Monday, December 6, 2010

Anne Carson: Still Awesome

Book Reviewed: Glass, Irony, and God, by Anne Carson

My first taste of Anne Carson came in a British Lit class. Carson is actually Canadian, but we were reading writers of the colonies, so she counted. Plus, my professor admitted he had a soft spot for Carson, which is just another reason why he's one of my favorite people. He had us read a brief section of the long poem that "made" Carson, "The Glass Essay." I remember liking it, but it took a couple more years for me to become a real Anne Carson addict.

Anyway, I finally got around to reading the whole "Glass Essay" in one of Carson's most important books, Glass, Irony, and God. It featurs several long, intricate poems and one academic essay. The essay, which ends the book, is titled "The Gender of Sound," and it got the feminist-y side of me all riled up. It's easy to see why Carson is such a respected classicist. Her work here, about the history of views towards women's voices and sounds, is fascinating and not at all stuffy. It made me miss reading this kind of stuff in college, actually.

Her poems aren't too shabby either. My least favorite was "The Truth About God," which felt sort of rambling and overbearing. Carson walks a fine line between her work being affective and being too preoccupied with abstract concepts without presenting interesting imagery to back it up. This is one of the latter, I'm sorry to say. The same goes for "Book of Isaiah." "The Fall of Rome," about feeling like a stranger in the city, has some lovely moments, particularly in its first half, but just didn't grab me.

In my favorite Carson book, Men in the Off Hours, she presents a set of poems called "TV Men," wherein famous figures (usually from classical mythology or history) are presented from the point of view of cameras and television production. They are complicated, bizarre pieces, not for the light of heart. But when they work, they are some of my favorite things to read. Carson has a couple of "TV Men" poems here, and the one featuring Hektor entertained the hell out of me. I seriously think I could spend hours at a time reading these "TV Men" poems.

The best poem, though, was the first one in the collection, the famous "Glass Essay." This essay-poem is complex and interesting, bringing together a lot of Carson's pet subjects in a smart and emotionally-satisfying way. The poem is about the painful end of a relationship for the writer, but it's also about her parents getting old. Carson looks at her life as a woman in contemporary society through the experience of reading and loving Emily Brontë. My favorite thing about Anne Carson is the way she writes about the experience of reading or admiring good writing. She understands that what we read colors our views of the world, and she's always playing with the dynamic of real life versus literary life. I adored "The Glass Essay" because of this exploration, and I could identify strongly with what she was saying. Seriously, this poem might be one of my favorite things I've read all year.

Usually, I would never recommend Anne Carson to a fellow reader because her stuff often comes off as too intellectually precious and self-indulgent. But "The Glass Essay" is easy to read and understand. Also, it's equally satisfying to the mind and the heart. If you are a Carson novice, or if she makes you nervous, you should check out "The Glass Essay."

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