You might expect a work so insistent on its own material oddities, so dependent on prior texts, so dead-set against the standard codex book, to receive a warm welcome from the North American avant-garde. Nox did find a rapturous welcome, but not from that quarter. Instead it was celebrated in such places as the New Yorker, where Meghan O’Rourke called it ‘a luminous, big, shivering, discandied, unrepentant, barking web of an elegy, which is why it evokes so effectively the felt chaos and unreality of loss’. New York magazine’s Sam Anderson called it ‘a literary object – the opposite of an e-reader designed to vanish in your palm’, and added: ‘The book radiates a kind of holy vibe.’
Few poets satisfy so clearly Eliot’s criterion for a major poet: each of Carson’s works casts light on all the rest. The future should look at everything she has written, Nox included: it is strange and affecting and hard to forget. But it is hard to imagine that the future will rate Nox as highly as reviewers did. It creates a double bind familiar from memoirs, and from the confessional poetry of two generations ago. If you like it, you like the pathos and the rawness of the personal document; if you don’t like it, you are attacking the genuine evidence of somebody’s real life. But Nox, the box, isn’t real life.
As for Nox, it is a moving document, a rapt exploration of a few more or less deconstructive ideas, a marvellous object of manufacture, a long trip through a short poem by Catullus, and a minor, memorable occurrence in the career of a major writer. Its rapturous reception testifies – through no fault of her own – to Carson’s celebrity, and to the aura her work holds, with its sources and blank spaces. That reception also testifies – again, through no fault of Carson’s – to the continuing prestige but diminished actual interest that poetry as such seems to hold these days. For many readers, and not a few editors, Nox and its ‘poetry of a kind you’re not used to’ has turned out to be poetry of the most welcome kind: a work you can admire and interpret simply by opening the box and unfolding the pages; a book of poems you don’t even have to read.
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