Belfast Textiles : On Ciaran Carson’s Poetics

Abstract: This thesis is a study of the formation and development of Ciaran Carson’s poetics from his debut in the 1970s up to and including his fourth principal collection of poems, First Language, published in 1993. Examining Carson’s recourse to different kinds of rewriting, made manifest as intertextuality and translation, it aims to account for the thematic formulation and formal realization of this poetics.The poetics is elicited from two distinct groups of poems. The first group comprises poems, given in the consecutive volumes The Lost Explorer (1978), The Irish for No (1987), Belfast Confetti (1989) and First Language, in which textile techniques serve metaphorically as poetic techniques. These poems are read as formulating a poetics which is formally realized in a second group of poems in which rewriting is the dominant technique. By examining the textile/textual metaphors, and their gradual reconfiguration, and the different manifestations of rewriting in Carson’s work the thesis seeks to describe and demonstrate some of the main principles and expressions of this poetics and its development over time.The thesis sees rewriting as integral to Carson’s poetic method: Earlier texts are deliberately drawn upon and made a constitutive part of a new poem. To account for the textual relations and their effect on meaning-making perspectives are borrowed from theories of intertextuality, especially intertextuality as conceptualized by Gérard Genette and Laurent Jenny, as well as from contemporary translation studies and poetics. A theoretical framework is also provided by the textile/textual metaphors which are employed as analytical tools.It is argued that rewriting is not an end in itself but an important means for the poet to articulate his views on both aesthetic and historical issues. The thesis relates the practice of rewriting to a prominent concern in Carson’s work: the relation between form and material and how to adequately express the complicated experiences associated with Northern Ireland in poetic form. The thesis contends through detailed analysis of Carson’s strategies of rewriting that his persistent recourse to recycling discloses his attentiveness to his own poetic expression and that his poetics should be seen as both an aesthetics and an ethics – an evolving response along both aesthetic and ethical lines to the complexities of his situation and his role as a poet.