Paul Muldoon on Still Life by Ciaran Carson: Final testimony to the power of art

This posthumous collection shines with the sense of inevitability that we experience with all great art

Ciaran Carson: the Belfast poet died aged 70 earlier this month. Photograph: Gallery Press

Ciaran Carson: the Belfast poet died aged 70 earlier this month. Photograph: Gallery Press

This posthumous collection of poems by Ciaran Carson confirms his reputation as one of the poets without whom we cannot make sense of our era. As the punning title suggests, the book is a testimony both to the power of art (particularly the ekphrastic art of poetry on, or about, painting), and the indomitability of the human spirit.

With regard to the first, Carson has long been an admirer of John Keats, the author of one of the best-known works of ekphrasis, Ode on a Grecian Urn, and Keats may be said to be the major model for these mind-bogglingly dense yet heart-breakingly direct poems. Each of the seventeen poems takes the form of a musing upon a piece by Caillebotte or Canaletto or Cezanne or Constable, say, or a local talent such as James Allen, Basil Blackshaw, Gerard Dillon, Angela Hackett, or Jeffrey Morgan and his “Hare Bowl,” in the course of which we read:

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