The Believer // Nox by Anne Carson

My review of Anne Carson’s magnificent Nox is in the September issue of The Believer. My review starts like this…

Anne Carson’s Nox doesn’t look or behave like any other book of poetry (or prose) out there. It’s not a book in the traditional sense; the usual binary of verso and recto is confounded by one long page that accordions out of a coffin-like box. But its physical shape isn’t the only thing that makes Nox so special; the text itself is an assemblage of words and images so artfully arranged that they make us reconsider not only what poetry can do—and should do—but even what a book is.

Like B. S. Johnson’s book-in-a-box, The Unfortunates, Nox will change the way you read. It’s a reproduction of the handmade book Carson lovingly wrote and assembled after the death of her estranged older brother, Michael. “When my brother died,” she tells us, “I made an epitaph for him in the form of a book. This is a replica of it, as close as we could get.” It contains her own poetry, translations, photographs, canceled stamps, letterhead, you name it. From those artifacts the details of her relationship with Michael, of his life on the run, and ultimately of his demise, come with dirgelike slowness. We learn that he had legal problems, was homeless for some time in Europe, and that he rarely wrote home. His distance makes his death all the more tragic. “When my brother died (unexpectedly) his widow couldn’t find a phone number for me among his papers until two weeks later. While I swept my porch and bought apples and sat by the window in the evening with the radio on, his death came wandering slowly towards me across the sea.”