Even after arriving five minutes before the start of Anne Carson’s reading on Feb 12, I found that the seating limit in Sharpless Auditorium had already been exceeded. Staff and volunteers were fetching additional chairs to place at the side of each row, but the people kept coming. Some stood, but others (like myself) were led into the Hilles 109 conference room, where a live stream of the event was being screened. Content to be in the audience away from the audience, I watched as the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Comparative Literature and Classics Deborah Roberts, introduced the acclaimed poet, essayist, translator, and classicist Anne Carson. Carson’s partner, Robert Currie, followed this introduction with a disclaimer about “string talks.”
I was unsure about what that last phrase meant until Carson started reciting her first verse. I was trying to remember some of my favorite lines such as “a gold eyelid opens over the harbor” when Currie came on stage with a light green roll of string. He first brought the string close to Carson, then wrapped the string around her arm as she spoke. The string left me bewildered; I tried to make sense of the work that featured the sea, Marcel Proust, and 1914, but I struggled to pay attention to her words. When the poem ended I felt as though I had been living two different lives: one attuned to the poem, and the other attuned to the string.
This feeling led me through the rest of her prose. Carson’s work came alive as she blended biographical history with humor and the light-hearted absurdity of pop culture (I do not deny that to Homer, Crito could have looked like Bob Dylan). A particularly sobering moment was when Carson read “Fate, Federal Court, Moon,” a poem reflecting on Faisal bin Ali Jamer, a Yemeni engineer whose brother-in-law and nephew were killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2012, and his attempts to seek an apology from the U.S. government. The poem repeats the word “fate” to describe hypotheticals involving both the court case and Faisal’s life.
At the end of the event was a series of “short talks,” where Carson ruminated on a topic for approximately 13 seconds. The first of these talks revolved around Gertrude Stein, and the second on headaches (achieved by constant talk of metaphysics and brackets). The third one was an “interactive” one in which the audience was divided into two choruses, being prompted to respond “Let’s fly it!” and “What a bargain!” respectively after Carson advertised a hot air balloon. At this point, I had forgotten that I was in a conference room with a handful of others.
Just like that, it was over. I attempted to join the reception, but at this point, the crowd was too thick and impenetrable to get through. Many swarmed to get their books signed, as well as to purchase more. The food table drifted away in a sea of bodies. I left without any of the reception but yet feeling strangely full.
Written by Matthew Ridley ’19. Edited by Eleanor Morgan ’20.
Photos by Andrew Nguyen ’19.