Anne Carson and the looking glass of Twitter
Angela Mathew | Tuesday, February 21, 2023
Anne Carson, who will be visiting to speak on campus on Wednesday and Thursday this week, is a Canadian poet, translator and professor. Her writing often includes literary allusions, especially from ancient Greek and Latin works. Seeing posters for her “History of Skywriting” talk all around campus, I didn’t think I had ever heard of her before. Without realizing it, however, I had been encountering her work for months — on Twitter.
I don’t use Twitter much, except to lurk. I enjoy following accounts that post pretentious analyses of Bollywood films, errors in The New York Times’ word games, or people who have interesting careers in journalism or academia. As I have given the algorithm more knowledge and ability to divine things I would find interesting, the site shows me curated tweets liked by people I follow. This leads me to adjacent interests like American politics tweets I vaguely understand and the pop culture argument du jour.
A genre of accounts that the algorithm swayed me to follow was ‘literary bots’. Unlike their more exciting cousins like artificial intelligence bots, these bots on Twitter are far more rudimentary and are just automated accounts that post quotes from certain authors or books, every few hours. Though I struggle to make time to read for pleasure, this was a way to delude myself into convincing myself that I can still claim to be ‘a reader’.
One of the accounts I stumbled upon was the ‘anne carson bot’ and I was taken by the intriguing simplicity of the quotes though I had no context for which of Carson’s work they were from. I would like these tweets from time to time, a half-hearted attempt to bookmark some of Carson’s phrases. But after these glittering milliseconds of inspiration, I would go back to my
mindless scrolling, never taking the time to try and understand what she meant.
This embodies why people love and hate social media, I think. We have so much access to other information and portals to other wonderlands, but the abundance means we rarely end up diving into anything deeply.
This past weekend in preparation for Carson’s visit and this piece, I attempted to break out of this. I went to a local bookstore (that I’d been meaning to visit for two years) and picked up a copy of “Glass, Irony and God”. The 1995 collection contains Carson’s “The Glass Essay”, a 36-page poem that follows a woman grieving lost love while contemplating the British author Emily Brontë’s career.
Reading “The Glass Essay”, I was struck by the similarities between the moor in Northern Canada where the poem is set and how winter on campus can feel at times — ‘paralyzed with ice’ and like ‘dregs of snow scarred by pine filth. As the woman in the poem goes on reflective walks and sees ‘ice that has begun to unclench’ and ‘black open water that curdles like anger’ reminds me of how the lakes can seem at once serene and menacing.
Carson uses more subtle winter imagery as well which reflects the poem’s themes of darkness and grief. When recalling the onset of her father’s dementia, the narrator says “it came to me like a slow avalanche that he had no idea who he was talking to.” She continues, “his voice pressed into the silence and broke off, snow falling on it.”
As I wait for spring in South Bend, I loved the line “I could dip my hand down into time and scoop up blue and green lozenges of April heat a year ago in another country.” As the narrator feels nostalgic about times with her lost love the year before she says poignantly, “I can feel that day running under this one like an old videotape.”
As I read “The Glass Essay”, I’ve been trying to just enjoy its lyricism without getting bogged down by the imagery from “Wuthering Heights” that I don’t understand. I’ve also enjoyed reading the interpretations of people like this English professor who re-read “The Glass Essay” every day for a month to make sense of her life after a breakup. I don’t think I could read anything every day for a month, but I’m sure I’ll find a happy medium. Until then, I’ll stick to the quick literary hits my Twitter bots serve me.