From Publishers Weekly
In 13 intricately related, supple and confident works in verse and prose, eminent poet and classicist Carson (Autobiography of Red) takes on the meaning and function of sleep; the art and attitudes of Samuel Beckett; the last days of an elderly mother; guns; a solar eclipse; "Longing, a Documentary"; the films of Michelangelo Antonioni; and the vexing, paradoxical projects of women mystics, among them Simone Weil and the medieval heretic Marguerite Porete. Porete, Sappho and others are subjects for brilliant prose essays. The volume's unusual length, though, comes mostly from one-act operas, closet dramas, and other work with stage or film components. "The Mirror of Simple Souls," a short opera and artist's book about Porete, already has an underground reputation: here it takes its place among other works for dramatic recital, including "Hunger Tango," "Stroke and Dye Aria" and a teasingly brief verse screenplay about Abelard, Heloïse and chickpeas. For all its variety, though, the strongest work in this strong collection may be the short, spiky, individual poems, which certainly provide the best single lines: "Your glassy wind breaks on a shoutless shore and stirs around the rose." (Sept.)
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Count on Carson, brilliant and larky, to dance you out of the quotidian. A frolicsome and philosophical poet who channels voices both mythic and historical as she opens new portals onto the human psyche, Carson tinkers expertly with form and complex concepts in her ninth highly original book. Here are shaped lyrics that trace a troubled relationship between the narrator and her mother, an oratorio, a libretto, and an archly minimalist screenplay about Heloise and Abelard. Carson is at her electrifying best when she pairs incisive essays with piercing poems to explore the magical properties of sleep, to explicate the sublime with help from the first-century Greek critic Longinus and filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni, and to grapple with "spiritual daring." The latter inspires commanding portraits of three poetic women martyrs--Sappho; Marguerite Porete, who was burned at the stake as a heretic in Paris, 1310; and Simone Weil, who declared, "We participate in the creation of the world by decreating ourselves." Carson's inquiry into the paradoxical "decreation" of the self in the quest for the divine exemplifies her gift for joining erudition with feeling, insight with wit, and a sense of cosmic continuity with personal liberation. Donna Seaman
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