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Men in the Off Hours Paperback – February 13, 2001


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (February 13, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375707565
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375707568
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #485,123 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Yes, consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds--and minor poets. The major ones tend to operate in a trough-and-peak pattern, producing a dozen lesser works for every masterpiece. Still, Anne Carson pushes this tendency to extremes, and nowhere more markedly than in Men in the Off Hours, which contains some of the best and worst lyrics of her entire career.

First, the good news: Nobody has written more acutely about perception--about the chaotic collision of our senses with the real world--since the glory days of Wallace Stevens. Not that Carson echoes the airborne rhetoric of her great predecessor. Her fractured, zigzagging lines deliberately avoid the kind of gravity that was his trademark, and she likes to deflect the grand manner by ratcheting her diction upward (into Delphic utterance) or downward (into baby talk, if the baby happens to be Gertrude Stein). Still, like Stevens, she makes us think about how we think. She dislikes any attempt to remove cognition from its rustling Heraclitean framework. No wonder she ends up scolding taxidermy freak John James Audubon, whose point-and-shoot portraiture rubs her the wrong way: "In the salons of Paris and Edinburgh // where he went to sell his new style / this Haitian-born Frenchman / lit himself // as a noble rustic American / wired in the cloudless poses of the Great Naturalist. / They loved him // for the 'frenzy and ecstasy' / of true American facts." We comprehend things only in flux and, as Carson explains in "Essay on What I Think About Most," by mistake:

...what we are engaged in when we do poetry is error,
the willful creation of error,
the deliberate break and complication of mistakes
out of which may arise
unexpectedness.
Now for the bad news: Men in the Off Hours includes too ample a serving of Carson's weaker, semiprecious work--short lyrics in which she bends over backwards for an antipoetic poetic effect (if such a thing is possible). "Epitaph: Europe" is precisely the kind of freeze-dried surrealism she should avoid. And the spitballs this classicist fires at television in a piece like "TV Men: Thucydides in Conversation with Virginia Woolf on the Set of The Peloponnesian War" are truly puzzling. Why blame the tube for our cultural sins, particularly when the average NYPD Blue rerun contains more experiential fiber than most contemporary poetry? Still, Carson's blazing successes easily overshadow her failures. And those who have found her too recondite, too forbidding, need only take a look at the concluding poem, "Appendix to Ordinary Time." This elegy to the poet's mother is touching, emotionally direct, and completely original: an instant (to use a phrase Carson would probably loathe) classic. --James Marcus --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Carson's demanding style has been among the decade's most intriguing: critics with little else in common look forward to her inimitable and argumentative poems. Carson made her last splash with the narrative poem Autobiography of Red. This follow-up volume of short poems incorporates a brace of unusual genres--quick verse-essays, epitaphs and epigrams, predictions and "oracles," pseudo-bibliographical "drafts" and "fragments," verse-portraits (the Biblical Lazarus, a circus "Flatman"), invented proverbs, and extremely free translations. (One of several amazing versions of Catullus begins "Before my holy stoning in the wet kisses and the smell of sperm/ I drove an ambulance for the Red Cross.") Like her previous work, these poems draw frequently on Carson's classical training (she teaches Greek and Latin at McGill University in Montreal). Her harsh, carved lines, clear closures and periphrases can sound like attempts to forge an English answer to Greek lyric. The opening "Epitaph: Zion" initiates readers into the sudden twists, astonishments and mysteries in the longer work to follow: the whole poem reads: "Murderous little world once our objects had gazes. Our lives/ Were fragile, the wind/ Could dash them away. Here lies the refugee breather/ Who drank a bowl of elsewhere." Potential keys to many poems reside in two brisk, scholarly prose essays at the beginning and near the end--"Virginia Woolf and Thucydides on War" and "Dirt and Desire: Female Pollution in Antiquity." Woolf reappears in the poems as a principle of inner experience and subjective time, Thucydides as the opposing principle of linear time, narrative, action, event. Carson's other new works invoke, describe and quote Hokusai, Audobon, Tolstoy, Augustine, Edward Hopper, Akhmatova and Artaud; it is the measure of Carson's striking talent that the men and women in her lines sound, at base, always and only like her.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

Anne Carson was born in Canada and teaches ancient Greek for a living. Her awards and honors include the Lannan Award, the Pushcart Prize, the Griffin Trust Award for Excellence in Poetry, a Guggenheim fellowship, and the MacArthur "Genius" Award.

Customer Reviews

If nothing else, there should at least be the sound.
I X Key
1 more star, bringing the total to 2, because I feel bad just giving it 1 star.
"hirofantv"
Carson is at best intellectual and scholarly in this collection.
Carlomar Daoana

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Carlomar Daoana on October 4, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Susan Sontag, one of the foremost thinkers and writers of today, says of Anne Carson: "[Anne Carson] is one of the few writers in English that I would read anything she wrote." Such regard for Carson is justified. One of the premiere poets today re-inventing and rediscovering language to meet our present demands of articulation, in the true post-modernist fashion, Carson has come up recently with a collection called, Men in the Off Hours, finalist to the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Men in the Off Hours contains poems and prose pieces that lay the groundwork for various intersections of opposites: past and the present, the classic and the modern, cinema and print, narrative and verse. Here we can find the paintings of Edward Hopper turned into poems as footnoted by St. Augustine's words in the Confession, Thucydides and Virginia Woolf conversing about war, and a host of other characters summoned in the forefront of contemporary image-making: Sappho, Artaud, Tolstoy, Lazarus, Antigone, Akhmatova. They can be found in the chain of poems titled "TV Men" which re-images and re-imagines the lives of these personages, how they correspond to the contemporary definitions of the gaze, as shaped and articulated by woman-as-director, woman-as-creator.
One of the best poems in the collection is "Essay on What I Think about Most" where Carson exalts the element of mistake, both in art and in our lives. It then makes a literary exegesis of a fragment poem written by Alkman, a 7th century B.C. Spartan poet, of how it masterfully harnesses the conceit of the mistake, and is interspersed with quotes by Aristotle. The persona declares: "The fact of the matter for humans is imperfection.
Read more ›
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 16, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Anne Carson recently won a MacArthur, the "genius" grant, and deserved every penny of it, in my opinion. Yes, this book is crammed with historical allusions and persona poems in one form or another. No, it is not emotionally involving. And yes, occasionally she skates the fine line between postmodern cleverness and gimmicks, with all of the "tv scripts" and so forth. Nevertheless, the quality of writing and intellect at work here is absolutely stunning--and makes Anne Carson one of the most exciting, adventurous, and brilliant lyrical poets I've been reading. Unlike the "glass" essay in "Glass, Irony, & God," you will not get anything remotely resembling an intimate first person narrative here. If that's the kind of poetry you're looking for, this is definitely not the book for you. On the other hand, if you're looking for expanded possibilities in lyrical writing--the lyric operating in an intellectual/philosophical arena--or you enjoy experimental lyrical poets--then this book is well worth the money. It's a sheer tour-de-force in intellectual imagination and breathtaking lyrical lines that spin intelligently, if not emotionally, as some of the reviewers here have cited as a criticism.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Carlomar Daoana on October 4, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Susan Sontag, one of the foremost thinkers and writers of today, says of Anne Carson: "[Anne Carson] is one of the few writers in English that I would read anything she wrote." Such regard for Carson is justified. One of the premiere poets today re-inventing and rediscovering language to meet our present demands of articulation, in the true post-modernist fashion, Carson has come up recently with a collection called, Men in the Off Hours, finalist to the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Men in the Off Hours contains poems and prose pieces that lay the groundwork for various intersections of opposites: past and the present, the classic and the modern, cinema and print, narrative and verse. Here we can find the paintings of Edward Hopper turned into poems as footnoted by St. Augustine's words in the Confession, Thucydides and Virginia Woolf conversing about war, and a host of other characters summoned in the forefront of contemporary image-making: Sappho, Artaud, Tolstoy, Lazarus, Antigone, Akhmatova. They can be found in the chain of poems titled "TV Men" which re-images and re-imagines the lives of these personages, how they correspond to the contemporary definitions of the gaze, as shaped and articulated by woman-as-director, woman-as-creator.
One of the best poems in the collection is "Essay on What I Think about Most" where Carson exalts the element of mistake, both in art and in our lives. It then makes a literary exegesis of a fragment poem written by Alkman, a 7th century B.C. Spartan poet, of how it masterfully harnesses the conceit of the mistake, and is interspersed with quotes by Aristotle. The persona declares: "The fact of the matter for humans is imperfection.
Read more ›
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Judy Lightfoot on July 27, 2001
Format: Paperback
... Anne Carson's two previous books string their wonderful perturbations along narrative lines, but "Men in the Off Hours" is a deliberately unstrung chaos, which Carson calmly, almost academically sorts through. Metaphor, she decides, is "the willful creation of error," and poetry consists of misunderstandings and mistranslations (even by a classics professor like herself). Since "The fact of the matter for humans is imperfection," the poet must try not only to accept mistakes but to enjoy them. Can she learn to accept the death of her mother as a kind of mistake, or to enjoy having taken as her "true love" a man who left her?
Such a wholesale interpretation of the book is risky. Carson is always, as she says in "Men," "uneasy with any claim to know exactly / what a poet means to say," and her poetry generally avoids the confessional mode. But this collection is filled with refugees from torments as searing as love's betrayal. Lazarus, the mad Artaud, Anna Akhmatova, the birds Audubon shot, wired and plumped into lifelike poses--their agony tells us truths. So do Carson's wisecracks, little word salads, and sardonic hurrahs ("At our backs is a big anarchy. If you are strong you can twist a bit off / and pound on it-- our freedom!"). This is a wickedly disquieting book, with footnotes. Its reassurances are its glinting intelligence and confident, humorous voice--when Carson read in Seattle last month, every syllable was as clear and knowing as laughter.
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