Latest Release: Visit to an Extinct City
Visit to an Extinct City, first in the series The Argument of Time, reflects on the ruins of Ostia Antica.
Deerbrook Editions, www.deerbrookeditions.com
About The Argument of Time
The Argument of Time, a five-book series, was triggered by Teresa’s first visit to Ostia Antica in 2014. From the moment she stepped through the Porta Romana, the place had an inexplicable hold on her. Her daylong exploration of the ruins turned into a profound experience: everything in the landscape spoke to her. Back in her then-home in New Jersey, she wrote down the title of all five books in The Argument of Time without any idea of what the actual content of each book would be, except it would be connected to Ostia in some way and that the poems would exist in English and Italian.
Unlike the resort towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum, Ostia was a commercial center that served as the main port for goods coming into Rome from everywhere in the Roman Empire. By the second century a.d. its landscape was a densely packed mix of warehouses, apartment houses, temples (for various religions), baths, toilets, bakeries, and take-out food shops. Its decline from prosperous to extinct happened over a few hundred years; by the eleventh century its marble was being scavenged to build cathedrals throughout Italy. For centuries after Ostia’s abandonment, treasure hunters scoured its ruins for desirable artifacts that ended up in private collections, museums, and even the Vatican. Fortunately for us there is still much to find in Ostia. Today, systematic excavations undertaken by scientists continue to reveal its complexities and marvels.
Rome’s harbor town, Ostia Antica, the other well-preserved ancient city in Italy, has long paled beside Pompeii, whose high drama and fiery demise fixed its place in literature and the popular imagination. Not so for the port city on the Tiber. But Teresa Carson’s new Ostian poem comes to us in sixteen cantos, in English and Italian, as welcome as it is rare.
She takes us with her, on a revelatory first visit to the site, preternaturally attuned to all its discomforts and discoveries. Immediately we’re immersed with her amidst a haunted, antique landscape.
Step after step through this long afternoon of a poem, Carson works her alchemy—from broken bricks and crumbling concrete, intently observed—to meditations on the synecdoche of ruins, to contemplations, through her eyes, of loss and decay, on human mortality and the accidents of survival: ‘Layers of dirt turn into layers of time.’
Visit to an Extinct City holds a fresh, personal lens to a seldom-seen, venerable ghost-town and archaeological site. It casts a rueful glance at the folly and profundity of ‘historical reconstruction’—it raises an eyebrow towards guidebooks, tourism and what we think we do when we travel abroad—and with both hands, unexpectedly, it bestows us with a kind of metaphysical vademecum.
—Joanne M. Spurza, Associate Professor, Program of Classics, Hunter College of the City University of New York