Renowned classicist and contemporary poet Anne Carson read her work at Emory last Wednesday as the 2010 Nix Mann lecturer.
The Nix Mann lecture series features a distinguished lecturer on campus each year.
Carson, who performed her poems “Cassandra Float Can” and “Bracko” in the Michael C. Carlos Museum, has received numerous awards for her work. These awards include the MacArthur Genius Award, Lannan Literary Award and the Pushcart Prize.
She serves as the distinguished poet in residence at New York University.
Carson began the lecture by reciting her poem “Cassandra,” during which 10 Emory student collaborators carried photos and a slideshow depicting different images on a screen.
“Cassandra” is based off of Carson’s translation of Aeschylus’ “Agamemnon.”
Cassandra, a princess of Troy, was blessed with prophetic vision, but was cursed so that no one would believe any of her prophecies.
She contrasted Cassandra, a witness to the gory Trojan War, with other observers of tumultuous times, including the architect Gordon Matta-Clark, who found beauty in splicing large objects such as buildings.
“Where is the edge of new?” Carson read. “What is the future doing under the past or Greek metrics in Trojan silence?”
Images of an individual ensconced in a net, the gritty exterior of a house and the rounded narrow view of a staircase flickered on the screen as Carson read.
Carson performed “Bracko” with Emory philosophy professor Richard Patterson and Carson’s collaborator and New York artist Robert Currie.
“Bracko” utilized selections from Carson’s translations of the incomplete works of Sappho, the musician and poet who was born in 653 B.C. who lived on the island of Lesbos.
The incomplete text was marked by brackets, which was both in the written text and verbalized during the performance.
In lieu of dancers who were originally part of the piece, brackets of varying sizes and animation moved across the screen.
“Helen left her fine husband behind. … I would rather see her lovely step,” Carson recited in a monotonous tone.
As she chanted, others speakers’ voices would overlap with the repetition of “bracket bracket,” or complete her phrases with lines such as, “sing to us, the one with violets in her lap.”
Carson received a loud ovation from the crowded room at the conclusion of her presentation.
Carson’s visit to Emory was co-sponsored by the Luminaries in Art and Humanities series of the Office of the Provost, the Bill and Carol Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry as well as the Poetry Council.
At the end of Carson’s lecture, she answered several questions from audience members who were curious about the tone of voice she used while she was reading her poems.
“I consciously try to scrape [when I read],” she explained.
Carson added that her monotonous voice was intended to remove vestiges of academia because she said she believed academia would clutter the meaning of the words.
“I just have the words be the words,” Carson said.
Carson served as a member of the Emory classics department in the 1980s.
Officials at the Carlos Museum, which hosted the event, wanted to invite Carson to lecture this year due to her strong ties with the classical world not only as a scholar but also as an imaginative poet, Director of Education Programs at the Carlos Museum Elizabeth Hornor said.
“One of the things that is important to the Carlos Museum is to try to demonstrate that the ancient world is a great source of inspiration for contemporary writers and artists,” Hornor said.
Anne Carson was a great choice for this year’s Nix Mann lecturer, Emory classicist and history professor Cynthia Patterson wrote in an e-mail to the Wheel.
“She is elegant and very funny,” Paterson wrote. “She is both a creative poet and an expert translator of Greek.”