reviewed by Jennifer Michael Hecht
One of the undisputed great poets of our time, Anne Carson has put twenty-three chapbooks in an acetate case. One is a collection of sonnets, one a clutch of prose poems, here a short work of translation, there a play, a familial biographical investigation, a jaunt of creative nonfiction, a puff of introspective diction, and so on. “Pinplay” presents as a micro faux-classic play about pins and is a joy-making rendition of a Greek chorus speaking in our vernacular: “AGAVE: How many names can I pry from the head of a pun? CHORUS: Just one. AGAVE: O my son! [Agave tosses lacuna to audience with Pentheus’ head attached].” The pin issue continues throughout, ending in a discrepancy of sizes, described numerically by the chorus, which then concludes, “For what was unexpected / the gods found a way. / Human wisdom (as usual) / showed itself liable to exponential decay. / And that’s all you get / from this chorus, / Doris. / So ends the play. // [exeunt omnes].” Upon reading, this reminds us of Carson’s An Oresteia and this new piece feels like a genius spoof. In another of the chapbooks, Uncle Falling, there is a poetic biographical piece on Carson’s eccentrically quiet Uncle Harry and by way of him, her. One chapbook, Nelligan, is a handful of her translations of Émile Nelligan, celebrated as one of Canada’s greatest poets. The chapbooks are diverse but clearly one clarion sly voice is declaiming everywhere. Laughs, gossip, devastations, declensions are all present. They provide hours of odd moments of intimate immediacy.
This review originally appeared in American Poets, Fall–Winter 2016.