The appeal of Nox (New Directions), Anne Carson’s collection of poems eulogizing the unexpected death of her brother Michael, is not only its skillful verse but also its unusual format: it is printed on a single long piece of paper which is folded like an accordion into a sturdy box.
The book opens with Catullus’s ancient poem of brotherly loss in Latin (Catullus 101); Carson proceeds to give a dictionary-length definition of each word in the poem on the left hand pages, while the right sides are reserved for Carson’s poems, black and white photographs, collages, graphite smudges and/or fragments of handwritten letters, each appearing to be pasted onto the pages. The poems themselves are understated remembrances of Michael’s “windswept spirit” and his absence in her adult life.
The power of the collection comes from the juxtaposition of the debris of Carson’s sorrow and the Latin vocabulary that makes up Catullus’ 2000-year-old elegy: Carson suggests that grief, like the work of translation, is forever a work-in-progress.
This review originally appeared as “Grief-in-Progress” in Geist 85.