Carson, Ciaran

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CARSON, Ciaran

Nationality: Irish. Born: Belfast, Ireland, 9 October 1948. Education: Queens University, Belfast, B.A. Family: Married Deirdre Shannon in 1982; two sons and one daughter. Career: Since 1975 traditional arts officer, Arts Council of Northern Ireland. Awards: Eric Gregory award; Alice Hunt Bartlett award; Irish Time/ Aer Lingus award. Address: Arts Council of Northern Ireland, 181 A Stranmills Road, Belfast BT9 5DU, Northern Ireland.



The New Estate. Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Wake Forest University Press, 1976.

The Irish for No. Dublin, Gallery Press, 1987.

The New Estate, and Other Poems. Oldcastle, Meath, Gallery Press, 1988.

Belfast Confetti. Madison, Wisconsin, Silver Buckle Press, 1993.

First Language: Poems. Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Wake Forest University Press, 1994.

Letters from the Alphabet. Oldcastle, Meath, Gallery Press, 1995.

Opera Et Cetera. Oldcastle, Meath, Gallery Press, and Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Wake Forest University Press, 1996.

The Twelfth of Never. Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Wake Forest University Press, and Oldcastle, Meath, Gallery Press, 1998.

Fishing for Amber. London, Granta, 1999.

The Ballad of HMS Belfast: A Compendium of Belfast Poems. Oldcastle, Meath, Gallery Press, 1999.


Irish Traditional Music. Belfast, Appletree Press, 1986.

Last Night's Fun: A Book about Irish Traditional Music. London, Jonathan Cape, 1996; as Last Night's Fun: In and Out of Time with Irish Music, New York, North Point Press, 1997.

The Star Factory. London, Granta, 1997; New York, Arcade, 1998.

The Alexandrine Plan: Versions of Sonnets by Baudelaire, Mallarmé, and Rimbaud. Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Wake Forest University Press, and Loughcrew, Ireland, Gallery Press, 1998.


Critical Studies: "Threaders of Double-Stranded Words: News from the North of Ireland" by John Drexel, in New England Review and Bread Loaf Quarterly (Middlebury, Vermont), 12(2), winter 1989; "One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: Ciaran Carson's 'The Irish for No'" by Neil Corcoran, in The Chosen Ground: Essays on the Contemporary Poetry of Northern Ireland, edited by Neil Corcoran, Bridgend, Seren, 1992; "The Dismembering Muse: Seamus Heaney, Ciaran Carson, and Kenneth Burke's 'Four Master Tropes'" by Rand Brandes, in Bucknell Review (Cranbury, New Jersey), 38(1), 1994; "Ciaran Carson's Parturient Partition: The 'Crack' in MacNeice's 'More Than Glass'" by Guinn Batten, in Southern Review (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 31(3), summer 1995; "'Everything Provisional': Fictive Possibility and the Poetry of Paul Muldoon and Ciaran Carson" by Jonathan Allison, in Etudes Irlandaises (Sainghinen en Melantois, France), 20(2), autumn 1995; "Earth Writing: Seamus Heaney and Ciaran Carson" by John Kerrigan, in Essays in Criticism, 48(2), 1998; "The Evolving Art of Ciaran Carson" by Ben Howard, in Shenandoah, 48(1), spring 1998.

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Ciaran Carson's first book, The New Estate, was quiet in tone, with evocations of "The Insular Celts" and the monastic life of Saint Ciaran, his namesake. But present-day Belfast intruded with "The Bomb Disposal," a backdrop where "the city is a map of the city/Its forbidden areas changing daily." In time this would become Carson's main theme. In The Irish for No and Belfast Confetti, he is the laureate of a city

   where nothing is permanent.
   When someone asks me where I live, I remember where I used to live.
   Someone asks me for directions, and I think again. I turn into
   A side-street to try to throw off my shadow, and history is changed.

After more than a decade of brooding Carson had found ways to deal with a nearly impossible subject, the urban violence of the late twentieth century, Belfast as Beirut. One way is the long, meandering line of the storyteller. Carson is a traditional musician who has learned how to introduce the wandering note that, as in the slow air, seems lost before it surfaces again. Thus a rural art is transposed to the grim world of Belfast pub life, with its details of blasts and deaths.

Carson also expands or shrinks the sonnet form to suit the harsh material. In his later work, First Language and Letters from the Alphabet, he proceeds from the breaking down of buildings to the breaking down of language. Ovid and Rimbaud are drafted into this deft enterprise, the most extensive and elaborate linguistic display since Austin Clarke. Now he has moved from Saint Ciaran to the Ulster of Edward Carson, a second namesake:

   Eyes. The seraphic frown. The borders and the chains contained therein. The fraternal
   Gaze of the Exclusive Brethren: orange and bruised purple, cataleptic.

I once said that no one could make sense out of present-day Belfast. Carson has made me eat at least some of my words.

—John Montague