Ciaran Carson

Image by Elzbieta Lempp

Ciaran Carson

b. 1948

What is / My name? Where am I coming from? Where am I going? A fusillade of question marks. - 'Belfast Confetti', Ciaran Carson

About Ciaran Carson

Ciaran Carson (b. 1948) is the author of nine books of poetry and four prose works, and the winner of several awards including the Irish Times Irish Literature Prize, the T. S. Eliot Prize and the Forward Prize for Best Poetry Collection for Breaking News in 2003. His translation of Dante's Inferno won the Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize, and he is an honorary member of the Irish Translators' and Interpreters' Association. He held positions in the Traditional Music and Literature departments of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland between 1975 to 1998, and was the Founding Director of the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen's University, Belfast until his retirement in 2016.

When Carson says "I write in English, but the ghost of Irish hovers behind it; and English itself is full of ghostly presences," ('The Other') he suggests two influences on his poetry: his bilingual upbringing, and an unusual alertness to language. The poetry is at home in an Irish tradition, able to allude as easily to Louis MacNeice (in 'Snow') as to Pangur Ban (in 'Catmint Tea'). Language itself is also clearly a fascination - he has twice written a sequence through the alphabet, first in the usual letters, then in the police radio alphabet. But he also shows language being used to enforce, to spy, and - broken into its almost meaningless constituent parts - to commit physical violence, when the bomb in 'Belfast Confetti' is loaded with not only ironmongery but "a fount of broken type." Violence, or its effects, often makes an appearance in Carson's poetry, whether this is found in historical warfare or the more recent conflicts of Northern Ireland. Indeed, Carson's use of the street names of Belfast that allude to these battles - "Balaclava, Raglan, Inkerman, Odessa Street" - underlines the violence of the Troubles. But there is still play here, as in the perspectiveless litany of 'Fear'.

The poems in his Archive recording represent both the long, fluent line characteristic of Carson's earlier work, and the spikier delivery of his later poetry's brittle, briefer form; his reading puts across the natural flow of the former, or the weight of each word in the latter, in composed Belfast tones. It's a voice that emphasises, without histrionics, the reality of the content.

His recording was made on 29 April 2003 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Additional material and useful links

Ciaran Carson reading Kilkenny Arts Festival 2010

Introduced by Colm Toibin, Ciaran Carson reads to an audience in the Parade Tower, as part of the Kilkenny Arts Festival, on August 11th 2010 .

The Pen Friend, Blackstaff Books 2009

Until Before After, Gallery 2010

Collected Poems, Gallery Press 2008


On the Night Watch, Gallery 2009


For All We Know, The Gallery Press 2008


The Tain (translator), Penguin 2007

Shamrock Tea (prose), Granta 2001

Fishing for Amber (prose), Granta 1999

The Star Factory (prose), Granta and Arcade 1997



1978 Eric Gregory Award

Prize website

1987 Alice Hunt Bartlett Award The Irish for No

1990 Irish Times Irish Literature Prize for Poetry Belfast Confetti

Prize website

1993 T. S. Eliot Prize First Language: Poems

Prize website

2003 Cholmondeley Award

Prize website

2003 Forward Poetry Prize (Best Collection) Breaking News

Prize website


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1Belfast Confetti


3Slate Street School



6Hairline Crack

7Bloody Hand

8The Knee









17Tib's Eve

18The Poppy Battle

19Salt of the Earth

20Dark Rosaleen

21Catmint Tea





26The Gladstone Bar, circa 1954


28Horse at Balaclava, 1854