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Short Talks

  • Subtitle: Brick Books Classics 1
  • Image: Image
  • Book Type: Poetry
  • by: Anne Carson
  • Date Published: January 2015
  • ISBN-13: 978-1-77131-342-1
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 75pp
  • Price: $20.00
  • Review by: Patrick James Dunagan
"Anne Carson was born in Canada and teaches ancient Greek for a living." So reads the one sentence biographical author note as retained in this new edition of Short Talks, the poet Anne Carson's first book of poetry originally published by Brick Books in 1992. In the years since its publication Carson has made a considerable name for herself as a poet, essayist, and astutely adept translator of Greek, with her translation of Sappho in particular garnering much well-deserved acclaim. While Carson has always kept her personal details on the relative down low even as she has, at times, courted a fair bit of notoriety, and while concision is a definitive hallmark of her oeuvre, the brevity of this bio note is thus at once both disarming and appealingly elusive, especially for a poet of her stature.

Short Talks is an exposition of one remarkable aspect of Carson's work: namely, her tendency for leaving the reader hanging in a hyper-intensive feeling of expectancy craving unknown resolution. Nothing here is fully or even partially resolved. In each "talk" Carson points towards some subject matter as indicated by the title, i.e. ". . . on Autism" or ". . . on Hedonism," discussing it to some, however limited, extent, yet never bothering to come remotely near reaching any conclusive statement. The writing is an exploration of description which resists the finality of imposing any fixed approach upon its supposed subject. Most of the "talks" begin by immediately pointing outwards from the topic at hand. Hints of larger stories are embedded everywhere but it's never clear whether these are in fact what Carson herself is interested in, or simply diversion tactics of some sort. If it is the latter case, there is then the even greater mystery of whether the diversion is intended for the reader or for the author.

The new introduction to this edition by poet Margaret Christakos grounds the writing geographically to winter in Ontario, Canada. She describes "the soul-hewing problem of sitting in the kitchen and staring out its window" where "winter is a weather of mind." Reminding us that "thinking is related to looking" and discussing how this is "a book of indirect addresses from a chorus of individual voices gesturing personae." She also draws reference to a range of other texts by Carson, placing Short Talks into wider conversation. She concludes that the book is "a unique form of slag-like poetic address that arises from the full formative force of Carson's young embodiment of a northern Ontario mining-town winter of mind."

Carson's "talks" are full of exacting enigmatic scrutiny. One after another, she turns crystalline descriptive-statements inside out, revealing an oftener than not previously un-thought, surprisingly counter-intuitive direction from which to approach the subject. These almost-stories within almost-stories never begin, never end. Every "talk" simply directs readers back out, onward to the next. Small Talks is a series of discrete possibilities hinting at broader engagements of ever brief description where the logics of sequential construction are denied. As Carson states in her Introduction:
The marks construct an instant of nature gradually, without the boredom of a story. I emphasize this. I will do anything to avoid boredom. It is the task of a lifetime. You can never know enough, never work enough, never use the infinitives and participles oddly enough, never impede the movement harshly enough, never leave the mind quickly enough.
Everything is kept moving. The book might easily be read in one sitting, probably in under an hour, yet is packed with countless hours of material worth contemplating. There are endless leads to films, artworks, books, philosophical concepts, and other preoccupations worthy of sustained engagement. Carson describes Van Gogh: "When he looked at the world he saw the nails that attach colours to things and he saw that the nails were in pain." Any vision of the world such as this one, so unusually sympathetic to each and every object beheld, is always destined to yield fresh revelations again and again.
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Review Posted on June 01, 2015

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