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,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.
the willful creation of error,
the deliberate break and complication of mistakes
out of which may arise
I understand the attraction to Anne Carson. I like experimental poetry, too. I like scholarship. But this book is pointless. Read morePublished on April 30, 2003 by I X Key
As is to be expected from Anne Carson, the breadth of her knowledge results in thought-provoking writing even when it fails as "poetry". Read morePublished on July 27, 2001 by M. J. Smith
This review appeared, with discussions of Giacomo Leopardi and Jane Cooper, April 20, 2000, in the Seattle Weekly and is available online at [... Read morePublished on July 27, 2001 by Judy Lightfoot
I don't know. It'ts a struggle for her to come up with the next line. Doesn't feel especially creative, inspired, or notably intelligent. Read morePublished on June 30, 2001 by "hirofantv"
I don't know what happened here but Carson's last two books have really gone down hill. Men in the Off Hours, her first book since Autobiography of Red, is a mess. Read morePublished on June 5, 2001 by Pete Dempsey
Not for those who are afraid of an intellectual exercise, Anne Carson's juxtapositions create a fascinating resonance.Published on December 5, 2000
Exactly when did Anne Carson become the biggest thing since Bishop? Why these last few books of hers have sold as quickly and as widely as they have (she's the best-selling poet... Read morePublished on August 2, 2000
And she flops BIG TIME. It's true--I think--that Carson is very likely a genius. Her debut, as far as literature is concerned, was about as great a collection as any published... Read morePublished on July 22, 2000