Sunday, April 7, 2013

Revisiting Medusa's Grandson

      For me, the primary mode in which I work is the reinterpretation of Greek (and to a lesser degree, Roman) myth in contemporary settings. I know that there are other influences on my writing, but my main goal is to use Greek mythology as a lens through which to examine our all-too-often screwed up world.
            One of the primary influences on my work is Anne Carson

Her Autobiography of Red was like a lightning bolt from the sky. When I first read it, I was primarily working as a poet. That’s maybe too generous a term for what I was doing, in fact. I was a cheap Jessica Care Moore knockoff, to be precise about it. I think back on my work from those times and I shudder. But then in (what seems to my memory at any rate) rapid succession, came my reading of The Iliad (specifically the Fagles translation), Woods’ Articulate Flesh and Carson’s Autobiography of Red.*
            It’s true that Mary Renault had already made a fantastic career doing, albeit in a more PG-13 rated way, what I wanted to do, but I wasn’t aware of her at the time (which is a shame). Combined with the things I was learning about the outside world from the young man I contacted, the trilogy that I call Metamorphosis or the Jacob Cycle was born mostly from Anne Carson’s aesthetic.
            Carson has been prolific, if secretive, her whole career. I only just learned that her latest work, Red Doc>, had come out. The idea of being able to revisit the startlingly-arranged and intimately lonely and beautiful world of Autobiography was very exciting (as, I imagine, it was to almost anyone who read the original book). I immediately got it from Amazon and tore into it once it arrived. I wish I had better things to report about the book.

      What I've come to expect from Carson is poetry that strikes like lightning in not only its meaning, but arrangement, and connection to mythology. While meaning stays a strong point in this work, the brilliance of arrangement is gone--almost all the works are arranged into a centered column that grew tedious very quickly. The connection to mythology is also all but gone, instead there are connections to Proust and a Russian author that I (and I suspect many who will read the book) have never heard of before. Finally, I wanted that intimate connection with Geryon once more-- instead, the work focuses primarily on other minor characters that, to be honest, I don't care about even half as much. The book has some utterly devastating as well as slyly funny moments, but not enough to justify buying it.
I left this review over on Goodreads, which is the primary book review site that I use. You should look me up over there if you’re also a user. Yes, to preemptively answer your question, I am a bit worried about the recent Amazon takeover of the site, but I’m still cautiously optimistic.
Much like I said about Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders, Red Doc> is not a career ender. It’s merely a stumble from a powerful genius. An experiment that really should have been thought better of before it began. Several Rolling Stones albums fall into that category, and they’re still capable of producing great work, so I have hope. While we wait for whatever that next project might be, go get a copy of Men in the Off Hours and Autobiography of Red, in the meantime. You’ll thank yourself for it whether you’re a prose or poetry writer.   

*= As I write this, I’m not at all sure that it wasn’t Carson’s Men in the Off Hours that I read first, but they were very close together.

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