Lesson on 'Belfast Confetti' by Ciaran Carson

Wayne Spence


'Belfast Confetti' abandons the usual harmony and melody associated with the lyric line so as to convey with gritty realism the fragmented, jagged disorder that accompanies the writer-narrator's witnessing of riots and explosions on the streets of his home city. The ironic title alludes to Belfast's industrial heritage, 'confetti' being the metal detritus from the shipyards. The scene of modern-day urban violence is one of incivility rather than civilisation, hate rather than love, chaos rather than order.

The mayhem of the urban violence defeats the narrator's attempts to take in events in the city, to give shape and meaning through words to the deadly barbarism he witnesses and experiences in Belfast, as a figure working at home, watching television coverage of the news, or just walking the neighbourhood streets where he was born and resides.

Carson's linguistic inventiveness allows the city of Belfast to become, symbolically, the punctuation marks on the page but nonetheless still leaves the poem's narrator with "A fusillade of question marks" including, "What is my name? Where am I coming from? Where am I going?"

The anti-lyric form of Carson's poem challenges the adequacy of words by themselves to convey sense or meaning to what the writer-narrator witnesses.

  • To attend to the language of the poem through active listening to aural readings of 'Belfast Confetti' by the poet, individuals and by peers
  • To consider some key concepts relevant to reading the poem including form, narrator, lyric, anti-lyric, image and symbol
  • To examine the importance of the techniques of naming and punctuation to the meanings contained within the poem
Resources needed
  • Poetry Archive recordings of Ciaran Carson reading 'Belfast Confetti
  • Whiteboard or screen linked to the Poetry Archive website for viewing the texts of the poems
  • Hard copies of the poem for each student
  • A3 paper, highlighters, scissors, glue, pencils and colouring pencils

Teaching sequence of activities


Give out a copy of the poem to each student and a highlighter. Ask the students to read 'Belfast Confetti' aloud to one another and silently into themselves highlighting the words or phrases which stand out as they engage with the various readings of the poem.


Ask the students to get into groups of three or four people and to bring their copies of 'Belfast Confetti' with them. In the groups they are going to prepare a reading of the poem. Make the students aware of the range and possibilities of their individual voices (volume, tone, and pace) and then the possibilities of combining voices. Ask them why would they combine voices when reading aloud? What would the effect be of a single voice after a range of combined voices?

Now give the students time to discuss with one another what parts of the poem they highlighted as a way to choose parts of the poem which need attention in the way that they use their voices and to prepare their readings.

As a whole class listen actively to each group's readings of the poem. After each group has read choose a feature of the reading and inquire why it decided to read the poem in that particular way. I heard a reading where one student read the narrative of the poem, and the second student read the names of the punctuation marks, while the third student read when she felt the writer-narrator was speaking.

Using the Poetry Archive, listen attentively to Ciaran Carson's reading of 'Belfast Confetti'. As a whole class of readers and listeners did Carson's reading raise your awareness of any part of the poem that had not already come to your attention?

Give out the A3 paper, scissors and glue. Ask the students to cut around 'Belfast Confetti' and glue the poem into the middle of the A3 page.

The students should reflect on the readings they have made and listened to, and think about the images i.e. pictures in words, that these readings have brought to mind. Ask the students to locate the images in the poem and to draw a line out from the words in the poem and sketch that particular idea for themselves onto the A3 piece of paper. I am always asked about the "Saracen, Kremlin-2 mesh. Makrolon face-shields. Walkie-talkies." Use the Internet to provide images of these vehicles and objects.


Use the plenary to allow the students to tell you what images they have drawn on to their sheets of paper. This will give you the opportunity to make students aware of the variety and nature of the images in the poem. What picture of Belfast is conveyed to the reader? What contribution does punctuation make to the depiction of the effects of violence on people and urban landscape?

Personal and place names are important in the poem. Naming is an important technique in 'Belfast Confetti'. Why does Carson describe as a "labyrinth" the local and well-known streets of his neighbourhood? (complex social geography, historical legacies, communal conflicts). For example, Carson's local street-names are named after military leaders and famous battles dating from 19th century Britain's Age of Empire. Why does the writer-narrator ask the rhetorical question, "What is my name?"

Extension Activities

The extension activity depends upon the discussion that the plenary will generate. For example, Longley's lyric line in his sonnet 'Ceasefire' may be contrasted with Carson's anti-lyric. Further discussion of the ways in which Carson in 'Belfast Confetti' links inextricably the idea of personal identity and a sense of place with everyday language in use including the surnames of individuals, the streets where they live, as well as economic and political aspects of Belfast city's historical legacy inherited from the Age of Empire a century earlier and the partition of Ireland in 1920.

"I know this labyrinth so well... Why can't I escape?" What would your answer be to the writer-narrator's question in Ciaran Carson's 'Belfast Confetti'?

Further Reading

Refer to Ciaran Carson's page in the Poetry Archive website.

Belfast Confetti may also be read alongside Derek Mahon's 'Rage For Order'.

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