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Vintage Canada - October 04, 2006 - 30 Comments

Decreation: Poetry, Essays, Opera

Decreation: Poetry, Essays, Opera by Anne Carson

Reviewed by James Pollock

Anne Carson is often called avant-garde because of her generic innovations and her experiments with prosody and form. The label clearly makes some sense, at least superficially: think of her genre-bending book Short Talks, for example, or the arbitrarily end-stopped lines in her early sequence The Life of Towns. What is less commonly acknowledged is that Carson is also a radically traditional writer; she is a professor of classics, a superb translator from ancient Greek, and in her own writing she returns again and again to the ancient roots, the classical and biblical origins of Western literature. These facts, combined with her interest in certain great innovators of the twentieth century like Paul Celan and Samuel Beckett, are what allow her to be truly original. Merely to rank her with the “relentless march of the avant-garde,” in Zbigniew Herbert’s sardonic phrase – cultural amnesiacs endlessly shooting at the easy target of novelty – is to miss completely what is most interesting and valuable in her work. Carson has always been a writer in the great Romantic tradition of the sublime, a tradition stretching back through Longinus to Sappho and Homer and the Bible. And never more so than in her latest book.