Anne Carson

copyright ©2013 by Anne Carson

YOU SPELL IT number 4 letter N O no space all caps: 4NO / is it a nickname / no Babycakes it’s functional the fucking

army being a fucking fulcrum of fucking functionality / they called you 4NO in the army / are

you going to repeat everything I say / sorry / pass the sugar / so you knew Sad in the army / indeed I did / he

says you can see the future you’re a prophet / no I see Seeing I am the god of this I see Seeing coming /

what’s that like / all white all the time / what do you mean / I mean the whole immediate Visible crushed

onto the frontal cortex is nothing but white without any Remainder now you’ll say of course there’s no

Remainder if a thing hasn’t happened yet! but the fact is most of what you people see most of what you

people call the present world is just Remainder just a failure of Invisibility’s flames to disappear from that

thin edge / a failure / they were always cming up to me saying 4NO who’ll win the hockey pool 4NO your

name means Foresight better get some 4NO you’re the god who knows the future how come you got yourself

fuckstuck in this meatclock didn’t you see it coming / well didn’t you / what I saw coming was the atomic

essence of the Visible brought to such density its Incandescence left no place for anyfuckingthing else /

ah / or am I talking outside your experiential zipcode / sort of / give me that sugar again / so this white stuff’s

coming at you all the time / yup / you can’t stop it / I can slow it down with alcohol or pharmaceuticals I

choose not to / was it different in the army / hell yes we were drugged to the eyeballs / Sad doesn’t talk about

that much / no I bet not / well he mentioned something at a crossroads / say again / a crossroads a

woman a shopping bag a white plastic bag I don’t know / here’s some advice / yes / don’t ask about the

woman don’t ask about the crossroads don’t ask about the plastic shopping bag / okay / don’t ask him don’t

ask me / okay / time for my meds I’ll leave you now / it was a pleasure / oh I doubt that

Notes on the Poem

As we've observed in a previous look at a section of Anne Carson's Red Doc>, she gathers words and effects in singular and potent combinations. In "4NO", she achieves in print an audio quality that, in effect, calls out to be read aloud. If you try it, though, you'll quickly realize that you need two readers to capture the effect Carson has forged on the page. In the 1950s and 60s, young director and filmmaker Robert Altman pioneered and was criticized and even fired for using a sound technique in his work called "overlapping dialogue." By the end of his much revered career, that same technique was both his signature and much admired, bolstering his insight that "only in the movies - and not in real life - do people wait politely while others speak, then respond in wittily shaped perfect sentences." How does Anne Carson create on the page what Altman captured time after time in his films? To start, the poem segment is almost completely absent of punctuation (the one colon before the acronym 4NO is a stark exception) although you can sense where it should be in phrases such as: "what's that like" and "well didn't you" Removing punctuation from the page seems to somehow bring us closer to the words and to hearing them, relying on our own internal ear to apply breaks and intonation as needed. Because the only punctuation is forward slash (/) demarcating the speakers, there is a visual flow to the words - almost sped along by those slashes tipping forward - that translates to words seeming to rush and tumble into each other as you "listen" to them. When the slashes disappear for a few stanzas, you get the impression that one speaker has let loose with a passionate outburst. The other speaker is mute, then only cautiously interjects a few words at a time upon re-entering the dialogue. Carson achieves on the page a lifelike reproduction of how conversation really works - stopping, starting, one person's soundtrack treading over another's, speakers obscured and jumbled - from which emotional nuances, new meanings and revelations can emerge.

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