Whenever I need to reconnect with my personal sense of artistic inspiration, I revisit Anne Carson’s Short Talks (Brick Books Classics, 1992/2015). Short Talks was first introduced to me in a creative nonfiction course in undergrad, and later as a hybrid form in my senior seminar class. Over the years, I’ve approached this text in many different ways, and the beauty of Carson’s work in this collection is that it defies definition and begs to be revisited. The book opens with Short Talk on Homo Sapiens, which starts with an early human “record[ing] the moon’s phases on the handles of his tools” and moves into a “Face in a pan of water” and the inevitable point in stories where the teller “can see no further” (27). In just a few sentences, we leap through history, the self, and the very nature of stories as we approach Short Talks, explorer and human and face and, perhaps, storytellers ourselves. In quick, flashing images, Carson finds that stopping point in the story, and it is the very start, the beginning of what we consider ourselves to be. The point from which we can go no further is our own reflection, shallow. There is no other world in the bottom of a pan of water; there is only self, and that self is rendered blind by the very nature of storytelling. I always find myself marveling at this very first short talk and how it speaks to the rest of the collection, setting us up for discovery beyond what can be discovered, and for story beyond what can be seen.

One of my favorites is Short Talk on Ovid. Carson transports Ovid into a more modernized setting so organically and casually, with the “radio…on the floor” as the only concrete indicator that Ovid has somehow been displaced in time (38). But transported into an almost dreamscape between realities, Ovid carries his exile with him, as if his immortality within this short talk is another form of exile, or at least an extension of it. I am always struck by the understated and profound beauty of Ovid “put[ting] on sadness like a garment” (38). It is no longer a part of him, but something he wears and carries with him. There is a certain weight to grief that is outside of the self, but still intrinsically tied to you. Throughout this short talk, there is a certain gentleness within hopelessness. Though “no one will ever read” the epic poem Ovid is trying to teach himself to be able to write, there is still meaning to be found in the fact that he chooses to “[go] on writing” (38).

—Mary Simmons, MAR