Anne Carson,
Glass, Irony & God
(New Directions, 1995)

While experimental verse often risks feeling contrived or convoluted, Anne Carson's ambitious voice builds on accomplishments of previous works such as "The Life of Towns" -- always feeling genuine and purposeful, yielding moments of intense irony, rhythm and blade-sharp line breaks facilitated by Carson's idiosyncratic punctuation.

Aside from grammatical and linguistic devices, though, another successful experiment is Carson's capacity for engaging in biography and autobiography simultaneously in "The Glass Essay," as Emily Bronte's life becomes a mirror for the speaker's own predicament and contributes an additional layer of complexity and pathos.

Where Dickinson used dashes to reveal the full power of a particular word or line, Carson resorts to an unusual frequency of periods, creating abrupt shifts of focus that help the poem encompass as much subject as possible within just a few sparse lines. In "The Glass Essay," she resorts to this device immediately and often:

She lives on a moor in the north.
She lives alone.
Spring opens like a blade there.

Already, in just three short lines of the 38-page poem's fourth stanza, we encounter loneliness, landscape and season, distinctly echoing past triumphs such as "The Life of Towns," as in "Town of Spring Once Again," for instance:

Rain hissed down the windows.
Longings from a great distance.
Reached us.

Despite the periods, the enjambment of these lines is obvious and startling. Drops of rain become "longings from a great distance" but, at the same time, the origin of these longings remains mysterious. From where are they "reaching" the speaker? The reader is left to imagine and savor.

It is in Carson's skill for weaving Emily Bronte's persona together with the speaker's, however, that "The Glass Essay's" abundant despair becomes most compelling. Like Bronte, whose storied alienation and seclusion comprise much of the poem's focus, the speaker identifies deeply with the moor's landscape. "My lonely life around me like a moor," she says, going on to describe the moor as "paralyzed with ice" in a moment of pathetic fallacy.

Similarly, just as Bronte is described as a "soul trapped in glass" and a "wacher" who "wached the poor core of the world," the speaker becomes just as imprisoned and secluded, obsessively noting the minutest observations as she gazes into "the curtainless morning" like someone under a life sentence. By poem's end, though, the speaker emerges from the malaise that Bronte only escapes through death. "I gave up watching," the speaker confesses, "I lived my life." Finally, in the speaker's own inability to endure the intense loneliness under which Bronte lived (and died), Emily Bronte's own life struggle becomes that much more palpable.

- Rambles, written
by Gianmarc Manzione

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