Many thanks to Ms Baroque for this link to an interview with Ciaran Carson, at home as the photograph shows, beside a great lick of a fire.
I've enjoyed the interview immensely, as I had the honour and pleasure of working with him last spring in a series of classes on translation. In the interview he talks about growing up in Belfast as a member of an Irish speaking family in the 40s. He also mentions that lovely word 'capall;' Irish for horse, which he had us so in love with when we all tried our hand at a translation of a poem, 'Malairt,' (loosely rendered The Swap) by Séan Ó Ríordáin (think I might have posted that on PFFA during April...).
How we struggled with that one, trying it out in English: I always got the feeling there was something in the original that we weren't rendering, and Prof Carson did say that a lot of it had to do with the word 'capall' as well as the word 'bron,' (loosely given as sorrow). Because the words sound the way they do, they have a different association in your mind, a wider feeling of the horseness of horse, or the sorrowfulness of sorrow, but if you're used to thinking of it in Irish first, there must be a strangeness about the English word... anyway.
Not content with that, we also had a close look at Baudelaire's poem 'Correspondances' a poem that seemed to be so much more than it's component parts and that almost yielded a larger meaning to you before slipping away. I also heard Prof Carson describing how he tackled his translation of Dante's Inferno; to him it's about the rhythm as much as anything: he spoke of how Dante composed his poem whilst walking from place to place in Italy - but I digress a little.
I love what Carson says about words: 'Heft. They have heft...and they've got a life of their own.' This ties into an article by Hannah Brooks-Motl, I've been reading about reading poems, particularly the poems that emanate from the 'elliptical' school of poetry in the US (and now elsewhere). The article from The Dark Horse, Summer 2008 is the sort of thing that I like to read over and over again, thinking about other things that connect into the idea of how we read poems, and how the elliptical style of poetry, where poem that don't necessarily connect up in the mind of the reader have been considered difficult to interpret.
Words are tied to experience: all the words you've ever heard have complex connections made all the way back to your early childhood and beyond, possibly even in the womb. It is childhood that usually serves as a rich repository for the poems that I try to write now; poems and stories about potatoes, about cows and calves, but I also keep coming back to growing up along the north side of the bordern as an outsider, and trying to make sense of the occupation and strife of the 70s too.
I think that we all keep a huge hinterland of knowledge that we use when we read poems that aren't opaque, that don't yield meaning straight away. Putting things together in a manner that doesn't seem to make sense, forces the reader to use their own synaptic connections between their knowledge stores: it is in all of us to want to try and divine a pattern and smooth the bumps of our own interpretation and reading. That is what I think gives me pleasure when reading poetry. Well, that and a whole pile of other things like rhythm as well as all the poetic panoply of devices there are. Oh, and time.
Above all though, what really helps me is when I hear a poet talk about their work, and read it; or indeed as Prof Carson often did in class, sing and play his flute for us, as he must have done in the Guardian interview. It allows you a rich layering when you hear how someone has lived, what their interests were and how they are always trying to hear things in a new way, using the language of now, overlaid by the language of the past. As Carson says: 'language, when explored with humility, is always deeper and more accurate than what the author thought he had in mind.' Carson may have never left Belfast other than for visiting other places, but in his mind he has roamed the wide world over.