The compositional principles bear some resemblance to late H.D. e.g. in Helen in Egypt, or the War Trilogy. There are four books, each occupying as it were a distinct territory. Each book is made up of discrete poem units, which lead however from one to the next with great fluency. The discrete units are perhaps more important to the poet as convenient stopping points in the composition than to the reader. Certainly I found myself reading the books as wholes. The form is stanzas usually of four, but occasionally differing numbers of lines. The lines are generally long, and, though free verse, have a rather hexameter feel. Individual rhythmic units within lines are pointed up by being enclosed in quote marks. This has the effect of combining the short lines (which are in effect feet) of Williams and other twentieth century americans into longer units, while maintaining the clarity of the feet. The result is a gracious flowing music that seems new. If I were to look for a comparison it would be to the Minimalist Romanticism of John Adams' music e.g. in his recent Violin Concerto. There are the same long lines, and the feeling of a lyricism which is both very old and very new. This treatment of line and foot ought to become very widely known and influential.
To discuss the poem is difficult, because to discuss it in detail would require almost a book, but I will attempt to point some of its directions.
Book one takes place in a world of half lights, in a subway, perhaps in New York. Alette is aware of the dominance of a tyrant, so dominant says one character (female) `he says " what a life is" '. Yet Alette cannot accept this tyrant's achievement, and this leads her to join a train into real darkness, away from this insubstantial half-lit world.
Book two involves a descent through a succession of caves, which seem endless and legendary, but are full of subtle hints and contradictions. The book might be described as triumph of mood and dream imagery, for the intellectual direction is often a little elusive. Yet the book has a cumulative power. After many twists Alette takes a stone which is a piece of the tyrant's heart, leaves the caves, and enters a corridor.
Yet the corridor is somehow by a river, which in Book three Alette enters. At a beach the network of caves leaves as it were through her forehead. There is then a meeting of importance with a headless woman. It is in the aftermath of this that Alette feels something of the owl and the snake enter into her own body. She then meets an owl (male) who initiates her into confronting the tyrant. A sense of the natural world seems important to this and its symbiotic relationships deeply significant. At one point indeed the owl eats Alette, and she is aware both of being eaten, and watching herself being eaten.
So: a strange passage of lights and ancestral memories, and Alette is an owl herself, and being urged (by the owl) when she meets the tyrant to think as an owl and `" not like a human woman"'. Then in Book four there is the confrontation with the tyrant, part of whose heart Alette has previously acquired. The tyrant after the fashion of tyrants is scornful and shows off his world, which (like so much of modern culture) seems to consist of the dissection and classification of things in such a way as to deny them their life and reality.
The (for want of a better description) dual that follows is genuinely exciting. The denouement is arguably bald in that the triumph the owl/Alette seems to turn on the discovery that the tyrant is not real, though how this connects with the very vivid pulling out of a bush by the owl, while the tyrant sleeps, is oddly uncertain. Alette returns to the real world. Arguably (as with Shelley's Prometheus Unbound) this is the weakest part of the poem. It does not seem enough to say that the city has reassumed its ancient form, and commerce has been destroyed.
Nevertheless, this is a major poem, and I hope this brief inadequate note may induce more readers to enter its strange portals.