Middle Carson

My current book project has a section or two on Anne Carson. Originally this was narrowly devoted to a close reading of The Beauty of the Husband (2001), which uses Keats to remediate the detritus of a fictitious marriage loosely based on Carson’s first. Keats is the presiding genius of my book. But Carson is addictive and all-consuming, so the Carson pages of the book have been metastasizing as I read more. There’s no one like her.

From “Essay on What I Think about Most”:

Hunger always feels
like a mistake.
Alkman makes us experience this mistake
with him
by an effective use of computational error.
For a poor Spartan poet with nothing

left in his cupboard
at the end of winter—
along comes spring
like an afterthought of the natural economy,
fourth in a series of three,
unbalancing his arithmetic

and enjambing his verse.
Alkman’s poem breaks off midway through an iambic metron
with no explanation
of where spring came from
or why numbers don’t help us
control reality better.

In order to curb my own completism and not pore over four decades of work in order to add two footnotes (I would do this. . .) I have needed to distinguish some tranche of Carson’s career that will be in play for me, given Carson is not one of the six authors my book is primarily about. I’ve come up with what I think of as Middle Carson, 1999-2010. The books of and about poetry in this period are Economy of the Unlost (1999), Men in the Off Hours (2000), The Beauty of the Husband, If Not, Winter (2002), Decreation (2005), and Nox (2010; written 2000).

Middle Carson was the period when her engagement with Sappho, Keats, and lyric peaked. It is the perigee in her eccentric orbit around these three objects of concern. Much of the rest of Carson’s career before 1999 and since 2010, both original work (whatever that means, given the way her texts play off the classics) and translations, is given over to Greek drama. I’ve excluded squarely dramatic works from the purview of my book as requiring a different approach and a different sensibility from my own. That’s no value judgment, just me knowing my limits. So until I write a whole book on Carson I’ll stop here.

Update December 2022: I did not stop there.

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