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PN Review 276
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This review is taken from PN Review 188, Volume 35 Number 6, July - August 2009.

THE FOREST OF LANGUAGE CIARAN CARSON, Collected Poems (Gallery Press) £20

‘History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake,’ says tephen Dedalus in Ulysses, a phrase which has come to loom large in criticism of Northern Irish poetry of the Ulster Renaissance and its second generation. If this Joycean aphorism has become something of a megalith, Ciaran Carson’s anti-megalithic, anti-aphoristic poetry occupies its huge shadow. This at times dazzlingly inventive, at times dazzlingly obscure poet often writes from the umbrous zone between nightmare and history, and from the border between self and other (after Keats and Chuang Tzu), or animal and man as the brilliant ‘Second Nature’ has it (First Language). The first-person perspective is all-important to Carson’s poetry. Politics, too, become refracted through the eye of the beholder - the poet’s relationship with nationalism goes hand in hand with an obsession with Irish folk music, as well as an enduring fascination with the English Romantics, especially Coleridge, Keats and de Quincey.

Carson is a poet of memory, of ‘the dark, mnemonic cavity’ (‘A Date Called ), occupying the contested border between history and fiction. In The Irish for No (1987) and Belfast Confetti (1989) he develops, in tandem with the peristaltic narrative stream gleaned from the late John Campbell of Mullaghbawn, as the notes proclaim, what seems to amount to a theory of the ‘involute’, a word coined by Thomas de Quincey in Suspiria de Profundis: ‘Far more of our deepest feelings… pass to us as involutes (if I may coin ...

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