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Common Knowledge 9.1 (2003) 162
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Anne Carson, Economy of the Unlost (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999), 147 pp.
For Carson, "writing involves some dashing back and forth between that darkening landscape where facticity is strewn and a windowless room cleared of everything I do not know." Among the facticities Economy of the Unlost avoids is setting Simonides and Celan, Carson's subjects, into a fashionably intertextual dialogue. "No conversation takes place. Face to face, they do not know one another." Carson has also cleared away grandiosities about Poetry. In her spare study, Simonides emerges as a tough temperament whose distinctive voice Carson helps us hear—a man whose life and work straddled the economies of gift and coinage. Celan, another liminal poet, also knew the cost of words.
Economy of the Unlost illumines poetry in relation to money, gifts, negation, absence, memory, mourning, and praise, all matters that we regularly confront, often almost unaware. My son recently announced that in the course of his summer job he had learned to operate a cash register—news to which I reacted with mixed emotions, on which Carson's powerful book shed light.
Rachel Hadas, recipient of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Literature Award, teaches at Rutgers University and is the author of numerous volumes of poetry, translations, and essays, including, most recently, Indelible.