I don’t read a lot of poetry, but I am partial to the work of Anne Carson and Mary Oliver (and often confuse the two). It’s no surprise that both have referenced Virginia Woolf in their poems, no doubt recognizing her as the poet she was even though she never wrote a line of verse as such.
Anne Carson has written very little prose, so her story in this week’s (Oct. 31) New Yorker is a lovely gift. “Back the Way You Went” is exquisite, a tiny gem, as it questions so many aspects of existence in a daughter’s reflections on her mother.
The narrator comments on a dishtowel she’s given her mother-in-law, “printed with cartoon cameos of Bloomsbury celebrities.” She’s thinking about her flawed communication with her own mother, recently deceased, their fear of breaking the silence that’s built up between them. She asks herself, “Are other families like this? I know I’m setting the bar high, but I cannot imagine it was ever the wrong time to talk in, say, Bloomsbury.” And yet Woolf may have seen it otherwise; Carson’s narrator goes on to recall a passage from “A Sketch of the Past”:
“We are sealed vessels afloat upon what is convenient to call reality; at some moments, without a reason, without an effort, the sealing matter cracks; in floods reality….”
She asks, “Was it Virginia Woolf who taught us to adore these floods of reality, without which we merely navigate a sea of convenience with other people?”
Even without Woolf, the story is stunning; with her it’s even more so, and, as always seems to be the case when Woolf is referenced in fiction, so appropriate, leading this Woolfian to think, “Well, yes, of course.”
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