Academic journal article Chicago Review

Inventing Carson: An Interview

Academic journal article Chicago Review

Inventing Carson: An Interview

Article excerpt

Ciaran Carson is the author of seven books of poetry, most recently The Alexandrine Plan, translations from the sonnets of Rimbaud, Baudelaire, and Mallarme, and The Twelfth of Never. An accomplished musician, he has written a pamphlet on traditional Irish music, and is the author of two books of prose, Last Night's Fun and The Star Factory. Carson is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Irish Times/Aer Lingus Irish Literature Prize, and in 1996, the TS. Eliot prize for outstanding book of poetry published in Britain and Ireland that year. Having recently resigned as traditional arts officer for Northern Ireland after twenty-one years, he currently lives in Belfast with his wife and three children. This interview took place in the lounge of a Holiday Inn in southern Illinois during a recent three-week tour of the mid-western United States.

DAVID LASKOWSKI: Ciaran, you wrote your first book, The New Estate in 1976. Your next book, Belfast Confetti, in 1987. Why so far apart? CIARAN CARSON: Well, one reason was I had a job. I was given a room, a desk, a chair, and a phone, and told to go out into the world, to support, explore, see what could be done about traditional Irish music. I'd been involved from the start with going to pubs, seeing what was happening, in the field, as they say. It seemed to me that what was going on, the crack, as you say, was a lot more important than the writing. I mean in that it was live, spontaneous, art. The idea of art being on the page was one thing, and the idea of art being a form that can expand itself, involve a lot of things, like conversation, dancing, singing, playing music was another. In that it was of the world and in the world. The stuff I had been doing up until then, in terms of writing seemed a bit thin, pale, contained, too aesthetic. So, I just went off the whole idea of being a "poet" [laughs].

DL: So what brought you back to it?

CC: Well after along time, about 1985 or so, I read a book called Tar by C.K. Williams. It gave me the idea that you could do something, with the extended poem, the long line. In that it could give you a story, a narrative, include the real world in a sense. It wasn't the kind of poem that was about art, or form, but the world. I mean, the kind of poetry he was doing, C.K. Williams, wasn't too far removed from storytelling that you heard in bars. So I embarked on it, playing with the apparently sprawling line, which to my mind, had a shape in terms of the line of the song. To what I am doing now, I'm not sure how it happened. Possibly, it has to do with the fact that I started writing prose, Last Night's Fun, for example. The prose was just another way of doing things. Even if it was prose, it was still written with some sense of the iambic, so I felt I could do in prose what I had been doing with the long line.

DL: I know you've said that you get the long line from storytelling, but it seems to be as if it's almost a cinematic storytelling instead. If I'm right, I would assume you're an active moviegoer, to say the least?

CC: I was [laughs], but I haven't seen a movie for years. There was a time where my wife and I would go see a movie twice a week, mostly movies from Europe, Japan, avant-garde stuff. Some of those movies were just so powerful, so well made. Well-constructed in terms of what was being done, much stronger than what was happening in poetry, more alive, more ideas. So, yes, the long line was influenced by the movies I saw. As in Irish for No, the poems are seen in terms of scenes that you could cut up, flashbacks, flash forwards, etc.

DL: But as far as rhyming, where did that come from?

CC: I had been at a stage where, as far as First Language, I started to rhyme. The way I got into the alexandrine was I had thought of doing a translation of Rimbaud, which I thought an awful task. I thought I wouldn't be up to it. But in fact, I had sat down one night, about five o'clock, and by twelve I had written a verse. …

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