A rich gathering of short works by poet and scholar Carson (An Oresteia, 2009, etc.), joining past to present and ancient to modern.
Carson is by temperament both experimental poet and traditional classical scholar (her bio line reads, laconically, “Anne Carson was born in Canada and teaches ancient Greek for a living”), heavy on linguistic parsing and close reading on the one hand and lightning bursts of metaphorical insight on the other. This collection, innovatively presented as a series of chapbooks that can be read sequentially or not as the mood strikes, highlights both interests. These chapbooks variously gather lectures, poems, notes, performance pieces (some written for and very much in the spirit of Laurie Anderson), and miscellanea—the last including, for instance, a list of the periods of the French experimental artist Yves Klein, among them “The Era of Taming the Cunning Ego” and “The Era of the Deciding That Line Is Jealous of Color Line Is a Tourist in Space.” The poems inhabit the country that lies somewhere between late modernism and postmodernism—“most people / blush before death / she just / steps off”—and they are often reminiscent of W.S. Merwin and, if he were more inclined to lyric, the late Guy Davenport. Readers of a more critical bent may enjoy her prose pieces more, since these touch on themes in classical literature and history, often as refracted through later eras: for example, one essay ponders the origins of our color term “purple” in the Greek name for a Mediterranean fish, the search for which gave the Greeks a lovely metaphor for hashing through dark thoughts, which then leads into Hölderlin’s insanity, Paul Celan’s private language, and other matters more or less arcane. Readers of whatever description will enjoy watching Carson’s nimble mind at play—and play is just the word, for Carson caresses words, winds them up and watches them go: “If Picasso’s curls could quote Napoleon’s curls then resemblance might all but rob the one gentleman of the other’s identity….”
A radiant delight for Carson’s many admirers.