Saturday, October 1, 2016

Anne Carson: Ear to the Canvas

“I mostly think of my work as a painting,” poet and scholar Anne Carson told Kevin McNeilly in 2012. “It’s not about the meaning of each individual word adding up to a proposition; it’s about the way they interact with each other as daubs of meaning, you know as impressionist colors interact, daubs of paint, and you stand back and see a story emerge from the way that the things are placed next to each other. You can also do that with language.” In fact, Carson continues to do that with language—and never more intriguingly than in her suite of poems “Hopper: Confessions” that muses on the art of Edward Hopper and fourth-century philosopher and theologian Augustine. (Men in the Off Hours, Vintage Books, 2000)

Room in Brooklyn
"Room in Brooklyn," 1932
Along the room
A gradual dazzle
Gives me that
As hours
Down my afternoon.

Let us not say time past was long, for we shall not find it.
It is no more. But let us say
time present was long,
because when it was present it was long. (Augustine, Confessions XI)

"Nighthawks," 1942

I wanted to run away with you tonight
but you are a difficult woman
the rules of you—
Past and future circle round us
       now we know more now less
            in the institute of shadows.

            On the street black as widows
       with nothing to confess
our distances found us
the rules of you—
so difficult a woman
I wanted to run away with you tonight.

Yet I say boldly that I know that if nothing passed away, time past were not.
And if nothing were coming, time future were not.
And if nothing were, time present were not.
                                                            (Augustine, Confessions XI)

"Automat," 1927

The Glove of Time by Edward Hopper

True I am but a shadow of a passenger on this planet
but my soul likes to dress in formal attire
despite the stains.
She walks through the door.
She takes off her glove.
Does she turn her head.
Does she cross her leg. That is a question.
Who is speaking.
Also a question.
All I can say is

I see no evidence of another glove.
The words are not a sentence, don't work on that.
Work on this.
It is not empty time, it is the moment
when the curtains come blowing into the room.
When the lamp is prepared.
When light hits the wall just there.
And the glove?
Now it rose up - the life she could have lived (par les soirs bleus d'été).
It so happens
paint is motionless.
But if you put your ear to the canvas you will hear
the sounds of a terribly good wheel on its way.
Somewhere someone is travelling toward you,
travelling day and night.
Bare birches flow past.
The red road drops away.
Here, you hold this:
It so happens
a good evening glove
is 22 centimeters from hem to fingertip.
This was a glove "shot in the back"
(as Godard said of his King Lear).
Listening to his daughters Lear
hoped to see their entire bodies
stretched out across their voices
like white kid.
For in what does time differ from eternity except we measure it?

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