Sometimes Carson writes frankly and emotionally about entirely personal matters like the breakup of a relationship or the death of her mother. Other times she will go on for pages in passionate dialogue with authors who have been dead for millennia. Because she has chosen the whole range of the Western intellectual tradition as her territory, she wins prestigious awards, including a recent appointment to the Order of Canada. Because she has written beautifully about the intersection of longing and the erotic, she gets quoted in a cable TV series that unsympathetic souls might label soft-core porn. She was trained as a classicist, and her translation of Sappho — perhaps the first lyric poet — has become the definitive one of our time. When the U-M made the successful effort to hire her a few years ago, it had to create a position that spanned its departments of classics, comparative literature, and English. Probably because of this range and her unwillingness to fit anyone's prescriptions, she has become one of the few serious poets who are read even by those who never read poetry.
Her new book, Decreation, labels itself as "Poetry, Essays, Opera," continuing Carson's restless search through the usual categories. The title comes from one of Carson's heroes, the French mystic and philosopher Simone Weil, who essentially starved herself to death during World War II. Carson writes, "Simone Weil was . . . a person who wanted to get herself out of the way so as to arrive at God. 'The self,' she says in one of her notebooks, 'is only a shadow projected by sin and error which blocks God's light, and which I take for a Being.' Weil had a program for getting the self out of the way which she called 'decreation.' . . . 'To undo the creature in us' is one of the ways she describes its aim."