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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

For Fans of Anne (Carson)

Will Aitken interviews Anne Carson on the Paris Review blog.

This extraordinarily personal interview reveals Carson's process behind her book-in-a-box, Vox, an elegy for her older brother. About which the poet says, "I finally decided that understanding isn’t what grief is about. Or laments. They’re just about making something beautiful out of the ugly chaos you’re left with when someone dies. You want to make that good."

When Carson is asked about the line "My personal poetry is a failure," (from the poem "Stanzas, Sexes, Seduction"), a conversation ensues about the sense of failure upon finishing a poem, whether or not its a function of the persona, and how the deeply the thinking is ever finished in a poem compared to how much it remains a surface experience, to which finally Carson answers, "...this capturing of the surface of emotional fact is useful for other people in that it jolts them into thinking, into doing their own act of understanding. But I still don’t think I finished the thinking." Which is a stunning thing to hear from a poet's whose words (particularly in "The Glass Essay," about which Carson and Aitken are discussing in particular at this point) jolted me into my own act of understanding, or it not understanding exactly, then thinking at least.

Which is what Anne Carson's writing does for me almost all of the time.

And which made me question: if Anne Carson doesn't feel like she has finished the thinking, how can I feel that in writing a poem, I have ever finished the thinking, with my intellect and instinct so less developed than hers? Indeed, have I ever felt that I was finished (the thinking, not the poem), or rather do I feel that I simply have no more to add that would be useful to the surface, without presuming about the deeper thinking? Or do I attempt the deeper level (honestly attempt it) and fail once again, a la Beckett, each time? Is a good poem always more useful to the reader than to the writer? And if it's not, is it not then a good poem?

Discussing her academic work, Carson explains, " I never found it possible to think without thinking about myself thinking. And I’m not sure if that’s a casualty of being me or a casualty of being human, so I decided to assume the latter and just go ahead with the project of thinking of me as if it were a legitimate human enterprise and would be enlightening to other humans. So my scholarship, such as it is, is intensely subjective. But because I am aware of this as a problem, I make an attempt to continually bridge the gap between that subjective self and the reader. So although it’s a private vision, it also brings the reader into its vision from time to time."

The entire interview winds around and around the self. Take your self over there and have a look.

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