When a MacArthur grant-winning poet and classicist writes about her ex-lover, she doesn’t commit a “thick stacked act of revenge” against him, a tempting “vocation of anger” enacted on the page. Yet Anne Carson, author of “The Glass Essay” (from the collection Glass, Irony, and God), knows it’s “easier to tell a story of how people wound one another than of what binds them together.” It makes sense. Where there’s an ex, there’s the story of a relationship a clear beginning, middle, and the dreaded end, with a natural protagonist in us versus them, the Exes.
That said, Carson’s “The Glass Essay,” which begins with the speaker’s losing sleep over an ex named Law, can hardly be called a clear or easy break-up story. In fact, it’s not a story at all but an essay in verse—one that doesn’t mention him much. Perhaps it’s no surprise that it’s not about him (is it ever, with the essay?) but about her. About several hers, actually; Carson oscillates between “three silent women” each struggling, each alone or left behind in love. It’s loss that binds them together.