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Refreshing breaks: how fragmented stories can be fulfilling reading


Anne Carson’s new poems make extensive use of broken snatches of writing, a modernist technique that presents readers with difficult – but liberating – challenges

“Reading can be freefall,” runs the blurb on the back of Anne Carson’s new poetry collection, one of several recently published books to offer readers a more interactive way to engage with the printed word. Historically, fragmentation has been used as a troubling effect, or to indicate a subject under stress. These books, however, attempt to unleash the fragment’s liberating force. The effect can be exhilarating.

If the title of Carson’s collection, Float, suggests a lack of direction, so does its format: a transparent slipcase housing 22 chapbooks that we are invited to read in any order. Does that mean the collection doesn’t, then, possess an overall unity? Or is it possible for we readers to supply meaning ourselves?

There are many ways to tell a story. A guy told me what happened to him at the border. I put some points on file cards. Every time I tried to fill in what happens between the file cards, I lost the story. I didn’t really know him. It was like a winter sky, high, thin, restless, unfulfilled. That’s when I started to think about the word flotage.

I don’t know why trains. Often when reading Gertrude Stein, I have the sense I’m getting the gist and I ride along a while in good faith, then all at once she switches tracks and there I’m left standing, as it were, at the station.

However the reader orders the material is provisional, it will almost certainly differ the next time she engage

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Through the fragmentary ... we can somehow arrive at a more profound understanding of the world

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