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Essay

On Anne Carson's "First Chaldaic Oracle"

The detached voice in contemporary poetry demands attention. It reflects a stay against the complex, paralyzing contradictions of life. There is a progression of detachment, an increasing withdrawal of self into the pure act of seeing. Some might ask, how else to respond to the perceived, spinning vacuum at the core of the cosmos? In the multiple, dissolving planes of Anne Carson’s poetry–at her most playful, tantalizingly out of reach–we come upon a trajectory that is emblematic, if not definitive of the age.
In “First Chaldaic Oracle”, a poetic manifesto, Anne Carson examines the relentless pursuit of what remains forever out of reach. Her questing but playful voice, sounding through the architectural layering of tercets, captures the continual striving toward meaning, the poet’s elusive, shape-shifting art.
She sets the bar high, to an occult art, defining the challenge of her perspective–that one may move so far in and out, that there may be no self, only the dissolving state of perception itself. “There is something you should know / And the right way to know it/ is by a cherrying of your mind.” …

The detached voice in contemporary poetry demands attention. It reflects a stay against the complex, paralyzing contradictions of life. There is a progression of detachment, an increasing withdrawal of self into the pure act of seeing. Some might ask, how else to respond to the perceived, spinning vacuum at the core of the cosmos? In the multiple, dissolving planes of Anne Carson’s poetry–at her most playful, tantalizingly out of reach–we come upon a trajectory that is emblematic, if not definitive of the age.
In “First Chaldaic Oracle”, a poetic manifesto, Anne Carson examines the relentless pursuit of what remains forever out of reach. Her questing but playful voice, sounding through the architectural layering of tercets, captures the continual striving toward meaning, the poet’s elusive, shape-shifting art.
She sets the bar high, to an occult art, defining the challenge of her perspective–that one may move so far in and out, that there may be no self, only the dissolving state of perception itself. “There is something you should know/And the right way to know it/is by a cherrying of your mind.” …


h1. The Detached Poetic Voice
bq. _a reading by Catherine Joyce of “First Chaldaic Oracle” by Anne Carson_
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The detached voice in contemporary poetry demands attention. It reflects a stay against the complex, paralyzing contradictions of life. There is a progression of detachment, an increasing withdrawal of self into the pure act of seeing. Some might ask, how else to respond to the perceived, spinning vacuum at the core of the cosmos? In the multiple, dissolving planes of Anne Carson’s poetry–at her most playful, tantalizingly out of reach–we come upon a trajectory that is emblematic, if not definitive of the age.
In “First Chaldaic Oracle”, a poetic manifesto, Anne Carson examines the relentless pursuit of what remains forever out of reach. Her questing but playful voice, sounding through the architectural layering of tercets, captures the continual striving toward meaning, the poet’s elusive, shape-shifting art.
She sets the bar high, to an occult art, defining the challenge of her perspective–that one may move so far in and out, that there may be no self, only the dissolving state of perception itself. “There is something you should know/And the right way to know it/is by a cherrying of your mind.”
The ‘you’, the reader, is not to proscribe her search with the accepted division of self and other, internal and external world–“Because if you press your mind towards it/and try to know/that thing//as you know a thing, you will not know it.” Rather a bodying forth, a flowing out of consciousness, organic, generative and erotic as fruit, this is how one must seek to know–“it comes out of red//with kills on both sides, it is scrap, it is nightly/it kings your mind.”
The images proliferate, tantalize, elude definition–and yet we sense there is something vital here, something passionate yet annihilating, overlooked yet liminal, even preconscious–so essential it trumps your mind, possessing, ruling, dissolving any subjective state. Carson drives deep to planes of reality one intuits but cannot name–beyond self, beyond world, hypnotic.
The urge to know becomes obsessive. “No. Scorch is not the way/to know/that thing you must know.//But use the hum/of your wound/and flamepit out everything// right to the edge/of that thing you should know.” It is as if Carson were exhorting us to a mythic challenge, to wield Philoctetes’ archetypal wound with its bow–‘wound’ as the vibrating arc of a Keatsian multi-sensory awareness that would consume all before it in its quest to know.
To prepare is all, to emerge honed, forever open to Spring–“But keep chiselled/keep Praguing the eye//of your soul and reach–/mind empty/toward that thing you should know//until you get it.” The incantatory repetition of the longed for state becomes urgent, erotic–the possession of “That thing you should know.”–culminating in a final Tantalus promise: “Because it is out there (orchid) outside your and, it is.”
Only by going beyond our prescriptive borders of ‘self’ and ‘other’ can the rare, the mysterious, the unnamed–beyond all our definitions–be found.
The detached voice frees the poet to inhabit a labile and threatening world. With detachment comes a cool, appraising eye, an intriguing, ironic, reflexive stance that hints at multiple meanings, suggestive of the unfathomable, the ambiguous–the resistant nature of reality. We come to such a poet not for music, not for lyric intensity but for the art of fearless observation.