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Nay Rather by Anne Carson | 06-May-15

Staff Pick from our Poetry Library Open Day 2014

Nay Rather by Anne Carson. Paris ; London : Center for Writers & Translators, American University of Paris ; Sylph Editions, 2013.

This short gathering of works by Anne Carson is unlikely to receive the attention given to her more high profile collection from the same year Red Doc>. Nevertheless, its delicate format and the elegant brevity of its contents make it stand out amongst items recently acquired by the Poetry Library.

In a number of ways Nay Rather valorizes what doesn't make linguistic sense. In a prose essay that takes up most of the volume, for example, Carson celebrates aspects of language that resist the attempts of translators to make them comprehensible. But this commitment to keeping language strange plays out perhaps most palpably in the seven translations of a fragment by the ancient Greek poet Ibykos that Carson includes after her essay. Six of these are performed using arbitrarily chosen base materials. For example, one translation is rendered using signs from the London Underground: the phrase 'right up from the bottom of my feet' in Carson's own English version becomes simply the word 'cockfostered.' The use of what Carson calls the 'wrong words' to create these translations is also an ingenious way of refusing to accept that there are any definitively 'right' ones. 

In keeping with the focus of today's open day, though, probably some of my keenest enjoyment of this work comes from its material form. It's bound in bright red card, with rich dirty orange end papers, and a gently textured creamy matte dust jacket. Throughout, the typeface is elegantly austere and the paper generously thick. Someone who borrowed the item from the Library earlier this year said that the whole package seemed to him like a 'gift' and I can see why.

Ben Nichols
Library Assistant

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