“Float” By Anne Carson; Knopf, 22 unpaginated chapbooks contained in plastic case. $30.
Anne Carson is one of the greatest living American writers (Canadian, if you want to be technical). But she’s more than that. She is also one of the more accomplished and delightful formal experimentalists in American literature. Her partnership with the venerable publisher Knopf has now produced two brilliant and completely unexpected works: “Nox,” the first, is a long somber poem about her late brother which was published as a box full of material connected accordion-style in a long ribbon of paper many yards long.
And now, as Monty Python might have put it, for something completely different – 22 small chapbooks with no prescribed order encased in a plastic box and designed to be read in any order one might jolly well wish.
One might, for instance, begin with “By Chance, the Cycladic People, in which the poet informs us that the neolithic Bronze Age civilization that invented the purse (thus making transporting food possible) was also fond of reading Proust, when they weren’t burying their dead with stones in their eyes. “Upper class people put precious stones.” And then follow that up with the chapbook “L.A.” which includes an Alphabet: “A is for Andy and all that he didn’t feel like explaining. B is for brand names waxing and waning....H is for having friends constant. I is for nothing good being instant.” And then “Pinplay” a “Version of Euripides’ “Bacchae’” in which we read this dialogue between Dionysos and the Chorus: “Dionysos: You know Gods get a kick out of? Chorus: Gods get a kick out of pinnacles. Dionysos: What is a pinnacle? Chorus: A pinnacle is a lot of pins.”
Her work is utterly, madly creative and unpredictable. It is just as liable to be playful and whoopingly funny as it is scholarly, tragic and eloquent. All biographical matter about her apply to her work--that she is Canadian and a classical scholar, first of all. But at the same time, no such biographical matter apply to classifying her: she is sui generis.She has become an entire literary form all to her self. “Variations on the Right to Remain Silent” is about the art of translation. She does that too. So do her readers with every word.