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Men in the Off Hours: Anne Carson

Anne Carson‘s book Men in the Off-Hours has a lot of intriguing fragments and spins on familiar things as she tries to pull up heartbeats from what has flatlined, such as what Lazarus felt like as he is drawn back from death.

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It is poetic language in the lyrical imaginative sense to take the reader where one couldn’t go and come back from alone.

There’s an irregularity to her pacing but it doesn’t feel stumbling as much as organic, pausing to consider, dashing, pausing.

She meta-writes in a way that still amuses me in each re-read, such as in The Glove of Time

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It’s not a one-note symphony. Although she curls around a few subject nodes, she shakes up the style of writing and pace. Although she pokes under carpets of ideas, she isn’t pat or patting around. She comes out with intriguing finds and looks at the world in an atypical depth of introspection.

Instead of the self-absorbed poet-fodder of why-me, she asks, why Lazarus, turning it about in her head and in her word to work out the internal logic of what God would do and why. It isn’t something I’ve heard pondered. She doesn’t seem to take his voice so much as speculate on how it could have felt in a way that feels fantasy/sci-fi.

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It’s often just waved off as ours is not to wonder why. God does what he bloody-well likes and we should just keep our heads ducked down from thunderbolts is the reply I’ve gotten. She rotates thru religious ideas without being against them defensively, or piously advocating them. She walks in them and sees what there is to absorb is she is a fly on the wall.

I like how she ties this ancient story to Marshall McLuhan and a novel sort of gesturing about our existential state.

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God’s unknowable reasoning is a dark side of the moon? Our own dark side of subconscious as distant as a planet? How do we begin to map how the cosmos connects up to one moment in individual experience and connect all the diversity and universality into one coherant mass? She suggests it can be knitted together and that it can’t both but we must try because that figuring out how pieces fit is the substance of life.

There’s an almost archeological fascination to how she approaches data, of being a savior to endangered phrasings and ideas. For example, (p.166 of Men in the Off-Hours) she said about going thru the correspondences of Emily Dickinson, “cross-outs are something you rarely see in published texts. They are like death by a single stroke — all is lost yet still there.”

She likes old texts, as she shows in The Beauty of the Husband with John Keats. She wants to dialogue with history and the quiet of historical calm before the waves are entirely becalmed, such as the series on Akmatove and Lev’s story, rejoining their story periodically over their relationship and changing nation from 1910-1966. She likes what is almost extinct and to pull it back to the light, like what was going on in earlier Soviet ground space.

That series ended with the wife’s death where Lev was “kept out of the room in case seeing him killed her/It so happened death killed her“. I like the tongue-in-cheek cheekiness. And that is so much the way, isn’t it? People obscuring things in the name of protecting people. Like Goodbye Lenin!, by trying to prevent someone from over-excitement, absurd unnecessary lengths unreel.

She imagined snippets of history that have a pinch’s intensity from a mitered-close reading of historical accounts.

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Even in her darkest, there isn’t a seeking out a romantic dark. Even the spark of red of glasses seem to evoke that there is spunk and more than beaten-down survival here. There’s rancor but an anchor in more than anger. There are flints of humor that is more real than artificially-sustained uniformity. There’s a fluidness that seems to have a subtext of life has bumps that you like and ones you don’t but you keep engaged and it goes.

She plays with what language there is and even through ideas are common and dark, in her hands they take on a fierceness

“They know how to die” / he often said as if it were a freedom (in VII Libertie in the Lev series, p. 81)

“inside the church/ikons glowed vastly” (p. 102)
Even stripped away from its context that last word somehow makes a greater than plain life to the pinhole into that almost mystic-saint-passion of scene.

How she blends the arcane and everyday, the long ago and the now, the abstract and the excruciatingly specific makes for a slow read but lots of meat to go back to around the bones of her dancing ideas.


As time goes on, the more I appreciate hearing as opposed to reading poetry. I am forced not to be passive as I expected as much as listening without futzing and flipping and pressing it into a shape that interests me. It forces me to the pace of the person who speaks.

Other Links: Guide for where to get free books (by swap and by online) [via The Hidden Side of a Leaf book blog]

Hear poetry read live: at AtWaterLibrary A random sample from the contents there includes: Anne Szumigalski, Oana Avasilichioaei, Nicole Brossard, Angela Carr, Fred Wah.

Pearl Books from Pearl Literary Magazine. Wonder how that caught my eye? 😉

The Haiku Canada Conference runs Friday evening thru Sunday afternoon in Ottawa.


Related posts:

  1. Anne Carson Quotes “I don’t know that we really think any thoughts; we think connections between thoughts. That’s where the mind moves, that’s what’s new.” Anne Carson talks to Emma Brockes atThe Guardian...
  2. Context of Writing Ann White’s piece on getting into the method of Louise Gluck is useful to me. Having read only part of one book by Gluck I wasn’t sure I could get...

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