Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ciaran Carson For all we know

Ciaran Carson wrote one of my favourite books: Last Night’s Fun. It’s a love letter to traditional music, beautifully written, idiosyncratic, and it introduced me to Joe Cooley. I feel I owe him just for that. He’s also written prose novels, at least one of which puts him up there with Flan O’Brian (about as ‘up there’ as it gets in the real sub-Joycean atmosphere.) He’s translated The Tain, another favourite book, as well as The Inferno and he’s written a body of poetry that is distinctive. Enough of the blurb.
The poetry took me a while to like. It was easy to admire. It was only when I realised that if Seamus Heaney and Liam O’flynn are a perfect paring, then the obvious Carson link (in my limited knowledge) would be to Seamus Ennis.

So Last Night’s Fun is my key. It’s a love letter, but it’s an oblique one. The same is true of the poetry. What’s not being said, what’s hinted at, suggested, alluded to is as important as what is being detailed. And because it’s not there on the page, it ghosts the reading process.
Beneath the surface dazzle and the play there’s an austere seriousness. Beneath the austerity, there’s a playful passion.
So logically, if your man decides to write a story in poems, he's choosing the form for a purpose.
For all we know…think of a musician, Ennis, showing off, but within the limits of a traditional form. The limitations are what define the player’s skills. This ain’t no dream of “free form self expression’. The framework creates the space, like a musical phrase creates a meaning for silence.
And so the narrative of For all we know is a poet’s answer to “why bother telling a story in poems”. Characters enter, reappear, slide. Events are described, then re-described, and the images fold and loop and move on. Because this is Carson, I didn't expect a straight narrative like the Monkey or Freddy Neptune.

I’m sure that if I knew anything about how a fugue works, I would understand more. But it reminds me of Herzog’s Nosferatu and the way the landscape suddenly becomes a character in the story, or the first three minutes of Suspiria where nothing happens but it happens in away that’s deeply and memorably disturbing

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