I went into Bongs & Noodles today, (the one in Union Square — yes, I know, why would you go to B&N if you are at Union Square when the Strand is right there? and the answer is, I had to buy some non-book items for upcoming birthdays), and as I was heading single-mindedly for the non-book items section, I beheld a display table of books from small presses. So I swung sideways and espied a book that was not so much a book and more of a box. A box by Anne Carson, called Nox.
The reasons I thought I was going to be disappointed when I opened the box Nox:
1. Anne Carson and Anne Sexton are the same person.*
*Fun fact: No, they aren’t. Anne Carson translated Sappho, and Anne Sexton hit her children and killed herself.
2. Anne Carson killed herself over thirty years ago**, therefore all her stuff has already been published, therefore this will just be fragments o’ crap they are trying to make interesting by putting them into a book and then putting the book in a fetching little box.
**No, she didn’t. That was Anne Sexton. Stop it, brain.
3. I love things that come in nice boxes. Not only do they have a prearranged storage unit that makes them seem tidy even when strewn around my room like all my other stuff, but also they feel like a present. The publisher knows this and is trying to seduce me.
4. Many things look pretty because someone came up with a good marketing scheme, but then when you dig a bit deeper, they turn out to be not nearly as awesome as the marketing scheme that made you want to dig a bit deeper.
5. I read how Zachary Mason (whoa, y’all, I never reviewed The Lost Books of the Odyssey. Stand by.), whom I will of course be marrying someday, sent The Lost Books of the Odyssey to reviewers inside of a little wooden Trojan horse. No box containing a book will ever win more than that.
But then I opened the box, and the book wasn’t a book, but one long, foldy paper that folded out accordion-style. And the first page after the copyright and acknowledgments contained a smudgy copy of Catullus 101, the poem he wrote after going to see his brother’s grave. I may have shrieked out loud. It was like running into an old friend unexpectedly. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this to you, but I love Catullus. I love him. (I wrote I love him three more times, but deleted them because I know you get the picture with me just saying it twice.) He has such a lovely, human variety of poems — some of them are whimsical, some are pining, some are vindictive, some are really filthy, and some — like 101 — are heartbreaking. I am utterly fond of that poem and realized last year that I remembered a surprisingly high percentage of it from memorizing it in a grade school Latin class. Catullus travels to his brother’s grave, getting there of course long after his brother has died. He says he’s come ut…mutam nequiquam alloquerer cinerem, to speak in vain to his brother’s silent ashes.
Anne Carson the poet and classicist created a journal of scraps and reflections following her brother’s death, and Nox, this book in a box, is the closest approximation to that journal that she could manage. Each fold-out verso contains a single word from the Catullus poem, with a translation of that word and some examples of its use. The rectos have a variety of things on them, memories and photographs and thoughts about history and night-time and memory.
There is nothing not great about this. Except, obviously, that Anne Carson’s brother died. The book is in a box. It’s Catullus. It’s Anne Carson-not-Sexton, whose haunting, evocative scraps of translated Sappho in If Not, Winter won my heart, as if my heart needed winning. (Catullus adored Sappho’s poetry, by the way. Catullus loved Sappho so much that when he had to use a fake name for his married girlfriend so her husband wouldn’t catch on, he nicknamed her “Lesbia” after Sappho’s island home of Lesbos.) The papers fold out.
Okay, this is not a review. I didn’t read the book yet although I really really want to. I didn’t buy it because I am about to get a bunch of new books from another source, and since I am poor, and new books are not a regular feature in my life, I’d rather space out the new book acquisitions. My plan was to wait until some week when I was having a really, really bad day, and then buy the book for myself as a lovely treat. Only it occurred to me that Nox is published by New Directions Publishing Company, and it is a small press, and what if I waited and then when I went to buy Nox I couldn’t find it? That would make a bad day worse, not better. Thoughts?