I discovered this in The Penguin Book of the Prose Poem, which suggests it’s a prose poem, though when Anne Carson talks about it she calls it an essay – and yet it could just as easily be a short story. Whatever it is, it’s four hundred and five words of perfection, with Carson managing to handbrake turn from desolate to comic to profound and back again, sometimes within the same sentence. (This may also be the only story that successfully uses its title as a final line.) It’s not published online but I recommend listening to her read it (from 3.15 onwards.) When I hear the bookshop audience’s silence I wonder if I’m alone in finding the story, and her deadpan delivery, very funny.
First published in Float, Jonathan Cape, 2016. Anthologised in The Penguin Book of The Prose Poem, 2018. Listen to it here
Another Christmas story, and another story by a poet, and another story that many may just think is a poem, but I would argue again it meets the definition I go by as having a beginning, middle, and an end, and there is a point of tension within it. Carson is one of my favourite writers, and I don’t often think of her as a poet, more of an adventurer, an explorer, and language is her forbidden planet. I think ‘Merry Christmas from Hegel’ is one of the most effecting and lingering explorations of grief and loneliness that I have ever read. Just like the narrator, you don’t have to understand Hegelian philosophy to get what is being done here. Language, its knots and strands, is being used to push a boulder up a hill, not, necessarily, to unpick and explicate existential critical theory (did I just call Hegel an existentialist? – see, I told you you didn’t need to understand any of it to get the point). What blows me away about this story is the emotional journey we go on, from grief to quiet exuberance, all via a deep dive in Hegelianism and the art of building snowmen.
First published in Float, Cape, 2016. You can hear Carson read it here
This whole collection is clever and understated.
Collected in Short Talks, Brick Books, 1992
I have a soft grey notebook, filled with things I can’t say out loud, things I daren’t write anywhere else. When I think about attempting to write something on the scale of Carson’s Glass Essay, I laugh at my impudence. Some things need to live (or die) a little more before they’re ready.
From Glass, Irony and God, New Directions, 1995. It is also available online here.
I have an ambivalent relationship with Anne Carson’s writing, finding much of it uneven (there is quite a lot of it), but the best, which is this hybrid work, is assured and disturbing. Carson uses free verse to explore the inner weather of a woman recovering from the ending of a serious relationship. She visits her mother accompanied by the books and spirit of her favourite author, Emily Brontë. Reflections on Brontë are interwoven with elucidation of the narrator’s mental state and evocations of the “moor in the north”. The melancholy of the monologue is relieved by Carson’s trademark wit.
From Glass, Irony, and God, New Directions, 1995. It is also online here