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This review is taken from PN Review 215, Volume 40 Number 3, January - February 2014.

Above But Not Beyond anne carson, Red Doc> (Jonathan Cape) £14.99

In Red Doc> Anne Carson returns to the extraordinary Geryon, the winged red monster who also happens to be gay, of Autobiography of Red. On this occasion Geryon's proper name is reduced to its first letter, and his life, foregrounded to exhilarating effect in the previous collection, occupies a humbler place alongside an expanded dramatis personae. The poem's epigraph - from Samuel Beckett's Worstward Ho, arguably his most famous line: 'Try again. Fail again. Fail better' - points towards its provisional nature. To whom might this poetics of failure be addressed, the reader is likely to consider, particularly in the context of a poem as formally and expressively dazzling as Carson's?

Formal play has consistently been one of Carson's most intriguing if not bewildering qualities (the most heightened example of which being Nox), and her language is both laconic and felicitous. The text in Red Doc> is given mostly centre page in narrow columns. Almost engulfed by the surrounding whiteness, the stark visuality of the page evokes an archival aesthetic, as if the poem assembles notes from the sidelines of myth and history. The titled sections that structured Autobiography are abandoned in favour of a constantly interrupted sequence that nonetheless retains the appearance of flow and continuity. A distinct sense of striving against internal incompleteness locks the reader into a unique communicative situation. From finely tuned dialogue reminiscent of dramatic script to gnomic utterances and concrete constructions resisting grammatical conventions, Red Doc> practises a meta-critical awareness of the limitations of form and genre and boldly ...


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