Sunday, September 17, 2006

Reading Anne Carson

Exhibit in the gallery of my mind:


Solitude breathes society.
Compact urban Brontë in my wallet
between the C note and the theater tickets.

Alight at High Winds bus stop. Turn Prairie Corner. Cross Eros Street to Great Lake Avenue.

Virginia Woolf, Anne Carson, and Sappho meet me at the Chicago Diner for vegetarian greasy spoon in the punk rock piercing booth.

I've been doing some sleepwalking and sleepreading to prepare for this inter-review, of sorts.

Anne Carson's Glass, Irony and God is an astonishing collection of poetry and prose. "The Glass Essay," written in verse, tells the story of a woman recovering from the end of an affair. She visits her mother who lives on an empty moor. She reads Emily Brontë, her favorite.

Sitting with my legs crossed in this windy diner, where autumn dribbles like soup spilling off the spoon, I read Carson's poems through clenched teeth. I throw my fists in all directions until they slam up against bottles of chili sauce, ketchup, and maple syrup. These leather knuckles punch through glass. I'm angry, too. And this place is a mess. But don't ask why. The only question allowed here is "Smoking or Non?" And even that question, soon, will have archaic charm, what with all the smoke banning going on nowadays.

If I ever attempt to write narrative verse, I'd use Carson's "The Glass Essay" as a model. Her play with form does everything from guiding meditation to telling a deceptively simple story. Both activities reveal a soul coming to terms with its nakedness.

"And nudes have a difficult sexual destiny."

This sentence makes me think back to what was going through my mind when I wrote my novel Mint Fan Alley. Nude suggests the integrity of art and yet through burlesque smoke and mirrors, the audience gets a brutal confrontation with the sublime: vulgar, tender and cruel; beastly and beautiful.

Beastly naked. "Oh, it's only Dedalus whose mother is beastly dead." Said Buck Mulligan.

Stirs the soul. I am dead naked. Where art thou, buck?

Yes. I realize it is true: This difficult sexual destiny involves slamming up against the bars of a prison, grabbing around the stained, iron rods and grinning through them.

Carson's words leave ash over my skin, as if her words have erupted something dark and hot over my entire body. I'd like to eat every page of her Glass, Irony and God, that was published by New Directions in 1992 with an introduction by Guy Davenport. I could chew it to bits, including the introduction.

Sometimes, in Carson's poems, "April light is filling the moor with gold milk." And I am reminded that the narrator is with her mother, after losing a lover, and her mother suggests she turn on the lamp when day fades to evening. Read under light. What comfort!

I even found it amusing that this absent lover's name was Law (as I am now contemplating and preparing to go to law school, dealing with the strange personal conflict that this endeavor involves for me.)

But then sometimes, in Carson's poems, there is "[a] solid black pane of moor life caught in its own night attitudes." I am grinning through the bars of bardic prison. Prison schoolroom. I've learned from Carson's Decreation: Sappho knew the question is not "Why don't you love me?" The question is "What is it that love dares the self to do?"

"Love dares the self to leave itself behind, to enter into poverty." So ends the first part of the three part opera. I know what she means. Those lines are giving me strength, and I'll dare Law.

Anne Carson's work impresses a reader with its genre-mixing. She swirls essay, criticism, poetry, opera, and narrative--ink ensemble spills out the paper orchestra pit. No, no. It's not a pit. Carson is applying pressure under earth. Ink volcano. Read her, and you'll spill.


Anonymous said...

Came back after a long time... did all the catching up.... must say you're doing a great job. Smile.

Shannon Webb-Campbell said...

Fascinating - I'm currently writing an essay on Carson's Semi-Autobiography in The Glass Essay. I've been contemplating weaving her appearance on HBO's hit show The L Word, as the poet acts as the thread woven between Marina and Jenny.

Not to downplay the beauty of your poetics, buts it certainly emulates such a scene in some regard.

Keep writing, I'll keep reading.