An Interview with Anne Carson

Photo credit: Graeme Mitchell

Photo credit: Graeme Mitchell

Born in Canada, Anne Carson is a poet, translator, essayist, and professor of Classics.  In addition to teaching at universities across the US and Canada, she has received numerous awards for her works of poetry and prose, including Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellowships, a Lannan Literary Award, a Pushcart Prize, and the T.S. Eliot Prize. Her most recent book of poetry, Float, was released in 2016.  


1.  How do you begin a poem?

Other way around. It begins me.


2.  What’s the worst advice you’ve ever been given?

No one offers me advice much.


3.  You’ve said that the language and writings of the Ancient Greeks were “at the root of things that then grew up and formed the trees where we now live—they’re fresh, the ideas still have dew on them.” Is that where you see poetry heading in the twenty-first century? Towards the roots?

Oh no, we have no way to get back to the roots; we’re lost in the upper branches, waving around, often hopelessly, nourishment dwindling, plans awry.


4.  How do you handle success?

Having more or less fallen out of fashion lately I live as a Hyperborean (those mythical people who dwell “behind the back of the north wind”).


5.  You’ve described your creative process as the struggle “to get every Me out of the way.” When you erase the Me in your thinking, what is left?

(I do hope) something unexpected. 


6.  What do you think of Shakespeare?

Someone committed to taking down the exact wording of the unconscious. Someone whose hooves were definitely pointing backwards.


7.  In your poetry, you’ve explored the life and writings of Emily Brontë. Was Brontë’s work meaningful to you when you were young?  

No, not till I was forty.


8.  In your poem “Each Day Unexpected Salvation (John Cage),” you use the word “shade” forty-four times. Do you view this repetition as a kind of decreation?

I hadn’t thought of it that way.  The gesture is probably more mechanical, a matter of turning the head and seeing different things with the same head.


9.  If you had another life, would you be a poet again?

I don’t believe I’ve been a poet in this one. I made things; some of them now and again inserted themselves into poetic form. Why, I don’t know.