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The poetry and prose collected in Plainwater are a testament to the extraordinary imagination of Anne Carson, a writer described by Michael Ondaatje as "the most exciting poet writing in English today." Succinct and astonishingly beautiful, these pieces stretch the boundaries of language and literary form, while juxtaposing classical and modern traditions. Carson envisions The poetry and prose collected in Plainwater are a testament to the extraordinary imagination of Anne Carson, a writer described by Michael Ondaatje as "the most exciting poet writing in English today." Succinct and astonishingly beautiful, these pieces stretch the boundaries of language and literary form, while juxtaposing classical and modern traditions. Carson envisions a present-day interview with a seventh-century BC poet, and offers miniature lectures on topics as varied as orchids and Ovid. She imagines the muse of a fifteenth-century painter attending a phenomenology conference in Italy. She constructs verbal photographs of a series of mysterious towns, and takes us on a pilgrimage in pursuit of the elusive and intimate anthropology of water. Blending the rhythm and vivid metaphor of poetry with the discursive nature of the essay, the writings in Plainwater dazzle us with their invention and enlighten us with their erudition.


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The poetry and prose collected in Plainwater are a testament to the extraordinary imagination of Anne Carson, a writer described by Michael Ondaatje as "the most exciting poet writing in English today." Succinct and astonishingly beautiful, these pieces stretch the boundaries of language and literary form, while juxtaposing classical and modern traditions. Carson envisions The poetry and prose collected in Plainwater are a testament to the extraordinary imagination of Anne Carson, a writer described by Michael Ondaatje as "the most exciting poet writing in English today." Succinct and astonishingly beautiful, these pieces stretch the boundaries of language and literary form, while juxtaposing classical and modern traditions. Carson envisions a present-day interview with a seventh-century BC poet, and offers miniature lectures on topics as varied as orchids and Ovid. She imagines the muse of a fifteenth-century painter attending a phenomenology conference in Italy. She constructs verbal photographs of a series of mysterious towns, and takes us on a pilgrimage in pursuit of the elusive and intimate anthropology of water. Blending the rhythm and vivid metaphor of poetry with the discursive nature of the essay, the writings in Plainwater dazzle us with their invention and enlighten us with their erudition.

30 review for Plainwater: Essays and Poetry

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ken

    When you enjoy a new-to-you author this much, you just hope you haven't made the mistake of choosing her best book to read first. And though Plainwater is a flavorful mix of essays and poetry, it really amounts to poetry, whether in traditional lines and stanzas or hidden in paragraph form. The lady has a word with ways, as they say. The book opens modestly enough with "Mimnermos: The Brainsex Paintings," which is an interview between the author and a 7th-century B.C. poet (but of course!). The m When you enjoy a new-to-you author this much, you just hope you haven't made the mistake of choosing her best book to read first. And though Plainwater is a flavorful mix of essays and poetry, it really amounts to poetry, whether in traditional lines and stanzas or hidden in paragraph form. The lady has a word with ways, as they say. The book opens modestly enough with "Mimnermos: The Brainsex Paintings," which is an interview between the author and a 7th-century B.C. poet (but of course!). The moral of the story? If you like an ancient poet, make like a ventriloquist and give him a new voice. After this comes "Short Talks," the perfect thing for these short-attention-span times. Most of these entries are a mere paragraph long, with titles like "On Trout," "On Disappointments in Music," "On Ovid," "On Parmenides," "On Waterproofing," "On the Mona Lisa," "On Sylvia Plath," and "On Reading." Sweet and short, the shortest of the lot is "On Gertrude Stein About 9:30," which goes like so: "How curious. I had no idea! Today has ended." Section 3, "Canicula di Anna," is full-fledged poetry--44 pages of a phenomenology conference in Perugia, Italy. If you have no idea what phenomenology is and how on earth (much less Italy) it would merit a conference, know that it is, according to both Merriam and Webster, "the study of the development of human consciousness and self-awareness as a preface to or a part of philosophy." As they say in Canada: "Oh." "The Life of Towns," Part 4, is similar to "Short Talks" except it is written as short poems. The beyond-curious thing about these guys is that every line in every poem starts with a capital letter and ends with a period--even when it's not a sentence. Exhibit B ("A" being busy): "Luck Town" by Anne Carson Digging a hole. To bury his child alive. So that he could buy food for his aged mother. One day. A man struck gold. Once you get used to the quirky periods (that must be ignored) and to the fact that Carson has forced you to slow down and read her poems slowly, you're safe at the plate. Finally, the book wraps up with a travelogue of sorts called "The Anthropology of Water." It's about Anne and a boyfriend doing the Simon & Garfunkel thing ("Yes, we've all gone to look for America..."). It's like snooping in a poet's diary, this section, and you not only get an idea about camping (of all things), but learn about the psychology of man and woman in close quarters (pup tents, sleeping bags, cars, etc.) and the communion one feels with nature, even under times of stress. My favorite line in this section, running away (like the dish and spoon)? Easy. It's two lines under the heading Friday 4:00 a.m. Not swimming.: "Staring. The lake lies like a silver tongue in a black mouth." Let me stare at that line again. If it's 4 a.m. as I do so, even better. And if I'm in a cabin right on a lake, better still. Deep inhale. Slow exhale. Throughout all of these sections, Carson explores her fraught relationship with her father. Yep. He's another one of those strict, man-of-few-words types who bears a daughter-of-many-words and has trouble showing his love. What is it with men who have trouble showing their love? In its way, the theme of this lovely book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Like two particles in a complex sentence we sit side by side moving forward, eyes on the road. Parataxis is a charged instance of language cold on the surface, unexplained underneath. Let my courage not abandon me. Body and shadow comfort one another, says ancient Chinese wisdom. I spent much of my childhood staring straight ahead at the hood of a car and America unrolling to the horizon. Father too drove with eyes on the road. Stop the tape and look at these people, one young and one old. Like Like two particles in a complex sentence we sit side by side moving forward, eyes on the road. Parataxis is a charged instance of language cold on the surface, unexplained underneath. Let my courage not abandon me. Body and shadow comfort one another, says ancient Chinese wisdom. I spent much of my childhood staring straight ahead at the hood of a car and America unrolling to the horizon. Father too drove with eyes on the road. Stop the tape and look at these people, one young and one old. Like two stars hung in a deep wind in space, who appear motionless as they hurtle toward each other at 186,213 miles per second in a silence that cracks a wall. It has everything. Didn't know if I was reading fiction or non-fic, ancient or modern, poetry or prose, sacred or profane. I just kind of want to model my life on this book.

  3. 5 out of 5

    mwpm

    The collection is divided into five parts: "Mimnermos: The Brainsex Paintings"; "Short Talks"; "Canicula di Anna"; "The Life of Towns"; and "The Anthropology of Water". The first part, "Mimnermos: The Brainsex Paintings", presents the fragmented writings of the Greek elegiac poet Mimnermos. It is unclear whether or not these are the authentic writings of Mimnermos. This may be a translation by Anne Carson. This may be a re-imagining of Mimnermos's writings. It is unclear... fr. 14 None Such as Him The collection is divided into five parts: "Mimnermos: The Brainsex Paintings"; "Short Talks"; "Canicula di Anna"; "The Life of Towns"; and "The Anthropology of Water". The first part, "Mimnermos: The Brainsex Paintings", presents the fragmented writings of the Greek elegiac poet Mimnermos. It is unclear whether or not these are the authentic writings of Mimnermos. This may be a translation by Anne Carson. This may be a re-imagining of Mimnermos's writings. It is unclear... fr. 14 None Such as Him He looks to memory. None such: amid the butting bulls none such on the death flanks of Hermos. None. Those elders who saw him saw the source points. It stung God. They say his spinal chord ran straight out of the sun. (pg. 9) Anne Carson renders irrelevant the question of the writings' authenticity by exploring the writing both with a conventional essay, "Mimnermos and the Motions of Hedonism" (which notably begins with a quote from Kafka), and with unconventional interviews, "The Mimnermos Interviews (1-3)"... M: Don't get angry I: I'm not angry I am conscientious M: Like moss I: What an odd thing to say have you ever been psychoanalyzed M: Not so far as I know why do you ask I: Moss is the name of my analyst (pg. 19) The second part, "Short Talks", is prefaced with an introduction in which the poet states that she "will do anything to avoid boredom". The pieces that follow seem to have emerged from this avoidance of boredom, unless it was overheard from "three old women [who] were bending down in the fields", who "knew everything there is to know about the snowy fields and the blue-green shoots and the plant called 'audacity,' which poets mistake for violets" (pg. 29) The introduction shows evidence of Gertrude Stein's influence. Indeed, Stein's influence is present throughout the book, as it is present throughout Carson's body of work. Carson even acknowledges her debt to Stein with a short piece (or "short talk") called "On Gertrude Stein About 9:30" ... How curious. I had no idea! today has ended. (pg. 31) The pieces vary in length, from one line to one page. Each pieces is written on one subject or another, inverting the classical form into something comic or poetic (or both)... Beauty makes me hopeless. I don't care why anymore I just want to get away. When I look at the city of Paris I long to wrap my legs around it. When I watch you dancing there is a heartless immensity like a sailor in a dead-calm sea. Desires as round as peaches bloom in me all night, I no longer gather what falls. - On Hedonism (pg. 44) The third part, "Canicula di Anna", is reminiscent of AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF RED - or perhaps it's AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF RED that is reminiscent of "Canicula di Anna"? Suffice to say that it follows the poet's familiar and effective device - that is, the juxtaposition of classical and modern traditions. The fourth part, "The Life of Towns", is a collection of poems exploring a theme established in the introduction: "Towns are the illusion that things hang together somehow..." (pg. 93) The poems may seem somewhat scattered, but each is a different take on the idea of a "town", and each adheres to the same form. Here, Carson decides to end each line with a period, as if each line were its own sentence, though it clearly isn't. In this way, she opposes the illusion "that things hang together"... Twenty-five. To four a. Black. Tinkle of the moon grazes. It knocks. It. Off. The blade. Of night like a. Paring. - Town of the Man in the Mind at Night (pg. 103) The fifth part, "The Anthropology of Water", is itself divided into seven parts: "Diving: Introduction to the Anthropology of Water"; "Thirst: Introduction to Kinds of Water"; "Kinds of Water: An Essay on the Road to Compostela"; "Very Narros: Introduction to Just for the Thrill"; "Just for the Thrill: An Essay on the Difference Between Men and Woman"; "The Wishing Jewel: Introduction to Water Margins"; and "Water Margins: An Essay on Swimming by My Brother". Reading "Diving: Introduction to the Anthropology of Water", one is reminded that while the five parts of the collection may be read apart from each other, they're also linked and contribute to the bigger picture. The Introduction begins, like the first essay "Mimnermos and the Motions of Hedonism", with a quote from Kafka. What's more, "Thirst: Introduction to Kinds of Water" makes direct reference to the quoted by Kafka used in "Mimnermos and the Motions of Hedonism"... "I think it was Kafka who had the idea of swimming across Europe and planned to do so with his friend Max, river by river. Unfortunately his health wasn't up to it. So instead he started to write a parable about a man who had never learned to swim." (pg. 119) In the "Introduction to the Anthropology of Water" recounts the story of Danaos ("a hero of ancient Greek Myth"). It is characteristic of Carson to incorporate mythology into her poetry. Here, the story of Danaos ends with the marriage of his 50 daughters to 50 suitors, and the murders of 49 of those suitors as the hands of 49 of his daughters. Their punishment, as the reader has already guessed from the title of the fifth part, is related to water. The Introduction concludes... "But yes, there was on daughter who did not draw her sword. What happened to her remains to be discovered...." (pg. 118) In the "Introduction to Kinds of Water", the poet transitions into the narrative of her aging and ailing father. The narrative of her father continues throughout the subsequent parts. It was her father who said to the poet "How can you see your life unless you leave it?" (pg. 122) and set into motion the pilgrimage detailed in the third part. Something I liked about the second part, the poet's specification of the supplies she packed for her pilgrimage... "I packed my rucksack with socks, canteen, pencils, three empty notebooks." (pg. 123) The third part, "Kinds of Water: An Essay on the Road to Compostela", takes the form of journal entries. Each entry begins with the location (the location may be named, like "St. Jean Pied de Port", or it may be prefaced with "To" or "From" depending on the poet's status, coming or going, in relation to the location in question), followed by the date (the entries are dated from "20th of June" to "26th of July") and a quotation... the good thing is we know the glasses are for drinking - Machado (quoted on pg. 124) The typical entry records the poet's observations of the city, often focusing on water in one form or another. She details her relationship with her traveling companion, whom she has nicknamed "My Cid" (because "it speeds up the storytelling"). Finally, every entry ends with a comment about pilgrims... "Pilgrims were people who loved good riddles." (pg. 124) "Pilgrims were people whose recipes were simple." (pg. 134) "Pilgrims were people glad to take off their clothing, which was on fire." (pg. 154) Entries that don't end with a comment about pilgrims often contain a comment somewhere within the text... "Even the earliest Pilgrim's Guide, published in A.D. 1130, contains remarks touching the dilemma of the pilgrim who reaches his destination and cannot bear to stop." (pg. 144) One of my favourite lines from this part... "I am a pilgrim (not a novelist) and the only story I have to tell is the road itself." (pg. 152) The fourth part, "Very Narros: Introduction to Just for the Thrill", continues the narrative of the father, effectively introduces the theme of the fifth part (being the difference between men and women) before transitioning into the poet's next pilgrimage. The fifth part, "Just for the Thrill: An Essay on the Difference Between Men and Woman", though it takes the form of journal entries, more closely resembles a travel journal (neglecting date and focusing instead on location). The contents, however, focus more on, not surprisingly, the relationship between the poet and her travel companion - not the same travel companion, it seems, but a man she nicknames "the emperor of China" - apparently because "love made him so happy", but more likely because he was "an anthropologist from China, using this trip across America to study up on classical Chinese" (pg. 193). In the place of comments about pilgrims, most entries include "classical Chinese wisdom"... "A person without a smiling face should not open a shop." (pg. 198) "Brush cannot write two words at the same time." (pg. 207) One of my favourite lines from this part... "The emperor of China likes the idea of making love to women fitted with false penises. I try not to neglect anything that is part of him. It is rather like watching somebody die." (pg. 203) The sixth and seventh parts, "The Wishing Jewel: Introduction to Water Margins" and "Water Margins: An Essay on Swimming by My Brother", is written from the perspective of the poet's brother, though it is made apparent by the Introduction that it is the poet writing from her brother's perspective. The Introduction provides the background narrative, in which her brother disappears ("for reasons having partly to do with the police, partly with my father - it doesn't matter now") on a pilgrimage to China (following the Eastern themes explored in the fifth part and the overarching exploration of the pilgrim and pilgrimage). The seventh part, like the third and fifth parts, takes the form of journal entries. Each entry is preceded by the day of the week, the time, and the brother's status (either "Swimming" or "Not Swimming", as if this has come to define his entire existence). A typical entry looks like this... Friday 10:00 p.m. Not Swimming. Over the unmoving black body of the lake the moon dreams its gold dream of life, as if it were alone in the world and what dreamer is not? (pg. 259) And then it ends abruptly. Overall, I'm impressed with this collection, as I have been impressed with everything I've read by Anne Carson (with the exception of RED DOC>). More than anything else I've read, this collection felt more personal. I don't know enough about the poet to know the extent to which she had drawn from autobiographical sources. But whether or not the source is autobiography is not the question. The quality of the work transcends autobiography, and renders irrelevant the question of source.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jimmy

    12.26.02 – Notice of Termination of Lease (from my landlord) Due to my financial situation, I regret to inform you that I am forced to sell the house you are living in now. This letter serves as your 30 day notice. Please move out completely by January 31, 2003. 12.31.02 – The Year of the Horse I’m holding on to a new book. It is white like a small hand opening. Like the new year drifting its white-out over the frozen grass. The pages are stiff, each being convinced to turn over. It is learning the 12.26.02 – Notice of Termination of Lease (from my landlord) Due to my financial situation, I regret to inform you that I am forced to sell the house you are living in now. This letter serves as your 30 day notice. Please move out completely by January 31, 2003. 12.31.02 – The Year of the Horse I’m holding on to a new book. It is white like a small hand opening. Like the new year drifting its white-out over the frozen grass. The pages are stiff, each being convinced to turn over. It is learning the mechanism of its own flipping. Pressing its ear to the spine, it listens for clicks. Across the table, Dawn declares 2003 the year of the horse. How can horses sleep standing up? I think of a precise machine fitting for a horse. A white horse in the snow, breathing out dense clouds. A spotted horse drinking from the edge of a lake. A black horse walking away in the desert. The shape of a horse is indefinite, as any body of water will tell you. You fall through and through. The year of the horse. Is it? 01.11.03 - Interview with Anne Carson I: Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed Ms. Carson. In your book, Plainwater, I understand you have included some fragments of Mimnermos' poetry. What is the importance of understanding these, and why did you choose to open the book with this disjunctive series? A: Please call me Annie. I: Alright Annie. Are you tired of these questions already? A: I'm tired of Freud. I bet you're tired of Aphrodite. You're probably tired of me, and you haven't even gotten to the good part of the book yet. I: Yes, but the crust is good dipped in chicken soup. D: Motherfucker, give me some of that. I: Dawn? Where did Annie go? D: I don't know man. Hand it over. I: Dude, you were Annie... I mean, you were Miss Anne Carson just ten seconds ago, I swear. Am I dreaming? D: I'm tired of Freud. You wouldn't believe what my Queer Theory professor said today. I: I don't want to know. I was doing an interview. I guess I'll ask you my next question: What's the function of beauty in art? D: Well, a pretty girl is good to look at. And I guess you need that in art because art needs to be good to look at, too. A: There's probably more wisdom in there than you think. I: Annie? Is that you? D: No. Hey, did you read that Plainwater book? I thought we were gonna talk about it. I: Yeah, I just finished this section with interviews and shit. A: Can a butterfly ever be beautiful? What the butterfly does not understand is her own reflection in the pond. She folds her wings behind her as she lands, forming each past movement in reverse. In my imagination, I am so sure that the water in Kolophon is always cold. I'd like to pull up my dress and step in, but I'm scared. I don't know why. This is always when I grow older. Perhaps this fear is related to my sister's drowning. I see her face in the water at night. Does that answer your question, Dr. Moss? I: Who's Doctor Moss? 01.16.03 – Properties of Glass An empty house is indefinite as a horse. It is an echo chamber, born to convince us of ourselves. As I was saying that, I was distracted. I was withdrawing into boxes that will later be unboxed. It is easy to be distracted by random objects on the walls. The bedside table spilling over with books and coffee mugs. A pilgrimage is a disguise for a spiritual journey to find the self. The destination is not as important as the physical act of moving through space. Waking up in a lake after a dream of drought. But this is no pilgrimage. No. Not like that at all. This is not about moving through spaces. It is about walls and windows. How many windows do I need? When I was 12, I heard rumors that there was a house being built entirely of glass. Is that a house without walls or a house without windows? I wanted so much to live there, but I didn’t know why. How can a horse sleep standing up? It is its own house. 01.18.03 - Theory of Adjectives How many degrees of separation between Pina Bausch and this cup of tea? Anne takes a sip from it. She's fixed to the pages curled in her left hand. Outside, the smell of burnt garbage tumbles upwards. It's late August, and the mockingbirds are swooping down like wild fire at your ear. In every story, something always represents love. Or someone. Anne turns another page. This one's riddled with disease, slow infinitives. Prepositional phrases. In a month, the streets will freeze. It takes a dead body 23 minutes to reach room temperature. Patches of ice form continents. Her apartment's small. So small, pacing becomes necessary. There are pictures of Ophelia on the wall next to polaroids of her mother in a blue scarf. Poems scattered on her floor like seed. Buddha says I, too, use concepts, but I am not fooled thereby. Anne writes a sentence in the margin that resembles a woman whose back has given out. 01.19.03 - Exegesis Is that all we must go on? I can tell you that there is a curiosity in the mosquito's stirring, the phenomenologists counter-stirring. Between these, an ancient dialectic, perhaps? Some air thrown out between two soft sheets? A city inside a stone? The overheard words: I'm not sure I overheard them anymore. The first time I met Anna, she was caught between these gravities. One was painting her with vermillion, the scorpion's scald. The other was an overheard conversation, a long distance call, her father's death. She showed me the blue veins mapping both her arms. As if scars. I can tell you how to keep the dogs out, their barking barking. But not what the barking means. What I'm trying to say is. The scars, let's go back to the scars. I mean, veins. Like frescoes, graffiti on the tombs of the Museo Archeologico. Powdered lead, cypress resin, a careful science. I mean, silence. Carson's use of white space, adjectives, no. Her use of. Invention? No, her freedom from convention. No. The first time I met Anna, she was furiously dancing. I don't remember much else. Maybe she showed me her arms, maybe not. Maybe I overheard murderer. Heidegger? A man was sitting next to me, covered in a shawl. No, a Yankees cap. When he reached for his drink, I saw on his fingers the ground up leaves, black manganate, tint of flesh. 01.21.03 - Interview with Jimmy Lo A: Thanks for agreeing to interview with me Mr. Lo. About your review of my book... J: Yes. Umm.. Well, that's a touchy subject, isn't it? Maybe you shouldn't have been the one doing this interview. I mean, I'm still in the middle of writing it, and there's that whole ethical thing... A: You think I'm going to influence your opinion of my book? J: Well, if we start talking more often, you know, go out on a few dates and stuff, things could get out of hand. I need to remain objective about this. A: Our relationship is strictly professional. J: Yes, yes I'll try. A: Tell me about Dawn. J: Dawn? A: Yes, this person was not in my book. Yet you've confused her with me during the second section of your review. J: She's not? I thought she... Oh, well maybe I just made her up. A: You're a real asshole, you know? J: Sorry. 01.22.03 Apt. J10 Ansley Forest, Monroe Dr. Patricia, 21, has two dogs, frequent guests, and smokes indoors in winter. I know this, but I'm here anyway. She opens the door, smiling. She works at a pet care place down the street. Her boyfriend is on the couch. Nice location, I say. The room is bare. Take a seat. The TV sits on a stack of Yellow Pages. One of the dogs is a baby pit bull. My dad used to own a pit bull, I say. We gave him away cause he got too aggressive. The kitchen's loaded with unwashed dishes. Her boyfriend asks if I want to smoke pot. We watch commercials. So, what do you do? I work for a design firm. I do web pages. Stains on the carpet. You don't go to school? I graduated. From Tech. Computer Science. Oh, cool, that's what he's doing too. Bauder College. Jeopardy on TV. One of the dogs really likes me. I think her name is Lucy. I better go. I'll let you know soon. OK, Aufwiedersehen. You know German? Yeah, we lived in Germany for a while. Hey, do you know a German word that sounds like "function lust". It means something like "joy in doing"... 01.23.03 453 Curran Street A student lives here. Her room smells of perfume and has blue walls (imagine sleeping in a small red boat in the center of a lake). Windows hang on the wall like upside down roses. The landlord walks beside me. He talks about central heat and air. The ceiling is warped where a brown stain shows through. That was from a leak, he says. but we fixed it. Imagine sleeping in a boat while the lake drains into a red bucket. 01.25.03 - Funktionslust Sometimes I go because of the voice. 1 bedroom. Washer/dryer. Sometimes I draw out the person before we even meet. It doesn't matter who they are. What they do. I enjoy passing through. Monte del Gozo. Another exit off the highway, another town with a strange name. I look at their pictures. Try to guess what led up to each photo... the wife in her swimming cap, the sister standing out on the dock. I read the titles of their books. Wuthering Heights. The Waves. Breathe the potpourri in their bathrooms. Today, while looking out a bedroom window saying "Nice view", I wondered about the view from her room. I still can't picture it clearly. Where exactly, the window? I thought next to her pictures of Ophelia, but now I'm not so sure. What angle does the sun slant through the blinds at 10am? Continued in the comments section...

  5. 4 out of 5

    Margaret

    Anne Carson puts together several different prose and poetry styles all together to create something beautiful and amazing. It took me a while to adapt to poetry again after a bit of a hiatus, but Plainwater is so good I've started back into a poetry binge of proportions not seen in recent years. It's amazing and lovely and everyone should go read it.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Alexandra

    My first encounter with Carson--completely life-changing.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Bryant

    Anne Carson is the Arachne of contemporary poets. A professor of classics and comparative literature at Michigan, Carson has an eight-legged brain that comfortably weaves sixth-century Greek lyric poetry, Renaissance painting, ancient Chinese wisdom literature, Kafka, and the confusion of her (writerly persona's) own love affairs. It is tempting to read the sections of this collection as separate entities. Indeed, the thematic and stylistic differences seem to encourage episodic reading. But suc Anne Carson is the Arachne of contemporary poets. A professor of classics and comparative literature at Michigan, Carson has an eight-legged brain that comfortably weaves sixth-century Greek lyric poetry, Renaissance painting, ancient Chinese wisdom literature, Kafka, and the confusion of her (writerly persona's) own love affairs. It is tempting to read the sections of this collection as separate entities. Indeed, the thematic and stylistic differences seem to encourage episodic reading. But such sporadic engagement runs counter to the flow of the titular plainwater. Carson's gift brings together the disparate and disjunctive as she sets down a variegated set of rocks in the same, illuminating stream.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Bri

    Loved it. I'm not going to pretend I have a complete grasp on the complexities of this collection yet (I feel like I need to spend years studying history, anthropology, mythology, language) but Anne Carson writes beautifully. Creative, clean. Her words find hollows in me and echo. My copy is littered with post its to mark certain lines, passages. Not a review, but a more personal (?) take here. Loved it. I'm not going to pretend I have a complete grasp on the complexities of this collection yet (I feel like I need to spend years studying history, anthropology, mythology, language) but Anne Carson writes beautifully. Creative, clean. Her words find hollows in me and echo. My copy is littered with post its to mark certain lines, passages. Not a review, but a more personal (?) take here.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Dorotea

    … It’s been 15 days since I finished this book and yet I don’t have the words to express how I feel towards this. The Anthropology of Water was extraordinary. The Brainsex Paintings were a great reminder of the time I used to study ancient Greek (and I might pick up the original Greek ones and perhaps comeback to Carson’s essay once more, hence why I’ll put this in my to-re-read list). But seriously, the Anthropology of Water was even more than extraordinary.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Laurie Neighbors

    This book is one big old hunk of gorgeous.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Tessa

    Carson + Homer-adjacent lyric poets = unwilting glory. I adore her translations of Mimnermos and am immoderately grateful for her structural analyses. Makes my heart dizzy! I think I don't love philosophy enough to always truly understand her other poetry, but I sure did enjoy having it in my brain. I always like the way she writes about love, it leaves me with a residue of head-sadness and heart-fear. Her writing always feels multimedia. Not the most exceptional phrase in the book but one that Carson + Homer-adjacent lyric poets = unwilting glory. I adore her translations of Mimnermos and am immoderately grateful for her structural analyses. Makes my heart dizzy! I think I don't love philosophy enough to always truly understand her other poetry, but I sure did enjoy having it in my brain. I always like the way she writes about love, it leaves me with a residue of head-sadness and heart-fear. Her writing always feels multimedia. Not the most exceptional phrase in the book but one that I keep remembering: "I was a young, strong, stingy person of no particular gender - all traits advantageous to the pilgrim." I like how her gender isn't consistent between autobiographical pieces. I believe she defines womanhood as the struggle to please men in the hope of no longer living in terror of them. As soon as lockdown ends I'm taking a 47 day backpacking trip with only socks, pencils, and three empty notebooks. I'll stick flowers in my pockets every day until they're overflowing with dried leaves. Well enlightenment is useless but "since my house burned down / I now own / a better view / of the rising moon". Carson didn't write that, she quoted it, but it's excellent. I'm going to finish my dissertation one summer while on a transnational road trip with someone also finishing a dissertation, someone who I love and will always live far away from me. Everything Carson writes is a conversation, explicit or implicit. She becomes entangled! That is why I love her, because of the entanglings. My only but constant criticism is that she never uses the Oxford comma and it drives me bonkers, always just THIS close to perfection.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    I really did not enjoy this book as a whole. A few parts I did enjoy but they were sparse. The contents are a varied lot to say the least. Even the last part "The Anthropology of Water," which is over half of the book consists of 7 different, highly varied, pieces. The piece I enjoyed the most was "Kinds of Water: An Essay on the Road to Compostela" from "The Anthropology of Water." It is not an essay but a series of journal entries by someone on the pilgrimage to Compostela and has a lot of inte I really did not enjoy this book as a whole. A few parts I did enjoy but they were sparse. The contents are a varied lot to say the least. Even the last part "The Anthropology of Water," which is over half of the book consists of 7 different, highly varied, pieces. The piece I enjoyed the most was "Kinds of Water: An Essay on the Road to Compostela" from "The Anthropology of Water." It is not an essay but a series of journal entries by someone on the pilgrimage to Compostela and has a lot of interesting thoughts on pilgrims. "Pilgrims were people who figured things out as they walked. On the road you can think forward, you can think back, you can make a list to remember to tell those at home." "Pilgrims were people who took a surprisingly long time to cross the head of a pin." "Pilgrims were people who carried little. They carried it balanced on their heart." But my definite favorite due to its resonance for my own life is: "It is an open secret among pilgrims and other theoreticians of this traveling life that you become addicted to the horizon." I think Miss E would really like this section (read pp. 117-187).

  13. 5 out of 5

    Dawn

    Classic and Capital. In the sense that it's the one that I read first. It's also the one I taught my students and the one they came in to talk about and they write like and the one that we were all reading when my cat died. That passage about Anna. And also the one with the blood oranges. What a comfort an essay is. Who would have known. Also it is the one I bought god so so long ago and it is ruined because I've read it that many times and others have also gotten their hands on it and I found a Classic and Capital. In the sense that it's the one that I read first. It's also the one I taught my students and the one they came in to talk about and they write like and the one that we were all reading when my cat died. That passage about Anna. And also the one with the blood oranges. What a comfort an essay is. Who would have known. Also it is the one I bought god so so long ago and it is ruined because I've read it that many times and others have also gotten their hands on it and I found a first edition at the library sale and it's great it's okay, it sort of stands in.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    i think i had to read "autobiography of red" and "beauty of the husband" to get to trust her enough to go through these shorter, sharper pieces, but this is my favorite anne carson so far. by "trust her," i mean understand that she's lying most of the time, but it's for my own good. i would love to learn to move through truth towards beauty the way she does. unfortunately i'm pretty much convinced that it's not something you can learn.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sentimental Surrealist

    I have to confess, Carson almost lost me with this one. Or at least she came as close to losing me as she has thus far, because parts one and two (which we’ll discuss) were both incredible, and this books last hundred fifty pages are probably the most moving and most original stretch of Anne Carson that I’ve ever read. None of these, let me assure you, are the problem. The problem is “Canicula di Anna,” sits on the same poetic-scholarly faultline as Autobiography of Red. Obviously, Red is a wond I have to confess, Carson almost lost me with this one. Or at least she came as close to losing me as she has thus far, because parts one and two (which we’ll discuss) were both incredible, and this books last hundred fifty pages are probably the most moving and most original stretch of Anne Carson that I’ve ever read. None of these, let me assure you, are the problem. The problem is “Canicula di Anna,” sits on the same poetic-scholarly faultline as Autobiography of Red. Obviously, Red is a wonderful book, but Red is infused with a lyricism that I find just plain missing here. “Canicula” is too laden with biography and backstory, and for me, the language just doesn’t have that same ring to it. It reads like an essay, and a rather dry essay at that, with funny line breaks. Which, I mean, this is the risk Anne Carson always ran, and it’s a risk that often pays off for her. Carson is a high roller when it comes to formal gambits, and mostly, she reaps the rewards of this. Not so much here. Ah well. Nobody’s body of work is entirely faultless, you know? And I’d like to emphasize that this solid four-star, in places five-star, work is the weakest Carson book I’ve read thus far. That speaks volumes about how good she is. The rest of this work takes Carson to new territory, which I think we all expect by now. Parts two and four, respectively an essay suite entitled “Small Talks” and a poem cycle called “The Life of Towns,” function as iridescent bursts of consciousness, both gorgeously written, both sharp in their insights. The latter will inevitably invite comparisons to Calvino, but Carson’s sharp and unsentimental imagery (we get a “tinkle of the moon” in the mix) stakes out its own territory. Part one, “Mimnermos: the Brainsex Paintings,” is probably Carson as she’s best-known to the public. The classical scholar in her comes all the way out, presenting fragments, whether authentic or fabricated, of the ancient Greek poet Mimnermos. Things really get interesting when she dredges the persona up for an interview. It’s got as much to say about the topics of memory, desire, and the pain we all try to keep hidden as The Autobiography of Red, and as an added bonus, it throws in about the near-constant war between creation and creator, persona and public. But it’s more than poetry about poetry, it’s how we as humans exist within this world we must exist in. It is, in short, the sort of daring and original genre-bending work I love to read. Now, about “The Anthropology of Water,” which closes things off. This extended piece is in turn anchored by two longer essays, “Kinds of Water” and “Just for a Thrill,” both of which recreate two different - yet, of course, quite similar - westward trips, which pair the speaker with two separate men, or maybe one man. The former leverages the imagery of devotion and sainthood, while the latter is a swirl of classic Western imagery, R&B lyrics, a crumbling relationship, and the nature of wisdom. All angles through which Carson’s speaker interrogates and dialogues with a perhaps- (ok, definitely-) doomed romance. It’s the sort of masterpiece only Carson could’ve written. She sets the scene with a little Greek myth (this is what happened to the daughter who didn’t kill her suitor, long story short), then paints a vivid and truly wrenching family scene, and closes off with another. What it all adds up to, as far as I can tell, is how this all sticks around, what and why people internalize. The men are granted heavy titles - “My Cid,” “The Emperor” - but the deeper I got into the poem, the more ironic these titles seemed, these men with their petty need for control and their refusals to listen constantly undermining and betraying them, while also harming those around him. As with the father in the second part, as with the brother in the fourth. It’s a wonderful feminist text, and it also gets at this notion of centers not holding, the myths of the West and the pilgrims and the virtuous father and the good Emperor and the heroic El Cid not quite standing up to the scrutiny presented them. Which in a sense is Carson’s project, here’s the front of the myth and here’s how it actually goes down… it’s no accident that one of her best books is called Men in the Off Hours. Plus, the aesthetics are just wonderful. Carson calls in these choruses about pilgrims throughout “Kinds of Water” and sprinkles in lines from classic blues and jazz singers (Ray Charles, Billie Holiday, and Etta James are among the greats inattendance) all over “Just for a Thrill.” I find they have a particularly powerful double-effect in the latter, creating a sense of physicality and temporality while also providing a framework for the events themselves. Each asks a question of the scene, and few are quite as straightforward as they appear. Meanwhile, the pilgrim bits, which close off many of “Kinds of Water’s” fragments, provide all sorts of shading to what we’ve read, in many cases adding an extra layer or two to the fragment. I guess what I’m saying is that an incredible amount of craft went into this piece, a lot of care, layers upon layers, allusions upon allusions. The end result is downright transformative, a staggering testament to what literature and only literature can do, the interior and exterior worlds it can create and complicate. This is a book I’m already itching to reread. Even with the dud straight in the middle, this book still makes quite the landing indeed.

  16. 5 out of 5

    mar *:・゚✧

    “we live by waters breaking out of the heart.” i really liked some parts, but, as a whole, i didn't enjoy it as much as i thought i would.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Frances King

    I don’t know how to explain the experience of reading this book except to say that it left me with a ringing sense of loneliness. Not the numbing sort of loneliness. just the loneliness you experience as a child. like the feeling of standing on the edge of a great big mountain, looking out over a world and landscape that you do not know and that you fear you will never truly know. you are so small and the trees are especially big, and even the dog you pass on the street is just about your size. I don’t know how to explain the experience of reading this book except to say that it left me with a ringing sense of loneliness. Not the numbing sort of loneliness. just the loneliness you experience as a child. like the feeling of standing on the edge of a great big mountain, looking out over a world and landscape that you do not know and that you fear you will never truly know. you are so small and the trees are especially big, and even the dog you pass on the street is just about your size. now i’m not sure if I really felt lonely as a kid. Was I aware of the fact that I was standing on the edge of a great big mountain? Looking out over a world that I cannot absorb? That is just out of my grasp? did I ever once think, “Wow, I am especially small in size, and the moon is just two feet wide. and the sun is too. the moon is the size of my dog, if not smaller, but one day I might grow to learn that the moon is in fact way bigger than the dog who licks my face”. I don’t know! but I can feel the childhood loneliness when I read Anne Carson. but I’m not standing at the edge of the great big mountain. I’m sitting! with my legs dangling off the side. and once again I can feel my legs loose and swinging below me, a feeling I only now get when sitting on a very tall stool. and I’m looking up at the moon while sitting on the edge of this great big mountain, and a glass of water is sitting next to me, and so is my horse, who is also just a kid

  18. 5 out of 5

    S̶e̶a̶n̶

    Infinite stars light this dim scar of a path we travel. All of us repeat ourselves. Anne Carson uses the word 'ghostily' twice in this book. She talks twice about how you can 'feel the difference run down the back of your skull like cold water.' In her imagined interviews with Mimnermos she does not use ending punctuation. Her lack of question marks thrilled me. She mentions Kafka a lot. We're all threading our way along the scar and the stars are exploding overhead, raining down silver upon our Infinite stars light this dim scar of a path we travel. All of us repeat ourselves. Anne Carson uses the word 'ghostily' twice in this book. She talks twice about how you can 'feel the difference run down the back of your skull like cold water.' In her imagined interviews with Mimnermos she does not use ending punctuation. Her lack of question marks thrilled me. She mentions Kafka a lot. We're all threading our way along the scar and the stars are exploding overhead, raining down silver upon our heads. I read most of this book outside and never saw a single star. But it was the middle of the day. And I was surrounded by water. There is a lot of water in this book. There is a lot of water on the earth. And in our bodies. And yet, as Carson says, 'we think we live by keeping water caught in the trap of the heart.' A dry heart terrifies us. We think of the heart as an oasis in the middle of our deserted bodies. But it might not be that, not for all of us, at least. Anne Carson traces the scar, prods at the heart, wrings it for its water, drags it dripping across the pages. It's hers to do this with, but it could just as easily be any of ours.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Amal

    "what is the fear inside language? no accident of the body can make it stop burning" "it is a strange economy that shame sets up, isn't it? almost as strange as that of honor" god i love anne carson, i love that if this was any other writer i would find it unnecessarily pretentious but as i was saying to jay the fact is that she is just so far disattached from convention and the public eye that it becomes wondrous again. does that make sense. anyway what she does with metaphor/simile is remarkab "what is the fear inside language? no accident of the body can make it stop burning" "it is a strange economy that shame sets up, isn't it? almost as strange as that of honor" god i love anne carson, i love that if this was any other writer i would find it unnecessarily pretentious but as i was saying to jay the fact is that she is just so far disattached from convention and the public eye that it becomes wondrous again. does that make sense. anyway what she does with metaphor/simile is remarkable "moon like a piece of skin" "take two-measure words and press them together like lips of a wound" "as nail is parted from the flesh, i awoke and i was alone" ALSO in the anthropology of water i am obsessed with how like... she connects the everyday realities of Womanhood Is An Inescapable Prison with these huge, literary landscapes of truth... the references to lachine, quebec in the setting headings and "standing there he dried each pot. and said. turning. 'i like this dress.' (why?) 'because there are so many ways to take it off.' [...] what makes life life and not a simple story? jagged bits moving never still, all along the wall." GOD i love her

  20. 5 out of 5

    Amy Layton

    As many of you probably know by now, I love Anne Carson!!!  She's so innovative, fresh, breath-taking, and insightful.  Her poems and essays are just so incredible and help me to see things in a new light.  Plainwater takes some poetry and some essays in the form of diary entries, similes, and locations.  It's just all so stunning, and she seems to do it flawlessly.   This is definitely a collection I need to reread five, ten years down the line to see how it resonates with me then, to see how mu As many of you probably know by now, I love Anne Carson!!!  She's so innovative, fresh, breath-taking, and insightful.  Her poems and essays are just so incredible and help me to see things in a new light.  Plainwater takes some poetry and some essays in the form of diary entries, similes, and locations.  It's just all so stunning, and she seems to do it flawlessly.   This is definitely a collection I need to reread five, ten years down the line to see how it resonates with me then, to see how much I've learned, how far I've come.  Her writing is always complex, layered, and multi-faceted in ways that almost seem to require the reading of her writing over and over--not because her writing is complicated, but because it is just so deep and involved that there'll always be something new and fresh to come back to. Review cross-listed here!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Abby

    “I will do anything to avoid boredom. It is the task of a lifetime. You can never know enough, never work enough, never use the infinitives and participles oddly enough, never impede the movement harshly enough, never leave the mind quickly enough.” Always and forever in the mood for Anne Carson. I can never get enough of her free-wheeling mind and her absolute independence as a writer and thinker. This is a multifaceted collection, featuring a long poem, short “talks,” and travel diaries with lo “I will do anything to avoid boredom. It is the task of a lifetime. You can never know enough, never work enough, never use the infinitives and participles oddly enough, never impede the movement harshly enough, never leave the mind quickly enough.” Always and forever in the mood for Anne Carson. I can never get enough of her free-wheeling mind and her absolute independence as a writer and thinker. This is a multifaceted collection, featuring a long poem, short “talks,” and travel diaries with lovers, among other things. It does not disappoint.

  22. 5 out of 5

    musa b-n

    I loved this book! I originally got it because I wanted to read "Anthropology of Water" (the final section of this book), but each section was so good. In my opinion, each section got progressively better, and "Anthropology" was the best. It took me a while because it's definitely not very clear writing and I have a short attention span, but it was really good to read, with some powerful parts.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sandy

    the last essay in this collection, called "The Wishing Jewel: An Essay on Swimming by My Brother" is a short but stunningly sensual description of swimming, solitude and the dark realms of the imagination.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Will

    Anne Carson bewilders me. This collection like Decreation is wonderful, crazy, and perfect. I can't explain Ms. Carson, just read one of her interviews. This collection is wonderful. Read it.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Del

    absolutely loved it, esp. part 1 (mimnermos) & part 5 (the anthropology of water). anne carson never disappoints me. absolutely loved it, esp. part 1 (mimnermos) & part 5 (the anthropology of water). anne carson never disappoints me.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Vivian

    "How slow is the slow trance of wisdom, which the swimmer swims into." This book is well worth swimming into.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Tessa

    Very beautiful, this book really helped inspire me with my own writing

  28. 5 out of 5

    joanne

    that was very much a lot.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Helen McClory

    As always, clear-eyed brilliance for days.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Acacia

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. my personal favorite from this was "Town of the Sound of a Twig Breaking".

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