Tag Archives: Ciaran Carson

What’s in a word?

IMG_0676Yesterday, I made what has become my annual pilgrimage from the north coast to Carnlough – a beautiful little seaside village nestled beneath the cliffs where, every Spring, the John Hewitt Society’s Spring Festival takes place.

The route I take to get there hugs the coastline; the road winding through quiet villages; stretching over sparse, windswept hilltops, and twisting and turning beneath canopies of crooked trees – all against the backdrop of a glittering blue ocean and sweeping blue sky. In short, I relish the drive almost as much as the Spring Festival, and for the past three years, I’ve been blessed with wonderful weather each time.

Stephen Sexton reads from his debut poetry pamphlet, Oils.

Stephen Sexton reads from his debut poetry pamphlet, Oils.

I’m writing a review of yesterday’s poetry readings – which came from Belfast poets Stephen Sexton and Ciaran Carson – for Culture NI, so I won’t go into that now, but I did want to pick out something that both writers mentioned when it comes to writing poetry.

Apparently, Ciaran Carson, who lectures at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s University in Belfast, always tells his students to ‘look every word up’ when they write. A lot of the time, he said, you’ll find the word doesn’t mean exactly what you thought it did. It will help your poetry, was the implication.

I do this now and again when I’m reading. A word might keep cropping up that I read all the time and roughly know, in context, what it means, but then I’ll think – if someone asked me, I couldn’t give them a definition. So, I’ve looked up a few words in my time (!) and have usually found exactly as Ciaran said – that the word will mean something slightly different from what I thought it did, or it will have multiple more meanings which immediately make it more interesting and give me more ways in which to use it in my own writing.

Belfast poet, Ciaran Carson, chats about writing and reads some of his work.

Belfast poet, Ciaran Carson, chats about writing and reads some of his work.

Both Stephen and Ciaran (Stephen is an ex-student of Ciaran’s) have done this in their work, and both are very successful poets. I’m not saying everyone has to use this technique, I do think it’s a good idea, as words can change their meaning over time, or still have meanings that we’ve forgotten about or never really knew.

When it comes to language, we never know it all. Language is full of twists and turns, and is always metamorphosing, so there are endless possibilities, I think, when it comes to weaving those words together…

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A Poetic Celebration

“If we write, we have to enter another world… A poem is that space we can inhabit.”

So said Ciaran Carson at the recent performance event of Reading and Writing for Peace: A Poetic Celebration, which saw a collection of participants from the peace poetry workshops attend the Brian Friel Theatre at Queen’s University to celebrate the poetry produced from workshops throughout the past year.

Me with Tara Lynne O'Neill

Me with Tara Lynne O’Neill

I was delighted that my own poem, Awakening, was chosen amongst those being performed by local actors for the event, and let’s just say – for anyone who has never experienced hearing someone else read their work before – it’s quite surreal. The actor who read my poem (Tara Lynne O’Neill) – although ‘performed’ is a better word for it, as all the actors read with suitable emotion attached – did so differently from how I would have read it, proving the theory that once released into the world, poetry takes on a life of its own… I was, however, very pleased with how she read it and interested to see how someone else had interpreted my words.

Meanwhile, with the John Hewitt International Summer School fast approaching, it was also great to catch up with Tina Burke from last year’s school, as well as Mary Ellen Hayward, both from the Jane Ross Writers Group in Limavady.

Me and Tina Burke of the Jane Ross Writers Group

Me and Tina Burke of the Jane Ross Writers Group

The event was, of course, all thanks to the work of Leon Litvak of Queen’s University who, with the support of the NI Community Relations Council (CRC), brought the peace project initiative to Northern Ireland. The good news is – they are now able to continue the project for another year, so other writers in NI will have the opportunity to participate in the new upcoming workshops.

As Jacqueline Irwin, CEO of the CRC said: “This project is a point of light.” With the following day, June 21, the official Day of Reflection, when the hurt caused by conflict is acknowledged and remembered, she added that the event was “a very fitting tribute” to this.

“Poetry is the product and catalyst of reflection,” she added. “Poetry reaches into you and captures our shared community.”

The evening also included readings from Moyra Donaldson and Ciaran Carson, along with a post-show discussion at the end, which the audience was invited to take part in. The question inevitably asked during this, was: ‘Does poetry make a difference in the pursuit of peace?’

The Peace Palace in the Hague, Netherlands

The Peace Palace in the Hague, Netherlands

The answer was overwhelmingly that yes, poetry did have an impact, as it provided an outlet for people to express hitherto hidden thoughts, feelings and emotions and to share these, if desired, with others. It offered them a way, in many cases, to deal with issues they weren’t able to deal with before.

Ciaran Carson added: “Auden said, ‘Poetry makes nothing happen’. I say, everything happens in a small back room. I also have a notion of the word ‘stanza’. It means ‘a room’ and comes from the Italian ‘to stand’. So, a stanza in a poem is a space where the poet stands. You can enter into that space in your own manner.

“A poem is to allow the space where a reader can enter in his or her own way. What we want in a poem is accuracy in language… how you feel. If a poem operates as a poem, it speaks in its own terms.”

 

 

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Exchange Place Review

Exchange Web Unfolding in the shifting streets of Paris and  the familiar backdrop of Belfast, ‘Exchange Place’ nips neatly between the two capitals in this intricately written story.

With short, punchy chapters and precise, beautifully crafted prose, Ciaran Carson delivers a well paced and intriguing novel which weaves deftly together the tales of John Kilfeather and John Kilpatrick.

They are two of a fair few Johns who creep up in the novel, although clarity comes as to who the reader is with on any one occasion through the use of first and third person narrative. The book’s format works cleverly, each chapter hopping from Kilfeather to Kilpatrick, loosely linking both men by way of a mysterious friend who has long since disappeared. Add in a missing notebook, strange sightings and encounters and Exchange Place quickly becomes a melting pot of questions clamouring for the flavour of answers.

For me, the turning point in the book occurred, rather neatly, more or less slap bang in the novel’s middle.

At the very end of chapters 17/18 the reader, who has until now been cheerfully following the two narrative streams in parallel fashion, is delivered some interesting news on the mystery of Kilfeather and Kilpatrick’s absent friend.

From here on in, the novel subsequently hurtles on towards its rather unexpected and therefore, expertly crafted, denouement, each scene with Kilfeather and Kirkpatrick like a series of snapshots taken in quick succession by an enthusiastic photographer.

Of course, all along, Exchange Place has maintained its compelling narrative but this second half most definitely feels like the roller coaster tipping over its highest slope and racing, with a few more twists and turns, to the end of the line.

What the reader may have supposed to be the case is, well, very likely to require a re-think, as we visit Memory Palace for a deft description of just what has been going on – identities unhooked and laid bare.

Exchange Place will make you wonder, make you sit up, make you want to read on and then… it will very possibly make you want to re-visit the roller coaster.

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Exchange Place

Through Belfast streetsImage

on Paris walks

We meet Kilfeather, Kilpatrick

the lost

A missing notebook

a friend long gone

working apart

or in the same song?

Suspense it hangs

truth out of reach

The writing’s fast

the chapters brief

We flit, we float between the two

the question is

– just who is who?

 

A wee taster of the book I’m currently reading (by Ciaran Carson) and soon to review…

In other news, I forgot to update about El’s writing class last week!

There was more mind-mapping – from words chosen at random from the blurbs of books – the creation of two characters sitting in a waiting room and… some work on our own writing which we brought in (with me, that was my synopsis and pitch letter – three ‘pithy paragraphs’? Excellent challenge!)

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‘Words’ & ‘why’

Image The sun blinked on and off, misty rain came and went and this Bank Holiday weekend I managed to finish putting all my corrections and revisions of The Draft (from at least two previous read-throughs) onto the computer. The perils of working old-skool! I did essentially double my work time but I also feel that it perhaps let me perform this part of the process more thoroughly. Maybe in the future though I’ll stick with typing all the way through!

Anyway, my ‘final’ (can they ever really be final?) revisions are done and now, I have to take a step back from it all for at least a week, despite wanting to press on with things, and give myself time to clear my head enough so I can return for another read-through and see if there’s anything I missed.

I’m also to hear back from Damian Gorman this week about my first chapter and depending on what he says, there may be more suggestions to take on board. It’s great though to have talented local writers, already flourishing in the business, taking the time to give me feedback on my work.

I’m also currently reading ‘Exchange Place’ by Ciaran Carson, which I’ll be reviewing here soon for Blackstaff Press, although I may throw in a few thoughts about it along the way…

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