Everyone has a story to tell about Alice. It’s pretty much guaranteed to be dark. In two episodes of Syfy’s now-canceled show Warehouse 13, Alice is a murderous young girl literally trapped in a mirror, like some kind of literary Bloody Mary or even maybe just the young-adult version of the Polish nightmare Baba Yaga. In the survival horror game American McGee’s Alice, Alice leaves behind a ten-year stay at a mental asylum only to discover that Wonderland has become exponentially more violently twisted, in response to her own mental instability.
Since the video game’s initial original release in 2000, that overall storyline—Alice lives in an asylum for a decade and Wonderland becomes progressively, more exponentially warped over time—has been again recycled, into the premise behind the ABC television series, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. For some reason, the show tries to be more family friendly, and there’s an added twist involving Alice and some kind of red-carpet flying guy invented for the sake of romance. But we’re still usually never too far from a world of mind-altering drugs and despotic, power-crazed queens.
This whole lineage of recycled plot-lines and emotionally unbalanced women is virtually discarded in Alyse Knorr’s debut collection of poetry, Annotated Glass.
Alice’s world is, at times, just as mystical and bizarre. At one point, her father is “more driftwood than man.” And there is a pretty palpable sense of loss, just like any Alice retelling. Yet highlighting only these aspects is just lazy. There is loss. And there are also moments when legs quickly multiply like a flock of migratory birds—and at one point Alice burns up a full 1.4 billion acres of rainforest with a handful of matches.
But underneath the surface of it all, the meat and potatoes of the story—and the thing that really makes each poem hum as one living, organic thing—is its exploration of intimacy.
Some of the relationships explored: Alice and her father, Alice and her siblings, and most memorably—Alice and one of her lovers, Jenny. Alice’s interest in Jenny feels about as provocative and inviting as fairly-worn socks. I don’t mean that in a bad way.
I mean, it’s a bit like when you are falling in love with someone, and virtually everything seems to hold the potential to tell you a new story about the person you admire. And the love you feel is the kind where you want to know everything, and want to study everything, like some kind of statistics-obsessed fangirl. You are fascinated by those socks, and those socks make you want to be closer to that person, closer to their most vulnerable feelings. You just might want to be that person’s defender, for better or for worse. Andrei Codrescu obsessed over this in his essay “A Kind of Love” in The Muse Is Always Half-Dressed in New Orleans, and it’s a kind of love that he says, makes you “her defender, the messenger of her qualities, the trumpeter of her records, the fan of her history.”
Reading Annotated Glass, it’s easy to want to be that kind of fan. And maybe Alice does too. At a reception for a play that both Alice and Jenny attend, the protagonist notes:
As she looks at me I notice several new lines on her face and feel like
an explorer, so I lean in and kiss her left cheek—chastely. She sighs
and says, Alice.
None of this feels like just another recycled Alice yarn, just another story heavy with drug references and laced with loss. In fact, it’s probably the most fully-fleshed out Alice we’ve ever gotten. Purchase a copy of the book here.