All through the Old Testament a voice, which is not the voice of God but which knows what is on God’s mind, is crying out. In 1995, New York publisher New Directions—which backed the careers of some of the twentieth century’s legendary writers, including Dylan Thomas and F. The book’s genius lay in Carson’s decision to stop dividing her voice between her day job and her lyric moonlighting.The poetry was a bookish breakthrough: a college syllabus come to life.At sixty-six, Carson may be the first poet to have more fans than actual readers.
Her crossover smash hit, the “novel in verse” (1998), reimagined the myth of Hercules and the monster Geryon.
Instead of killing Geryon and stealing his cattle, the ancient hero—here a little red monster who’s also an aspiring photographer—falls in love with him. The accolades rained down: a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Mac Arthur “Genius” Fellowship, two Griffin Poetry Prizes. It came as no surprise to many viewers of the TV drama when one character uses a book by Carson to seduce another into a make-out session. Carson’s poems stopped singing; the essays stopped thinking.
She was, by then, the coolest professor on earth—too cool, even, for a traditional bio. In (2001) is subtitled “A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos.” How many genres can you mix before your inventiveness waters itself down? The cross-pollination that had made her writing popular was now running to seed.
“Anne Carson was born in Canada and teaches Ancient Greek for a living” is all she was prepared to print about herself. Carson began pursuing increasingly bizarre gambits. Even the physical format of her collections reflected the chaos within.
Her fame coincided with poetry’s extinction in the wild. Poetry retreated into fine-arts programs and comparative-literature departments: it now survives only in captivity. Two hundred years ago, in his preface to the , William Wordsworth wrote that poetry should cleave “near to the language of men.” Wordsworth’s own verse hums with the mental energy of the ordinary readers who inspired him.
Gone was the general readership that Robert Frost, W. In a weird way, Carson may be just as representative of our own time and of her main readers: arts and humanities graduates with more student debt than talent.
Honestly, I am not very good at summing up,” before concluding with seven translations of the same poem. Luckily for her, there’s one place where Carson’s ambivalence toward any kind of “summing up” gets a free pass: English departments.
Carson is popular because she has given poetry back to the only people who still want it—academically educated poets.
Carson now produces “texts”—genre-less, amorphous pieces of writing.
Her abstruse, down-tuned music is the soundtrack to poetry’s institutionalized life in the twenty-first century.