe, and their content felt personal yet universal, both descriptive and emotive. Before the event’s slightly delayed start, the reading’s comfortable tone was set as the breezy autumn evening rendered Wheeler Hall’s Maude Fife Room warm and welcoming to the 40 or so eager listeners.

A UC Berkeley student introduced each poet with an eloquent, complimentary biography of the respective poet’s life, work and influence. These introductions were influential additions, as the appreciative students expressed the incredible extent to which poetry can affect aspiring minds.

The first to read was Simona Schneider, a graduate student at UC Berkeley who delivered a collection she wrote during a summer  spent in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Her determined delivery was sprinkled with interludes of smiles and laughs that brought listeners back to the present after being pulled into the meticulously thorough worlds constructed in her poems. Selections that felt particularly moving were those that concentrated on the extraordinary quality of the ordinary; Schneider recounts her absorption in the incredible innovation of Velcro as one of a few “Small Miracles on Public Transit” and meditates on a “gas station to save our souls,” found along the roadway of an American landscape. Her loving, confident tone permitted listeners to recognize the immense beauty found in the everyday.

Where Schneider discovered small miracles of the outer world, Notley explored her inner passions; where Schneider smiled between her works, Notley grasped the podium and her pages, delivering her pieces without pause or introduction. Notley has been recognized with awards including the International Griffin Poetry Prize in 2002 and the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize in 2007. Many of the pieces she read shifted between dreams and wakefulness — I don’t know how to dream, but I’m dreaming — but the shameless honesty of her writing makes her dream state relatable, even appealing. She reasons aloud how she fits into this world: “In your assigned role, you’re a woman, but I’ve always been a poet … Why do I have human features?” She describes her power and courage openly in lines such as, “I like this story, but I like my voice better.” An experienced meditator on self-awareness and self-assertion, Notley delivered her work with passion and honesty.

The pairing of Schneider and Notley at the Holloway Reading Series reading made for a night that was satisfyingly complete. Their performances were both light and strong, exposed and determined, and their works balanced between the observational and the expressive. Schneider’s and Notley’s writings and performances were inspiring, revealing and unapologetically human.

Contact Anna Horrocks at [email protected].