Review: Ciaran Carson’s For All We Know

The July issue of Bookslut also has my review of Ciaran Carson’s book of poems, For All We Know.  Here’s a taste:

The final poem in the collection, “Zugzwang,” captures this perspective eloquently. Zugzwang means “compulsion to move”: it names the phenomenon, in a game, wherein one must move, although one would probably better off holding steady. (Zugzwang frequently arises in chess, a game alluded to in “The Shadow.” ) What better word to capture the ambivalence of surviving a relationship? Carson writes:

as the words of the song when remembered each time around
remind us of other occasions at different times;

as the geographer traces the long fetch of the waves
from where they are born at sea to where they founder to shore

so I return to the question of those staggered repeats
as my memories of you recede into the future.

These final six lines, gathering as they do many of the collection’s signature obsessions, delivers a powerful emotional charge. In particular, the last line’s ability to capture the erasure and maddening persistence of memory is breathtaking.

As I say in the review, this is one of the most interesting new books I’ve read in a while.

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2 Responses to Review: Ciaran Carson’s For All We Know

  1. CJS says:

    Nice one. I’ve been a huge fan of Carson’s writing ever since reading his prose “Last Night’s Fun: In and Out of Time with Irish Traditional Music.” The book drives some musicians crazy because of precisely the poetic aspects I love. He’s also a nice man in person, and a hell of a tin whistle player.

    Keep it up!

  2. jbj says:

    Thanks for this! I’ve been reading his new translation of _The Tain_ this summer, too–it’s a blast.

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