Anne Carson’s Nox is gorgeously crafted, both as poetry and as a book and beautiful object. Carson collaborated with designer Robert Currie to create an extended accordion fold-out of a plump, substantial set of pages that have the feel and heft of a handmade scrapbook. The assembled and folded pages are stored in a sturdy, hinged box, in handsome, muted neutral tones with a family photo album snippet on the lid. The elegance of the outer package seems to be trying to contain the unravelled scope of the pages when they are folded out, just as Carson’s words seem to strive to contain the unfettered life of a loved one she is striving to decode and understand.
(Image courtesy of NYTimes.com)
Nox is Carson’s singular lament for her lost and now deceased brother. Because he left her life early on, and provided and left little for her and her family to reconstruct his life, she approaches understanding and remembering him as she best knows how. She translates him the way she would the fragments of poetry in classical languages, methodically and almost repetitively analyzing every single word down to every possible meaning and variation. She uses as her framework Poem 101 by the Roman poet Catullus, a work that also paid tribute to a dead brother taken before his time. What seems almost monotonous at first grows increasingly moving with every term examined and dissected.
Visually, the jumbled family photos and scraps of handwritten cards and letters are heart clutching. The reproduced textures of torn and crumpled and dog-eared paper and even of the pressure marks of a pen on paper are startling and intimate, compelling you to constantly reach to touch the page.
“Prowling the meanings of a word, prowling the history of a person, no use expecting a flood of light. Human words have no main switch. But all those little kidnaps in the dark. And then the luminous, big, shivering, discandied, unrepentant, barking web of them that hangs in your mind when you turn back to the page you were trying to translate.”
This is a haunting and unforgettable work.