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This article is taken from PN Review 196, Volume 37 Number 2, November - December 2010.

Flaking-off Beautifully: on Anne Carson Jason Guriel

Twelve years ago, a woman visited my writing class and delivered a talk, something to do with sleep and Odysseus. I can’t remember much of what the woman said; to my undergraduate ears, she sounded like a muted trombone murmuring away: an adult out of Peanuts. Folk legend has it that Canadian poet Irving Layton once hollered at Margaret Atwood, ‘Your reading is so boring it’s putting me to sleep!’ But I have no good excuse for not recalling more about the giant of literature who visited herself on my class and must’ve seemed pleasant enough. (I certainly can’t blame Hypnos, Greek God of shuteye.) In the manner of the historian at a loss for words: so much for the day I didn’t quite hear Anne Carson speak.

But inside of a year or two (a tipping point of a moment) we were all of us, from the widest-eyed to the sleepiest, buying up and talking about the books of this Carson woman, a Canadian-born poet and classicist. The turn of events was a source of bemusement for the professor of mine who’d organised the talk. He’d been reading Carson when no one in Canada seemed to care about her. Canada came around, but not before Carson, like many of its native-born stars, had looked south, to the United States, for a firmament to light up.

If Carson’s pairings of such disparate figures as Augustine and Hopper or Keats and Duchamp now seem familiar, it’s ...


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