Anne Carson is a Canadian poet, translator, essayist and classics professor. Born in 1950 in in Toronto, Canada, and raised in towns around Ontario, she received her BA, MA, and Ph.D. in classics from the University of Toronto with an emphasis on ancient Greek poetry. Though classics is known to be a tight-knit, traditionalist academic field, from the beginning Carson was an unorthodox writer and thinker within it. She made waves with the publication of her first book of criticism, Eros the Bittersweet (1986), which was a reworking of her 1981 doctoral thesis Odi et Amo Ergo Sum (“I Hate and I Love, Therefore I Am”), and which combined translation and poetry and philosophy into one lyrical, exuberant work of art. John D’Agata wrote in 2000 that Eros the Bittersweet “first stunned the classics community as a work of Greek scholarship; then it stunned the nonfiction community as an inspired return to the lyrically based essays once produced by Seneca, Montaigne, and Emerson; and then, and only then, deep into the 1990s, reissued as ‘literature’ and redesigned for an entirely new audience, it finally stunned the poets.”
Today, Anne Carson is counted among the most dynamic contemporary poets, but her writing has always straddled and subverted genres and material forms. Her 2010 book Nox is both a translation of Catullus’ elegiac poem “Catullus 101” for his dead brother and an elegy for her own dead brother, compiled in scrapbook form with pages that unfold like an accordion. Her 2016 poetry collection Float comes in a clear box full of loose pamphlets whose contents range from lectures to poems to performance pieces, in a flotsam and jetsam approach to poetic assemblage. The enigmatic 1998 Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse is practically conservative in comparison, though a close reading of even these seven words unleashes a barrage of questions and contradictions. What is a novel in verse? Who narrates an “autobiography” of “red”?
The magic of Anne Carson’s work is in how seamlessly she transports us between incongruous worlds of words and ideas, teleporting between the ancient and contemporary, the real and the fictive, without vertigo or interruption. Other major works of hers include Glass, Irony and God (1995), a collection of narrative poems and lyrical essays, and Red Doc> (2013), which picks up the narrative of Autobiography of Red fifteen years after its publication, continuing Geryon’s story. Her translation of the surviving fragments of Sappho’s poetry (If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, 2002), which was remarkable for embracing and emphasizing the poems’ brokenness through the use of brackets and blank space, exemplifies a recurring strength in Carson’s work. Like a collage or quilt, she weaves together scraps of then and now, infusing the fragmentary remains of ancient civilizations with contemporary and timeless meaning.