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Men in the Off Hours

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Anne Carson has been acclaimed by her peers as the most imaginative poet writing today. In a recent profile, The New York Times Magazine paid tribute to her amazing ability to combine the classical and the modern, the mundane and the surreal, in a body of work that is sure to endure. In Men in the Off Hours, Carson offers further proof of her tantalizing gifts. Reinventing Anne Carson has been acclaimed by her peers as the most imaginative poet writing today. In a recent profile, The New York Times Magazine paid tribute to her amazing ability to combine the classical and the modern, the mundane and the surreal, in a body of work that is sure to endure. In Men in the Off Hours, Carson offers further proof of her tantalizing gifts. Reinventing figures as diverse as Oedipus, Emily Dickinson, and Audubon, Carson sets up startling juxtapositions: Lazarus among video paraphernalia, Virginia Woolf and Thucydides discussing war, Edward Hopper paintings illuminated by St. Augustine. And in a final prose poem, she meditates movingly on the recent death of her mother. With its quiet, acute spirituality and its fearless wit and sensuality, Men in the Off Hours shows us a fiercely individual poet at her best.


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Anne Carson has been acclaimed by her peers as the most imaginative poet writing today. In a recent profile, The New York Times Magazine paid tribute to her amazing ability to combine the classical and the modern, the mundane and the surreal, in a body of work that is sure to endure. In Men in the Off Hours, Carson offers further proof of her tantalizing gifts. Reinventing Anne Carson has been acclaimed by her peers as the most imaginative poet writing today. In a recent profile, The New York Times Magazine paid tribute to her amazing ability to combine the classical and the modern, the mundane and the surreal, in a body of work that is sure to endure. In Men in the Off Hours, Carson offers further proof of her tantalizing gifts. Reinventing figures as diverse as Oedipus, Emily Dickinson, and Audubon, Carson sets up startling juxtapositions: Lazarus among video paraphernalia, Virginia Woolf and Thucydides discussing war, Edward Hopper paintings illuminated by St. Augustine. And in a final prose poem, she meditates movingly on the recent death of her mother. With its quiet, acute spirituality and its fearless wit and sensuality, Men in the Off Hours shows us a fiercely individual poet at her best.

30 review for Men in the Off Hours

  1. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    It is best not to read Anne Carson's poems in isolation, but rather to read a collection (well, at least not this one) in one sitting -- if possible -- and later return to poke through the shards to examine various bits and pieces. Carson is a poet who relies on fragments: personal, classical (her specialty), and popular. She starts with a canvas of grief — in this case her mother's passing away -- and proceeds to build a collage, using spray paint, glue, wit, the occasional essay, quotes, and w It is best not to read Anne Carson's poems in isolation, but rather to read a collection (well, at least not this one) in one sitting -- if possible -- and later return to poke through the shards to examine various bits and pieces. Carson is a poet who relies on fragments: personal, classical (her specialty), and popular. She starts with a canvas of grief — in this case her mother's passing away -- and proceeds to build a collage, using spray paint, glue, wit, the occasional essay, quotes, and whatever else happens to be nearby. The effect is meant to be cumulative. Her language is usually flat, but this is by design as she tells us (as if anticipating her critics) in the poem "Flatman (1st draft)": I was born in the circus. I play the flat man. My voice is flat, my walk is flat, my ironies move flatly out to sock you in the eye. Irony is important to Carson (as earlier evidenced in her collection "God, Irony, and Glass" -- Carson's Trinity). In the prose piece "Irony is not Enough: Essay on Life as Catherine Deneuve (2d draft)", she tells us (citing Sapho) that "irony is a verb." As Deneuve (see the actress in "Indochine"), Carson wears the mask of a detached and beautiful woman pursuing one of her students: How very interesting (Deneuve thinks) to watch myself construct this silk and bitter relation. Latin rhetoricians translate the Greek work eironia as dissimulatio, which means "mask." After all why study the past? Because you may wish to repeat it. And in time (Sapho notes) one's mask becomes one's face. Just before going to jail Sokrates had a conversation with his prosecutors about irony, for this was the real source of their unease, and as they spoke they saw a miniature smoke of grief climb into the room, turning dark now and sulfurous in the confused ash. You're a real man Sokrates, says Deneuve. Closes her notebook. Pulls on her coat and buttons it. But then so am I. Carson, the classicist, is really a romantic. As the seemingly remote Deneuve, she nevertheless finds herself thinking that "to breathe is to love," as she watches the student ("in a new earring") doing a translation in class: Thank you, she says after the girl translates a Greek phrase with extreme vulgarity, making the others laugh. Bell rings. Girl leaves abruptly. Deneuve sits quiet as the room empties. Then puts her head down on the table and laughs. How lungs work. As Sapho says: To stop breathing is bad. So the gods judge. For they do not stop breathing Later Deneuve goes back down the hall. Inside her office the light is bluing, old ice of April unlacing its fast. She turns to the sound of the five o'clock bell. Comes a knock at the door. Throughout the collection, Carson adopts various historical masks (though the Deneuve mask seems closest to the author). Akhmatova, Artaud, Freud, Lazarus, Lev and Sonya Tolstoy, as well as many others. The connective is grief, mortality. The presentation is often cinematic, as Carson enjoys pulling in the modern medium with a series of poems about "TV men." The "TV men" poems to some extent are the least enjoyable. These poems come across as clipped bullets lacking depth. But this is exactly what Carson wants, because time and how it is perceived is an important part of Men in the Off Hours. In the collection's opening piece — the short essay, "Ordinary Time: Virginia Woolf and Thucydides on War," Carson (playfully) explores differences of time perception. Men (Thucydides) see time as linear, with seasons coming and going (along with the ebb and flow of war). But Woolf — portrayed by Carson -- has an epiphany on the subject of time, finding it an interior experience, as described in her essay "Mark on the Wall": Virginia Woolf concludes her essay "The Mark on the Wall" abruptly. Amidst speculation she notices someone standing over her who says: "I'm going out to buy a newspaper." The odd thing is, and although incidental it may be the reason why she ends this way, you grasp at once without any mention of the fact that someone is a man. He could no more be a woman than Thucydides. Not only because of his need for newspapers and view of the war ("Though it's no good buying newspapers. . . .Nothing ever happens. Curse this war. . . !") but because he at once identifies the mark on the wall as what it is. A snail is a snail. Even in the off hours, men know marks. Carson revisits this dialogue later, in a "TV men" poem, but without the depth and nuance of the earlier piece. Carson is simply saying that, as (post)moderns, things are flattening out. It may not make for great poetry but, as a statement placed within the context of the collection, it resonates. This apparent conflict in the perception of time is ultimately artificial and not some sort of enduring divide between sexes. Ideally, Carson finds a bit of both in all of us (though connection between the two remains a problem) and throughout life we often — gender aside -- shift back and forth as need requires. In an appendix to this essay, Carson closes the ring by writing touchingly of her mother, time, death, Woolf, and Carson's own writing: Crossouts are something you rarely see in published texts. They are like death: by a simple stroke -- all is lost, yet still there. For death although utterly unlike life shares a skin with it. Death lines every moment of ordinary time. Death hides right inside every shining sentence we grasped and had no grasp of. Death is a fact. No more or less strange than that celebrated fact given by the very last sentence of her [Woolf's:] diaries (March 24, 1941): L. is doing the rhododendrons. Crossouts sustain me now. I search out and cherish them like old photographs of my mother in happier times. It may be a stage of grieving that will pass. It may be that I'll never again think of sentences unshadowed in this way. It has changed me. Now I too am someone who knows marks. Facing these lines is a picture of Carson's mother. For Carson, all divisions — which are ultimately artificial —end with the great leveler (and perhaps comforter) death. Also, for Carson, the Metaphysical (in any traditional and historical sense) is swept aside in a series of "Epitaph" poems that encompass not only the religious but also those cultural items most important to the poet ("Epitaph: Zion", "Epitaph: Europe", "Epitaph: Donne Clown", "Epitaph Evil", etc.). All are bundled up in the shadow of death. In "Shadowboxer," Carson is a fighter (or better, an intellect) fighting death (tongue-in-cheek): Of the soldier who put a spear through Christ's side on the cross (and by some accounts broke his legs), whose name is Longinus, it is said that after that he had trouble sleeping and fell into a hard mood, drifted out of the army and came west, as far as Provencia. Was a body's carbon not simply carbon. Jab hook jab. Slight shift and we catch him in a moment of expansion and catastrophe, white arms sporting strangely in a void. Uppercut jab jab hook jab. Don't want to bore you, my troubles jab. Jab. Jab. Punch hook. Jab. Was a face not all stille as dew in Aprille. Hook. Jab. Jab. Less satisfying as a response to the "Epitaph" poems is the poem "No Epitaph," a piece that is meant to evoke the survival of poetry, even in such a vacuum as the Chinese Cultural Revolution. As a poem unto itself, it is shallow, and has the reader remembering Winston Smith's ("1984") utterance of "Shakespeare" without really knowing what it meant. But Carson's equivalence between the memory destroying Communist East and the history haunted West seems forced and unconvincing, especially when the corpse (and the weak light shed upon it) happens to be Poetry: Was there some trouble? An old worker died of appendicitis on the night shift and the body could not be cremated until certain disputes between the hospital and the family were resolved. Someone would have to watch the body, they stood in a small circle, shadows straining away from them toward all high corners of the room. He was surprised as anyone to hear himself say he would do it. What was it like? Quiet he says. Each night for a week he kept company beside the empty arms of the dead. Looking out the door we can see Venus rising. Okay there she is. Cold rushes in. No need for men to chatter so. (No Epitaph) Of course this is Carson's brand of irony, with the unnamed Chinese poet's pure response of "Quiet." The real ones doing the chattering are the Venus lovers. (One wonders how various western professors live with themselves, studying texts they loath for various ideological reasons.) As a suggestion of a new poetical advent, free of history's detritus, the poem seems hokey. Carson's hip disdain for her own erudition comes across glaringly as an act meant to bring the house down. Some critics doubt that Carson even writes poetry. I think she does write poetry but of a kind unlike any I've read. "Men in the Off Hours" has its ups and downs, for not all the experiments work. But with Carson's writing there is always wit, and usually, underneath the assembled fragments, you detect her passionate heart, which makes it easy to forgive her various sins. But are they sins? Or is Carson writing the modern novel: part prose, part poetry, part essay. How the lines are blurring. Jab. Jab. (A slightly different version of this review appeared in the Avatar Review.)

  2. 5 out of 5

    tegan

    me reading anne carson be like: go girl! ur rly giving us something! idk what but it’s something!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mack

    she’s simply a genius and i would die for her, next question

  4. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    I'm not going to lie: I don't understand 98% of this. This does not stop me from saying that it is beautiful. (I understand the essays on classics most, I think, and they are dense and thoughtful and intelligent.) The poetry is bewildering, evocative and free-wheeling. Anne Carson's mind must be an amazing place to live. It made fantastic bedtime reading, because I could read a few lines and lie in the dark and drift off, turning them over in my head. I'm not going to lie: I don't understand 98% of this. This does not stop me from saying that it is beautiful. (I understand the essays on classics most, I think, and they are dense and thoughtful and intelligent.) The poetry is bewildering, evocative and free-wheeling. Anne Carson's mind must be an amazing place to live. It made fantastic bedtime reading, because I could read a few lines and lie in the dark and drift off, turning them over in my head.

  5. 4 out of 5

    kate

    oh anne . the review for this will just be me copy pasting 'appendix to ordinary time' . : “My mother died the autumn I was writing this. And Now I have no one, I thought. “Exposed on a high ledge in full light,” says Virginia Woolf on one of her tingling days (March 1, 1937). I was turning over the pages of her diaries, still piled on my desk the day after the funeral, looking for comfort I suppose—why are these pages comforting? They led her, after all, to the River Ouse. Yet strong pleasure r oh anne . the review for this will just be me copy pasting 'appendix to ordinary time' . : “My mother died the autumn I was writing this. And Now I have no one, I thought. “Exposed on a high ledge in full light,” says Virginia Woolf on one of her tingling days (March 1, 1937). I was turning over the pages of her diaries, still piled on my desk the day after the funeral, looking for comfort I suppose—why are these pages comforting? They led her, after all, to the River Ouse. Yet strong pleasure rises from every sentence. In reflecting on the death of her own father, she decided that forming such shocks into words and order was “the strongest pleasure known to me” (Moments of Being [London 1985], 81). And whom do we have to thank for this pleasure but Time? It grows dark as I write now, the clocks have been changed, night comes earlier—gathering like a garment. I see my mother, as she would have been at this hour alone in her house, gazing out on the cold lawns and turned earth of evening, high bleak grass going down to the lake. Or moving room by room through the house and the silverblue darkness filling around her, pooling, silencing. Did she think of me—somewhere, in some city, in lamplight, bending over books, or rising to put on my coat and go out? Did I pause, switch off the desklamp and stand, gazing out at the dusk, think I might call her. Not calling. Calling. Too late now. Under a different dark sky, the lake trickles on. How vanished everyone is, Virginia Woolf wrote in letters to several people in 1941. And to Isaiah Berlin, Please knock on my little grey door. He did not knock; she died before. Here is a fragment from February of that year:   It is strange that the sun shd be shining; and the birds singing.”

  6. 4 out of 5

    Whit

    3.5. There is something strangely prophetic about ‘Men In The Off Hours’ - published months before 9/11, this collection seems to foreshadow the bleakness which the War On Terror would bring. Carson writes epitaphs for a world surrendering its art - loosing colour she is desperately trying to retain. She struggles with the way in which our nation consumes art and how the Masculine redefines it. Men, after all, make war. It is in Anna Akhmatova that Carson finds the true protagonist of this text 3.5. There is something strangely prophetic about ‘Men In The Off Hours’ - published months before 9/11, this collection seems to foreshadow the bleakness which the War On Terror would bring. Carson writes epitaphs for a world surrendering its art - loosing colour she is desperately trying to retain. She struggles with the way in which our nation consumes art and how the Masculine redefines it. Men, after all, make war. It is in Anna Akhmatova that Carson finds the true protagonist of this text - and begins to slowly peal bag the masculinity which permeates early poems until it focuses on the nature of the feminine in a society which is violent towards women. With is myriad of characters - one name notably missing is TS Eliot. Her focus on spring, war, and water draws him to the center of this narrative. But perhaps these allusions are enough. I will say I found this the most frustrating Carson I have read - but still greatly enjoyable. Her poems on Artaud where the definite highlight.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lameesh

    unique writing and concept but I'm not sure I understood a lot of it :,) unique writing and concept but I'm not sure I understood a lot of it :,)

  8. 5 out of 5

    Márcio

    Anne Carson, this Canadian gem of a poet and professor, is the master of venturing into the ancient with modern wit and writing. Beautiful! The poem on Anna Akhmátova and the last work called "Dirt and desire: Essay on the phenomenology of female pollution in antiquity" are outstanding. Anne Carson, this Canadian gem of a poet and professor, is the master of venturing into the ancient with modern wit and writing. Beautiful! The poem on Anna Akhmátova and the last work called "Dirt and desire: Essay on the phenomenology of female pollution in antiquity" are outstanding.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Diann Blakely

    Canadian classicist Anne Carson shares the High Modernist attraction to the ancient worlds of Greece and Rome, but with an inimitable style some might deride as "post-modern," or even pastiche. But what does "post-modern" mean, anyway? As for "pastiche," some will remember the same charge was leveled against THE WASTE LAND. Carson's work seems the obvious product of an era that exists only in small fragments--as do Sappho's poems, which Carson translated in IF NOT, WINTER (2002)--or timelessness Canadian classicist Anne Carson shares the High Modernist attraction to the ancient worlds of Greece and Rome, but with an inimitable style some might deride as "post-modern," or even pastiche. But what does "post-modern" mean, anyway? As for "pastiche," some will remember the same charge was leveled against THE WASTE LAND. Carson's work seems the obvious product of an era that exists only in small fragments--as do Sappho's poems, which Carson translated in IF NOT, WINTER (2002)--or timelessness. That same great continuum in which Pound and Eliot read and wrote their masterpieces differs only in its expansion and even greater multiplicity of forms: in GLASS, IRONY, AND GOD, for example, among the chief treats are the abandoned TV scripts Carson wrote. The classical inheritance behind the work that introduced Carson to most American readers, EROS THE BITTERSWEET (Princeton University Press), became material for her own poems. When I first wrote this reviews, in 2000, I stated that Carson seemed to be "channeling Sappho," not knowing that IF NOT, WINTER was on the horizon, but I also mentioned the other characters populating MEN IN THE OFF HOURS: Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, Socrates, Freud, Catullus, Edward Hopper, St. Augustine, Tolstoy, and Longinus. Yet if Carson has moved from scholarship solely to the larger and less confined realm of poetry, which she has done much to enlarge and re-invent in terms of definition, her primary subject hasn't changed from EROS THE BITTERSWEET: the eternal conflict between men and women. That conflict’s central fury lies in what Carson perceives as the former’s cold, flat, and harshly restrictive objectification of the latter. Carson is not only a classicist but also an inventor, restlessly seeking new shapes with each book, as readers of her most recent book, NOX, know: some may still be clumsily unwrapping the packaging, itself a sort of pun on the difficulty of "getting at" poems. Carson is always hyper-conscious of presentation: in fact, the "TV Men" sequences MEN IN THE OFF HOURS contain are a perfect embodiment of her subject matter. ”Lazarus is an imitation of Christ,“ says one of her speakers, ”As TV is an imitation of/Lazarus. As you and I are an imitation of/ /TV.“ Is this the newest incarnation of "life imitates art"? Or has it been decided that "art imitates life" is a truer take on how we live, given our increasing reliance on media instead of direct experience? Or, in fact, to continue with questions to which I have no answers, how much of daily life can said to be unbuffered against a world some see as now twice removed from "reality"? "What so real as the cry of a child? / A rabbit's cry may be wilder, / But it has no soul," wrote Sylvia Plath, or Lady Lazarus herself. (revised and expanded from a 2000 review originally published in the NASHVILLE SCENE; Dinitia Smith also provides an excellent commentary published close to the original publication of MEN IN THE OFF HOURS in that same year)

  10. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    Who else but Anne Carson would have Hector (of Trojan War fame) appearing in a TV series fighting off helicopters in the desert. Poor man didn't make it but Carson's imagination survives. There's no adequate way to explain Anne Carson; just read her. Who else but Anne Carson would have Hector (of Trojan War fame) appearing in a TV series fighting off helicopters in the desert. Poor man didn't make it but Carson's imagination survives. There's no adequate way to explain Anne Carson; just read her.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Neha

    “As tree shapes from mist / Her young death / Loose / In you.” I’m tired of trying to review Carson’s work. It’s just too beautiful.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Abby

    “Crossouts are something you rarely see in published texts. They are like death: by a simple stroke—all is lost, yet still there. For death although utterly unlike life shares a skin with it. Death lines every moment of ordinary time. Death hides right inside every shining sentence we grasped and had no grasp of. Death is a fact.” It is not even my favorite Carson and still it is incandescent, brilliant, staggering. The poems lost me more than usual, but many of the shorter fragments and the clos “Crossouts are something you rarely see in published texts. They are like death: by a simple stroke—all is lost, yet still there. For death although utterly unlike life shares a skin with it. Death lines every moment of ordinary time. Death hides right inside every shining sentence we grasped and had no grasp of. Death is a fact.” It is not even my favorite Carson and still it is incandescent, brilliant, staggering. The poems lost me more than usual, but many of the shorter fragments and the closing essay on the ancient Greek view of women as polluted/pollutants are striking.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Francisca

    I've been trying to get more into modernist female poets, particularly considering my almost-done degree does say "modern" on the title. I would like to write something more elaborate on the few Carson's poems I did like - but that will have to wait a bit. You could tell from my wording that the collection wasn't a total success with me but I also stubborn. I have another Carson collection from the library at my disposal. If that one doesn't work out either, I might have to admit maybe Carson's I've been trying to get more into modernist female poets, particularly considering my almost-done degree does say "modern" on the title. I would like to write something more elaborate on the few Carson's poems I did like - but that will have to wait a bit. You could tell from my wording that the collection wasn't a total success with me but I also stubborn. I have another Carson collection from the library at my disposal. If that one doesn't work out either, I might have to admit maybe Carson's not for me.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mattea Gernentz

    "The women of mythology regularly lose their form in monstrosity" (133). This was very taxing on my brain, but I loved it. Although I still adore "The Glass Essay" on its own most, I think this is my favorite work as a whole by Carson (not counting her translation of Sappho's fragments). A series of ekphrastic poems on Edward Hopper's paintings? French phrases scattered throughout? A brilliant essay on how women in antiquity were seen as wild and boundless and therefore feared? Multiple quotes by "The women of mythology regularly lose their form in monstrosity" (133). This was very taxing on my brain, but I loved it. Although I still adore "The Glass Essay" on its own most, I think this is my favorite work as a whole by Carson (not counting her translation of Sappho's fragments). A series of ekphrastic poems on Edward Hopper's paintings? French phrases scattered throughout? A brilliant essay on how women in antiquity were seen as wild and boundless and therefore feared? Multiple quotes by Virginia Woolf? This was practically made for me. Count me in.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Darnell Henderson

    Of course the whole book was absolutely fabulous. “Dirt and Desire: Essay on the Phenomenology of Female Pollution in Antiquity” was just the cherry on top really.

  16. 4 out of 5

    erina (readpersephone)

    3.5/5 big brain energy beautiful writing but also my brain hurts a bit (10/10 would take a class on anne carson's work tho) 3.5/5 big brain energy beautiful writing but also my brain hurts a bit (10/10 would take a class on anne carson's work tho)

  17. 5 out of 5

    row

    I’m not sure what I just read, but it felt intelligent. I definitely prefer Anne Carson’s translations to her original poetry but still, I love all her work.

  18. 5 out of 5

    lex

    Yes yes yes. a line from this book has stayed with me for weeks: ‘There is something you should know. And the right way to know it is by a cherrying of your mind.’

  19. 4 out of 5

    MJ

    For me, Anne Carson is brilliant when she's working closely with a previous author/text (usually a classical one) and almost impossibly abstruse when she isn't. The latter isn't compelling at all. In part, that's why I think it works better reading her as a collection; that way, even the more difficult and abstract parts feel like they have something -- not much, sometimes, but something -- to tether themselves to. Her language is often beautiful when incomprehensible ("A fell dark pink February For me, Anne Carson is brilliant when she's working closely with a previous author/text (usually a classical one) and almost impossibly abstruse when she isn't. The latter isn't compelling at all. In part, that's why I think it works better reading her as a collection; that way, even the more difficult and abstract parts feel like they have something -- not much, sometimes, but something -- to tether themselves to. Her language is often beautiful when incomprehensible ("A fell dark pink February haven / Was / Pulling the clouds hoe, balancing massacre / On the rips" - now, that's a gorgeous atmospheric handful of lines, but it's also 75% of the poem in question, and there's no takeaway, or none obvious at least, no import) but the real force of her work is in her ideas, I think, much of the time. Ironically, these are often quite plain-stated: in Men in the Off Hours, even in essays. I love her treatment of "female dirt" and using it to analyze Sappho - I always love her work on Sappho - I wish someone would compile and edit an entire collected work of Carson's small classical academic essays of this sort, though it'd perhaps end up a very long collection. A particular favorite for me included the series of Catullus translations, and again, this returns to the idea that she works best when working closely with another source. The line "River." repeated seven times, followed by it seven times on the same line - and again, that's 75% of the poem! - would just seem to me like a bad parody of contemporary art nonsense if there weren't the original Latin text underpinning it. At moments it's much like "All Day Permanent Red," Logue's extremely modern(ist) rewriting of the Iliad, in its quixotic and compelling reworking of a text that, ultimately, feels dependent still on an understanding of the base text. I also quite like Carson when she presents almost slice-of-life biographical snapshots, and she has some fine ones here, Anna Akhmatova, Bei Dao. Her essay "Irony is Not Enough: On My Life as Catherine Deneuve" was also great; really a series of vignettes of a classicist professor and her interactions with a particular student. Quite touching and more than a bit queer, which is how I like it.

  20. 5 out of 5

    M.W.P.M.

    Anna Carson never fails to impress with her inventiveness. In this collection, she explores (among other things) reinvention. This is apparent in her use of dratfs. Whether or not she is revealing drafts (it's unlikely that she is), Carson refers to several of her poems as being "1st draft" or "2nd draft". The poems in question are "Freud (1st draft)", "Lazarus (1st draft)", "Flatman (1st draft)", "Flat Man (2nd draft)", "Lazarus (2nd draft)", "Essay on Error (2nd draft)", "Why Did I awake (Flat Anna Carson never fails to impress with her inventiveness. In this collection, she explores (among other things) reinvention. This is apparent in her use of dratfs. Whether or not she is revealing drafts (it's unlikely that she is), Carson refers to several of her poems as being "1st draft" or "2nd draft". The poems in question are "Freud (1st draft)", "Lazarus (1st draft)", "Flatman (1st draft)", "Flat Man (2nd draft)", "Lazarus (2nd draft)", "Essay on Error (2nd draft)", "Why Did I awake (Flatman 3rd draft)", and "Freud (2nd draft)". Nowhere is her exploration of reinvention more apt than in her poems about Lazarus. The 1st and 2nd draft of Lararus, like the other draft poems, have little in common. But perhaps this is a commentary in itself. Of course there is also commentary in simple act of providing the 1st and 2nd draft of a poem about a man who died and was resurrected. Actions go on in us, nothing else goes on. While a blurred and breathless hour repeats, repeats. - Lazarus (1st draft) Free use of one's own being is most difficult, is it not. That panting - I shall, when shall I not hear it. - Lazarus (2nd draft) A passage in a later poem further clarifies the poet's interest in Lazarus... We are left to ask, Why Lazarus? My theory is God wants us to wonder this. After all, if there were some quality that Lazarus possessed, some criterion of excellence by which he was chosen to be called back from death, then we would all start competing to achieve this. - TV Men: Lazarus The second and perhaps most prominent theme explored in this collection (and in her body of work) is death. It may have been the poet's unconventional approach to death that inspired Alice Munro to remark: "I haven't discovered any writer in years that's so marvelously disturbing." Indeed, there's a disturbing, perhaps even morbid, quality to some of Carson's writing. This is perhaps more evident in MEN IN OFF HOURS than in any other collection. Death is most present in the poems with "epitaph" in the title. These "epitaphs" are interspersed throughout the collection. In a way, they seem like an afterthought (the reason for which is made evident in the last piece of the collection). The poems in question are "Epitaph: Zion", "Epitaph: Annunciation", "Epitaph: Europe", "Epitaph: Donne Clown", "Epitaph: Oedipus' Nap", "Epitaph: Evil", "Epitaph: Thaw", and "No Epitaph"... Was there some trouble? An old worker died of appendicitis on the night shift and the body could not be cremated until certain disputes between the hospital and the family were resolved. Someone would have to watch the body, they stood in a small circle, shadows straining away from them toward all high corners of the room. He was surprised to hear himself say he would do it. (pg. 162-163) The collection begins and ends with two pieces in which the poet incorporates Virginia Woolf in her discussion of a seemingly unrelated subject. The first piece, "Ordinary Time: Virginia Woolf and Thucydides On War", establishes many of the motifs that will recur throughout the collection. Most notable among these motifs is Virginia Woolf - Virginia Woolf the person and Virginia Woolf the character. Virginia Woolf the person is approached as a historical figure, her life is referenced and her writing is quoted. Virginia Woolf the character is a reinvention by the poet, a reinvention that serves as a vessel for the poet, particularly in a later piece, "Thucydides in Conversation with Virginia Woolf on the Set of The Peloponnesian War"... VW: Can you explain the walking again. T: Begin right with the right foot, left with the left foot, each time nine steps right to left and back again. VW: Does she do this every day. T: Yes it is routine. VW: Without feeling. T: Routine. (pg. 115) In this piece, Virginia Woolf takes direction from Thucydides. The reason being that the piece belongs to a cycle of poems entitled "TV Men". This cycle is derivitive of "Ordinary Times". With "TV Men", Carson reinvents Sappho, Artaud, Tolstoy, and Lazarus... No, a talent. To step obliquely where stones are sharp. Vice is also sharp. - TV Men: Sappho Artaud is mad. He stayed close to the madness. Watching it breathe or not breathe. There is a close-up of me driven to despair. - TV Men: Artaud A curious tender man and yet even after their marriage he called his desire to kiss her "the appearence of Satan." - TV Men: Tolstoy I have long been interested in those whom God had helped. It seems often to be the case, e.g. with saints or martyrs, that God helps them to far more suffering than they would have without God's help.... - TV Men: Lazarus I don't even know how to begin to talk about Caron's use of cinematic language. Suffice to say that it is brilliantly incorporated! With "Irony Is Not Enough: Essay on My Life as Catherine Deneuve", Carson breaks away from the reinvention of historical figures. Catherine Deneuve is not a historical figure in the vein of Sappho and Tolstoy. But this is not a reinvention of Catherine Deneuve; this is a reinvention of Anne Carson using Catherine Deneuve as the vessel for self-exploration. Why Catherine Deneuve? That's the wrong question. Perhaps the poet admires Deneuve. It doesn't matter. Here, Anne Carson attributes events from her life to Catherine Deneuve to a somewhat confusing effect. This piece left me with the same feeling as reading Kathy Acker (her reimagining of GREAT EXPECTATIONS or DON QUIXOTE) or Ellen Kennedy (specifically "Eoody Mobby" from SOMETIMES MY HEART PUSHES MY RIBS)... Poor idea this girl fantasy, Deneuve is thinking as she packs up after the Friday seminar. Girl has missed the last three assignments, will certainly fail the midterm. Deneuve is ducking out the main door onto the street when unexpectedly stumbles in. Girl thrusts some pages at her chest. Glad I caught you, she says. Deneuve pulls away. Folds the pages twice. Pushes them down in her briefcase. They circle one another in the doorway. Girl is looking at her oddly. Never saw you in this state before. What state is that? Tonguetied, the girl grins. - je tourne (pg. 123) Carson's exploration of death and reinvention come together in the last piece, "Appendix to Ordinary Time", in which the poet addresses her mother's death ("the autumn I was writing this") in relation to Virginia Woolf (again). The poet draws a correlation between her mother's death and Virginia Woolf in relation to Woolf's diaries and letters, specifically the crossed-out lines... "Reading this, especially the crossed-out lines, fills me with a sudden understanding. Crossouts are something you rarely see in published texts. They are like death: by a simple stroke - all is lost, yet still there. For death although utterly unlike life shares a skin with it. Death lines every moment of ordinary time. Death hides right inside every shining sentence we grasped and had no grasp of. Death is a fact." (pg. 166)

  21. 5 out of 5

    cristina

    Nulli Se Dicit Mulier Mea Nubere Malle (No One She Says) Catullus wonders about lovers’ oaths. No one but you she says she swore. Why one night a god threw open the door. I loved you more. River. River. River. River. River. River. River. River river river river river river river.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jose

    While occasionally Carson turns out a beautiful verse or a word spark, the poems are grasping inside of a rarefied bubble for private use. They wallow in Carson’s classic literature expertise but aim at relevance by juxtaposing Catullus,Sappho, St Augustine and others with TV, war or feminism. Nothing wrong with that except death, which is the beating heart in these poems, is chased out in a series of “epitaphs” and drafts. As if the writer was afraid we’d miss how deeply she dialogues with the While occasionally Carson turns out a beautiful verse or a word spark, the poems are grasping inside of a rarefied bubble for private use. They wallow in Carson’s classic literature expertise but aim at relevance by juxtaposing Catullus,Sappho, St Augustine and others with TV, war or feminism. Nothing wrong with that except death, which is the beating heart in these poems, is chased out in a series of “epitaphs” and drafts. As if the writer was afraid we’d miss how deeply she dialogues with the classics of art (Audubon, Giotto) and literature. This made the poetry feel mothballed, nunnish and apt to be carried across a gothic campus to be read by the stream in short bouts of self-congratulation. I’m glad Anne Carson has the time and the awards to prove it but I don’t see how being obscure can be distinguished from being random, or lazy or too private for anything other than evocation of an open ended beauty if one is already chasing it.

  23. 5 out of 5

    sarah louise

    sigh. to explain why you should read this book now would be to write my MFA annotation on it --- and let's face it, that's not going to happen. suffice it to say, you should read this book. it has all of Carson's poetic depth, insight into both language and human experience, and a heart-boggling take on gender, history, and power. I literally had to put the book down several times to recover from the beautiful tragedy of it. standout work: TV Men (Antigone, Akhmatova, Catherine Deneuve and the Woo sigh. to explain why you should read this book now would be to write my MFA annotation on it --- and let's face it, that's not going to happen. suffice it to say, you should read this book. it has all of Carson's poetic depth, insight into both language and human experience, and a heart-boggling take on gender, history, and power. I literally had to put the book down several times to recover from the beautiful tragedy of it. standout work: TV Men (Antigone, Akhmatova, Catherine Deneuve and the Woolf/Thucydides conversation particularly) and the essay on feminine boundaries in antiquity.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Vivian

    either because of factors interior or exterior to the book it felt like a chore to read. not an unenjoyable one. as always w/ anne carson some glimpses of light whiting... and never the sense that words were placed together without purpose and great feeling. so it's not that i sense pretension it's that i had to spend much time looking things up and translating re-translating in my brain and it sputtered the book. undid smoothness. but still a great collection body and book object, beautiful, su either because of factors interior or exterior to the book it felt like a chore to read. not an unenjoyable one. as always w/ anne carson some glimpses of light whiting... and never the sense that words were placed together without purpose and great feeling. so it's not that i sense pretension it's that i had to spend much time looking things up and translating re-translating in my brain and it sputtered the book. undid smoothness. but still a great collection body and book object, beautiful, submoving, i will return to it, and the beautiful beautiful peeking of the end epigraph.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Eleanor

    Half the time I know I'm missing most of what's going on in Anne Carson's poems, but they're so beautiful and built on such a profound bedrock of knowledge and intellect and compassionate connection that I'll happily read them all day anyway. This collection was a little less successful for me than Glass and God, but the prose pieces are extraordinary and the long series on Anna Akhmatova is also heartbreaking. She's just a very, very good poet. Please believe me. Half the time I know I'm missing most of what's going on in Anne Carson's poems, but they're so beautiful and built on such a profound bedrock of knowledge and intellect and compassionate connection that I'll happily read them all day anyway. This collection was a little less successful for me than Glass and God, but the prose pieces are extraordinary and the long series on Anna Akhmatova is also heartbreaking. She's just a very, very good poet. Please believe me.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    I say read but read means still thinking and still to pick it back up. Carson provokes me. Her "Idea of a University" rejuvenated my teaching of first-year writing and, I swear, it will help me teach "Multicultural America" the way that my students need it. I say read but read means still thinking and still to pick it back up. Carson provokes me. Her "Idea of a University" rejuvenated my teaching of first-year writing and, I swear, it will help me teach "Multicultural America" the way that my students need it.

  27. 5 out of 5

    S̶e̶a̶n̶

    'This is mental' Interview 'This is mental' Interview

  28. 4 out of 5

    prashant

    Favourite parts/chapters: Ordinary time, Hokusai, Essay on what I think about most, Dirt and desire

  29. 4 out of 5

    Harper

    I found this collection somewhat disappointing. That said, Carson is definitely a talented poet. She can convey passionately intimate emotions, present us with beautiful images, and has a great sense of just what word will strike us right. Yet, in the end, somehow it was a bit of a drag. I think one of the main obstacles for me was the sense that none of this poems are for anything. Poets often want to communicate some message, arm you with an insight that you might urgently need, teach you a way I found this collection somewhat disappointing. That said, Carson is definitely a talented poet. She can convey passionately intimate emotions, present us with beautiful images, and has a great sense of just what word will strike us right. Yet, in the end, somehow it was a bit of a drag. I think one of the main obstacles for me was the sense that none of this poems are for anything. Poets often want to communicate some message, arm you with an insight that you might urgently need, teach you a way to be. I don't want to say that none of that is going on here, but in a lot of ways the poems felt more like mere exercises, attempts to show that she knows what she's doing. There's an emptiness or hollowness at the heart of many of the poems. To use Aristotelian terms, their final cause is not apparent. I think this is somehow connected to her constant use of figures from cultural history. Just about every poem in the book is centred on some figure, be it Audubon, Hokusai, Emily Dickinson, Sappho, Virginia Woolf, Thucydides, or Akhmatova. Frequently the references felt pointless to me, and when the entire poem was structured around the reference, it was extremely unsatisfying. So I mostly disliked the "TV Men" sequence which takes up about 60 pages in the centre of the book. What also bothered me though is that the cultural references lacked an air of reality. It didn't feel like Carson could recognize the lives of these past figures as contiguous with our own today; it felt like she was escaping the world of today (or the world of the late-1990's, anyway) and her own life in order to live through these figures. But sometimes, such as when she tackles Stalinism in the Akhmatova part of "TV Men," or China's Cultural Revolution in "No Epitaph," it feels a bit ghastly. The effect is to make these crises of world history into unreal aesthetic objects, to say "Wow, can you imagine living in times so interesting?" It lacks a certain moral seriousness that the subject demands. My favourite part of the book was actually the essay "Dirt and Desire: An Essay on the Phenomenology of Female Pollution in Antiquity." This is a straight-up academic essay (although not at all dry or plodding) that explains its topic very well. The academic framework added a kind of reality that I felt was lacking in the other poems, because no matter how weird academia can get, it's always fundamentally about a common reality we can relate to. Rather than turning Sappho or the ancient Greeks into fairy-tale characters, which is what her poems sometimes seem to do, she speaks about them as entities existing in the common world we all share. To be honest, I'm not going to recommend this book to anyone. However, I do think Carson deserves the large following she has (large for the world of poetry anyway) and I think people are quite right to enjoy her as much as they do.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Maltheus Broman

    Unfortunately, Men In The Off Hours is mostly without merit; perhaps pretentious even; in any case rather dull. Many big names — Catullus, Hokusai, Augustine, Artaud... — are named to no effect. All poems bank on stories they do not tell themselves. What can be read in this collection does neither excel in beauty nor in truth. Many pieces fake a level of wit; many lines pretend to hint at something astonishing. Even if these references (which are for the most part irrelevant footnotes of history Unfortunately, Men In The Off Hours is mostly without merit; perhaps pretentious even; in any case rather dull. Many big names — Catullus, Hokusai, Augustine, Artaud... — are named to no effect. All poems bank on stories they do not tell themselves. What can be read in this collection does neither excel in beauty nor in truth. Many pieces fake a level of wit; many lines pretend to hint at something astonishing. Even if these references (which are for the most part irrelevant footnotes of history) are perfectly understood, it only becomes all the more clearer how unpolished this collection is. * “TV Men: Antigone (Script 1 and 2)” — These kinds of titles alone are disheartening. The story in it starts with Antigone and a blind Oedipos; there’s a lot of barbaric gibberish and then comes a line that reads ‘I want to make a lot of money. Just kidding.’ — How is this not complete bollocks? “Tolstoy” — The story is lacking, its prose is nothing special. “Lazarus” — Unbearable. “Thucydides [and] Virginia Wolf [...]” — No wit. No humour. It’s a weird premise for a joke leading into an unfunny execution. “Evening Wind” — Interesting, but unfinished. On a closer look, one will notice this short piece opens with the theme of earthly heritage, but ends with the theme of possible afterlife, which is why it falls flat. “Samedi” — This part of the Artaud series might be the most pretentious and cringeworthy. “Nighthawks” — Among all the others this poem is rather finely structured and crafted. However, it is far from great. And, if a mediocre poem stands out in a collection, then the collection is still nothing short of dreadful. * Despite all goodwill and patience, reading this poetry collection felt like watching a self-gratulatory play, which is fine in and of itself, but I don’t feel compelled to applaud. P.S.: I've read and watched many reviews. Some say her writing was flat on purpose; its lack of depth voluntary. Others say they must have missed something, and that just made it better... De gustibus non est disputandum.

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