Canadian writer Anne Carson has a back catalogue that marks her as one of the most distinctive voices working today. A prize-winning poet, essayist, translator and Professor of Classics, her 2010 collection Nox pushed the boundaries of poetry publication: an elegy and lamentation for her brother, Nox came encased in a box, printed on a single sheet folded like a concertina.
Carson operates in the realms of the fragment and, as Nox presented the story of her brother’s varied life through letters, photographs, poetry and scribblings, Red Doc> charts the journeys of its own characters with a combination of poetry, dramatic monologue and disjointed narratives.
Here, Carson has revisited her 1998 work, Autobiography of Red, a retelling of Hercules’ 10th labour in which the monster Geyron – whose cattle Hercules needed to steal – was imagined as an introverted gay teenager with red wings, who is left heart-broken instead of being slain. In Red Doc>, we revisit the adult Geyron, now known as G, on a journey with Sad, a troubled war veteran and former lover, and Ida, an inquisitive sketcher. Their travels take them through uncharted landscapes – ‘no one says the word / lost’ – and sees them happily following routes labelled ‘IMPASSABLE’, of which Sad assures, ‘They / don’t mean us’. We are taken through great ice caverns –‘Wow the / blue says G’ – an accidental incarceration in a psychiatric hospital run by a man in overalls, and a dark house where G’s mother is coming to terms with her impending death.
…which slow the unrelenting movement and offer an omniscience that frames the collection…
The collection’s form – enjambed titles throughout and a centrally justified column of text leaving enough room for about five word lines – moves the story at a frightening pace. Interspersed with these narrative stanzas are 10 or so fractured verses under the recurring title ‘Wife of Brain’, which slow the unrelenting movement and offer an omniscience that frames the collection. ‘Prose / is a house’, it tells us, ‘poetry a man in flames running / quite fast through it’, and the collection straddles these two forms, with narratives being continually doused in flames by the peculiarity of the verse.
It is without doubt a strange book: the colliding worlds of Greek myth and the modern age, of real and imagined geographies, create a cinematic reading experience. But the fantastical characters are imbued with such human characteristics that it is impossible not to be caught up in their inner worlds. Carson has that rare ability of producing work of such an uncanny familiarity that it begins to read like your own distant memories.
…A brave and mysterious work…
Red Doc> is a unique collection of poetry from one of the world’s most exciting poets. A brave and mysterious work, the scope of its ambition is as engaging and exciting as the journey of its characters.