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Decreation, by Anne Carson
A daring journey of the spirit in search of the metaphysics of meaning
Cahal Milmo is the chief reporter of The Independent and has been with the paper since 2000. He was born in London and previously worked at the Press Association news agency. He has reported on assignment at home and abroad, including Rwanda, Sudan and Burkina Faso, the phone hacking scandal and the London Olympics. In his spare time he is a keen runner and cyclist, and keeps an allotment.
Wednesday 01 November 2006
Here, in 245 pages, Anne Carson offers us poetry that is intent on "the undoing of form". It draws on film, art, the libretto, the essay, asking us to think about what it means to write a poem, as well as what it means to love and to be. In this densely packed volume, we can find essays on the sublime, in praise of sleep, on the solar eclipse; discussions of Pindar, Elizabeth Bishop, Virginia Woolf and Homer rub alongside a tap-dancing Chorus of the Void singing an aria before the death of the philosopher Simone Weil.
It is Weil's idea of decreation that governs the book. Weil, the 14th-century heretic mystic Marguerite Porete and the poet Sappho are praised by Carson for the nerve in their writing, for entering "a zone of absolute spiritual daring". Implicit in this admiration is a speculation that Carson might be doing the same thing. "Decreation," she goes on to explain, "is an undoing of the creature in us - that creature enclosed in self and defined by self." In decreating we would, in our extinction of the self, find a metaphysical fullness, in tune with the universe.
For readers already familiar with Carson's prolific work, as poet and classical scholar, entering the universe of Decreation will be no surprise. What does surprise is the way she can continue to engage with ideas in a way that makes the reader feel included, part of the process of thinking, making and feeling that the book interrogates. Poems answer essays, essays respond to poems, songs are performed, as the book questions the way we know through language.
Carson can do the lyric as well, if not better, than the next poet. In the exquisite "Lines", for example, she begins: "While talking to my mother I neaten things. Spines of books by the phone. / Paperclips / in a china dish", before continuing: "The lines are falling / faster / now. Fate has put little weights on the ends (to speed us up)." The poem ends by drawing together ideas of holding and connection with the spiritual: "The / paperclips / are immortally aligned. God's pity! How long / will / it feel like burning, said the child trying to be / kind."
Carson's work elegantly knocks aside divisions between the mainstream and the experimental, challenging ideas of selfhood and experience. Decreation is a book to delight in, and a book that demands we take up the challenge of its risk.
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