“How do you say what’s in your mind?”

Today’s Guardian Review has an interview with poet Ciaran Carson, director of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry which celebrated its 5th anniversay recently. Carson talks of growing up on the Falls Road in Belfast, speaking only Irish at home and learning English in the street, and declares of his poetry – “I’m not that interested in ideologies,” he says. “I’m interested in the words, and how they sound to me, how words connect with experience, of fear, of anxiety.” To which the article writer, Aida Edemariam, responds

Artistic purity of purpose is a laudable thing to hang on to in a war zone; but perhaps it is also a fantasy, or an aesthetic form of bad faith. Carson’s poems reveal the impossibility of this kind of transcendence even as they strive for it: part of the impact of his poetry about the Troubles is that it is so troubled, all jagged edges, terse, harsh; but also, importantly, because it is full of all the layers of meaning and history, often contradictory, that the simplest words can carry.

Which reminded me that Slugger’s archive contains a noting of a previous article by Ciaran Carson on translating Midnight Court“Things depend on how you say them, and who is doing the saying, and who the listening.”
There’s a short section at the end of the article worth reproducing

Carson on Carson

Ce n’est pas comme le pain de Paris
There’s no stretch in it,
you said. It was our anniversary,
whether first or last.

It’s the matter of the texture.
Elasticity.
The crust should crackle when you
break the baton. Then you pull

the crumb apart to make skeins full of
holes. I was grappling
with your language over the wreck of
the dining table.

The maitre d’ was looking at us in a
funny way
as if he caught the drift I sought
between the lines you spoke.
For one word never came across as
just itself, but you
would put it over as insinuating
something else.

These are the first 10 lines of “Second Time Round” in my last book. When I first wrote them I was not entirely convinced by the voice, which didn’t seem to be the kind of thing I was used to writing. But the voice persisted and I began to grapple pleasurably with this new language, always surprised by what emerged. I was no doubt helped by the formal constraint of the 14-syllable line, and the various kinds of rhythm it could accommodate. I think a writer should always be surprised; and the more I write, the more it seems that the language itself, when explored with humility, is always deeper and more accurate than what the author thought he had in mind.

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