Monday, January 3, 2011


Poet and classical scholar Anne Carson has created a book in an untraditional format. NOX (“night” in Latin) is an elegy to her brother Michael who died in Denmark in 2000. Carson elegantly links her grief to ideas about history and translation. The result is a literary “art” object that almost sings her talent in classics, translation, and poetry.

The work is printed on one long sheet of paper, folded accordion-style and placed into its own somber grey box, a casket with a tombstone. Carson creates a collage of memories about Michael who was a shadowed presence in her life, and at the same time reveals the underside of translating both a text and a life. She asks what is at the heart of history by bringing in a reading lesson from Herodotus.

The book works as an elegy on several levels: as homage to Michael, as Michael mourning a lost love, and as Roman poet Catullus (poem C1 [101]) mourning his dead brother. Carson deconstructs each of the 63 words within poem C1, offering the translator’s dilemma of choice. The variant meanings read as chants, and the reader discovers Carson inserts her own musings.

This book is a “slow read,” an experience I found moving and approached as if in a temple. The publisher has marvelously reproduced Carson’s hand-made book so the reader can feel its shadows, folds, and staples. I wonder if this publishing effort will spur more such specialty books and usher in a renewed appreciation for the physical book.

~ Mirdza, Adult Services

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