Anne Carson
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Anne Carson

Past Event: Monday, March 6, 2000

Anne Carson is a writer with two desks. In the literal sense she uses one desk for classical scholarship and another for creative writing, but in her mind she marries these desks to produce original essays and astounding poetry that break and bend the rules in ways that continually surprise her readers. In her book Economy of the Unlost, for instance, she explores the idea of a “language economy” by aligning the writings of the Greek lyric poet Simonides and the modern Romanian poet and Holocaust survivor Paul Celan; through this technique Carson offers an explanation for what is lost when words are wasted and who profits when words are saved. She believes both poets stand in a state of alienation between two worlds, but through her “two desked-self,” she deftly brings the worlds of these poets together in a writing style that echoes the lyricism of poetry.

As both a classicist and a poet, she invents new forms and transforms old ones to blur the boundaries between genres. In her own words, “Form is a rough approximation of what the facts are doing. Their activity more than their surface appearance. I mean, when we say that form imitates reality or something like that it sounds like an image. I’m saying it’s more like a tempo being covered, like a movement within an event or thing.” This loose line between her poetry and prose transcends all her work, and is most apparent in her books Short Talks, where she condenses the form of essay into a prose poem and Autobiography of Red, a novel-in-verse.

Unlike many contemporary poets, Carson abhors self-involvement in her writing. While a poem like “The Glass Essay” makes references to her life, Carson does not see these moments as any more important or meaningful than the other “facts” contained in the poem. “I find the idea of the essay as self-exploration kind of creepy. Because when you write an essay you’re giving a gift, it seems to me. You’re giving this grace as the ancients would say. A gift shouldn’t turn back into the self and stop there,” she explains. “That’s why facts are so important, because a fact is something already given. It’s a gift from the world or from wherever you found it. And then you take that gift and you do something with it, and you give it again to the world or to some person, and that keeps it going.”

Anne Carson is the Director of Graduate Studies in Classics at McGill University. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 1996 Lannan Award, a 1997 Pushcart Prize for poetry, and a nomination for the 1998 National Book Critics Circle Award. She lives in Canada.

Selected WorkThe Beauty of the Husband : A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos (2001)Economy of the Unlost (1999)Autobiography of Red (1998)Plainwater: Essays and Poetry (1996)Glass, Irony and God (1995)Goddesses And Wise Women (1992)Eros the Bittersweet: An Essay (1986) book review of Men in the Off HoursReading group guide to The Beauty of the HusbandShort interview with Carson