About Ciaran Carson
Ciaran Carson (b. 1948 – d. 2019) was the author of nine books of poetry and four prose works, and the winner of several awards including the Irish Times Irish Literature Prize, the T. S. Eliot Prize and the Forward Prize for Best Poetry Collection for Breaking News in 2003. His translation of Dante’s Inferno won the Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize, and he was an honorary member of the Irish Translators’ and Interpreters’ Association. He held positions in the Traditional Music and Literature departments of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland between 1975 to 1998, and was the Founding Director of the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen’s University, Belfast until his retirement in 2016.
When Carson said “I write in English, but the ghost of Irish hovers behind it; and English itself is full of ghostly presences,” (‘The Other’) he was suggesting two influences on his poetry: his bilingual upbringing, and an unusual alertness to language. The poetry is at home in an Irish tradition, able to allude as easily to Louis MacNeice (in ‘Snow’) as to Pangur Ban (in ‘Catmint Tea’). Language itself is also clearly a fascination – he twice wrote a sequence through the alphabet, first in the usual letters, then in the police radio alphabet. But he also shows language being used to enforce, to spy, and – broken into its almost meaningless constituent parts – to commit physical violence, when the bomb in ‘Belfast Confetti’ is loaded with not only ironmongery but “a fount of broken type.” Violence, or its effects, often makes an appearance in Carson’s poetry, whether this is found in historical warfare or the more recent conflicts of Northern Ireland. Indeed, Carson’s use of the street names of Belfast that allude to these battles – “Balaclava, Raglan, Inkerman, Odessa Street” – underlines the violence of the Troubles. But there is still play here, as in the perspectiveless litany of ‘Fear’.
The poems in his Archive recording represent both the long, fluent line characteristic of Carson’s earlier work, and the spikier delivery of his later poetry’s brittle, briefer form; his reading puts across the natural flow of the former, or the weight of each word in the latter, in composed Belfast tones. It’s a voice that emphasises, without histrionics, the reality of the content.
His recording was made on 29 April 2003 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.