Wake: Up to Poetry
Book of the Month: Ciaran Carson’s BELFAST CONFETTI … “raining exclamation marks”
Ciaran Carson’s “Belfast Confetti” is one of my favorite poems. A copy is mounted above the desk where we work at the Press and I glance up at it while typing, editing, and occasionally gazing off into space. Every time I read it, I notice something new. I was surprised when I read through all 37 poems in Belfast Confetti that the poem itself is not present in the work. How could the title poem not be in the book? As it turns out, the poem is from The Irish for No, the book that precedes “Belfast Confetti.” Intriguing, no? Let’s start at the beginning: what is “Belfast Confetti” anyway?
The term refers to bombs made out of scraps of metal and ship building rivets used as weapons by Protestant ship builders during anti-Catholic riots. The term “Belfast confetti” is a typically sardonic Belfastian nickname for these bombs; when they exploded the scraps of metal and rivets sprung forth like confetti. The poem “Belfast Confetti” describes the use of these homemade bombs when “the riot squad moved in, it was raining exclamation marks, / Nuts, bolts, nails, car-keys. A fount of broken type.” The extended metaphor of punctuation is particularly apt from the viewpoint of a poet. Although there is a poem called “Punctuation,” in Belfast Confetti, it is the larger metaphor, the idea of a bomb explosion as confetti that carries over into the volume as a whole.
Confetti is used consistently throughout the entire book, as in “Queen’s Gambit,” to represent brutality: “Just as the street outside is splattered with bits of corrugated / iron and confetti.” However, confetti is used somewhat more ambiguously in “Snow,” the second poem, which subtly references the Louis MacNeice poem entitled “Snow.” In the MacNeice original, “The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was / spawning snow and pink roses against it / Soundlessly collateral and incompatible: / …. There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.” Carson answers, “A white dot flicked back and forth across the bay window /…. Her face was snow and roses / just behind / The bullet-proof glass: / …Roses are brought in, and suddenly, white confetti seethes / against the window.” (To further the conversation-like quality of these poems, MacNeice’s “Snow” from his Poems (1935), is placed next to a dark poem titled “Belfast.”)
Belfast Confetti is divided up into three parts; the first and third strictly poetry. The second part stands alone; it alternates through a rotation of two poems, then one long piece that is a hybrid between prose and poetry. All of these essays, in some way, reflect on Belfast the place. The first essay, “Farset” contemplates the relationship between the geography of Belfast and its name. The third and most poignant of the series, “Question Time,” relates the “disorientation that, disappointed hunger for a familiar place / … For Belfast is changing daily.” A native disoriented by home is a theme that echoes throughout the book and is represented by the cover of the book; a map of Belfast.
When read with the historical context of the riots of Belfast in mind, Belfast Confetti seems to be asking, “How did we get here?” “How did we get to a place in our culture and society that homemade bombs have been trademarked as ‘Belfast Confetti’?” Each poem in the work seems to be tackling these questions. In the poem, “Ambition,” the speaker meditates on phrases his father tells him and their relationship together in relation to time. The two often “take one step forward, two steps back. For if / time is a road, / it’s fraught with ramps and dog-legs”. At the time this work was published, Belfast was in chaos. Happily, time has taken one step forward; Belfast is now a vibrant and peaceful city.
Meanwhile, my childhood has been colored by the tragedy of the Twin Towers, war, and searches for weapons of mass destruction. There are chemical weapons and guns everywhere. The past year alone has been a blur of violence…shootings at elementary schools and movie theaters, bombs at marathons, IED’s, and so many senseless deaths. Two steps back, indeed, it seems.
Posted By: Sophie Leveque