The Guardian: Anne Carson’s fragmentary writing and its rewards

Full piece in The Guardian here


Refreshing breaks: how fragmented stories can be fulfilling reading

“Reading can be freefall,” runs the blurb on the back of Anne Carson’s new poetry collection, one of several recently published books to offer readers a more interactive way to engage with the printed word. Historically, fragmentation has been used as a troubling effect, or to indicate a subject under stress. These books, however, attempt to unleash the fragment’s liberating force. The effect can be exhilarating.

If the title of Carson’s collection, Float, suggests a lack of direction, so does its format: a transparent slipcase housing 22 chapbooks that we are invited to read in any order. Does that mean the collection doesn’t, then, possess an overall unity? Or is it possible for we readers to supply meaning ourselves?

In 2002, Carson published her translations of Sappho’s poetry, a body of work that, bar a single poem, only exists in fragments because the papyri on which they were written are so damaged. As Carson writes in Float of one work by Sappho: “Half the poem is empty space.” Her translations communicate this fragmentation to the reader, using brackets to convey where the source texts are torn or disintegrated. “Brackets,” she writes in her introduction to the poems, “are exciting. Even though you are approaching Sappho in translation, that is no reason you should miss the drama of trying to read a papyrus torn in half or riddled with holes or smaller than a postage stamp – brackets imply a free space of imaginal adventure”.

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