Anne Carson, CM, poet, essayist, classical scholar and professor (born 21 June 1950 in Toronto, ON). Recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship in 2000, winner of the Governor General’s Award and the Lannan Literary Award, and two-time winner of the prestigious Griffin Poetry Prize, Carson is an internationally acclaimed poet, essayist and translator from Ancient Greek.
Education and Early Career
Carson’s career as a writer has been influenced and shaped by her study of classics at the University of Toronto, where she completed her BA (1974), MA (1975), and PhD (1981), and at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, where she received a diploma in classics in 1976. Since graduating, she has taught classics at various institutions across the United States and Canada, including Emory University, California College of the Arts, Princeton University, and McGill University. She is currently a Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan.
Carson’s first publication, Eros the Bittersweet: an Essay (1986), was followed by a number of books in the 1990s that attracted general acclaim: Short Talks (1992), Goddesses and Wise Women (1992), Plainwater: essays and poetry (1995), Glass, Irony & God (1995), Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse (1998), and Economy of the Unlost (1999), a book of criticism. Men in the Off Hours (2000) secured her reputation as a poet; it was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Poetry Prize in Britain, nominated for a Governor General’s Award, and won the Griffin Poetry Prize. As with many of her books, Men in the Off Hours encompasses a range of literary forms, including poetry, prose and “shooting scripts” for television dramas.
The collection opens with reflections on Thucydides’ History and Virginia Woolf’s story “The Mark on the Wall.” Carson observes that, “how people tell time is an intimate and local fact about them.” How she herself plays with conventional expectations about time is equally revealing, one of these being the series of epitaphs that are interspersed throughout the collection and that signpost different civilizations: one for “Zion,” another for “Annunciation,” another for “Europe,” and yet another for “Oedipus’s Nap.” She suggests that one’s decisions about what serves as the beginning, middle and end of an account — the historical and personal chronologies that one develops — reveal one’s perspective and offer insights into a culture.
Men in the Off Hours, a book of shorter poems which incorporate “epitaphs, love poems, verse-essays, commemorative prose, ‘shooting scripts’ for purported TV dramas and poems addressed to paintings,” noted Publishers Weekly writer Stephen Burt, was met with great acclaim. Reviewing the collection for Salon, Kate Moses described it as a meditation on time, noting too that it “encompasses all of that picnic that time spreads behind itself: life and sex and love and deathMen in the Off Hours, a book of shorter poems which incorporate “epitaphs, love poems, verse-essays, commemorative prose, ‘shooting scripts’ for purported TV dramas and poems addressed to paintings,” noted Publishers Weekly writer Stephen Burt, was met with great acclaim. Reviewing the collection for Salon, Kate Moses described it as a meditation on time, noting too that it “encompasses all of that picnic that time spreads behind itself: life and sex and love and death
Informed by her classical scholarship and literary background, Carson’s poetry is richly dense and allusive, making reference to figures from ancient Greek literature and mythology such as Helen of Troy, Hektor, and Geryon, as well as writers such as Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein and Emily Brontë. Stylistically, her work has been recognized because of its unique fusion of various poetic forms and free verse with prose, especially the essay. Love, and all its attendant enticements, satisfactions, trials, complexities, and disappointments, as well as issues related to the spiritual and the divine, are the most consistent themes of Carson’s poetry. The sheer breadth of her subjects is stunning.
In The Beauty of the Husband (2001), possibly her most famous work, Carson delineates the sufferings of a wife whose attentions revolve around her philandering husband. “The Glass Essay” in Glass, Irony & God offers one of the more poignant literary depictions of an abandoned lover. There, the narrator’s anguished, and eventually successful, attempts to recover from a failed relationship are finely interwoven with the enigmatic life of Emily Brontë. How does one overcome loss or grief? What is the nature of love? These questions and others, though seemingly mundane, are adeptly and playfully broached by Carson in her witty yet reflective body of work.
Carson’s impressive literary production has flourished over the past decade, and continues to encompass both poetry and translation. Decreation: Poetry, Essays, Opera (2005)showcases her experimentation as well as her consistent interest in the complexities and varieties of human longing and loving — romantic, spiritual and filial. The title highlights what Carson explores in the collection, “a program for getting the self out of the way” of God. Her subsequent collection, Nox (2010), a reference to the Roman goddess of night,is a poetic tribute to her brother, Michael, who died unexpectedly in Copenhagen in 2000. At turns analytical, at others lyrical, the book is an elegy for him, what Carson describes as his epitaph; as such, it is a compilation of memories and memorabilia related to her brother, including pasted-in photographs, poems, paintings, and one of his own letters. Significantly, she begins with a reference to Roman poet Catullus’s “Poem 101,” which mourns the loss of his own brother. Like Catullus, she also contemplates the process by which one mourns, a process that for Carson began much earlier: she and her brother were estranged well before his death.
Nox was followed by Red Doc> (2013), a sequel to The Autobiography of Red. In the mythological account, “Geryoneis,” Herakles is compelled to slay the red-winged Geryon to steal his cattle; in Carson’s retelling, Geryon suffers from his unrequited love for Herakles.If The Autobiography of Red is about Geryon’s coming of age and romantic disillusionment, Red Doc> explores his arrival into manhood and the aftermath of his relationship with Herakles, a troubled war veteran renamed Sad But Great. Geryon travels with Sad and a mutual friend and artist, Ida, across an extensive landscape to visit his dying mother.
Carson has been equally prolific as a translator. Private study of ancient Greek in high school provided the foundation for a year of learning at the University of St Andrews in Greek metrics and Greek textual criticism. As a professor of classics, she often translates Greek literature into English, or calls upon it in her own literary production. In 2006, she translated four plays by Euripides as Grief Lessons, and then, in 2009, An Oresteia, encompassing Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, Sophocles’ Electra, and Euripides’ Orestes.
- Lannan Literary Award (1996)
- Pushcart Prize (1997)
- Guggenheim Fellowship (1998)
- MacArthur Fellowship (2000)
- Griffin Poetry Prize (Men in the Off Hours, 2001)
- T. S. Eliot Prize (The Beauty of the Husband, 2001)
- PEN Award for Poetry in Translation (An Oresteia: Agamemnon by Aiskhylos; Elektra by Sophokles; Orestes by Euripides - 2010)
- Griffin Poetry Prize (Red Doc>, 2014)
- Eros the Bittersweet (1986) Princeton University Press
- Glass, Irony, and God (1992) New Direction Books
- Short Talks (1992) Brick Books
- Goddesses & Wise Women: the literature of feminist spirituality 1980-1992 (1992) Crossing Press
- Plainwater (1995) Knopf
- Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse (1998) Knopf
- Economy of the Unlost: Reading Simonides of Ceos with Paul Celan (1999) Princeton University Press
- Men in the Off Hours (2000) Knopf
- Electra (translation) (2001) Oxford University Press
- The Beauty of the Husband: A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos (2001) Knopf
- If Not, Winter: Fragments ofSappho (2002) Knopf
- Decreation: Poetry, Essays, Opera (2005) Knopf
- Grief Lessons: Four Plays byEuripides (2006) New York Review Books
- An Oresteia (2009) Faber and Faber
- Nox (2010) New York: New Directions
- Antigonick (2012) McClelland & Stewart