The poetry and prose collected in Plainwater are a testament to the extraordinary imagination of Anne Carson, a writer described by Michael Ondaatje as "the most exciting poet writing in English today." Succinct and astonishingly beautiful, these pieces stretch the boundaries of language and literary form, while juxtaposing classical and modern traditions.
Carson envisions a present-day interview with a seventh-century BC poet, and offers miniature lectures on topics as varied as orchids and Ovid. She imagines the muse of a fifteenth-century painter attending a phenomenology conference in Italy. She constructs verbal photographs of a series of mysterious towns, and takes us on a pilgrimage in pursuit of the elusive and intimate anthropology of water. Blending the rhythm and vivid metaphor of poetry with the discursive nature of the essay, the writings in Plainwater dazzle us with their invention and enlighten us with their erudition.
Despite her fastidious, ornately post-modern style, Carson finds her subject matter in classicism. The fruits of this unique, difficult combination are strikingly displayed in this selection of her published work. Seemingly composed of equal parts enigma, experiment and exegesis, Carson's writings incorporate a dizzying spectrum of forms--prose poem, mock interview, travel journal, academic essay. ``Mimnermos: The Brainsex Paintings'' explores what are perhaps figmentary fragments of the ancient Greek poet's work, which divulges ``a kind of hunger for the motions of the self that we are mining still.'' The blurb-like, often humorous paragraphs and prose poems of ``Short Talks'' (which are ``on'' subjects as varied as chromoluminism and Sylvia Plath) and ``The Life of Towns'' (with stops in ``Apostle Town'' and ``Town of Greta Garbo'') afford the pleasure of a whimsical crossword puzzle. But Carson achieves a surreal, perplexing brilliance in ``Canicula di Anna,'' a 53-section poem partially set in the paintings of the 16th-century artist Perugino. The final selection, ``The Anthropology of Water,'' takes an abruptly confessional turn, though one measured (as the title suggests) by the poet's near-scientific intellectualism that, as in all these writings, gives her work a dazzling lucidity.