Anne Carson & Lucie Brock-Broido at AWP 2013

Anne Carson at AWP - March 9, 2013

Anne Carson at AWP – March 9, 2013

The following are notations and excerpts from the closing reading of the 2013 Associated Writers and Writing Programs conference.

From Jennifer Benka’s introduction of Anne Carson:

Benka quoted Carson as saying, “I never find it possible to think without thinking of myself thinking.”

From Anne Carson’s reading:

Carson first read selections from her series “Life of Towns” (originally published in her book Plainwater, 1995), saying dryly, “I wrote this centuries ago.” This is an interesting comment, because her most recent book, Red Doc>, is classified by the publisher as “Ancient, Classic, and Medieval” poetry, rather than “Contemporary” poetry, even though it is not, like many of her books, a work of translation. Unlike most adults, who might like to shave a few years off their age, Carson appears to find humor in adding on somewhere between two hundred and three thousand.


The rest of the reading was a series written as part of a collaboration with visual artist Kim Anno. She explained that the collaboration began with the idea of doing a “book of sleep.” “The most provocative sleeper we have,” said Carson, “is Albertine.”

Albertine Simonet is a major character in Proust’s novels and the object of the main character’s affections. It has been suggested that the real-life Albertine was actually a man, Alfred Agostinelli, given certain similarities between the lives and deaths of the two. Carson’s piece, titled “The Albertine Workout,” is a series of numbered paragraphs that ultimately add up to an argument for the case that Albertine was based on Alfred, based on research that she conducted (including amusing statistical data, such as that Albertine appears on more than 800 pages over the course of Proust’s novel and that “on a good 19% of those pages she is asleep”).

A few brief excerpts from “The Albertine Workout:”

“By falling asleep, she becomes a plant, he says.” [Proust’s main character says this of Albertine, whom he sometimes has his way with while she is sleeping, or pretending to be sleeping.]

“. . . the false consciousness of the dream plant.”

“Albertine’s laugh has the color and smell of a geranium.” [This is a direct quote from Samuel Beckett’s “Proust,” a work of criticism in which he, like Carson, addresses issues of Proust’s and Albertine’s homosexuality.]

“Everything, indeed, is at least double.” [The closing line of “The Albertine Workout.”]

From Lucie Brock-Broido’s reading:

Brock-Broido at AWP, 2013

Brock-Broido at AWP, 2013

Brock-Broido read from new poems; before beginning, she got a laugh from the audience by saying that she felt she would be more comfortable if there were a projection of Seamus Heaney and unicorn tapestries hung behind her on the enormous auditorium wall. “I have to be funny, because my poems are deadly,” she added.


Frequently before beginning a poem, Brock-Broido explained an image, idea, or creature that would be mentioned in the piece. Before one poem, she explained the concept of a “fourth world”: “a fourth world is . . . a desperately impoverished pocket tucked into a first world, invisible to those who don’t care to notice.” Before another poem, she shared the factoid that med school students get only one human hand to work on for the duration of their education, and it has to last them for several years, and said, “that’s how I feel material for a poem is.”


Speaking of her reputation as an opaque poet whose work can seem inscrutable, Brock-Broido quipped, “I have a long and spotty history with clarity.” In defense of her style, she shared a letter written to her by Dean Young (now faculty at the Michener Center at the University of Texas, Austin). In it, he says he is tired of bad narrative poems. After reading 500 applications to the graduate program, he had this to say: “I hope for some poems I can at least not understand.”


She shared the title from a new poem (but did not read the poem): “Fame Rabies.” — “We all have fame rabies,” she said.


Finally, a few brief moments from poems (punctuation, capitalization and line breaks unknown):

“once, in the gone ago . . .”

“ . . . small accumulation of what was . . .”

“big, beautiful blubbery white bears”

“no Donner bones with cuts on them or not”

“I’m not dead yet.”

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