Anne Carson

I wanted to fill my elegy with light of all kinds. But death makes us stingy.

Back when I was making a concerted effort to read more poetry, I enjoyed a few of Anne Carson’s books. I haven’t been spending much time in bookstores, or reading for that matter. But recently forces converged, and I noticed this boxed accordion-style book one place and was intrigued, then happened to finally check out McNally Jackson Books the same week Anne Carson was scheduled to read there.

There’s a part in this article about owner Sarah McNally where she talks about uninspired author readings, so it’s not surprising that this event was not just a straight-up reading, but included a discussion on how the book came to be in the unique structure it’s in — for a mass-produced volume of poetry — with the designer and the woman who scanned Carson’s original book and the editor. Then they unfurled a copy of the book across the audience to begin the actual reading.

The book itself is as much a book object as a work of poetry. Carson created it in a blank book with bits of photographs and letters and nearly all the text pasted in from other sources. The published version maintains this feeling. The work itself pairs the elegy to her brother with Poem 101 by Catullus, also an elegy for his brother. The poem is printed in full in Latin at the beginning and then throughout most of the book, there is one word of the Catullus poem on the left side with the full entry from a Latin Dictionary and her words on the right side. Her translation comes at the end (though she “never arrived at the translation [she] would have liked to do of poem 101”). About midway through, she writes:

… I came to think of translating as a room, not exactly an unknown room, where one gropes for the light switch. I guess it never ends. A brother never ends. I prowl him. He does not end.

My favorite moment of the reading came at the end of the brief Q&A, someone noted that Carson had said her parents were both dead and obviously her brother is gone and asked whether there was any other family who she had shared this book with. She replied no, even her brother’s widow had disappeared, so there wasn’t anyone left for her to share it with. She paused briefly to put on a smile and added, “Just you guys.”