September 2010
A review of

Nox

by Anne Carson

Central question: Can public good come from private grief?
Number of pages in this book: 1; Estimated length of that page: 87.5’; Size of the box that page comes in: 9.25” x 5.8” x 2.5”; Language the author teaches for a living: Greek; Number of times author dropped out of the University of Toronto before graduating: twice; Some honors the author has won: Lannan, Pushcart, Guggenheim, MacArthur; Ancient Greek poets Carson has translated: Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus, Sappho; Representative sentence: “Because our conversations were few (he phoned me maybe 5 times in 22 years) I study his sentences the ones I remember as if I’d been asked to translate them.”

Anne Carson’s Nox doesn’t look or behave like any other book of poetry (or prose) out there. It’s not a book in the traditional sense; the usual binary of verso and recto is confounded by one long page that accordions out of a coffin-like box. But its physical shape isn’t the only thing that makes Nox so special; the text itself is an assemblage of words and images so artfully arranged that they make us reconsider not only what poetry can do—and should do—but even what a book is.

Like B. S. Johnson’s book-in-a-box, The Unfortunates, Nox will change the way you read. It’s a reproduction of the handmade book Carson lovingly wrote and assembled after the death of her estranged older brother, Michael. “When my brother died,” she tells us, “I made an epitaph for him in the form of a book. This is a replica of it, as close as we could get.” It contains her own poetry, translations, photographs, canceled stamps, letterhead, you name it. From those artifacts the details of her relationship with Michael, of his life on the run, and ultimately of his demise, come with dirgelike slowness. We learn that he had legal problems, was homeless for some time in Europe, and that he rarely wrote home. His distance makes his death all the more tragic. “When my brother died (unexpectedly) his widow couldn’t find a phone number for me among his papers until two weeks later. While I swept my porch and bought apples and sat by the window in the evening with the radio on, his death came wandering slowly towards me across the sea.”

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

—Andrew Ervin

Andrew Ervin’s first book, Extraordinary Renditions: 3 Novellas, is out this month from Coffee House Press.

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