mystery of the annes

Question. Do all the Annes mean something? For many years now, I’ve been adding Annes to my favored author list. It all started with Annie Proulx (AP) and her novel The Shipping News. I moved on from that novel to reading most of her other fiction, both short and long. AP is primarily a Western writer, and her characters are often fringe types, loners, roamers, outsiders. I read her novel That Old Ace in the Hole when I lived only a few hours from the Texas Panhandle region where it was set. I read a lot of her fiction when I lived out there in North Texas and it helped me a little bit to understand my own place as a loner in what I saw at the time as an unforgiving open land.

When I moved here to Baltimore, I started reading Anne Tyler (AT) novels on a sporadic basis. I’ve probably read about 10 of them by now. I wanted to read AT because her books are usually set in Baltimore. I’d never lived anywhere before that also happened to be the specific setting for a writer’s books. It added a special extra thrill to the reading. AT’s characters, much like AP’s, are often loners and oddballs. Often in her books these loner oddballs find other loner oddballs to be with, although not without encountering much difficulty along the way. Reading her books always puts me in a strange headspace, yet one that also seems familiar because of all the Baltimore references. I enjoy this.

The third literary Anne to enter my life was Annie Dillard (AD). I fell in love with her writing immediately. I began a mass consumption project. I’ve read most of her books by now, although I’m saving a few for the future, mostly because AD has alluded to the probability that she won’t write another book (too much reading to do, says she). The ones I’m saving are her memoir and her two books of poetry. I started the memoir once but it didn’t click. The same thing happened with her first novel, The Living. I tried hard to get through it but eventually realized I was bored and didn’t care what happened to the characters. That’s always a sign for me that the book isn’t working and it’s time to put it down. I thought maybe AD’s fiction just wasn’t for me, but then The Maytrees came out and proved me wrong. Still, it is her nonfiction that captivates me most. I know I will be rereading much of it, despite my general tendency not to reread books.

Now along comes Anne Sexton (AS) and Anne Carson (AC). I’ve read more of AC than AS at this point, and I can say that I’m already enthralled with the former while still plumbing the depths of the latter. What I like most about AC is her mixing of genres. A book of hers can contain poems, essays, opera librettos, screenplays, and various bits of unclassified text. I get the sense that she does not force herself into formats that her thoughts don’t want to go. As the writing flows, it begins to take form. None of this, I’m going to sit down and write a poem now. Despite the intimidation I feel at her stunning intellectual prowess, her writing still feels liberating and accessible to me. It feels like reading an academic treatise but without the formal constraints that usually come with such writing. She pulls from so many disparate sources and ties it all together so it makes perfect sense, although often only if I read it closely.

So what is it about the Annes?

Other inputs: My sister was born an Anne and now goes by Annie. She reads a lot. When I first moved to this city my best friend was dating an Anne. I had never seen him so happy. I thought they might make it. But sadly they did not.

Anne is the French form of Anna, which is a form of Channah (or Hannah), a name used in the Latin and Greek Old Testament. In Hebrew the name Channah means ‘favor’ or ‘grace,’ or more specifically, ‘He (God) favors me’. The Book of Luke, in the New Testament, mentions a prophetess Hannah who recognized the child Jesus as the Messiah. Anna became a popular Western Christian name during the Middle Ages because of Saint Anna, the mother of the Virgin Mary. Anne is still a popular name in France. In England it is also commonly spelled Ann. Various forms of the name appear in most Western and Eastern European nations, as well as Russia.

My aunt’s name is spelled Ann, and she is the daughter of Irish immigrants.

I’m sure we all recognize patterns in our lives. I try not to ignore them. Sometimes they are ones yawning behind me I want to avoid in the future so I try to learn from them. Sometimes they are merely part of life’s effluence. And sometimes they appear to be mystical messages encrypted and in need of decoding. I feel like I am in constant search of a decoder ring.

possibility of foam

If buried all but traceless in the dark in its energy sitting, drifting within your own is another body—Anne Carson, “Seated Figure With Red Angle (1988) by Betty Goodwin”

There is something about living in a city, and it has to do with the surroundings being artificial, constructed by humans. Here we sever ourselves from real nature. Here what nature there is persists under duressit may even seem to be a thriving minority, but it will always be the minority. The muted signs of seasonal change vagulate. The constant reminders of the hubris of so-called civilized people swarm in smothering tones. Callousness blankets us. The automobile serves as master and slave. I am concerned.

There is another body inside of my body.¹ And it is drifting. And it is all but traceless in the dark. Whose body is it. Is it mine. Or does it belong to someone quite different.

It is an unfortunate thing to recognize that you are not one who is meant to live in such close proximity to other humans. And yet here you are, aren’t you.

John Stabb from Government Issue sang:

In that comfortable rut again
Goals for the talking man
Outside lies a presence
But a lonely spirit’s walking rut

And he can’t get out
Man in a trap

Deeper things getting direct
Empty social life’s a wreck
Weather and insects tonight
Happiness in black and white

And he can’t get out

Sometimes we come to embody the lyrics we listen to in our youth. This is neither here nor there. It is life. I think we’re all a little bit surprised when we get there. Or here.

Let’s find more creative ways to fail. And write about those ways in more creative ways.

Anne Sexton wrote:

The silence is death.
It comes each day with its shock
to sit on my shoulder, a white bird,
and peck at the black eyes
and the vibrating red muscle
of my mouth.

Anne reminds us that silence can be as menacing and intrusive as noise. A reminder that we are all out here flailing about. And some of us don’t make it. Like Anne herself. Some of us sink beneath the surface, our lungs filled with shards of the little brittle things in life. The ones that drifted beyond our reach, slow or quick, only to be breathed back in with fatal heaving breaths.

Recently I spent a fair amount of time writing up a review of a show I went to the other night but I lost interest. It suddenly seemed unimportant. Literally as I was writing it, I felt the words spelling out into nothingness. The only point of interest remaining when I finished was a question: What do we want from our rock stars? And do we even want them to be stars? I don’t go to see live music much anymore and rock music even less so. But this question startled itself into my mind and would not leave. Music once loved can be tainted. And how a band presents itself to its audience can either win me over or leave me cold. These are the lessons I learned. Outside the womb can be harsh.

There is foam² spilling out here. As winter prepares to wrap us in its icy sharp arms, I am awash with foam. And it may never dry.


1. See also: this post

2. For more on foam, see Anne Carson’s essay “FOAM (Essay with Rhapsody): On the Sublime in Longinus and Antonioni,” originally published in Conjunctions 37 and reprinted in the book Decreation (2006).


On Walking Backwards

My mother forbad us to walk backwards. That is how the dead walk, she would say. Where did she get this idea? Perhaps from a bad translation. The dead, after all, do not walk backwards but they do walk behind us. They have no lungs and cannot call out but would love for us to turn around. They are victims of love, many of them.

–Anne Carson, Plainwater

Couples who walk around with their hands in each others’ back pockets proclaim a clear statement, I think. And that statement is, we don’t mind you watching us grab each others’ butts.

There are ghosts. And they haunt us. This can happen in nontraditional ways.

People work harder to make their lives easier.

At work we now have the same meeting every week, but every other week it is called something different. This, I believe, is some kind of trick.

I am waffling over something, and this makes me hungry for waffles.

Sometimes a piece of mail can frighten you. Imagine the worst, then wait awhile to open it. I don’t advise this.

Plans make me nervous. Once I’ve made a plan or been made aware of a plan that involves me, I often secretly wish for it to unravel. I’m not sure why.

Open statement to any UK policy-makers landing here as a result of a Google search:

Please don’t cull the badgers.

lunchtime trip to the ♥library♥

© 2012 S. D. Stewart

My weekend looms…

gather to hear the sound of barrel scraping

Across the street from work crouches a vicious corporate bookselling machine. I ventured in there during my lunchtime walk to see if they had any Anne Carson books that I could read while loitering in their cavernous stacks. Their poetry section looked like it had been gleefully ransacked and subsequently rearranged by illiterate trolls. Seriously, there were kids’ books shoved in there, completely randomized alphabetization, and all kinds of other unspeakable chaos. I almost threw up. The only Anne Carson book I found was Nox but it was sealed. Well, that and Antigonick, which I did flip through and find intriguing. Meanwhile, behind me in the video section, two middle-aged guys were tag-team harassing this clerk about obscure psychotronic films. It was totally absurd. They just kept badgering him. I almost heaved Nox in their general direction. The clerk kept his cool, but I’m sure he was seething inside. Then I stood up too fast and felt dizzy so I left.

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