Belfast Confetti – Ciaran Carson
Belfast Confetti, as far as I can tell, is the debris that comes from living in Belfast, especially during The Troubles. In Carson’s collection, it doesn’t always seem to be just the literal debris that is the result of a bomb, though there is plenty of that, but it is also the debris of people’s lives, especially those who lived, even at the periphery, during that time. This is largely inference, though, as my own background of Belfast is limited. One senses that a reader from the area or at least someone more familiar with The Troubles would find more to make not only of the title, but of the collection as a whole.
There are highlights in the first two parts of the collection, like “Ambition” and the layered “Last Orders.” There is a recurring motif of a son looking back at his father, both as a father and as someone involved in the troubles. It is Part III where Carson hits his stride. Every single piece here hits home, especially “Jawbox,” which emphasizes the pronunciation of the city’s name as I noted it above, and “John Ruskin in Belfast” (I could spend hours with the phrase “The unwearied rage of memory”) are commanding pieces. “Narrative in Black and White” is stunning, but “Hamlet,” the final piece of the section and of the collection is the masterpiece. In it, Carson writes, “So we name the constellations, to put a shape / On what was there; so, the storyteller picks his way between the isolated stars.” And then later: “Like some son looking for his father, or the father for his son, / We try to piece together the exploded fragments.” Those lines, I think, sum up both the poem and the collection.
These are not easy poems. As I mentioned, some background knowledge of Belfast is almost certainly helpful. The poems tend to be long; some are prose poems. But they are incredibly vivid, cinematic even. Carson puts you behind the camera and the poems are one long tracking shot. He’s your tour guide through Belfast’s confetti.
Charles Ellenbogen is the author of the teaching memoir, THIS ISN’T THE MOVIES: 25 YEARS IN THE CLASSROOM, and teaches high school English in Cleveland, Ohio. He lives in Shaker Heights, Ohio with Kirsten, his wife, Zoe, their daughter, Ezra, their son, Lincoln, their dog, and Chocolate Scales, their snake.