Tag Archives: Anne Carson

What is a quote?

“What is a quote? A quote (cognate with quota) is a cut, a section, a slice of someone’s orange. You suck the slice, toss the rind, skate away.”

Anne Carson, Decreation

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The power of what can’t be spoken

Poets, and maybe most writers, struggle to relay experiences or insights that may be fundamentally unspeakable, beyond the reach of language. . . .  Ben Lerner argues poems are “always a record of failure,” tangible proof of the great chasm between what the human spirit wants to convey and what it is able to. This is also a plausible explanation for the intense reward that comes with quoting poetry, snapping it off into its best bits for a unit that can stand alone or else be embedded like a strut inside one’s own writing.

To pull the most evocative phrases from a piece also creates the illusion that the whole is as seamlessly powerful as that isolated part, a hammer-strike of sustained perfection. As Lerner puts it, “lines of poetry quoted in prose preserve the glimmer of the unreal […] the echo of poetic possibility,” but this phenomenon is not unique to poems. Something similar is at work when friends text each other pictures of paragraphs from a novel, or when a blogger quotes a passage of an essay on tumblr. I keep an ever-expanding document of the lines I’m most struck by in whatever I’m reading at the moment. This tendency of mine is probably the reason I’m still so annoyed with Richard Sikken’s complaint about readers who lift phrases: “I crafted poems — units made out of lines placed in a specific order — and the poems have disappeared. My loveseats have been broken into chairs, into matchsticks.”

Charlotte Shane, Anne Carson’s Splintered Brilliance: On the pleasures of poetry that deliberately defies our comprehension, 

(from here) 

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Proust says . . .

Proust says memory is of two kinds.

There is the daily struggle to recall

where we put our reading glasses


and there is a deeper gust of longing

that comes up from the bottom

of the heart


At sudden times

For surprise reasons.


Here is an excerpt from a letter Proust wrote

In 1913

We think we no longer love our dead


But that is because we do not remember them;


We catch sight of an old glove


And burst into tears.


– Anne Carson, Float

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Remembering and forgetting

Really to forget something you have to forget you have forgotten it.

Anne Carson,  Stacks (in Float, )

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The Secret Drawer

. . . most English-made cabinets had a secret drawer. My question about that would be, where did they keep the key to the secret drawer? In another drawer? Even more secret? Is there such a thing as a pun of a pun? Have I told you that your face bewilders me? And that one day rummaging in your cabinet I opened your secret drawer by accident? Whether or not I found a secret there of course I can’t say.

Anne Carson, Sonnet of the English-Made Cabinet with Drawers (in Prose), from Float : A Collection of twenty-two chapbooks whose order is unfixed and whose topics are various 

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The mother’s comment

Once they [she and a man called Chandler] had a conversation, extending over many months, in broken bits, about mushrooms. He’d said the thing he hated about being in prison was the mushrooms. For several days, she wondered if he meant the food, but it didn’t make sense they served mushrooms in prison often enough to be a problem, or if he had a damp cell with fungus sprouting in the corners, but this, too, seemed extreme, and gradually she understood him to mean he had been able to see a patch of mushrooms, boletus, from his window and he used to go hunting for those in the woods with his mother when he was a kid and it made him sad. Not a mushroom fancier herself, she didn’t have anything subjective to say at the time, so she told him John Cage was a mushroom hunter, too, and wrote a book about it, a sort of mushroom guide, that she could lend him. Chandler didn’t answer. She wasn’t sure he read books or knew who John Cage was. Conversation is precarious. Now, as she looks at the very round, chalky pale pears, mushrooms come to mind again, and she says, One day, as I remember it, John Cage was out mushrooming with his mother, after an hour or so she turns to him and says, We can always go to the store and buy some real ones.

Anne Carson, 1 = 1, The New Yorker, 11/1/2016 (from here)

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Finding beauty

People think swimming is carefree and effortless. A bath! In fact, it is full of anxieties. Every water has its own rules and offering. Misuse is hard to explain. Perhaps involved is that commonplace struggle to know beauty, to know beauty exactly, to put oneself right in its path, to be in the perfect place to hear the nightingale sing, see the groom kiss the bride, clock the comet. Every water has a right place to be, but that place is in motion. You have to keep finding it, keep having it find you. Your movement sinks into and out of it with each stroke. You can fail it with each stroke. What does that mean, fail it.

. . . . . Some questions don’t warrant a question mark.

Anne Carson, 1 = 1, The New Yorker, 11 Jan 2016 (from here)

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The smell of pride

I remember on the eve of my thirteenth birthday, I overheard my aunts talking to Father  about young girls and the dangerous age. “But she isn’t going to be one of them”, I heard Father say firmly. I was filled with pride which smells like rubies.

Anne Carson, Plainwater, 

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The moon’s phases


Maria Clara Eimmart (1676-1707)
Phase of the Moon, Phases of Venus, Aspect of Jupiter, Aspect of Saturn, late 17th century
Bologna, Museo della Specola, Università di Bologna, inv. MdS 124e, MdS 124g, MdS 124i, MdS 124l

Short Talk on Homo Sapiens

With small cuts Cro-Magnon man recorded
the moon’s phases on the handles of his
tools, thinking about her as he worked.
Animals. Horizon. Face in a pan of
water. In every story I tell comes
a point where I can see no further.
I hate that point. It is why they
call storytellers blind—a taunt.

Anne Carson

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To whisper down a well

Could 1

If you are not the free person you want to be you must find a place to tell the truth about that. To tell how things go for you. Candor is like a skein being produced inside the belly day after day, it has to get itself woven out somewhere. You could whisper down a well. You could write a letter and keep it in a drawer. You could inscribe a curse on a ribbon of lead and bury it in the ground to lie unread for thousands of years. The point is not to find a reader, the point is the telling itself. Consider a person standing alone in a room. The house is silent. She is looking down at a piece of paper. Nothing else exists. All her veins go down into this paper. She takes her pen and writes on it some marks no one else will ever see, she bestows on it a kind of surplus, she tops it off with a gesture as private and accurate as her own name.  Anne Carson (from here) 

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