Anne Carson’s poetry is frequently as formally ingenious as it is verbally so. Her 2010 elegy for her brother, Nox, is an unfolding of her troubled relationship with him — the scraps and fragments of their life together strung together in a vast accordion of picture postcards. Her translations of Sappho, collected in 2002’s If Not, Winter, are celebrated as much for what they leave out as what they contain: Carson renders the physical form of the fragments of papyrus on which we receive Sappho’s poetry today, marking out the gaping holes where words and paper no longer exist with empty brackets. Her newest collection, Float, is little different — or rather, it is completely different. Float is arranged as a gathering of twenty-two individual pamphlets or chapbooks, collected in a transparent plastic case. The poems collected in Float are not intended to be read in any fixed order. Reading Float, as Carson remarks “can be free-fall.”
And falling is perhaps the best way of trying to sum up the experience of reading Float. It is impossible to talk about a definitive experience of Float — there are more combinations of pamphlets than there are grains of sand on the Earth, so the likelihood of finding someone else who has read them in the same order as you is somewhat low. Not only this, but Carson’s poetry seems to chip away at the basis of sense, and order. Immersing yourself in Float, leaping into it, is like falling into a kaleidoscope. Picture a series of lectures on Carson’s great-uncle’s life in the far north of Canada, punctuated by a chorus of Gertrude Steins. Or a meditation on the peculiar still silence that comes on a snowy morning, and on Hegel.
By turns meditative and playful, stark and baroque, Float is a collection that defies classification, that pushes at the boundaries of the poetic and then pushes some more. It’s also one that — frustratingly — defies the reviewer’s attempt at anything like a final word. There is one way to experience Float, and that is free-falling through it.
A review copy of Float was kindly provided by Jonathan Cape.