The poetry pentagon (two members absent) met on Saturday to discuss some of the work of Anne Carson.We read an extract from The Autobiography of Red, some short pieces from Short Talks published in the collection, Plainwater, and two poems from The Beauty of the Husband. The pentagon was divided about the work, although everyone agreed it was difficult to lift individual poems from sequences which shortchanged some of the work, particularly 'Rhinestones' from The Autobiography of Red.
Questions were raised about Carson's form: Why is 'Rhinestones' even a poem? What are those long lines doing and are the linebreaks important or arbitary? And about her style: The writing is prosey - why call it a poem? Some of the writing is clumsy and why should we be interested in each detail of Geryon's encounter with his brother and, later, the babysitter? Were some of the 'Short Talks' merely throw away observations? Was their effect sometimes dependent on weighted words - this was particularly in reference to 'On Waterproofing'. We all wondered how these small prose poems were written. Were they almost fully formed as lightning observations or were they distilled from much longer pieces?
The work also challenged the role of poetry. Do we, as poets, have a mission? Should poetry aim to speak to as wide an audience as possible? Have we lost the traditional role of poetry as a community activity accessible to all? Would any of these questions interest Anne Carson? We thought not.
Personally, I enjoy the way she sets herself tasks and works on them and I do like the diversity of her projects. I've always loved the form of the prose poem and the pieces from 'Small Talks' reminded me of journal entries - but journal entries that revealed the mind, rather than the emotional environment, of the writer. The kind I aspire to but never manage.
It was a spirited, energising and generous discussion. Next month we're having a Poetry Potluck with each member bringing along two poems they would particularly like to introduce to the group.
I found the Ann Carson's work contributed to my own uneasy feelings about my own work. On the other hand, I do love narrative poetry and writing from a character's voice, so perhaps it is a case of playing to and extending one's strengths rather than fretting about the weaknesses? Writing is surrounded by enough anxieties.
All this poetic richness came hot on the heels of a reading I did in Canberra at 'The Gods'. So good to read with Dennis Haskell, who launched my collection, Marriage for Beginners, five years ago in Western Australia. I found his elegiac poems to his late wife strong and moving. It's a great venue with a very attentive audience - good on Geoff Page for keeping this going for so long. Tuesday Poet, P S Cottier was also at the reading - and I was delighted to meet her before the launch of The Stars Like Sand.
It was an enormous pity The Accountant was sick during the Canberra visit. As it was, he managed to last the distance of a small visit to the National Gallery and the Australian War Memorial, where we stayed for the Last Post. We were certainly in Canberra at simply the best time of the year - the leaves had changed colour and were falling but the days were sunny and the nights, that crispy cold that has one reaching for mittens. We had a memorable dinner at The Elk and Pea and, indeed, it was the memory of their jalapeno corn bread that had me making rather more prosaic corn and spelt muffins tonight to eat with our veggie soup. Throughout the visit my brand-new just-made Laura knit cardi kept me snug - but I must make a beret that will go with it. The Accountant appears to be well on the mend now but it was quite scary that he felt so bad while we were away.