cover image Plainwater: Essays and Poetry

Plainwater: Essays and Poetry

Anne Carson. Alfred A. Knopf, $23 (260pp) ISBN 978-0-679-43178-7

Despite her fastidious, ornately post-modern style, Carson finds her subject matter in classicism. The fruits of this unique, difficult combination are strikingly displayed in this selection of her published work. Seemingly composed of equal parts enigma, experiment and exegesis, Carson's writings incorporate a dizzying spectrum of forms--prose poem, mock interview, travel journal, academic essay. ``Mimnermos: The Brainsex Paintings'' explores what are perhaps figmentary fragments of the ancient Greek poet's work, which divulges ``a kind of hunger for the motions of the self that we are mining still.'' The blurb-like, often humorous paragraphs and prose poems of ``Short Talks'' (which are ``on'' subjects as varied as chromoluminism and Sylvia Plath) and ``The Life of Towns'' (with stops in ``Apostle Town'' and ``Town of Greta Garbo'') afford the pleasure of a whimsical crossword puzzle. But Carson achieves a surreal, perplexing brilliance in ``Canicula di Anna,'' a 53-section poem partially set in the paintings of the 16th-century artist Perugino. The final selection, ``The Anthropology of Water,'' takes an abruptly confessional turn, though one measured (as the title suggests) by the poet's near-scientific intellectualism that, as in all these writings, gives her work a dazzling lucidity. (July)