Thursday, July 06, 2006

Anne Carson's Epitaph: Evil

A quick post today on Anne Carson's Epitaph: Evil from her 2000 collection Men in the Off Hours. Here is the whole poem:
To get the sound take everything that is not the sound drop it
Down a well, listen.
Then drop the sound. Listen to the difference
Shatter.
The enjambment of the final line is fantastic -- the sentence appears to end with the word difference, and then in the final line, in the final word, we discover we are being told, not to listen to the difference, but to listen to the difference shatter. The whole thing has the beauty and enigma of a Zen Koan.

And yet I am going to risk some of my authority as a poetry scholar and say that I don't really get it. Carson is a serious, wonderful poet, who deserves the praise she gets from both poets and critics. I have written an entire chapter of my doctoral thesis on a cycle of poems from this volume (her best, I think), and I have read (several times) all her published work. Why is the poem called Epitaph: Evil? I don't know. Beyond the connection to Zen Koans, what is the poem about? I don't know. As a teacher I aim to show how poetry appreciation can be an important part of living a full life, but I don't have anything more to say about this particular poem (though I wouldn't be surprised if someone did). I wanted to use my failure here as an opportunity to dispel the idea that poetry is only obscure if you don't know what you are doing. I am a poetry expert, and the thing is far from clear to me. And there is nothing wrong with that. Don't let the obscurity of contemporary poetry keep you from reading it. It may become clear in time, and other poems by the same writer may strike you more directly. Also, as in Epitaph: Evil, you may learn to like something you don't understand at all.

6 comments:

Geoff Klock said...

One quick further note about the poem. The word "listen" is deftly placed both times it appears. The first time it is at the end of a (run on) sentence, a kind of added, unnecessary tail. The second time it appears it starts a sentence, rather than ends one, but the instant your ear hears it you imagine it is like the first "listen," an add on. "Listen" is not the added tail; "Shatter" is. (Read the poem aloud and listen for the word "listen"). Carson plays with the readers' expectations on the most minute level.

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Geoff Klock said...

It was removed because it was spam.

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Geoff Klock said...

spam