The Sunday Magazine

The catastrophic poetry of Anne Carson

The renowned Canadian poet talks to Michael Enright about her love of Greek, her fascination with grammar and syntax and why she calls writing, "an attempt at catastrophe."

The renowned Canadian poet shares why she calls writing, 'an attempt at catastrophe'

Anne Carson is a Canadian poet. (Random House of Canada)

Originally published on October 28, 2016.

Anne Carson's books come with a simple one-line biography: "Anne Carson was born in Canada and teaches ancient Greek for a living." What that doesn't tell you is that she has a towering global reputation as a poet, translator, and classics scholar.

Carson has won a MacArthur "genius" grant, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Pushcart Prize for poetry and the T.S. Eliot Prize. Her work combines classical mythology with startling reflections on loss, monstrosity and loneliness — reinventing ancient wounds for a modern age.

[My writing is] an attempt at catastrophe. I think most of it ends up in the middle ground ... where we're kind of making do with clichés until they run out and then patching in a few original thoughts to try to feel alive.- Anne Carson

When you read her work, it is easy to feel as if you are stumbling about in the fog on another planet. But out of the fog, phrases can strike like lightning.

Her writing is dense, irreverent and packed with references to Sappho, Simone Weil and Emily Brontë. Her fascination with grammar and syntax is legendary.

Many of Carson's books are artifacts in themselves. Nox, which she wrote after the death of her brother, comes in a box and opens up like an accordion. Float is a collection of 22 chapbooks, which have no fixed order and are meant to be read "freefall."

Click 'listen' above to hear the full interview.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?