Poetry Book Group - Still Life by Ciaran Carson

Still Life cover image

The September Poetry Book Group will be meeting via Zoom

Monday, September 18th • 6:30 PM ET / 11:30 PM IST via Zoom
Session open to all: no registration required.

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In Still Life, Ciaran Carson guides us through centuries of art and around the Belfast Waterworks where he walks with his wife, Deirdre; into the chemo ward; into memory and the allusive quicksilver of his mind, always bidding us to look carefully at the details of a painter’s canvas, as well as the sunlight of day. This master translator chooses here to translate the painter’s brush with the poet’s pen, finding resemblances, echoes and parallels. A thorn becomes the nib of a writer’s pencil and the pointed pipette of a chemo drip entering the poet’s vein. Yet, Deirdre stands as much in the center of these poems as do the paintings. At times, the two seem to escape into the paintings themselves: “Standing by the high farmstead in the upper left of the picture—there!—in a patch of / sunlight. / … They could be us, out for a walk.”

Balancing the desire to escape into the stillness and permanence of art with the insistent yearning to be fully present in each moment, Carson reminds us—“Look! … There!”—that in the midst of illness, even in the face of death, there is, still, life.


“The whole brilliant apparatus of his work looks set to marvellously endure.” –Aingeal Clare, The Guardian

“Abundant, pitch-perfect, Ciaran Carson’s miraculous new poems find their own shapes. Detours illuminate the themes and propel the narratives. Tumult combines with decorum. Meanders give way to rapids. The ‘trills and warbles’ add up unerringly to a majestic utterance, ‘a new acoustic.’ This is indeed writing for dear life. This is a poetry of genius.” –Michael Longley

“In Still Life, Ciaran Carson’s poems take their bearings from ‘the moment / of a painting, where everything is at a standstill.’ Death is in the foreground here, but, with clear-eyed good humor, Carson’s long line holds to the particulars of the here and now and stretches into the future to consider the dissolution of clouds, cities, and bodies, and the endurance of love. Still Life is both a profound, real-time meditation on mortality and art’s power to preserve, and a profoundly moving achievement.” –Leontia Flynn

ciaran carson

About the Author

Ciaran Carson was born in 1948 in Belfast and educated at The Queen’s University there. He knew intimately not only the urban Belfast in which he was raised as a native Irish speaker, but also the traditions of rural Ireland. A traditional musician and a scholar of the Irish oral traditional, Carson was long the Traditional Arts Officer of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. In 2003, Carson was appointed Chair of Poetry at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at The Queen’s University.

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