Discovering a new poet- Ciaran Carson

The town where I live has many barber shops, betting shops (gambling dens) and fortunately many charity shops. Since the end of lock-down, as part of the recovery process I have been raiding the latter and especially one which has a rich supply of poetry books. Taking advantage of my reduced price filter coffee at 50p per cup, I thumbed through, “Poems of the Decade”  in which I happened upon two remarkable poems about historic battles by Ciaran Carson.

Here is the start of a poem about Gallipoli from a collection called The War Correspondant.

Take sheds and stalls from Billingsgate,
glittering with scaling-knives and fish,
the tumbledown outhouses of English farmers’ yards
that reek of dung and straw, and horses
cantering the mewsy lanes of Dublin;

take an Irish landlord’s ruinous estate,
elaborate pagodas from a Chinese Delftware dish
where fishes fly through shrouds and sails and yards
of leaking ballast-laden junks bound for Benares
in search of bucket-loads of tea as black as tin;

The full poem may be found at https://genius.com/Ciaran-carson-the-war-correspondent-annotated

My knowledge of Gallipoli comes from a visit during a minitrek in the early seventies and in addition the outstanding film with Mel Gibson https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gallipoli_(1981_film) 

However, this poem is remarkable with the tumbledown and dilapidated nautical images. There is a clear underlying structure but the surreal images build throughout this poem. I particularly liked the word “mewsy” and there are clear political references in the poem. The situation along with the following poem “Balaklava” show the desperation of war and both battles show the limits of British Imperialism. There is a strange surrealism to the lines-

elaborate pagodas from a Chinese Delftware dish
where fishes fly through shrouds and sails and yards

These somehow reflect the weirdness and disorientation of the context. The Delft reference reminds me too of another favourite poet, Derek Mahon. Yet there is also an association as the poem progresses of Kipling. Then there is a reference to horses which were present in the cramped situation. They were there to move the heavy guns of the Anzac forces. 6100 horses were ready to disembark but only a few were actually put ashore. A search reveals-

After Gallipoli many moderate nationalists began to lose faith in the idea that supporting Britain in the war would assure Home Rule. … But it was in August that Irishmen arrived at Gallipoli in large numbers as part of Allied commander Sir Ian Hamilton’s plan to break the stalemate and go on the offensive.

Sadly in discovering this new poet, I also found how recent was his passing in October of last year https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ciaran_Carson

 

Author: penwithlit

Freelance writer and radio presenter

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