I, the people

In her 1986 book Parts of a Wedding, Alice Notley published a poem I especially admire, called "I the People." (It was republished in Grave of Light: New & Selected Poems, 1970-2005.) The text of the poem is here. When Notley came to the Writers House to read in the fall of '06, she read this poem and we have a recording of it (mp3). In its sense of political-is-personal, it is very much like John Ashbery's poem, "The One Thing That Can Save America": a lyrical digressive response, in its very meandering and promotion of urban specificity, to the fundamental democratic idea of the people. Somewhat predictably the poem turns the phrase "we, the people" every which way so that the republic seems to depend on modest and shifting as opposed to hyper-confident presumptuous first-person statements. Notley's "I" is one that becomes "we" by way of (actual) love experience, an actual sense of place. There are broad but only momentarily hints of satire here, e.g. at/against Frost's "The Gift Outright," with its notion of what America "was" and "would become." Notley: "I the people / to the things that are were & come to be. / We were once what we know when we / make love...."