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Hazlitt’s ‘User’s Guide’ to Anne Carson
Hazlitt offers an extremely helpful guide to the work of Anne Carson, fearing she is more widely known than read, and addressing a hypothetical audience that may be on the fence about contemporary poetry.
Another fear some people have is not understanding what’s going on. In order to appreciate Anne Carson, you will almost certainly have to get over this. While her books contain readily identifiable, mostly straightforward narratives, the joy of reading them often comes from well-timed moments of total absurdity. For example, her most recent book, Red Doc>, contains an extended lyrical description of the grazing habits of a herd of musk oxen. Just at the point when our attention begins to flag, one of the oxen “spins up off its shanks and performs a 360-degree spin in air and returns to place,” and, without missing a beat, Carson resumes her straightforward description.
Despite your own feelings on that matter of accessibility, you might find the guide handy–writer Helen Guri goes through every book publication. For instance:
Book: Autobiography of Red (1998)
Hook: Although a monster Geryon could be charming in company.
How it will consume you: The oddly familiar, strangely relatable coming-of-age story of a mythical monster-boy named Geryon, who gets his heart broken in the same way we all do—by having sex with Hercules, who dumps him and murders his cattle.
Book: Men in the Off Hours (2001)
Hook: Your nose is wrong. / Your feet are wrong. / Your eyes are wrong your mouth is wrong. / Your pimp is wrong even his name is wrong.
How it will consume you: A heavily referential collection of poetry based on the works of Edward Hopper, Catullus, Anna Akhmatova, St. Augustine, Hokusai, Virginia Woolf, and many others. Luckily it’s hilarious.
Book: Decreation (2005)
Hook: What are you doing? / Calling the police. / Why? / To give them a description of your gun. / How do you describe it? / Thin, dark, rather nervous, almost birdlike. / You have entirely misunderstood my gun.
How it will consume you: Like Men in the Off Hours but with more genres. I recommend “Lots of Guns: An Oratorio for Five Voices” as the perfect dinner party singalong, especially if you have friends or relatives with differing views on the issue of gun control.
Book: NOX (2010)
Hook: My brother ran away in 1978, rather than go to jail. He wandered in Europe and India, seeking something, and sent us postcards or a Christmas gift, no return address. He was travelling on a false passport and living under other people’s names.
How it will consume you: A book in a box, which looks as though it could hold stationery, old letters, or an ample quantity of school supplies. Contained is a lyrical meditation on the death of the author’s brother, printed on a single, very long, accordion-folded sheet of paper, and illustrated with photographs.
Read the full guide here.