Nox proved a bravely personal work unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It’s a book I’ve anticipated approaching all summer but never felt prepared for until tonight, as I lazed about the house with a summer cold.
A combination of photography, prose poetry, reportage, and lexicography, Nox is a “grief work” by Canadian poet Anne Carson. It is a tangible reaction to her estranged brother’s death. At the book’s heart is the process of translating a poem, from Latin, by 1st century B.C. Roman poet Catullus, titled “Poem 101.” (And how that process mirrors the experience of grief: looking to the past, putting pieces together, looking for consolation or catharsis.) It’s an exercise in keeping something dead, like Latin or a departed brother, alive.
On most of the book’s left-hand pages, Carson gives Latin-to-English translations of each word in Catullus’ poem, adding fitting and affecting variants and turns of phrase (in both languages), while on the right she informs the reader of what she knows of her brother’s life; what she remembers from their shared childhood, and how, she’s been told, he spent his final twenty-plus years abroad. Carson’s love for her brother is apparent on each page, as is her love of language and, also, one of language’s earliest functions: the recording of events, historicising. This book is beautiful in design (accordion-style fold-out pages in a box case) and content. As informative as it is emotional, and heuristic as it is powerful.
- Anne Carson’s appearance on KCRW’s Bookworm, which includes a reading of “Poem 101” in both its original Latin and Carson’s English translation. Astonishing audio-interview.