Ciáran Carson (1948-2019)

[occas. Ciaran]; b. Raglan St., Belfast, 9 Oct. [var. 2 Jan.] 1948, son of William Carson (later Liam McCarráin) and Mary [née Maginn] - he a postman, language and traditional music enthusiast, she a mill worker, both Irish speakers but neither native Irish speakers; one of five children; raised as Irish first-language speaker; ed. St Mary’s Christian Brothers’ School and Queen’s University, Belfast; worked in civil service; became teacher; played traditional Irish music at various venues; issued poetry collections, The Insular Celts (1973); appt. Traditional Arts Officer, N.I. Arts Council, 1975-98; offered astringent critique of Heaney’s ‘laureateship of violence’ in North (Honest Ulsterman, 1975); iss. The New Estate (1976; enl. edn. 1988), winner of Eric Gregory Award for Poetry 1978, and The Lost Explorer (1978), a poetry pamphlet;  travelled throughout Ireland as Trad. Music Officer with Deirdre Shannon, playing fiddle; m. Deirdre in 1982, with whom three children, Manus, Gerard and Mary;
issued a Pocket Guide to Irish Traditional Music (1986), for Appletree Press; trans. his father's autobiography Seo, Siúd, agus Siúd Eile as Here, There, and There Again (1986); returned to poetry after intermission, issuing The Irish for No (1987), winner of the Alice Hunt Bartlett Award, and Belfast Confetti (1989), both using adaptation of the long line of C. K. Williams and written in a pointedly anti-lyrical and linguistically experimental style; shortlisted for Whitbread Prize, 1989; winner of The Irish Times Literature Award for Poetry, 1990; issued First Language: Poems (1993), inaugural winner of T. S. Eliot Award that year; issued Letters from the Alphabet (1995) in a limited edition to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Gallery, and then included in Opera et Cetera (1996), marked by its technical virtuosity;
issued The Star Factory (1997), an autobiography of Belfast, incorporating Titanic material (‘labyrinthine anecdotes, moral tales, recovered memories, retrospective omens’); issued The Alexandrine Plan (1998), a bilingual collection of thirty-four sonnets by Rimbaud, Baudelaire, and Mallarmé, with originals and translations printed recto and verso; issued The Twelfth of Never (1998), sonnets after Rimbaud, Baudelaire and Mallarmé; issued The Ballad of HMS Belfast (1999) issued Shamrock Tea (2001), a novel based on Van Eyck’s Arnolfini wedding painting; long-listed for the Man Booker Prize; trans. Canto XXXI of Dante’s Inferno among gathering of contemporary poets at South Bank, London, October 2000, afterwards publishing it in the Times Literary Supplement; proceeded to issue full version as Dante’s Inferno (2002), winning the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation prize that year; issued Breaking News (2003), marking a shift away from trade-mark long lines;
appt. Professor of Poetry and Director of the Seamus Heaney Centre at the Queen’s University, Belfast (QUB), Oct. 2003; trans. The Midnight Court, by Brian Merriman (2005), at centenary of Merriman’s death; ed. The Yellow Nib (2006- ), a poetry and prose anthology of the Heaney Centre; issued translation of The Táin (Oct. 2007), commissioned by Penguin; interviewed on “ The Verb” [BBC 3], Sat. 27 Oct. 2007; issued For All We Know (2008), a prose-poem sequence incorporating a double perspective on the same events, spoken by Gabriel and Nina, who meet in a second-hand bookshop; trans. The Táin (2008); issued new collections On the Night Watch (2009) and Until Before Dark (2010); d. 6 Oct. 2019, of cancer; sometime winner of TS Eliot prize, the Irish Times Irish literature prize, the Cholmondeley award, and the Forward prize; Heaney called him ‘Hardy-handsome’; his last poems, written in the shadow of cancer, were published by Gallery as Still Life on 16 Oct. 2019; he was commemorated buy Derek Mahon in a poem called “A True Note” (in Washing Up, 2020). DIW DIL ORM HAM OCIL FDA

Photo by Manus Carson - Seamus Heaney Centre Garden (QUB)

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Poetry Collections Translations

The Insular Celts (1973)
The New Estate (1976)
The Lost Explorer (1978)
The Irish for No (1987)
Belfast Confetti
First Language (1993)
Letters from the Alphabet (1995)
Opera et Cetera (1996)
Alexandrine Plan (1998)
The Twelfth of Never (1998)
The Ballad of HMS Belfast (1999)
Breaking News (2003)
For All We Know (2008)
Collected Poems
On the Night Watch
Until Before Dark (2010)

Dante’s Inferno (2002)
The Midnight Court (2005)
The Táin: Translated from the Old Irish Epic (2007)


The Star Factory (1997)
Shamrock Tea (2001)
Exchange Place (2011)

Pocket Guide to Irish Traditional Music (1986)

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Poetry collections
  • The Insular Celts (Belfast: Ulsterman Publ. 1973), 20pp.
  • The New Estate (Belfast: Blackstaff; N. Carolina: Wake Forest UP 1976), and Do [new enl. edn.] as The New Estate and Other Poems (Dublin: Gallery 1988).
  • The Lost Explorer (Belfast: Ulsterman Publ. 1978), poetry pamphlet incl. poem “‘Patchwork”.
  • The Irish for No (Dublin: Gallery; NC: Wake Forest Up 1987; Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe 1988; rep. Gallery 1994), 61pp.
  • Belfast Confetti (Dublin: Gallery; Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe 1989, 1990, 1993), 108pp.
  • First Language: Poems (Dublin: Gallery 1993; Wake Forest UP 1994), 77pp. [inaugural winner of T. S. Eliot Award].
  • Letters from the Alphabet (Oldcastle, Meath: Gallery 1995) [ltd. edn. 500].
  • Opera et Cetera (Dublin: Gallery; Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe 1996) [incl. “Letters from the Alphabet”; “Opera”; “Et Cetera”; “Alibi”, versions from Romanian poet Stefan Augustin Doinas [prev. in John Farleigh, ed. Contemp. Romanian Poets- as infra].
  • The Alexandrine Plan (Dublin: Gallery 1998), 85pp.
  • The Twelfth of Never: Seventy-Seven Sonnets (Dublin: Gallery 1998), 85pp. [ded. to Paul Muldoon; & see note].
  • The Ballad of HMS Belfast: A Compendium of Belfast Poems (London: Picador; Dublin: Gallery 1999), 117pp.
  • Breaking News (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2003), 74pp. [commemorates William Howard Russell [1820-1907; q.v.].
  • For All We Know (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2008), 113pp.
  • On the Night Watch (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2009), 160pp.
  • Until Before Dark (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2010), 119pp.
  • Still Life (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2019), 76pp.; Do. (Wake Forest Univ. Press 2020), 87pp.
Collected editions
  • From Here to There: Selected Poems and Translations (Wake Forest University Press 2019), 208pp. [sel. by Paul Muldoon].
  • Collected Poems (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2008; Wake UP 2009), 592pp. [600pp.].
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  • Seo, Siúd, agus Siúd Eile / Here, There, and There Again (1986) [autobiog. of Carson’s father Liam McCarráin];
  • The Inferno of Dante Alighieri: A New Translation (London: Granta 2002), 296pp. [Introduction, xi-xxi; see infra].
  • The Midnight Court (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2005, 2007), 80pp.
  • The Táin: Translated from the Old Irish Epic Táin Bó Cuailnge (London: Penguin 2007), 224pp. [also NY: Viking 2007], and Do. [in pb.] as The Táin (Penguin 2008).

See also Squarci di notizie, a cura di Roberto Bertoni [Collana di poesia] (Torino: Trauben [2003], 135pp.

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  • Fishing for Amber: A Long Story (London: Granta 1999), viii, 360pp. [Antipodes; Berenice; Clepsydra; Delphinium; Ergot; Foxglove; Ganymede; Helicon; Io; Jacinth; Kipper; Leyden; Marigold; Nemesis; Opium; Pegasus; Quince; Ramification; Submarine; Tachygraphy; Undine; Veronica; Whereabouts; Xerox; Yarn; Zoetrope].
  • Shamrock Tea (London: Granta 2001), 308pp. [a novel].
  • The Star Factory (London: Granta 1997), 295pp. [autobiography; see infra].
  • The Pen Friend (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 2009), 256pp. [love stories].
  • Exchange Place (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 2012 [distrib. Gill & Macmillan; Dufour (USA)]), xi, 208pp. [detective stories]].
  • The Pocket Guide to Irish Traditional Music (Belfast: Appletree Press 1986).
  • The Falls (Dunston, Gateshead: Alan Godfrey 1989) [1 map; 37x56 cm., folded to 21x12 cm.; reduced from the original Ordnance Survey (1932) [with] Extracts from the Belfast & Ulster Directory, 1928, historical notes by Carson on verso].
  • with John Kindness, Belfast Frescoes (Belfast: Crowquill 1995), 40pp., 20 col. pls. [essay by Carson].
  • Last Night’s Fun: A Book About Irish Traditional Music (London: Jonathan Cape 1996), 198pp.
  • ed., The Yellow Nib: The Literary Journal of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry, Vol. 2 (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 2006), 128pp.
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Articles (selected)
  • ‘Escaped from the Massacre’ [review of Seamus Heaney, North], in Honest Ulsterman, 50 (Winter 1975), pp.184-86, rep. as ‘Sweeney Astray: Escaping from Limbo’, in Tony Curtis, ed. & intro., The Art of Seamus Heaney [1982] (Mid Glamorgan, Brigend: Poetry Wales Press; Chester Springs: Dufour Edns. 1985), pp.139-48[var. 141-48].
  • Review of Seamus Heaney’s Sweeney Astray (1983), in The Honest Ulsterman, No. 76 (Autumn 1984), pp.73-79.
  • Review of Gerald Dawe & Michael Longley, eds., Across the Roaring Hill (1985), in Belfast Telegraph (20 Aug. 1985).
  • ‘Hibernian Assumptions’, review of Thomas Kinsella, ed. The New Oxford Book of Irish Verse (OUP n.d.) in Irish Review (1986), pp.99-102.
  • ‘Escape from Oblivion’, in Irish Review, 6 (Spring 1989), pp.113-16.
  • ‘This is what libraries are for’, in The Dublin Review, 4 (Autumn 2001), pp.26-40.
Journals (ed.)
  • The Yellow Nib: The Literary Journal of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry, Vol. 3 (2007), x, 125pp.
  • trans. poems of in When the Tunnels Meet: Contemporary Romanian Poetry, ed. John Farleigh (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe 1996).
  • incl. in Gregory A. Schirmer, ed., After the Irish: An Anthology of Poetic Translation (Cork UP 2009).

[ Video: Ciaran Carson re-visits the Smithfield Markets, London - online. ]
Accessed 04.10.2020.

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  • Elmer Kennedy-Andrews, ed., Ciaran Carson: Critical Essays [Ulster University Symposium 2002] (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2009), 288pp. [see contents].
  • Neal Alexander, Ciaran Carson : Space, Place, Writing [Lirevpool English Texts & Studies, 58] (Liverpool UP 2011), 237pp [see contents].
  • Rand Brandes, ‘Ciaran Carson’ [interview], in Irish Review, No. 8 (Spring 1990), pp.77-90.
  • Frank Ormsby, ‘Interview with Ciaran Carson’, in Linen Hall Review, 8, 1 (April 1991), pp.5-8.
  • Neil Corcoran, ‘One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: Ciaran Carson’s The Irish for No’, in The Chosen Ground: Essays on the Contemporary Poetry of Northern Ireland, ed. Neil Corcoran (Brigend, Mid Glamorgan: Seren Books; Dufour 1992), pp.213].
  • Niall McGrath, interview with Ciaran Carson, in Edinburgh Review, 92 (1995), cp.64.
  • Kathleen McCracken, ‘Ciaran Carson: Unravelling the Conditional, Mapping the Provisional’, in Michael Kenneally, ed., Poetry in Contemporary Irish Literature (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1995), cp.354.
  • [Peter Sirr,] interview with Ciaran Carson, Graph, 2 (March 1996).
  • Patricia Horton, ‘From Romantic to Postmodern: Imagining the Real in the Work of Ciaran Carson’, in The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, 25, 1/2 (July/Dec. 1999), pp.337-51.
  • Neil Corcoran, ‘One step forward, two steps back: Ciaran Carson’s The Irish for No’, in Poets of Modern Ireland: Text, Context, Intertext (Wales UP 1999), pp.177-98.
  • Rita Kelly, ‘A Sinew of Memory’, review of The Ballad of HMS Belfast: A Compendium of Belfast Poems, in Books Ireland (March 2000), pp.64-65 [see extract].
  • Mitsuko Ohno, ‘Hokusai, Basho, Zen and More: Japanese Influences on Irish Poets’, in Journal of Irish Studies (IASIL-Japan), XVII (2002), pp.15-31; pp.19-20 [questionnaire-response].
  • Alan Gillis, ‘Ciaran Carson and History’, in Nicholas Allen & Aaron Kelly, ed. The Cities of Belfast (Four Courts Press 2003) [q.pp.].
  • Shane Murphy, ‘Sonnets, Centos and Long Lines: Muldoon, Paulin, McGuckian and Carson’, in Matthew Campbell, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Contemporary Irish Poetry (Cambridge UP 2003), pp.189-208.
  • Jonathan Highfield, ‘Archaeology of Reconciliation: Ciaran Carson’s Belfast Confetti and John Kindness’ Belfast Frescoes’, in Canadian Journal of Irish Studies (Fall 2002/Spring 2003), pp.168-87.
  • John Knowles, ‘Unexpected Carson’, review of Breaking News, in Fortnight (July/Aug. 2003), p.29 [see extract].
  • David Butler, ‘“Slightly Out of Synch”: Joycean Strategies in Ciaran Carson’s The Twelfth of Never’, in Irish University Review, Vol. 33, No. 2 (Autumn/Winter 2003), pp.337-55.
  • Peter McDonald, ‘Courage’s Brutal Core’, review of The Táin, in The Guardian (Sat. 27 Oct. 2007) [infra].
  • Elmer Kennedy-Andrews, ‘Ciaran Carson: The New Urban Poetics’, in Writing Home: Poetry and Place in Northern Ireland, 1968-2008 (Woodbridge: D. S. Brewer 2008), pp.203-24.
  • Maria Tymoczko, ‘Retranslating The Táin’, [review] in Irish Literary Supplement (Fall 2009), q.pp. [available online].
  • [...].
  • Eric Falci, ‘Carson’s city’, in Continuity and Change in Irish Poetry, 1966-2010 (Cambridge UP 2012), ix, 233pp. [Chap. 4].
  • Colin Graham, ‘“strange architecture”: Ciaran Carson’s Until Before After, in Irish University Review, 44:2 (2014), pp.1-71
  • Carle Bonafous-Murat, ‘Autobiography or case study? Rethinking Ciaran Carson’s poetry in the light of hypermnesia’, in Études anglaises, Vol. 66 (2013/14), pp.482-96 - available online; accessed 21.12.2022].
  • Naomi Marklew, ‘Remembering and Dismembering: Ciaran Carson's Elegies for Belfast’, in Irish University Review, 45:2 (Nov. 2015), pp.352-68 [available online - accessed 21.12.2022].
  • Tim Keane, ‘Phantasmal Belfast, Ancient Languages, Modern Aura in Ciaran Carson’s The Star Factory’, in Irish Urban Fictions, ed. Maria Beville & Deirdre Flynn (London: Palgrave 2018), pp.81-[105].
  • Wit Pietrzak, ‘For “feather” read &£147;father”: Death and Possibility in Paul Muldoon’s Paternal Elegies’, in Irish University Review, 51:2 (Nov. 2021) pp.312-28 [available online; accessed 21.12.2022].
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See also ...
  • Peter McDonald, Mistaken Identities: Poetry and Northern Ireland (Clarendon Press 1997), cp.62.
  • Shane Murphy, ‘Sonnets, Centos and Long Lines: Muldoon, Paulin, McGuckian and Carson’, in The Cambridge Companion to Contemporary Irish Poetry, Matthew Campbell (Cambridge UP 2003), [cp.203].
  • Alex Houen, Terrorism in Modern Literature: From Joseph Conrad to Ciaran Carson (Oxford: OUP 2005) [‘Conclusion: Re-placing Terror: Poetic Mappings of Northern Ireland’s “Troubles”’; earlier chaps. on deals with Conrad, Wyndam Lewis, Ezra Pound, and Walter Abish].
  • Elmer Kennedy-Andrews, Writing Home: Poetry and Place in Northern Ireland, 1968-2008 (Woodbridge: D. S. Brewer 2008) [q.pp.].
  • Colin Meir, review of Belfast Confetti, in Linen Hall Review, 8, 1 (Spring 1991), p.11.
  • John Montague, review of The Inferno of Dante Alighieri: A New Translation [... et al.], in The Irish Times (23 Nov. 2002), “Weekend” [extract].
  • C. L. Dallat, review of Breaking News [with Lake Geneva by Gerald Dawe], in The Guardian (Sat. 18 Oct. 2003) [extract].
  • Ross Moore, review of Still Lives, in Chicago Review, (4 May 2020)[available online].

See mult. al. under Commentary, infra.


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Elmer Kennedy-Andrews [Ulster U], ed., Ciaran Carson: Critical Essays [Ulster University Symposium 2002] (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2009), 284pp. CONTENTS: Introduction: For all I know - Ciaran Carson in conversation with Elmer Kennedy-Andrews; Peter Denman, Language and the prosodic line in Carson’s poetry; David Wheatley, “Pushed next to nothing”: Ciaran Carson’s ‘Breaking news’; John Goodby, “Walking in the city”: space, narrative and surveillance in ‘The Irish for no’ and ‘Belfast confetti’; Eamonn Hughes, “The mouth of the poem”: Carson and place; Stan Smith, “Cruising to the podes”: Ciaran Carson’s virtual realities; Michael McAteer, The word as object: commodification in the poetry of Ciaran Carson; Tim Hancock, Ciaran Carson: the spy in the superior turret; Patricia Horton, “Faery lands forlorn”: reading tradition in the poetry of Ciaran Carson; Frank Sewell, Carson’s carnival of language: the influence of Irish and the oral tradition; Ciaran O’Neill, Borrowed lines?: a reading of Ciaran Carson’s American influences; Jerzy Jarniewicz, Alphabets and labyrinths in Ciaran Carson’s ‘Fishing for amber’; Elmer Kennedy-Andrews, Carson, Heaney, and the art of getting lost; Alan Gillis, Acoustic perfume.

Neal Alexander [Aberystwyth U], Ciaran Carson : Space, Place, Writing [Lirevpool English Texts & Studies, 58] (Liverpool UP 2011), 237pp. CONTENTS: The Politics and Poetics of Space; Chapter 2: Mapping Belfast: Urban Cartographies; Chapter 3: Deviations from the Known Route: Reading, Writing, Walking; Chapter 4: Revised Versions: Place and Memory; Chapter 5: Spatial Stories: Narrative and Representation; Chapter 6: Babel-babble: Language and Translation; Bibliography; General Index; Index of Works.

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Clair Wills
Patricia Craig
Henry Hitchings
William A. Wilson
Neil Corcoran
David Wheatley
Brian Lynch
Rita Kelly
Richard Kirkland
John Goodby
John Kenny
Gregory Dart
Edna Longley
Barra Ó Séaghdha
John Montague
Kevin Kiely
John Knowles
Peter McDonald

Clair Wills, review of First Language (Oldcastle: Gallery 1994), 77pp.: ‘wonderful stuff, in the manner of the best of Carson’s work in The Irish for No, 1987’; Carson’s ironic stance towards the lessons of experience and towards authenticity in general, has similarities with his fellow Northern Irish poet Paul Muldoon, but unlike Muldoon (who is radically sceptical about truth, identity, “facts”, and suchlike), Carson for the most part retains a sense of himself as an individual who remembers, and holds on to the possibility of synthesising the fragments of memory into a coherent narrative.’ The first poem is in Irish. (Times Literary Supplement, March 1994.)

Patricia Craig, ‘A recorded delivery: Poets, singer, flautist, arts manager, and magical prose stylist [...]’, review of The Star Factory, in Independent [UK] (22 Nov. 1997): ‘What gives The Star Factory its unique flavour is the alteration of foot-off-the-ground narration - not to say a stellar perspecive, with the disembodied author hovering over the city like a recording angel - and donw-to-earth concern with specifics: the mames of businesses in the Corn Market, the hearths of houses (long demolished) in the Lower Falls, the smell of plaster pervading the half-rural housing estates.’ Further: ‘The Star Factory [...] plots not only the physical city, but also a good many of the myths, memorabilia, layers of social history and customs associated with it [...] a book to re-read and savour.’ See also Tom Adair, ‘Angels Voices under Black Mountain’, review of The Star Factory, in The Irish Times (?29 Nov. 1997).

Henry Hitchings, ‘Serendiptious city’, review of The Star Factory, Times Literary Supplement (12 Dec. 1997): quotes Carson’s account of Belfast as ‘ongoing, fractious city’; overwriting is rife; capable of finding poetry in unlikely places; enjoys grandiose claim; turns to John Ashbury for occasional inspiration; raids thesaurus, guidebook and dictionary’; […] ‘sucessful at conjuring an image of a city that is at once expansive and compact; nonetheless, the continual self-reflexive musings and frequent digressions into semantics convince the reader that this is a book marred by its author’s wilful artistry’. [END]

William A. Wilson, review of First Language (Irish Literary Supplement, Fall 1994); poems include ‘Grass’; ‘Two to Tango’; ‘Ark of the Covenant’; ‘Opus Operandi’; ‘Four Sonnets’ [‘you don’t have to know how a thing works to know it is nae working’];’Contract’; ‘Tak, Tak’]; ‘Second Language’ [‘what comes next is next, and no one knows the che sera of it’]; ‘Apparat’; ‘Mobile Ordinance [sic] Disposal Unit’; ‘All Souls’; ‘Opus 14’; ‘A Date Called Eat Me’; three poems based on Ovid’s Metamorphosis [Bk. V, 529-50, Bk. XIII, 439-575, and another following on from this.]

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Neil Corcoran, ‘Playing the oral against the literary, the long lines of his poems have something of the sustained, improvisatory panache of the Irish storyteller or seanchaí, always apoing the movement of the speaking voice in self-involved but audience-aware addres, repetitive, self-corrective, elliptical’ (Neil Corcoran, ‘“On Step Forward, Two Steps Back”: Ciaran Carson’s The Irish for No’, in Corcoran, ed., The Chosen Ground, Bridgend: Seren Books 1992, p.217). ‘Carson was [...] certain that the lyric tradtion needed to be disrupted if the Northern matter was to be adequately address.’ (Ibid., p.214.) ‘A resolutely urban poet, even when he strays into the Irish rus it is a squalidly depleted one: the Donegal-derelict rather than the Derry-lush of early Heaney or the Armagh-deciduous of Muldoon.’ (Ibid., p.216; cited in Daniel McAllister, ‘Subversion in the Poetry of Ciaran Carson’, UG Diss., UUC 2002.)

David Wheatley, review of The Alexandrine Plan, in “Poetry Now” column of The Irish Times (12 Sept. 1998), concentrates mainly on the qualities of the originals and commends Carson on a ‘splendid job’.

Brian Lynch, review of The Twelfth of Never (Gallery 1998), in Irish Times ( 27 March 1999): reproaches poet with unintelligibility and some phrasal ineptitude (‘the red hand played the harp with aors of quinquereme’); instances knowledge of Irish politics and history, espec. 1798, folklore, song, Hiberno-English and the religious practices of President Mrs. McAleese; ultimately commends collection as ‘a fine skillagalee’.

Rita Kelly, ‘A Sinew of Memory’, review of The Ballad of HMS Belfast: A Compendium of Belfast Poems, in Books Ireland (March 2000): Kelly remarks, ‘[This collection] is complex and ambitious in its undertakings. I am reminded of Keats, Wordsworth too, especially the Prelude, the long and winding narrative to take the reader beyond the first few lines, not to mention the first movement/This/ability/and need to tell the longer narrative in verse is refreshingly rare, in times where compression is all. We are at pains to squeeze the lyric poem in general and the sonnet in particular down to a very significant couplet. None of that attempt is bad in itself, it just makes the tumbling, breathless, overspilling lines of Carson’s alexandrines exciting to say the least. / This poet is in love with language - Latin, English, Irish, perhaps not so much Greek. He loves the exact word for everything, an Audi Quattro, a beehive, hair-do, breeze-block walls, bakelite, bread farrels, couplings, between carriages, flak, caesurae (which he rhymes with “slate-grey” to echo an old Irish metre), sheepshank and clove hitch knots, cleats and staves. You are taken up in his excitement, tossed on the “Briny Say” of his rich and rollicking imagination full of voices and vignettes, “Catestants and Protholics” and all the vistas and views, sounds and sensations of Belfast.(p.64.) [...] / Carson is certainly in the ambit of Joyce, the teeming detail, the love and adoration of that which is so well-known and absorbed into the sinew of memory. The rhythm is closer to the spill and tumble of Finnegans Wake than anything else.’ (pp.64-64; p.65.)

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Richard Kirkland: ‘By refusing to consider the rural as a psychic hinterland and maintaing a resolutely urban vision of human development, the labyrintine, ephemeral vision of the city [...] is allowed to function as a muse, thereby challenging a construction of the writer as saturated in the primordial past of an essentially agrarian community.’ (Literature and Culture in Northern Ireland Since 1965: Moments of Danger, Harlow: Longman 1996, p.42; cited in Daniel McAllister, ‘Subversion in the Poetry of Ciaran Carson’, UG Diss., UUC 2002.)

John Goodby: ‘Heaney - via his Keatsian style - and even Mahon (the door is that of a shed) are, it is suggested, too concerned with plenitude and aesthetic closure in their poetry to acknowledge the harsh realities of the Troubles or the Belfast lanscape in which they are largely) fought out.’ (Irish Poetry Since 1950: From Stillness Into History, Manchester UP, 2000, p.292); ‘Such novelistic discursivity sets Carson’s Belfast off from that of other Northern Irish poets; rather than seen as sterile, as ambiguous home, or as take-off point for the imagination, Belfast is a process - informing narrative and character in th elonger poems - a flow of destruction, alteration, rebuilding, albeit one largely shaped by bombings, military requirements, brutalistic town planning and a sectarian re-division of territory.’ (Ibid., p.293); ‘Even more than The Irish for No, the variou parts of Belfast Confetti rely for their meaning on thier intertextual status: separated from the other poems in the book, they inevitably lose some narrative resonance (again, the intrciate resistance to excerptibility is a gesture against the tradition of the free-standing lyric).’ (Ibid. p.294; all the foregoing cited in Daniel McAllister, ‘Subversion in the Poetry of Ciaran Carson’, UG Diss., UUC 2002.)

John Kenny, reviewing Shamrock Tea (London: Granta), 308pp., in The Irish Times, 17 March [2001], writes: ‘even more so than the two preceeding quasi-fictions, Shamrock Tea is a giddy mix of autobiography, folklore, myth, tall tale, anecdote, scholarship and the recognisably novelistic. The plot line is thin and incidental. A boy called Carson relates the story of a small period of his youthful education in and around Belfast and of his gradual edification in the ways of a peculiar hebal concoction called “shamrock tea”. The essence of the book lies more in the meanderings and divagations within the basic story, provided by Carson’s uncle Celestine, provider of lantern shows, smoker of powerful tobaccos, and repository of the arcance knowledge of the eponymous tea.’ / Hanging in Celestine’s study is jan van Eyck’s “Arnolofini Wedding” […]. Further, ‘Even if ostensibly weighted by intellectual ballast, there is a true jouissance in Shamrock Tea whereby lovingly and gleefully delivered learning unsettles received ideas and perceptions.’ Quotes: ‘I find I can lift the books from their shelves without touching them. One by one, they glide out frm the bays and stacks and cubicles, hovering spine upwards, their covers fluttering, drifting along the laddered aisles and corridors, congreagtating at the intersections, some already arriving from annexes and lower levels, shaking off the dust of centuries, creaking their leather-bound wings, all homing in on me, who am their saviour.’ [with photo-port.]

Gregory Dart, review of Shamock Tea (Granta), in Times Literary Supplement (20 April 2001), p.29: the narrator’s Uncle Celestine has a plan to smuggled Shamrock Tea into the Silent Valley reservoir supplying Belfast; quotes: ‘they will wash themselves in Shamrock Tea and be baptised in Shamrock Tea. They will see the world as it really is, a world in which everything connects; where the Many is One and the One is Many. There will be no division, for everything in the real world refers to something else, which leads to something else again, in a never-ending hymn of praise.’ Dart calls the structure of the book a ‘fluid mosaic’, each chapter being named after a particular colour; dates interpreted by the light of saints’ calendar; further remarks that ‘Catholicity is this book’s greatest strength but also its most serious weakness’; quotes, ‘the London picture [Arnolfini Marriage of Jan van Eyck] out of touch with its original location for centuries, exposed to the gaze of millions of unbelievers, has long since lost its power.’

Edna Longley, review-article on Georges Denis Zimmerman, The Irish Story teller (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2002), 633pp.; notes that Ciaran Carson’s collection The Irish for No (1987) acknowledges ‘John Campbell of Mullagbawn whose story-telling suggested [...] the narrative procedures of some of these poems’. Also quotes from Last Night’s Fun (1996), in which Carson evokes céilí culture: ‘the talk of the late Johnny Loughran, fiddle-player, singer, raconteur [...] labyrinthine, funny, scatty, precise, scathing talk that mixed modes and genres in the way céilí-ing itself did’. Further, from The Star Factory (1997): ‘I am there because I do not want his call of nature to interrup the story he’d been telling me’; ‘each telling of the story is a rehearsal and gains different subtleties of emphasis each time round’; ‘I see it like some instant-recall hologram [...] The writing fadea as instantly as it is written, but our too-slow brains retain its after-image on our retinas.’

Barra Ó Séaghdha, reviewing Jonn Brown, ed., In the Chair: Interviews with Poets from the North of Ireland (Salmon 2002), writes: Muldoon has always had the knack of inspiring awe among his peers and his elders. Ciaran Carson testifies to having written very little between 1976 and 1985: “Paul Muldoon was doing the thing so well, so why bother?” It is extraordinary that someone with Carson’s already proven gifts should have felt this, and fortunate that he was able to re-invent himself in collections like The Irish for No and Belfast Confetti.’ Further, Ciaran Carson has worked on 19th-century French poetry rather than on his contemporaries. It is arguable that there was a greater knowledge of European culture and languages among Irish writers of the pre-cappuccino era than among today’s young writers. In any case, it is worth asking just what our alleged Europeanness amounts to.’ (‘Ask Me Another One’, in Magill, July 2002, p.20.)

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John Montague, ‘A Towering inferno’, review of Ciaran Carson, The Inferno of Dante Alighieri: A New Translation (Granta), in The Irish Times ( 23 Nov. 2002 ) [q.p.]: ‘[...] More than any other poet. Carson has put present-day Belfast on the poetic map and he describes walking through Belfast while translating these Cantos, sensing the turmoil of cities, as Dante had done. Eliot criticised Pound’s Hell Cantos because, he said, they describe an abstract hell, for “other people”. But one has a strong sense of the contemporary reference of much of Carson’s Inferno, the Circle of the Grafters, for example. Indeed we have no lack of candidates for Hell these days, from righteous clerics to craven politicians to greedy bankers. The marvellous arrogance of Dante is that, encouraged by Virgil and sanctioned by Bruneto within his own poem, he predicts the recogntion of his version of the divine vision. Although it would be a century before Boc[c]accio, univerally recognised as the father of modern Italian prose, came to vindicate him in their native Florence, which would have killed Dante and his sons had he ventured back during his lifetime. Boccaccio’s homage has also appeared in a welcome new translation.’ (See full text, infra.)

Kevin Kiely, review of Ciaran Carson, The Inferno of Dante Alighieri (Granta), in Books Ireland (March 2003), notes clear echo of Belfast as Dante and his guide Virgil discuss the troubles in Florence in Canto VI: ‘what holds the future for the citizens/of my divided city? Is there one just man/in it? Or are they all sectarians?’; remarks on ‘the odd colloquialism’ in place of ‘Belfastese’; also notes awkward inversions; avers that Carson ‘does not spoil’ the ‘potency’ [sic] of the Ugolino episode of Canto XXXIII.

John Knowles, ‘Unexpected Carson’, review of Breaking News, in Fortnight (July/Aug. 2003), p.29: ‘Breaking News is perhaps Ciaran Carson’s most unexpected collection since The Irish for No. Unexpected, not least because it breaks decisively with the long lines that have marked most of his work from that collection on; unexpected also in its subject matter. Balaclava Street gets a mention in The Irish for No, but much of this collection takes its starting point not just from Balaclava, but from the entire Crimean War. [...] The collection begins at least on familiar ground. In the first poem, “Belfast”, the yellow of a whin (not gorse) bush is paired with the yellow shipyard cranes of Harland & Wolff in a poem which echoes both early Irish lyric and John Hewitt’s Gloss, on the difficulties of translation. The cranes appear under the single word “east”. For “west” we have red and blue in a reversal of colour iconography, as a black taxi rusts in a field of thistles. The short poems of much of this collection borrow as as much though from William Carlos Williams, as they do early Irish lyric. Many of the poems are as stripped down as anything Williams ever wrote, most of them placing only one, two or three words on a line. / The interest in Williams is not superficial. [...] The Anglo-Irish Russell provides a link to William Carlos Williams in his concentration on description and the visual. Russell’s dispatches to The Times were effective in changing public attitudes to the Crimean War precisely because they didn’t comment or editorialise, but instead presented the nature of the war in exhaustive arid unremitting detail. Where Williains is often brief though, Russell is expansive. The dispatches collected in his volume The War, give page after page of continuous descriptive detail. “In many instances” Carson says in his endnote, “I have taken his words verbatim, or changed them only slightly ...” and his poems themselves become much more expansive under the influence of Russell’s prose. Often they break into long lists, detailing the contents of ransacked houses for example, or abandoned military equipment. At times the prevailing sense of aftermath and destruction is counterpointed with extensive lists of wildflowers and birds. [...] In the Russell poems, Carson has found a way of retaining the hyperrealism and density of language of’ those [recent] collections, but combining it nonetheless with something else - the unblinking desire to take on the chaos and waste of war. / In the process some, elements which have seemed to characterise Carson’s poetry have been sacrificed. Something of this interest in storytelling remains in “The Indian Mutiny” and “The War Correspondent”, but otherwise is absent. / Sacrificed too, is the sense of a contemporary vernacular, and much of his direct concern with language and translation between languages. He has found though, a new way to look and record. To look, above all without looking away.’ Cites poems “Campaign”, “Waste Not”, as “The Gladstone Bar, circa 1954”, even in its title picks tip on “Horse at Balaclava, 1854”, “Gallipoli”, “The Indian Mutiny” and the seven-poems sequence “The War Correspondent”.

Peter McDonald, ‘Courage’s Brutal Core’, review of Ciarán Carson, The Táin, in The Guardian (Sat., 27 Oct. 2007): ‘Ciaran Carson’s decision to undertake the Táin is, in the light of Kinsella, a brave one; it is also, as it turns out, entirely justified. Carson hopes that his new translation “will be taken as a tribute” to Kinsella. This is only right, for Carson, like many another Irish poet, has been indebted over the years to something in the bleak but dignified austerity of the Kinsella Táin when writing about the complex, embittered and bloody manifestations of tribal conflict altogether closer to his own time. Kinsella staked a literary claim for the Táin not as a historical curiosity but as a classic text; and one test of such status is a text’s ability to demand and sustain repeated translations over the years. [...] Carson’s rendering of this transformation is just right: its straightforwardness makes sure the outlandish details remain terrifying: “His heart belled against his ribs like a bloodhound guldering for its food, or a lion roaring through bears.” That Ulster “guldering” outstrips Kinsella’s rather tame “baying of a watch-dog”; and the more direct Carson becomes in effects like these, the more horrifyingly vivid Cú Chulainn’s deeds become. The Táin is a saga of extreme violence, in which there is everything from grandeur and high style to black jokes and sexual earthiness. Carson’s translation does justice to all these elements. [...] Carson’s Táin, as natural in style as it is unflinching, is a translation of power, grace and resonance.’ [End; (For full text see RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

Maria Tymoczko, ‘Retranslating The Tain’, [review] in Irish Literary Supplement (Fall 2009), q.pp.: Occasionally Carson takes a very striking locution from the earlier translation, for instance following Kinsella in translating Fedelm’s prophecy “Atchiu forderg, atchiu ruad” as “I see it crimson, I see it red.” Here forderg is literally, “very (bloody) red,” referring to the red of newly-shed blood, and ruad is the darker red of blood stains. “Crimson” does not appear as a translation for forderg in the Dictionary of the Irish Language; it would be surprising in the extreme for two translators to independently settle on crimson as a translation of forderg. / Carson’s dependence on Kinsella almost certainly makes his translation weaker than it would otherwise be. [...] Carson moves back and forth between the two early manuscripts of TBC in precisely the way Kinsella does, Carson essentially reproduces Kinsella’s conception, vision, and reading of the text. In translation as in scholarship, one can view this sort of reproduction in a number of ways - as coincidence, as plagiarism, as imitation, as refraction or rewriting, as borrowing, as a knock-off, as fair use, as piracy, as sloppy attribution, or as watering-down. However one views it, the source text of Carson’s translation seems to be as much Kinsella’s Tain as the early Irish words in the two medieval Irish versions of TBC. For the small difference in price, you might as well buy Kinsella’s version itself and get the Louis le Brocquy drawings in the bargain. (For full text see RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

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Poems given in Poetry Foundation
Campaign Collaboration Eesti The Fetch
H Jacta Est Alea Labuntur et Imputantur The New Estate
The Story of Madame Chevalier     Vox et Praeterea Nihil

Last lines in Still Life (2019)

And I loved the buzz of the one-bar electric heater as a bus
        or truck passed by,
And I loved the big windows and whatever I could see
        through them, be it cloudy or clear,
And the way they trembled and thrilled to the sound of
        the world beyond.

—Quoted in Ross Moore, review of Still Lives, in Chicago Review, (4 May 2020) [available online].

See Carson on his father’s acquisition of Irish with the effect that his children with Mary Maginn became first-language Irish speakers - under Liam Mac Carráin - q.v.

The Insular Celts”: ‘[...] yet their death, since it is no real / death, will happen over again / and again, their bones will seem still // to fall in the hail beneath hooves / of horses, their limbs will drift down / as the branches that trees have loosed. // We cannot yet say why or how / they could not take things as they were. / Some day we will learn of how / their bronze swords took the shape of leaves; / their gold spears are found in cornfields,/their arrows are found in trees.’ (rep. in John Montague, ed., Faber Book of Irish Verse, 1974; for full text, see attached.)

Army”: ‘The duck patrol is waddling down the odd-number side of Raglan / Street, / The bass-ackwards private at the rear trying not to think of a third / eye / Being drilled in the back of his head. Fifty-five. They stop. The / head / Peers round, then leaps the gap of Balaclava Street. He waves the / body over / One by one. Forty-nine. Cape Street. A gable wall. Garnet Street. / A gable wall. / Frere Street. Forty-seven. Forty-five-and-a-half. Milan Street. A / grocer’s shop. / They stop. They check their guns. Thirteen. Milton Street. An iron / lamp-post. / Number one. Ormond Street. Two ducks in front of a duck and two / ducks / Behind a duck, how many ducks? Five? No. Three. This is not the end.’ (For full text, see attached.)

Céilí”: ‘If there was a house with three girls in it, / It only took three boys to make a dance. / You’d see a glimmer where McKeown’s once was / And follow it till it became a house. / But maybe they’d have gone on, up the hill / To Loughran’s, or made across the grazing, / Somewhere else. All those twistings and turnings, / Crossroads and dirt roads and skittery lanes: / You’d be glad to get in from the dark. / And when you did get in, there’d be a power / Of poteen. A big tin creamery churn, / A ladle, those mugs with blue and white bars. / Oh, good and clear like the best of water. / The music would start up. This one ould boy / would sit by the fire and rosin away, / Sawing and sawing till it fell like snow. / That poteen was quare stuff. At the end of / The night you might be fiddling with no bow. / When everyone was ready, out would come / The tin of Tate and Lyle’s Golden Syrup, / A spoon or a knife, a big farl of bread. / Some of those same boys wouldn’t bother with / The way you were supposed to screw it up. / There might be courting going on outside, / Whisperings and cacklings in the barnyard; / A spider thread of gold-thin syrup / Trailed out across the glowing kitchen tiles / Into the night of promises, or broken promises.’ (For full text, see attached.)

Bloody Hand”: ‘Your man, says the Man, will walk into the bar like this – here his fingers / Mimic a pair of legs, one stiff at the knee – you’ll know exactly / What to do. He sticks a finger to his head. Pretend it’s child’s play – / The hand might be a horse’s mouth, a rabbit or a dog. Five handclaps. / Walls have ears: the shadows you throw are the shadows you try to throw off. / I snuffed out the candle between finger and thumb. Was it the left / hand / Hacked off at the wrist and thrown to the shores of Ulster? Did Ulster / Exist? Or the Right Hand of God, saying Stop to this and No to that? / My thumb is the hammer of a gun. The thump goes up. The thump / goes down.’ (For full text, see attached.)

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Belfast Confetti (1989), ‘Suddenly as the riot squad moved in, it was raining exclamation marks, / Nuts, bolts, mails, car-keys. A font of broken type. And the explosion / Itself - an asterisk on the map. This hyphenated line, a burst of rapid fire / […] / I was trying to complete a sentence in my head, but it kept stuttering.’ (Quoted in Edna Longley, ‘Poetic Forms and Social Malformations’, in The Living Stream: Literature and Revisionism in Ireland, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe 1994, p.211.)

Dante’s Inferno (2002): ‘Onwards by a secret path inclined / Between the ramparts and the fires / my master went, my good self close behind. // “Oh powerful medium, who through the gyres / of hell conduct me with your guiding light”, I said, “some information I desire: // those people in the burial chambers, might / they be seen? since all the lids are off, / and no attendant seems to guard the site.” // And he: “All shall be sealed, and rendered safe, / when they return here from the Vale of Judgement / with the bodies they have left above. // Entombed in this particular department / Epicurus and his gang, who’d have it / that the soul dies, when the body’s spent. // As for your question, an appropriate reply / Is soon forthcoming ...”.’

Dante’s Inferno (2002) cont.: ‘Just after leaving him, I saw these two / Packed so into one hole that this one’s head served as the other’s hat, though slightly skew; // and like a starving man devouring bread the upper chewed the nape of him below; / on bits of brain and spinal cord he fed // like Tydeus who in his dying throe / of rage, enjoyed the skull of Menalippus, / attacking his brow, and other bits, with gusto.’ (Quoted in Paul Muldoon, ‘Books of the Year’, Times Literary Supplement, 6 Dec. 2002 - see under Muldoon, Notes, infra). See also Carson on ‘Translating Dante’ - infra].


I fear the vast dimensions of eternity.
I fear the gap between the platform and the train.
I fear the onset of a murderous campaign.
I fear the palpitations caused by too much tea.
I fear the drawn pistol of a rapparee.
I fear the books will not survive the acid rain.
I fear the ruler and the blackboard and the cane.
I fear the Jabberwock, whatever it might be.
I fear the bad decisions of a referee.
I fear the only recourse is to plead insane.
I fear the implications of a lawyer’s fee.
I fear the gremlins that have colonized my brain.
I fear to read the small print of the guarantee.
And what else do I fear? Let me begin again.

—from The Twelfth of Never, 1998 [posted on Facebook by Eunice Yeates (08.02.2016.)

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Je Reviens”: ‘Nice perfume, I said. Yes, you said, the last time I saw you. / What is it about it? I said. The House of Worth, you said, / 1932. My mother would have been seventeen. / It’s the scent GIs in Paris would buy for their girl-friends/ as a promise that they would return when demobilized. / That some did not goes without saying. I come again, / Je reviens. The overall effect [...].’ (“Two Poems” [I], in The Times Literary Supplement, 23 Nov. 2007, p.8: see full text - as attached.)

L’Air du Temps”: ‘That whiff of L’Air du Temps I got back then in the wardrobe - / I remember when I first registered that primal scent, / whence the symbolism of the pair of intertwining doves, / and the frosted glass bottle that made you think of Paris / under a cloudless winter sky, as I did of your blouse / of pale pastel blue, so crisp and clean and near transparent. [...]’ (“Two Poems” [II], in The Times Literary Supplement, 23 Nov. 2007, p.8; see full text - as attached.)


Horse Boyle was called Horse Boyle because of his brother Mule;
Though why Mule was called Mule is anybody’s guess. I stayed there once,
Or rather, I nearly stayed there once. But that’s another story.
At any rate they lived in this decrepit caravan, not two miles out of Carrick,
Encroached upon by baroque pyramids of empty baked bean tins, rusts
And ochres, hints of autumn merging into twilight. Horse believed
They were as good as a watchdog, and to tell you the truth
You couldn’t go near the place without something falling over:
A minor avalanche would ensue - more like a shop bell, really,


See full text - as attached.

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For All We Know”: ‘It’s because we were brought up to lead double lives, you said. / You were lying next to me, both of us verging on sleep. / We always had to withhold ourselves from the other side, / Guarding our tongues lest we answer to their outspoken laws. [...] For you’d learned where you came from to choose your words carefully.’ (Quote in Hugh McFadden, review in Books Ireland, Summer 2008, p.150.)

The Star Factory (1997): ‘Sometimes the city is an exploded diagram of itself, along the lines of a vastly complicated interactive model aircraft kit whose components are connected by [sprued] plastic latitudes and longitudes. At the same time it mutates like a virus, its programme undergoing daily shifts of emphasis and detail. Its parallels are bent by interior temperatures; engine nacelles become gun pods; sometimes, a whole wing takes on a different slant. Everything is redolent of glue scorpion-tailed tubes of it are scattered everywhere - and I almost drowsed in its unguent aroma, till I felt my vision being clarified and heightened. Now that I can see the city’s microscopic bits transfixed by my attention, I wonder how I might assemble them, for there is no instruction leaflet; I must write it.’ (p.15.)

The Star Factory - further: ‘I had exhausted the Falls Road Library’s stock of “Biggles” books and, looking further afield for more stories of the intrepid British pilot, I explored the Shankill Road branch as well as the Donegall Road; though both lay in alien territory, they were agents of the same confederacy [...] These libraries, for me, were the points of a star or a compass, important navigational beacons in the city I few over nightly.’ (pp.258-59; both the foregoing quoted in quoted in Elaine Kelly, UG Diss., UU 2006.)

Fishing for Amber (London; Granta Books, 1999), retelling of the death of Eurydice [after Ovid]: ‘He stepped out naked from the darkness. He smiled at her. She held her breasts. She faltered back a step. She turned. Through moonlit groves and dew-drenched grass she ran. She heard the breathing of the god behind her. A snake was hidden in the grass. She stepped on it, and slithered over it, and instantly it flickered forth its fangs, and bit her on the heel. She fell. She died before the god of olive oil and wine could taste her living soul. / So Orpheus found her stone dead. He took up his lyre and sang his grief to all who breathed the upper air, both gods and men. He sang to the lions, whose animal ferocity might bring her back to life. He sang to the very trees, that they might, by their power of shoot and leaf, resuscitate her. It was all of no avail. When every plea had been rejected, he descended by the Taenarus portal to the Stygian realm. There, through unsubstantial throngs and ghosts of former beings long since buried, he moved, feeling them sometimes breathe invocations in his ear, or touch his eyelids with their clammy fingers. At last he reached the throne of Pluto and Persephone, the guardians of that dreary region of the dead. (p.77; quoted in Michael Hinds, ‘Micromorphoses: The Sack of Ovid’, in Hinds et al., eds., Michael Hinds, Peter Denman & Margaret Kelleher, eds., ed., The Irish Readers: Essays for John Devitt, Clonliffe: Otier Press [Mater Dei] 2007, p.54.).

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Traditional music: ‘I get bored and angry with those who protest that traditional music, compared with the “big” tradition of classical music, is limited. By the same token a lot of classical music is histrioniic and vulgar. I often think that people don’t listen enough, or that their education has made them incapable of listening [...] and the same thing can apply to poetry - a lot of poets, it seems to me, are unaware of the beauty and sophistication of “ordinary” speech.’ (Frank Ormsby, interview with Ciaran Carson, in Linen Hall Review, April 1991, p.7; cited in McAllister, op. cit. 2002.)

Present tense: ‘I think all the longer poems being in the present tense, suggesting that their stories are being told now; but of course they then proceed to go and shoot off all over the place, drifting backwards and forwards through time.’ (Interview with Frank Ormsby, in Linen Hall Review, 8. 1, 1991, p.5; cited in in Daniel McAllister, ‘Subversion in the Poetry of Ciaran Carson’, UG Diss., UUC 2002.)

Writing in English: ‘I write in English because the Irish that I spoke was the Irish of the home and I wouldn’t be able to wwrite in the same way in Irish as I can in the English I have. If I were to write in Ireland I’d have to go back and learn it all over again very well. And I feel at times that the idea that I should writin in Irish because it’s the language of the Irish soul or someting like this is a bit off, anyway.’ (Niall McGrath, interview with Ciaran Carson, in Edinbrugh Review, Vol. 92 1995), cp.64; quoted in in Daniel McAllister, ‘Subversion in the Poetry of Ciaran Carson’, UG Diss., UUC 2002.)

Ní hea: ‘There’s no world in Irish for No. Nor is there one for Yes. Of course you can express assent or dissent, but in a slightly roundabout way. You have to reply in the very [way] in which the question was asked. For example, “have you eaten yet?” and you reply “I have eaten” or “I have not eaten”, except you leave out the “I” which strikes me as important. All this implies conversation and alternatives. There can be no brutal “noes” since any conversation implies deference to the terms of that conversation.’ (Rand Brandes, ‘Ciaran Carson’, in Irish Review, Spring 1994, p.84.)

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Belfast City: ‘For years I’ve had a series of recurrent dreams about Belfast - nightmares, sometimes, or dreams of containment, repression, anxiety and claustoprophia [...] often, I’m lost in an ambiguous labyrinth betweenthe Falls and the Shankill; at other times, the city is idealised and takes on a Gothic industrial beauty.’ (Interview with Frank Ormsby, in Linen Hall Review, Spring 1991, p.5.) ‘In the 1950s the Falls and the Shankill were very near to one another; one could slip quite easily form one to the other. And there was a shared industrial landscape. Mills, factories, lots of coal-smoke.’ (In John Brown, ed., In the Chair: Interviews with Poets from Northern Ireland, Salmon Publ. 2002, p.124; see also quotations from The Star Factory, 1997, supra; both the foregoing quoted in Elaine Kelly, UG Diss., UU 2006.)

Pub-talk: ‘I’ve heard my own work denigrated as being mere pub-talk. If that’s the case, I’m very happy with the comparison. Any poetry which confines itself to the merely literary is half-dead. And I enjoy pubs a lot more than poetry readings.’ (Brandes, op. cit., 1994, p.89; the foregoing cited in McAllister, op. cit. supra, 2002.)

Puzzling stuff: ‘I often think that people don’t listen enough, or that their education has made them incapable of listening ... and the same thing can apply to poetry - a lot of poets, it seems to me, are unaware of the beauty and sophistication of “ordinary” speech ..’. Further, ‘... the long narrative thing appeals to me ... I was pleased that some people told me they’d read Belfast Confetti as they would a novel, from beginning to end. Certainly, the intention was to make a very structured book, in which any part of it would refer to another part ... a kind of pin-ball machine narrative. Oddly enough, the idea for a structure didn’t arrive until most of the material had been written - one of those simple illuminations you get in the small hours of the morning. And then I went back over it all and altered some bits accordingly. Mind you, I sometimes think that that sort of deliberation is a bad thing - crossword puzzle stuff ...’ (Ciaran Carson interview, in Linen Hall Review, April 1991.)

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Hibernian Assumptions’, review of Kinsella, ed. with trans. by, The New Oxford Book of Irish Verse (OUP n.d.) [Carson finds that the substitution of Kinsella’s new translations for existing ones has the result that ‘we are dispossessed of a whole tradition, perfectly good versions, or versions that have, for better or worse, entered the language, are cast into exterior darkness, works by Kuno Meyer, Douglas Hyde, Frank O’Connor, Robin Flower and Flann O’Brien, [...] Pearse escapes this Last Judgement because of his beatification through martyrdom ... &c.’], Irish Review (1986), pp.99-102.

Local colour: ‘Can Belfast re-invent the past?: Bars and back lanes’, Ciaran Carson on lost local colour, in ‘Whose City? Visions of Belfast’, supplement with Fortnight 381 (March 1996), p.18.

Remembering the 1960s: ‘It goes as follies [follows] ... a memoir of the sixties’ (Causeway, Spring 1966, pp.14-17); Carson goes on to trace his early folk-music experiences; speaks of Leadbelly, Bob Dylan (heir to Woodie Guthrie), and learning folk guitar from Pete Seegar’s instructional LP; adduced quotations from J. W. Dunne’s An Experiment with Time to back the late adolescent belief that everything is relative; Young Communist League; Bet [Burt] Jansch; John Renbourne’s ‘Angie’; Joan Baez Songbook; joins Queen’s Folk Music Club; meets ‘boys up from the country, from the far flung sheughs of Tyrone and Fermanagh, or at the very least, boys from Belfast who had heard the real thing, and learned jigs and reels and songs in accents all their own, or a close approximation to them’ (17); Salisbury St. before its downfall.

Translating Dante (Inferno, 2002): ‘Translating ostensibly from Italian, Tuscan or Florentine, I found myself translating as much from English, or various Englishes. Translation became a form of reading, a way of making the poetry of Dante intelligible to myself. An exercise in comprehension: “Now tell the story in your own words.” What are my own words? I found myself wondering how one says what one means in any language, or how one knows what one means. I found myself pondering the curious and delightful grammar of English, and was reminded that I spoke Irish (with its different, curious and delightful grammar) before I spoke English. / I thought of the Irish ballad-makers of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries ‘whose songs in English reflect the internal assonance and rhyme of Irish language poetry.’ (p.xx.) Carson here quotes remarks from Hugh Shield’s Narrative Singing in Ireland (Dublin 1993), and continues: ‘[...] when I began looking into the Inferno, it occurred to me that the measures and assonances of the Hiberno-English ballad might provide a model for translation. It would allow for sometimes extravagant alliteration, for periphrasis and inversion to accomodate the rhyme, and for occasional assonance instead of rhyme; it could accommodate rapid shifts of register. So I tried to write a terza rima crossed with ballad.’ (Ibid., p.xxi.) Of the language of the Inferno: ‘[...] the Italian or the Florentine of the Inferno, as far as I can read it, has a relentless, peripatetic, ballad-like energy, going to a music which is by turns melllifluous and rough, taking in both formal discourse and the language of the streeet. It moves from place to place, as Dante walked through Italy, as he walked through the Inferno. / As I walked the streets of Belfast, I wanted to get something of that music’.

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John Montague, ed., Faber Book of Irish Verse (London: Faber & Faber 1974), selects ‘The Insular Celts’ [infra]

Peter Fallon & Seán Golden, Soft Day, a miscellany of contemporary Irish writing (Dublin: Wolfhound Press; Indiana: Notre Dame UP 1980), incls. ‘The Insular Celts’; ‘The Half-Moon Lake’; ‘Soot’.

Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 3, selects from The Irish For No, “The Irish For No” [1405]; also “Belfast Confetti”, “Clearance”, [1406]; BIOG, 1435.

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Patrick Crotty, ed., Modern Irish Poetry: An Anthology (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 1995), selects “Dresden” [308]; “Cocktails” [313]; “The Mouth” [313]; “Hamlet” [314]; “Ovid: Metamorphoses, V,” [529-550” [317]; “Bagpipe Music” [317].

Books in Print (1994): The Insular Celts (Belf, Ulsterman Publ. 1973); The New Estate (Belfast: Blackstaff; N. Carolina: Wake Forest UP 1976) 085640 081 5]; enl. ed. (Blackstaff 1988) [1 85235 032 6]; The Irish for No (Dublin: Gallery; N. Carolina: Wake Forest UP 1987) [1 85235 017 2]; Belfast Confetti (Belfast: Blackstaff 1989, 1991) [1 85235 042 3 pb]; First Language (Dublin: Gallery 1993) [1 85235 128 4 pb]; also The Lost Explorer (Belfast: Ulsterman Publ. 1978) [NO ISBN].

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An honest Ulsterman: Ciaran Carson has published extensively in The Honest Ulsterman, espec. issues 24-85, and again in 95 (see Tom Clyde, ed., Honest Ulsterman, Author Index, 1995).

Twelfth of Never (1998) echoes a line in Opera et Cetera (1996) from the poem “Letters from an Alphabet - T”, ending: ‘You remember [...] of what we talked, and you were smoking Passing Clouds? / That dim sum place, whatever / It was called? The silly names we gave each other? / No? “The Twelfth of Never”?’ (p.30) - and also from “Z", ending ‘You will get whatever message is inside. It is for all time. Its postmark is “The Twelfth of Never”.’ (Ibid., p.36.)

Plaudit: Carson’s poem “Hamlet” was applauded by Kevin Myers in “An Irishman’s Diary” (Irish Times, 20 May 1998) as the best poem about Belfast and the Troubles.

University of Ulster (Central Library, Coleraine) catalogue gives variant date of birth as 1944.

Whose Words These Are ...”: Some Aspects of Poetry and Translation’, a lecture by Ciaran Carson, 5.00 p.m., Wed. 4th May 2005, Harty Room, School of Music, QUB

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