on 21 August 2013
I'd like to counter what's been reviewed about this book (the one star rating) on two levels. Firstly, I'll quote what's been published about it in the Guardian's review section (dated 17.08.13) which was written by Sarah Crown. And, secondly (since I don't think my views should carry as much weight in this) I'll add my comments about reading it as well.
The Guardian newspaper review is titled, `Sarah Crown is astonished by Anne Carson's take on a story first told 3,000 years ago.' She notes, `This book is a sequel of sorts to the Canadian poet's 1998 "Autobiography of Red" - in turn an adaptation of an all-but-forgotten fragment of a work by one Stesichorus, an all-but-forgotten Greek poet.' In these contexts, this book is definitely an experimental work of intertextuality offered by a talented and critically recognised writer (Crown acknowledges that Carson was awarded a MacArthur Fellows Programme [or `genius award'] grant). Undeniably, this book isn't for everyone since its premise must be accepted for any of what unfolds in its newer context to be appreciated.
At this point, I'll have to interject with my own views of reading it to add that its structures and rhythms aren't as simply or as thinly constructed as it might seem. Anything like this that's read selectively as an except can sound clumsy if it's not directly linked to related thoughts. What Carson attempts (to my reading of it, at least) is to create an extremely delicate, even tenuous, balance. This is a balance, too, between allowing a reader into a 3,000 year old myth retold in current contexts - and allowing certain levels of deeper interpretations and parallels to be discovered simultaneously. In fairness, the plot's twists & turns can be hard to follow.
What the reviewer who gave this book one star may or may not be missing (with respect that's genuinely offered to him or to her) is perhaps best expressed by Sarah Crown's Guardian review of it which states, `The emotional heart of the book is a moment both in time and out of it; specific, and a product of Carson's temporal meddling, but also eternal.' What's eternal in any story is dependent upon the reader's interpretation as well as the writer's intent. In this shared concern, which can be enjoyable, this book's premise is taking more risks than most poets would attempt. Philip Larkin, mentioned in the other reviewer's comments, is not available to weigh in on this himself so evoking his name isn't very appropriate. Anyone can guess what he might have said about this book. Conversely, the same can't be said of my mentioning Sarah Crown's published remarks, since she's around to speak for herself (again, no disrespect to Larkin or to the other reviewer is intended in this).
Regarding the`cash customers of poetry' reference that was included in the harsh review that I'm partly responding to, I'd like to ask directly, out of curiosity, mainly: have you read Carson's book called `Economy of the Unlost'?
And yet, I'd agree about this point: Red Doc> is an example of meddling. But this book and this writer's efforts deserve much more than one star. In my fairest assessment, I'd ordinarily give it four stars because I found some aspects of it to be too self consciously skewed to present day concerns (but I tend to blame editors as well as writers for these miscues). For this review, I've added one more half star for being daring and another half star to counteract the negativity of the harsh review I've read here. And I have to add, too: if any well educated and accomplished writer is brave enough to attempt to put a 3,000 year old story in current contexts, has this sort of meddling gone too far - or not far enough?
on 17 August 2013
I was sent this through the Poetry Society. It is rare that one reads something of quite such poor quality published be a supposedly reputable author. It would appear that Ms Carson is a part of that elite of the literati who receive rave reviews from their friends in the hope, no doubt, of a return of the favour. To quote one from the cover: "Red Doc > straddles prose and poetry, but it is always wildly inventive, blending different historical periods and imaginary beings with our own. Like a medieval storyteller, Carson creates new variations of accepted stories and mythic characters. In her widely syncretic imagination, all of these things are gaining on at once." (Globe and Mail). This is utter nonsense and best suited for Private Eye's pseud's corner.
Dear reader, this volume is almost beyond deciphering - what is one to make of lines such as:
"we enter we tell you
we are the Wife of Brain
at this you have little grounds to complain we say
a red man unfolding his wings is how it begins then the lights
come or go off or the stage
spins it's like a play ...."
Ad infinitum ad nauseum ... It goes on like this for 160 pages. Such wilful obscurity combined with a tin ear for language, little rhythm and images that read as if scripted for a packet of soap powder make it torture to read. This smacks of too much exposure to creative writing workshops and the over-secluded life of North American academe. It is precisely because such gibberish is over-praised by those who should know better than so much modern poetry has such a poor reputation and such a tiny audience.
Philip Larkin, in an essay published many years ago, noted the decline of the wider audience for poetry after the advent of modernism. I quote words which the likes of Ms Carson would do well to heed.
"The cash customers of poetry ... who used to put down their money in the sure and certain hope of enjoyment ... were quick to move elsewhere. Poetry was no longer a pleasure. They have been replaced by a humbler squad, whose aim is not pleasure but self-improvement, and who have uncritically accepted the contention that they cannot appreciate poetry without preliminary investment in the intellectual equipment which, by the merest chance, their tutors happen to possess. In short, the modern poetic audience, when it is not taking in its own washing, is a student audience , pure and simple ... At bottom poetry, like all art, is inextricably bound up with giving pleasure, and if a poet loses his pleasure-seeking audience he has lost the only audience worth having."
Another volume for the recycling bin. Perhaps it will serve humanity better in its next life?