Jimmy's Reviews > Plainwater: Essays and Poetry

Plainwater by Anne Carson
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Oct 12, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: canada, female, poetic-essay, reviewed-in-the-style-of, year-1990s, to-re-read

12.26.02 – Notice of Termination of Lease
(from my landlord)

Due to my financial situation, I regret to inform you that I am forced to sell the house you are living in now. This letter serves as your 30 day notice. Please move out completely by January 31, 2003.

12.31.02 – The Year of the Horse

I’m holding on to a new book. It is white like a small hand opening. Like the new year drifting its white-out over the frozen grass. The pages are stiff, each being convinced to turn over. It is learning the mechanism of its own flipping. Pressing its ear to the spine, it listens for clicks.

Across the table, Dawn declares 2003 the year of the horse. How can horses sleep standing up? I think of a precise machine fitting for a horse. A white horse in the snow, breathing out dense clouds. A spotted horse drinking from the edge of a lake. A black horse walking away in the desert. The shape of a horse is indefinite, as any body of water will tell you. You fall through and through. The year of the horse.

Is it?

01.11.03 - Interview with Anne Carson

I: Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed Ms. Carson. In your book, Plainwater, I understand you have included some fragments of Mimnermos' poetry. What is the importance of understanding these, and why did you choose to open the book with this disjunctive series?

A: Please call me Annie.

I: Alright Annie. Are you tired of these questions already?

A: I'm tired of Freud. I bet you're tired of Aphrodite. You're probably tired of me, and you haven't even gotten to the good part of the book yet.

I: Yes, but the crust is good dipped in chicken soup.

D: Motherfucker, give me some of that.

I: Dawn? Where did Annie go?

D: I don't know man. Hand it over.

I: Dude, you were Annie... I mean, you were Miss Anne Carson just ten seconds ago, I swear. Am I dreaming?

D: I'm tired of Freud. You wouldn't believe what my Queer Theory professor said today.

I: I don't want to know. I was doing an interview. I guess I'll ask you my next question: What's the function of beauty in art?

D: Well, a pretty girl is good to look at. And I guess you need that in art because art needs to be good to look at, too.

A: There's probably more wisdom in there than you think.

I: Annie? Is that you?

D: No. Hey, did you read that Plainwater book? I thought we were gonna talk about it.

I: Yeah, I just finished this section with interviews and shit.

A: Can a butterfly ever be beautiful? What the butterfly does not understand is her own reflection in the pond. She folds her wings behind her as she lands, forming each past movement in reverse. In my imagination, I am so sure that the water in Kolophon is always cold. I'd like to pull up my dress and step in, but I'm scared. I don't know why. This is always when I grow older. Perhaps this fear is related to my sister's drowning. I see her face in the water at night. Does that answer your question, Dr. Moss?

I: Who's Doctor Moss?

01.16.03 – Properties of Glass

An empty house is indefinite as a horse. It is an echo chamber, born to convince us of ourselves. As I was saying that, I was distracted. I was withdrawing into boxes that will later be unboxed. It is easy to be distracted by random objects on the walls. The bedside table spilling over with books and coffee mugs.

A pilgrimage is a disguise for a spiritual journey to find the self. The destination is not as important as the physical act of moving through space. Waking up in a lake after a dream of drought.

But this is no pilgrimage. No. Not like that at all. This is not about moving through spaces. It is about walls and windows. How many windows do I need? When I was 12, I heard rumors that there was a house being built entirely of glass. Is that a house without walls or a house without windows? I wanted so much to live there, but I didn’t know why.

How can a horse sleep standing up? It is its own house.

01.18.03 - Theory of Adjectives

How many degrees of separation between Pina Bausch and this cup of tea? Anne takes a sip from it. She's fixed to the pages curled in her left hand. Outside, the smell of burnt garbage tumbles upwards. It's late August, and the mockingbirds are swooping down like wild fire at your ear. In every story, something always represents love. Or someone.

Anne turns another page. This one's riddled with disease, slow infinitives. Prepositional phrases. In a month, the streets will freeze. It takes a dead body 23 minutes to reach room temperature. Patches of ice form continents. Her apartment's small. So small, pacing becomes necessary. There are pictures of Ophelia on the wall next to polaroids of her mother in a blue scarf. Poems scattered on her floor like seed. Buddha says I, too, use concepts, but I am not fooled thereby. Anne writes a sentence in the margin that resembles a woman whose back has given out.

01.19.03 - Exegesis

Is that all we must go on? I can tell you that there is a curiosity in the mosquito's stirring, the phenomenologists counter-stirring. Between these, an ancient dialectic, perhaps? Some air thrown out between two soft sheets? A city inside a stone? The overheard words: I'm not sure I overheard them anymore. The first time I met Anna, she was caught between these gravities. One was painting her with vermillion, the scorpion's scald. The other was an overheard conversation, a long distance call, her father's death. She showed me the blue veins mapping both her arms. As if scars.

I can tell you how to keep the dogs out, their barking barking. But not what the barking means. What I'm trying to say is. The scars, let's go back to the scars. I mean, veins. Like frescoes, graffiti on the tombs of the Museo Archeologico. Powdered lead, cypress resin, a careful science. I mean, silence. Carson's use of white space, adjectives, no. Her use of. Invention? No, her freedom from convention. No.

The first time I met Anna, she was furiously dancing. I don't remember much else. Maybe she showed me her arms, maybe not. Maybe I overheard murderer. Heidegger? A man was sitting next to me, covered in a shawl. No, a Yankees cap. When he reached for his drink, I saw on his fingers the ground up leaves, black manganate, tint of flesh.

01.21.03 - Interview with Jimmy Lo

A: Thanks for agreeing to interview with me Mr. Lo. About your review of my book...

J: Yes. Umm.. Well, that's a touchy subject, isn't it? Maybe you shouldn't have been the one doing this interview. I mean, I'm still in the middle of writing it, and there's that whole ethical thing...

A: You think I'm going to influence your opinion of my book?

J: Well, if we start talking more often, you know, go out on a few dates and stuff, things could get out of hand. I need to remain objective about this.

A: Our relationship is strictly professional.

J: Yes, yes I'll try.

A: Tell me about Dawn.

J: Dawn?

A: Yes, this person was not in my book. Yet you've confused her with me during the second section of your review.

J: She's not? I thought she... Oh, well maybe I just made her up.

A: You're a real asshole, you know?

J: Sorry.

01.22.03
Apt. J10 Ansley Forest, Monroe Dr.


Patricia, 21, has two dogs, frequent guests, and smokes indoors in winter. I know this, but I'm here anyway. She opens the door, smiling. She works at a pet care place down the street. Her boyfriend is on the couch. Nice location, I say. The room is bare. Take a seat. The TV sits on a stack of Yellow Pages. One of the dogs is a baby pit bull. My dad used to own a pit bull, I say. We gave him away cause he got too aggressive. The kitchen's loaded with unwashed dishes. Her boyfriend asks if I want to smoke pot. We watch commercials. So, what do you do? I work for a design firm. I do web pages. Stains on the carpet. You don't go to school? I graduated. From Tech. Computer Science. Oh, cool, that's what he's doing too. Bauder College. Jeopardy on TV. One of the dogs really likes me. I think her name is Lucy. I better go. I'll let you know soon. OK, Aufwiedersehen. You know German? Yeah, we lived in Germany for a while. Hey, do you know a German word that sounds like "function lust". It means something like "joy in doing"...

01.23.03
453 Curran Street


A student lives here. Her room smells of perfume and has blue walls (imagine sleeping in a small red boat in the center of a lake). Windows hang on the wall like upside down roses. The landlord walks beside me. He talks about central heat and air. The ceiling is warped where a brown stain shows through. That was from a leak, he says. but we fixed it.

Imagine sleeping in a boat while the lake drains into a red bucket.

01.25.03 - Funktionslust

Sometimes I go because of the voice. 1 bedroom. Washer/dryer. Sometimes I draw out the person before we even meet. It doesn't matter who they are. What they do. I enjoy passing through. Monte del Gozo. Another exit off the highway, another town with a strange name. I look at their pictures. Try to guess what led up to each photo... the wife in her swimming cap, the sister standing out on the dock. I read the titles of their books. Wuthering Heights. The Waves. Breathe the potpourri in their bathrooms. Today, while looking out a bedroom window saying "Nice view", I wondered about the view from her room. I still can't picture it clearly. Where exactly, the window? I thought next to her pictures of Ophelia, but now I'm not so sure. What angle does the sun slant through the blinds at 10am?

Continued in the comments section...
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Jimmy 01.26.03

[ a tape fragment, from October 23, 1991 ]

A: ... her face in the water at night. Does that answer your question, Dr. Moss?

Dr: What can you tell me about water?

A: Sometimes it's there. I am oblivious to it. Blue in the face, then white. The plop sound when I drop my keys in. Then the face I see in it is mine. I cannot see the keys, cannot reach through the dark reflection, the ripples.

Dr: Sometimes it's best not to see.

A: In the town of Castrogeriz, they turn the water off at night. No dripping faucets, nothing to reach through.

Dr: Do you know there are different kinds of water, Anne?

A: Kinds of water?

Dr: Kinds of water drown us. Kinds of water do not. Remember that. You must separate these kinds of water in order to reach through it.

A: Kinds of water drown us. Drowned my sister.

Dr: Kinds of water do not.

A: What about a slow leak as I sleep? The ceiling sagging, about to collapse? A red bucket filling up drop by drop. What kind of water is that?

01.27.03 - The State of Contemporary Poetry

We've made room in the Museo Archeologico for the Concrete Image. Here, an umbrella, turned inside out by wind. Its shape, like the bones in your hand. A symbol of fear. Look through glass, but don't breathe on it. You’ll fog it up. Here, a basin of water. What do you see in the water?

I wander from vacuum to vacuum, peering in. Short of breath. I feel like an animal, riding on the back of another.

01.30.03 - 923 Oakhill Ave.

Rushing home. What have I forgotten?

I flip through Plainwater looking
for what? This time the face I see in it
is mine. The room is mine. The polaroids
my mother in a blue scarf. The one I took down
and packed in the bottom of a cardboard box labeled
"Careful". The most obvious questions
Anne says, are never asked. I wander
room to room looking for these things,
unboxed, unhoused; all bared.
I push myself through air because I
am air. Breathing in the framed poses, a breeze
through the blue room I almost imagined
was a lake she drowned in. But no.
Drowning requires something of us,
something else, like stones sinking against evidence,
something more than these walls, frail
and naked as glass, suggest.
Or can suggest, because the wall
behind last year’s calendar, behind
framed photographs and blue paint
does not exist
and houses nothing


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