BY BRANDON LAFVING The word ‘poetry’ still elicits romantic images in ye average reader. But don’t rush to vest thyself in a Victorian bustle and/or chastity belt after reading the poetry herein. Anne Carson’s newest book of poems, Red Doc> gives graphic voice to all the sexuality, longing and despair that occurs in between the lines of ancient Greek tragedy. Yea, that’s pretty Fucking Intense, capitals intended.
This new work continues the saga begun in her Autobiography in Red, which heretically recast the ancient Greek tale of Geryon and Hercules in a contemporary setting. Traditionally, the tale told of how Hercules was forced to steal Geryon’s red cattle as penance for murdering his own wife and children. Geryon was a three-headed and six-legged giant – pretty ferocious. But not ferocious enough. Hercules throunced him and stole his cattle, as the story goes. Ahh, Greeks!
Carson’s loose interpretation transformed Geryon into an amateur photographer boy with vaguely deific properties. He was bright red and sported some pretty hot wings (possibly a pun on buffalo wings). Autobiography in Red interprets their conflict of interest – that of robber and of herdsman/defender – as a love affair. And yes, the sexual connotations are more conscientious than you could imagine.
Then as now Carson’s work grabs sexuality by the husk and exposes it in all its beauty, ugliness, and stupidity. The characters’ names have changed, Geryon becoming the more familiar ‘G’ and Hercules becoming ‘Sad.’ But the tale becomes tangled in a love triangle and other scintillating things, giving the poet all the ammunition needed to hold you in rapture – when you can understand what the hell is happening.
You have to fight a bit to unravel the content in Red Doc>. Most poems are justified in deceptively simple, slim columns. Like the news on your mobile device, these invite the eye to clip along easily, devouring images and impressions like a machine. Comprehension is not a necessity, which is a good thing because understanding is occluded by inexplicit pronouns, synesthesia, and extreme subjectivity. One of her poems, wherein G is listening to Sad boink someone else, starts like this:
A certain click of certain / doors in certain / corridors. The Laundry / Room door. Certain / midnights. It is directly / underneath the room / where he sleeps or doesn’t. / Rigid in the bed he bites / down on the sound. On / the gap after. His ears / tangle in it. Sexual / jealousy?
Here’s how Carson’s magic works. The rhythm and simplicity of the opening lines lull the reader into a trance. After you are relaxed and perplexed, just letting the images wash over you, then the realization hits you. Suddenly, the puzzle is mostly complete, and the mind rushes to fill in the missing details. The rush of understanding carries you through the poem and makes you thirsty for more.
This is Carson’s magic recipe, and when it works, it’s pretty damn entertaining. Many poems require a second or third reading before coming to life, but there were enough on the first go-round, I still find myself showing the book to friends but keeping it on my nightstand, just in case I want to bite into the fantastical dreamscape drama before beddy bye. Red Doc> has the unsettling grit of Girl, Interrupted (the movie), the melodrama of Dawson’s Creek, and the dreamy psychosis of the latter half of Lolita. Now, if only a poet would remake 50 Shades of Grey into a book of poems, then someone might actually read it.