Shortcut #62: Short Talks

I love Anne Carson.  That might be all you need to know, but in case you need to know more, I present to you

Shortcut #62: Anne Carson’s Short Talks

Now, I’d read some of these before.  I’m not sure (because I’m not at home and so can’t check my library) whether it’s in Plainwater or Glass, Irony, and God, but one of those books (or another one) had a section of short talks that was shorter than the forty-five in this short, small, narrow book.

Anne Carson (like me) also seems to be an experimentalist.  She pushes her voice into new forms relentlessly, failing to be content with just one method of saying things.  She’s written long poems and short poems, prose poems and lyric, academic poems (um… essays) and opera poems, as well as a prose novel (Autobiography of Red) that is simply beautiful and was a Young Adult verse novel before Young Adult verse novels were all the fashion.

(They aren’t all the fashion. – Ed.)

Are you sure?

(Yes. -Ed.)

Because I’ve seen some around.

(Still. -Ed.)

Okay.  Well, the point remains, she did it earlier than the trend.  (If there is a trend.  Which I will state, for the record, I believe there is, or was, or will be one.) Carson can write a book about whatever the damn hell she wants to, and I will eat it up (after I read it) and be impressed by her variety, her veracity, her tenacity, and her depth of mind.

What always strikes me about Carson is the way she approaches her subjects.  Which is to say, from the side.  Or, maybe, from the next street over.  She runs parallel and you follow her without realizing when she crosses over to the real subject (or, there is no crossing, and you realize that the street you’ve been following has been the real subject all along).

Take this poem, “Short Talk on the Total Collection”:

From childhood he dreamed of being able to keep with him all the objects in the world lined up on his shelves and bookcases. He denied lack, oblivion or even the likelihood of a missing piece. Order streamed from Noah in blue triangles and as the pure fury of his classifications rose around him, engulfing his life they came to be called waves by others, who drowned, a world of them.

It’s not until the end that it’s clear that this is a retelling of the flood, but even that isn’t clear.  The poem is not a simple refashioning, but a reunderstanding of what the flood might mean, or how it might mean: the flood as an act of creation.  As the writer creates and understands the world, so does the writer destroy it.  Make it strange.

And that’s what Carson is doing.  She makes it strange.  Though, often as not, the it was already strange to begin with.  What Carson accomplishes with language is to capture not the “making strange” as a final product, but that process, the “making of”, and, if she’s on her game (and she is) and we’re lucky (i.e., you read her poems) then we are caught in that making, our brains transformed into making-strange machines.

“Short Talk On Le Bonheur D’Etre Bien Aimée

Day after day I think of you as soon as I wake up.  Someone has put cries of birds on the air like jewels.

What strange! (our brains say) What strange!

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