Book Review

POETRY MONTH: [partial reading from years ago of] Float by Anne Carson

a partial reading from 4/5 years ago, previously unpublished

written across 2017-2018, I think… unpublished with no notes to wider context in the blog post drafts folder?

I have been excited about reading this for about a year.

I bought it so long ago, left it on a shelf, then a different shelf, then a box, then a different box, then in a stack on a desk for a month. But now, the time has come for me to begin reading Float by Anne Carson, and I’m so so so fucking excited.

It is a collection of 22 beautiful chapbooks, to be read in any order and consumed as the reader wishes. The reason why it’s taken me so long to begin reading something that I’ve been excited about for so long is simple: the book is precious.

I don’t want to carry it around in my backpack or read the chapbooks in the park or the bar I work in sometimes or anywhere I carry books with me.

To read Float, I thought I had to wait until I had days free in a safe, clean, environment. However, that never happens, not to me, now, not ever. So I’m going to read Float, snatching chapbook by chapbook and commenting on them as I go through, then hopefully treating myself to a full reread of every word again, once I’ve gone through it as if it is separate texts, when I know it is really one.

Let’s go:

  • ‘Performance Notes’, ‘Contents’, an unnamed chapbook with like the legal information in that you usually get at the start of books… These pieces of paper have increased my excitement for the rest, and made it clear that Carson was friends with Lou Reed, which is obviously jealous-making.
  • ‘Powerless Structures Fig. II (Sanne); This is a beautiful, short, two page poem about the life of a narrator’s sister-in-law, not met until the narrator’s brother dies. It is a tender portrait of the lonely end of a life, the “indescribable longing” that people live through when the – to use an idiom mentioned in the poem – “light of [a person’s] life” dies. This is moving and haunting and human and sad. This is gorgeous fucking poetry. This this this this this is what I want.
  • ‘Maintenance’; Another short piece, again two pages. This is a list of fictional instructions for how to maintain a fictional art space. This one has confused me slightly, but I hope to understand it better within the wider context of Float.
  • ‘Pinplay: A Version of Euripides’ Bacchae‘; This is a short (8 page) retelling of the story of the Bacchae. This is not Carson’s only script form adaptation of this myth, as a long-format version was performed in London a couple of years ago. In this piece, Dionysos leads Pentheus out of the town and into the mountain, where Agave immediately beheads him. Had I not known the plot of Euripides’ Bacchae, I would have been puzzled, so I will now be on an alert, going forwards, to keep an itchy wikipedia finger close to Float, I think it may well be worth my time to research things. ‘Pinplay’ is fun, distilling the essence of a long, complex, piece into a few minutes of choral speech and hyper violence.
  • ‘Variations on the Right to Remain Silent’; this is an absolutely fucking phenomenal essay on translation, and the silences created either by absent meaning or absent text. Looking at Joan of Arc, Hoderlin, Francis Bacon and Ibykos (an ancient Greek poet), Carson explores how meaning is manipulated, how madness and insanity and thought and feeling cannot be rendered by every artform all the time. This is engaging and exciting academic prose, thoughtful and thought provoking, and ends with multiple, playful, quasi-mistranslations of the same Ibykos verse about being really bloody horny.
  • ‘Eras of Yves Klein’ is a biographic poem about the French artist Yves Klein, whereby his life is split into eras, each titled, capitalised. This simple device captures a life, and a creative output, in an engaging, exciting and moving way. Yes, please, Anne!!!
  • ‘Cassandra Float Can’ is a stunning essay on translation, the artist Gordon Matta-Clark and a classical play. The essay is several pages long, referring again to the conversations mentioned in ‘Variations…’ i.e. the silences in translation, the absences and holes that literature cannot – and often does not try to – fill. At the end of the essay are three translations of the same line from an Aeschylus play, each translation shorter and more abstract, but holding a distinct meaning through the context. After the essay are two poetic renderings of the same material, again, each shorter than the next. What appears – in the final poem – to be little more than a list of words is actually deeply weighted in meaning, in thought, in ideas, due to the proceeding essay. The poems are reliant on the essay for their meaning, however they take the intellectual ideas and themes of the work and apply them to the actual argument of the essay. It’s complex, it’s gorgeous, it’s clever, it’s good. I am LOVING this collection, I’m just reading it soooo bloody slowly.
  • ‘Candor’ is short, three pages, five sections, considering an anonymous ancient curse, Helen of Troy, H.G. Wells’ wife, all are women writing, expressing, candour. This touches on ideas and figures who I feel will recur: the deeper I get into Float, the more it feels like a cohesive work and I like that, I like that, I like that.
  • The Designated Mourner by Wally Shawn, Final Production, NYC, June 2013′. This chapbook contains a single poem of very short lines, just over five pages long. It is about artistic life, and being a successful creative, however still lamenting the optimism of youth. It nearly made me cry. It is beautiful and I cannot quite explain why. This is what I wanted, this is what Carson does.
  • ‘108 (flotage)’. This contains snippets of a story, a down and out, outsider story, border crossings and smuggling and addiction. There is something very human that slips through these extracts from something bigger… the meaning floats above the given words, Carson teases with what she includes so as not to allow a “knowledge” to be evoked, however she does include enough for a “feeling” to be evoked… This is very, very intelligent writing.
  • ‘Stacks’. Weeks are passing as I read a chapbook when I have some time, alone, in my room. It’s an inefficient way to read as a collection, however each fucking thing is SUCH A FUCKING treat. This one is a series of poems, a poem sequence, about Jezebel & Elijah (Biblical story, right?), about explorers of the classical world and about the geography of the moon. It is about judgement and shame and reinterpretation and the develo-

& that is where these notes end – maybe it was all in 2017 – that was the last time I had a room of my own!

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