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Ciaran CarsonSpace, Place, Writing$

Neal Alexander

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9781846314780

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: June 2013

DOI: 10.5949/UPO9781846316203

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Imaginative Geographies: The Politics and Poetics of Space

Imaginative Geographies: The Politics and Poetics of Space

(p.23) Chapter One Imaginative Geographies: The Politics and Poetics of Space
Ciaran Carson
Liverpool University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter discusses a critical framework and recent paradigms for the study of space and place advanced in the fields of geography and cultural theory that will be used in the analysis of Ciaran Carson's works. It considers the fluid critical formulations for literary geography and suggests that the singularity of Carson's writing rests upon his far-reaching imaginative engagements with ideas of space and place, and particularly urban spatiality in an Irish context. It also mentions that Carson's creative re-imagination of the cultural materials the city provides is exemplified in his poem Belfast.

Keywords:   Ciaran Carson, place and space, literary geography, imaginative engagements, urban spatiality, Belfast

The singularity of a literary work, argues Derek Attridge, is best understood as an event in which the reader experiences both inventiveness and alterity. Each reading constitutes ‘an appreciation, a living-through, of the invention that makes the work not just different but a creative re-imagination of cultural materials’.1 My contention is that the singularity of Ciaran Carson's writing rests upon his far-reaching imaginative engagements with ideas of space and place, and particularly urban spatiality in an Irish context. It is the purpose of this chapter to set out a critical framework for exploring these engagements in their widest manifestations. Carson's oeuvre, in poetry, prose, and translations, is in many ways remarkably diverse and eclectic, ranging as it does across generic, geographical, linguistic, and disciplinary boundaries with seeming effortlessness and voracious enthusiasm, insistently placing ‘literature’ within the constellations of a wider universe of discourse and deliberately eschewing distinctions between ‘high’ and ‘low’ cultural forms. He is restlessly inventive in his experiments with form, combining and reworking a wide range of poetic structures and metres with elements adapted from fictional and non-fiction prose narratives, music and popular song, the visual arts and vernacular speech patterns. However, in spite of this propensity for variety there is little doubt that the city of Belfast occupies a central place within Carson's heterogeneous texts, functioning as a sort of imaginative focal point around which his many other concerns – music, language, narrative, memory, history – are arrayed, like spokes on the hub of a wheel. Belfast is a ground that Carson's writing returns to again and again, finding it altered each time but also reworking the spatiality of its social life after its own fashion. Neil Corcoran has said that Carson is ‘pre-eminently, the poet of Belfast in its contemporary disintegration’,2 and Peter Barry regards his poetry as ‘relentlessly loco-specific’, its imaginative texture bearing (p.24) the indelible imprint of the city's urban materiality.3 The city, in all its historical and topographical complexity, serves both as an abiding if not omnipresent frame of reference and as a reservoir of creative impetus for Carson's work.

This imaginative centrality, and Carson's creative re-imagination of the cultural materials the city provides, is exemplified in miniature in the poem ‘Belfast’, which opens his 2003 collection Breaking News. It reads, in full:

  • east
  • beyond the yellow
  • shipyard cranes
  • a blackbird whistles
  • in a whin bush
  • west
  • beside the motorway
  • a black taxi
  • rusts in a field
  • of blue thistles (BN, 11)

Like John Hewitt's poem, ‘Gloss, on the difficulties of translation’, ‘Belfast’ refers to a ninth-century scribal poem in Irish, sometimes known as ‘The Blackbird of Belfast Lough’,4 which, Hewitt notes, is ‘the first written reference/to my native place’.5 There may be a further reference to Wallace Stevens's poem, ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’, though its title and some of its images also link it to Louis MacNeice's ‘Belfast’, which invokes a near-apocalyptic vision of the city's shipyards, where ‘hammers clang murderously on the girders’ and gantries stand over the lough like ‘crucifixes’.6 Carson's epigrammatic poem therefore establishes a network of intertextual relations, and its own depiction of Belfast re-inflects the traces of these prior representations. At the same time it provides a succinct illustration of the complex, many-layered figuration of spatiality that is characteristic of his work.

Like MacNeice's poem, Carson's ‘Belfast’ conveys, both formally and at the level of content, an image of the city as starkly divided. Each pair of unrhymed couplets is prefaced by a blunt, monosyllabic indicator of direction – the vectors ‘east’ and ‘west’ – at once dividing the poem into two mirrored sections and calling attention to the fundamental cleavage of Belfast's urban topography by the river Lagan, (p.25) which flows north-eastwards along the Lagan valley and through the city to its estuary at the neck of Belfast Lough. However, this purely geographical distinction between the eastern and western halves of the city's material space alludes metaphorically to Belfast's socio-political and sectarian divisions as they are variously manifested in physical space (‘peace-walls’, ghettoisation, demographic relocations), mental space (the ideological policing of exclusive ‘communities’ and no-go areas), and social space (particular spatial practices serving to reinforce socio-spatial segregation). The ‘yellow/shipyard cranes’ metonymically represent Protestant Unionist East Belfast and its working-class histories, while the ‘black taxi’ performs a similar function for the Catholic Nationalist west of the city. One way of reading the poem, therefore, is in terms of its coded but topographically precise references to the city's ingrained divisions and socio-political polarities.

To read ‘Belfast’ only in this way, however, would be reductive and mechanical, for the poem never dwells explicitly upon the sectarian geographies of the city – which are in any case much more complex than a simple east–west distinction can comprehend7 – or upon the violence that has compounded and sustained them. Arguably, this is because it is concerned with finding other ways of conceiving and representing the city's heterogeneous spatiality. Indeed, ‘Belfast’ combines the poise and brevity of haiku, American Imagist poetics, and the miniaturist detailing of medieval Irish lyrics in order to establish subtle patterns of echo and counterpoint within the ‘space’ of the poem that both acknowledge and attempt to imaginatively recast Belfast's deep-seated socio-spatial divisions. It is in this recasting that the poem's singularity, in Attridge's terms, can be seen to lie. There is no question here of somehow ‘transcending’ the brute realities of sectarianism, or the fundamentally territorial and identitarian disputes that lie at the root of the Northern Irish Troubles. But, as I try to show in detail in this book, Carson's representations of Belfast resist and rebuke the idea that the spatial, social, and historical multiplicity of the city can be reduced to a polarised sectarian grid of forces and crass binary oppositions. In this regard, ‘Belfast’ can best be understood as a compact literary collage, formally reflecting the mosaic of interdigitations that comprise the city's physical and social geography.

As Ian Davidson notes, the Cubist technique of collage or montage was crucial to the ‘spatial turn’ in twentieth-century art, suggesting new forms of correspondence and coincidence, ‘new types of conjunctions and disjunctions’ between objects and ideas.8 In line with such impulses, (p.26) one of the poem's key juxtapositions is to bring emblems of urban or industrial modernity into proximity and conjunction with images drawn from the natural world, a sense of spatial correspondence that is underlined by the initiating force of the prepositions ‘beyond’ and ‘beside’. But this juxtaposition also turns on coincidence, for the striking yellow bill of the ‘whistling’ blackbird recalls the colour of the iconic cranes of Harland & Wolff's shipyard, and the rusting hulk of the abandoned black taxi has already begun to blend harmoniously with the ‘field of blue thistles’ in which it has come to rest. Similarly, while the shipyard cranes and taxi are initially opposed to one another as symbols of manufacture and disintegration, creation and decay respectively, this opposition is ultimately unstable and open to deconstruction. At the time of the poem's composition the Harland & Wolff cranes were largely idle, little more than embarrassed reminders of Belfast's glorious past as a world-beating centre for shipbuilding amid a backdrop of more general post-industrial restructuring.9 Similarly, when considered closely the slow corrosion and decrepitude of the taxi by the motorway takes on a curiously generative, fecund aspect, as if to imply that what is taking place is a process of decomposition and transformation that may, in fact, be imaginatively productive. Indeed, this deconstructive inter-meshing of seeming opposites is also facilitated at the level of form and soundsense, for the two ‘halves’ of the poem are subtly linked by the alliterative repetition of ‘b’ sounds – ‘beyond’, ‘blackbird’, ‘bush’, ‘beside’, ‘black’, ‘blue’ – all of which are implicitly subtended by the resonant title of the poem: ‘Belfast’. The point is further reinforced by the poem's only full rhyme, between ‘whistles’ and ‘thistles’, which also serves to bring cranes and taxi, field and whin bush, east and west into closer proximity, implying the porosity of the divisions described.

On closer inspection, then, this seemingly static text discloses a conception of place that is attentive to the ambivalence and instability affecting those cleavages it depicts as structuring the city's urban spatiality. Its representation of the city is also bound up with a sense of the ‘event’ of place, the ways in which Belfast remains open to historical processes both within and beyond itself, and is reworked or transformed by these over the course of time. Moreover, both the shipyard cranes overlooking the harbour and the ribbon of motorway that runs past the stationary black taxi gesture outwards towards the various routes of transport, trade, and travel – both terrestrial and maritime – that link Belfast to other places physically remote from it. In doing so, they also metonymically invoke those more intangible networks of exchange and (p.27) interaction, communication and transmission through which the city is obscurely integrated into the global totality of socio-economic relations. Through its understated, minimalist collage of elements of the city's topography and emblems of its social life, then, Carson's poem alludes to the multiple divisions and convergences informing Belfast's particular and ongoing socio-spatial dialectic. To this extent, it concisely illustrates Edward Larrissy's point that the poems in Breaking News often describe and exemplify ‘a poetry of the global found in the local’.10

‘Belfast’ thereby also underlines the more general importance of ideas of space and place, geography and topology for Carson's aesthetic, an importance that has been noted by several critics of his work. Alex Houen, for instance, reads Carson's work in geopolitical terms, contending that his texts offer ‘a novel way of mapping the political violence [of the Troubles] in relation to its socio-political context’.11 Similarly, Jonathan Stainer reads Carson prose book, The Star Factory, as offering genuine alternatives to sectarian imaginaries by affording ‘shifts in position and perspective, reconfiguring or “recoding” the city in resistive and marginal “parallel” geographies’.12 These are illuminating perspectives to adopt when reading Carson, but there remains considerable scope for adapting and applying ideas generated by the theoretical ferment of the ‘new’ geography, the accompanying ‘spatial turn’ in cultural theory, and more recent paradigms for ‘literary geographies’ to interpretations of his work. To that end, this chapter will consider Carson's work in the contexts of such theoretical and critical developments, which tend to be cross-disciplinary, and in so doing seek to lay a methodological foundation for the more closely focused thematic readings undertaken in subsequent chapters. It will also move on to discuss the elaboration in Carson's work of ‘imaginative geographies’ through which the relations between local and global locations, and between material and metaphorical spaces, are represented and explored.

A good place to begin considering recent developments in the conception of space and place is Michel Foucault's account of the longstanding tendency in critical thought for subordinating space to time, geography to history:

A critique could be carried out of this devaluation of space that has prevailed for generations. Did it start with Bergson, or before? Space was treated as the dead, the fixed, the undialectical, the immobile. Time, on the contrary, was richness, fecundity, life, dialectic.13

Foucault's remarks succinctly identify two central assumptions about space and spatiality that have been progressively challenged and (p.28) undermined by the spatial turn in critical social theory. The first of these is the widespread conception of space as an inert container, an a priori backdrop against which objects are distributed or a fixed surface on which historical events occur and social life is played out. Edward Soja traces this view of space as essentially neutral and unchanging, as a setting for power struggles rather than a component of such struggles, to the epistemological primacy of an ‘historical imagination’ that became dominant in the nineteenth century and continued well into the mid-twentieth century. This powerful historical imagination promoted a ‘temporal master-narrative’ as part of its critical hermeneutic that substantially inhibited the development of a comparably geographical imagination as counter-balance.14 The second assumption follows from and reinforces the first: space is conceived as the opposite of time, is defined negatively through a series of polarised binaries, and comes to be devalued in critical thought as a result. As Doreen Massey comments: ‘Over and over again, time is defined by things such as change, movement, history, dynamism; while space, rather lamely by comparison, is simply the absence of these things.’15 The combined result of these assumptions and their persistence in critical thought has been to effectively depoliticise space and geography, and to deny them any significant role in the currents of history, which was typically understood solely in terms of time and temporality. Yet, as Foucault remarks, ‘space is fundamental in any form of communal life; space is fundamental in any exercise of power’.16 A reassertion of the essentially political nature of space and spatial relations is, therefore, a key component of the spatial turn and the new geography, one that has been further supported and enhanced by the growth of postcolonial theory and analyses of the contemporary restructuring of global capitalism. Indeed, by 1985 John Urry felt able to declare that ‘it is space rather than time which is the distinctively significant dimension of contemporary capitalism, both in terms of the most salient processes and in terms of a more general social consciousness’.17

Crucial to this recognition and reassertion of the politics of space has been the effort to conceive of space as other than immobile, inert, ahistorical, and undialectical, and to theorise it instead as an active and fundamental component of social processes. In this connection, David Harvey notes that the critical focus of much work in the new geographies ‘is on the process of becoming through which people (and geographers) transform themselves through transforming both their natural and social milieus’.18 Moreover, for Massey, not only history but also space is radically ‘open’, the product of multifarious interactions, juxtapositions, (p.29) and relations-between at scales ranging from the personal and local to the global and cosmological. Conceived in this way, space is ‘always under construction’ and so ‘never finished; never closed’ – it is not a coherent synchronic structure but an ‘event’, and therefore cannot be regarded as either ‘a-political’ or ‘a-temporal’.19 Particularly significant for such overtly politicised reconsiderations of the nature of space is the work of the French Marxist philosopher Henri Lefebvre, especially his major text, The Production of Space. The ambiguous title of Lefebvre's book neatly encapsulates the dialectical core of his argument, which asserts that, far from being naturally given and essentially inert, space is both socially produced and productive of determinate social relations:

The state and each of its constituent institutions call for spaces – but spaces which they can then organize according to their specific requirements; so there is no sense in which space can be treated solely as an a priori condition of these institutions and the state which presides over them. […] Though a product to be used, to be consumed, it is also a means of production; networks of exchange and flows of raw materials and energy fashion space and are determined by it.20

Here, Lefebvre describes what Soja calls the ‘socio-spatial dialectic’, through which it is understood that ‘social and spatial relations are dialectically inter-reactive, interdependent; that social relations of production are both space-forming and space-contingent’.21 Space, then, is socially produced; but equally, society and social relations are also shaped by their constitution in space. In which case, the production of space is profoundly historical and political – ‘the terrain of political practice’ itself – saturated with ideology and shot through with temporal rhythms.22

In the course of his attempts to describe and conceptualise this treacherous and over-inscribed ‘terrain’, Lefebvre sets out a series of spatial triads, two of which seem particularly relevant for our purposes.23 The first of these concerns the contingent three-way relationship between those ‘fields’ which are the objects of spatial knowledge: physical space (nature and the cosmos), mental space (logical and formal abstractions concerning space), and social space (the space of social relations and practice).24 Lefebvre, however, is particularly interested in social space because, as Soja observes, it is at once a space distinguishable from physical and mental space, with which it remains in dialectical relations, and also ‘a transcending composite of all spaces’, subsuming the relations between physical and mental space within itself.25 This already complex situation is further complicated by another of Lefebvre's conceptual (p.30) triads, perhaps his most important, which concerns the historically variable interactions within social space between what he calls spatial practices, representations of space, and representational spaces.26 Spatial practices are primarily associated with space as it is perceived and deciphered by human subjects, and thus serve to structure everyday reality, inscribing routes and patterns of interaction that link places set aside for work and leisure, public and private life. By contrast, representations of space are bound up with conceived or conceptualised space, with the attempts to order socio-spatial relations on the part of planners, architects, cartographers, and technocrats, and as such are inevitably embedded with power, knowledge, and ideology. Finally, representational spaces concern space as it is lived through its multiple images and symbols, and are linked to underground or alternative forms of social life as well as the imaginative and affective qualities of art and culture. As Lefebvre says, representational space ‘overlays physical space, making symbolic use of its objects’.27 Indeed, the ‘fantasy of art’ – its function and fundamental aspiration – is to effect a shift within present space from the dominant representations of space ‘into what is further off, into nature, into symbols, into representational spaces’.28 Yet this social space of lived experience is inevitably elusive, constantly under threat from the representations of space projected by developers and bureaucrats that seek to appropriate and dominate it, particularly through the production of the simultaneously fragmented and homogenising ‘abstract space’ that is characteristic of contemporary multinational capitalism. Abstract space seeks to occlude or occult ‘differential space’, the space of difference, otherness, and particularity, by erasing distinctions and either repressing or formalising both conscious and unconscious modes of lived experience.29 Nonetheless, Lefebvre insists that abstract space is not, in fact, homogeneous but actually ‘multiform’, riven by conflicts that are internal to its make-up, conflicts that may ‘foster the explosion of abstract space and the production of a space that is other’.30

Lefebvre's ideas concerning the production of space have had a significant impact not only upon the new geography and the social sciences generally, but also upon cultural theory, where the currency of ‘space’ as a critical concept has begun to contest the longstanding primacy held by ‘time’. Foucault, no doubt thinking of the contemporaneous impact of structuralism on the human and social sciences, claimed in 1967 that the present age ‘may be the age of space’:

We are in an era of the simultaneous, of juxtaposition, of the near and the far, of the side-by-side, of the scattered. We exist at a moment when the (p.31) world is experiencing, I believe, something less like a great life that would develop through time than like a network that connects points and weaves its skein.

Importantly, he also goes on to qualify this declaration by noting that space also has a history, and that it would therefore be unwise to ignore the ‘inevitable interlocking of time with space’.31 Foucault's point about ‘the age of space’ is echoed and extrapolated by Fredric Jameson, who argues that space can be considered ‘an existential and cultural dominant’ in postmodernism, and proposes a boldly schematic distinction between the epistemological priorities of modernism and postmodernism. ‘We have often been told,’ he writes, ‘that we now inhabit the synchronic rather than the diachronic, and I think it is at least empirically arguable that our daily life, our psychic experience, our cultural languages, are today dominated by categories of space rather than by categories of time, as in the preceding period of modernism.’32 It is difficult to wholly agree either with Jameson's periodisation here, or with the starkly binary nature of the opposition he identifies. Lefebvre, for his part, dates the decisive shattering of Euclidian and perspectivist space to ‘around 1910’, the same date that Virginia Woolf linked with a shift in the perception of ‘human character’ making new demands upon modern fiction.33 Furthermore, there is a growing critical consensus that questions of space and geography fully as much as those bearing upon time condition the experience of modernity and the imagination of modernism.34 For instance, the cultural historian Stephen Kern has shown that, during the modernist period, innovations in technology, communications, and transport networks had profound effects upon how space was experienced and conceived in social and cultural life. As a result, the traditional view of space as ‘an inert void in which objects existed’ gradually gave way to ‘a new view of it as active and full’.35

What is also troubling about Jameson's distinction is the way in which it opposes space to time, equating the dominance of categories of space in postmodernism with a corresponding ‘waning of our historicity, of our lived possibility of experiencing history in some active way’.36 This is to forget the interlocking of time with space to which Foucault draws attention, for, as Massey argues, space is not the opposite or negation of time and temporality, but is rather ‘integral to the production of history, and thus to the possibility of politics, just as the temporal is to geography’.37 Although time and space remain distinct and irreducible to one another, they are nonetheless ‘co-implicated’ and dynamically interrelated.38 In the course of his very perceptive analyses of what he calls (p.32) ‘the displacement of time, the spatialization of the temporal’, Jameson does briefly acknowledge that he is describing a shift in the relations between time and space rather than a divorce of the two categories from one another. Yet even his most positive valuation of the libidinal and utopian possibilities offered by postmodernism's ‘spatialization’ of everyday life regards it in terms of a lamentable impoverishment in ‘the capacity to think time and History’.39 What such a differential conception of the relation between time and space necessarily obscures is a full recognition of their coeval implication, or what Massey calls ‘the unavoidable challenge of negotiating a here-and-now’.40 In such circumstances, we have to make the effort to think time and space, history and geography together at once.

In response to this challenge, David Harvey's geographical analysis of the condition of postmodernity in terms of ‘time-space compression’ provides a suggestive framework for understanding how the changing character of space and place, as well as time and history, condition cultural production. For Harvey, time-space compression describes the effects of those forces and processes driving economic modernisation ‘that so revolutionize the objective qualities of space and time that we are forced to alter, sometimes in quite radical ways, how we represent the world to ourselves’.41 That is to say, time-space compression involves a crisis in representation, necessitating the generation of new modes of seeing, new forms and languages through which the spatio-temporal co-ordinates of the worlds we inhabit and traverse might be mapped and comprehended. Harvey contends that the transition from a Fordist mode of production to the newer techniques of flexible accumulation characteristic of postmodernity has involved ‘an intense phase of time-space compression’, one that inevitably ‘exacts its toll on our capacity to grapple with the realities unfolding around us’.42 But if this experience is a hallmark of the condition of postmodernity then it is by no means unique to it, and nor is time-space compression itself. Indeed, Harvey relates the changing manifestations of the concept to a much longer phase of capitalist modernisation, and particularly to an epistemological break occurring some time after 1848, whereby the ‘certainty of absolute space and place gave way to the insecurities of a shifting relative space, in which events in one place could have immediate and ramifying effects in several other places’.43

Clearly, this situation is further intensified in succeeding phases of time-space compression, stimulated not least by the increasingly rapid globalisation of capital and communications media in the contemporary (p.33) period. In this context the dialectical relationship between space and place is also further deepened and complicated, for a shrinking globe necessarily brings diverse communities and formerly local processes or traditions into closer contact and competition. For the humanist geographer Yi-Fu Tuan, ‘when space feels thoroughly familiar to us, it has become place’;44 but such intimate familiarity and circumscription is surely imperilled, if not impossible, amid the disorientations and disruptions of postmodernity and globalisation. In fact, as Derek Gregory notes, places ‘are local condensations and distillations of tremulous global processes that travel through them and whose effects are reworked and inscribed in them. In the world of high modernity it has become virtually impossible to make sense of what happens in a place without looking beyond the local horizon.’45 Place can no longer be, if it ever was, a point of anchorage, stability, and unproblematic identity within the encompassing geopolitical contexts and currents of space, with their forbidding heterogeneity and mobile flows of people, capital, and information. Indeed, the specificity of places has less to do with their isolate uniqueness or bounded integrity than with their status as sites of intersection and passage within larger spatial networks. To that extent, places are best conceived as ‘integrations of space and time; as spatio-temporal events’.46 There can be no polarisation of space and place, therefore, just as there can be no binary opposition between space and time, but instead only relationships of contiguity and overlap that are historically variable. Which is why Marcus Doel is tempted to say that ‘there is nothing but splace, taking splace – splacing’; the point being to recognise that place just as much as space is not fixed but in process, an unfolding event of becoming.47

How might such (re-)conceptualisations of space and place, history and geography be applied to and enhance critical readings of literary texts? One way to begin answering this question is to note that some of the new geographical thinking has itself been stimulated and influenced by models of reading and textuality drawn from literary theory and criticism. For example, Massey's understanding of space as radically ‘open’ is partially premised upon her sense that as ‘the text has been destabilised in literary theory so space might be destabilised in geography (and indeed in wider social theory)’.48 Doel similarly affirms that ‘what geography deals with can be refigured as textual: not as a linguistic idealism, but as an affective texturing’.49 Poststructuralist ideas concerning the play of signification, undecidability, becoming, and aporia have, then, been crucial to attempts within radical geography to (p.34) elaborate conceptions of space and place in terms of processes, networks, and events. Marc Brosseau has also called for geographers to attend more closely to the formal, generic, and linguistic specificities of the literary text as text, proposing that it ‘may constitute a “geographer” in its own right as it generates norms, particular models of readability, that produce a particular type of geography’.50 The intention here is to move away from an instrumental use of literary texts as simply another source of geographical information or as reliable conduits of an authentic ‘sense of place’ and towards a more productive interdisciplinary dialogue between literary studies and spatial science. However, if geographers can benefit from adopting some of the techniques of the literary critic, then, as Brosseau seems to imply, literary critics should themselves recognise that ‘space’ has always been an important part of both the content and form of ‘literature’, whether this has been acknowledged or not. Indeed, as Lefebvre himself remarks, ‘any search for space in literary texts will find it everywhere and in every guise: enclosed, described, projected, dreamt of, speculated about’.51 This is not just to say that spaces are projected and represented in literary texts, that every event or plot element must take place somewhere or other. Rather, as Sheila Hones observes, texts can themselves be conceived as ‘spatial events’ that are produced ‘at the intersection of agents and situations scattered across time and space’, linking authors and readers, editors and publishers, printers and compositors, spaces of production, reproduction, and consumption.52

A very early intervention in the field of literary geography can be found in Mikhail Bakhtin's concept of the ‘chronotope’, through which ‘spatial and temporal indicators’ are combined and articulated in the literary work.53 The chronotope thereby functions as a narrative focal point for the knotting together of temporal and spatial relationships in the text, and as a representational matrix that serves to concretise abstract or philosophical concerns. For instance, the chronotope of the road, which features prominently in the picaresque novel, creates a spatio-temporal situation in which the paths of a varied cast of characters can intersect and their experiences overlap, so that narrative impetus is generated by the complexity of human relations and the collapse of social distances.54 Ultimately, Bakhtin is more interested in the temporality of narrative than the spatiality of literary texts, but Franco Moretti has extended and refined some of his ideas in order to foreground what he calls ‘the ortgebunden, place-bound nature of literary forms: each of them with its peculiar geometry, its boundaries, its spatial taboos and favourite routes’.55 According to Moretti, the form, generic characteristics, even (p.35) the style of a given text are substantially conditioned or determined by the spaces and places that it represents and out of which it is written. Consequently, ‘space is not the “outside” of narrative, […] but an internal force, that shapes it from within’.56 An illustration of this point can be found in his discussion of the ‘phenomenology of the border’ in nineteenth-century historical novels, whereby borders between European states serve as sites of ‘adventure’, allowing for narrative effects relating to encounters, danger, surprise, suspense, and even causing stylistic changes via a rise in the use of figurative language.57 Moretti's suggestive version of literary geography, which involves mapping literary phenomena so as to rearrange their components and bring hidden patterns to light, is mobilised in the service of a mode of literary-historical inquiry that does not readily lend itself to a single-author study such as this one, predicated as it is upon the study of collective systems rather than individual instances of literary production.58 Nonetheless, the links he makes between particular spaces and literary forms are illuminating for any reading of Carson's work, as I will show in the chapters which follow.

Literary texts can further be understood to produce ‘cognitive maps’, providing readers with persuasive but ideologically charged representations of space through which they are encouraged to orient their relations with the wider social worlds in which they move – an idea that I explore in relation to Carson's work in Chapter 2. Julian Murphet contends that because culture is inevitably implicated in the production and reproduction of the socio-spatial structures that define our ‘reality’, individual works or texts may be ‘scrutinised for the labour they perform in programming social subjects for their social space’.59 Understanding the politics of space can therefore help to reveal the ideology of the text more fully because culture and geography are inextricably intertwined in the exercise of power. As Edward Said affirms, it is imperative to recognise that just as ‘none of us is outside or beyond geography, none of us is completely free from the struggle over geography’. ‘That struggle,’ he says, ‘is complex and interesting because it is not only about soldiers and cannons but also about ideas, about forms, about images and imaginings.’60 Hence the emphasis Said places upon the ‘geographical articulations’ of cultural texts, the many ways in which ‘structures of location and geographical reference appear in the cultural languages of literature, history, or ethnography’, thereby revealing the emplotments of ideology and power-knowledge.61 To read texts geographically, then, we have to attend closely to the materiality and historicity of the locations (p.36) that they (re-)construct and describe – something that I have tried to do with ‘Belfast’ above. What must also be considered, though, is the nature of the relationship between a text's representations of space or place and the social spaces that it invokes and addresses. To this end, Andrew Thacker introduces the notion of ‘textual space’, which refers to the mutual implication of material and metaphorical spaces in the writing and reading of any literary text, and also describes the dialectical relationship between literary forms and social space. In Thacker's succinct formulation: ‘Literary texts represent social spaces, but social space shapes literary forms.’62

The co-implication of material and metaphorical spaces is discussed by Carson – though not in those terms exactly – in the course of a 1991 interview with Frank Ormsby. Carson is prompted to consider what might be called the ‘ground’ for his writing, and his acutely reflective response helpfully identifies a tension or ambiguity that is arguably fundamental to his representations of space and place:

For years I've had a series of recurrent dreams about Belfast – nightmares, sometimes, or dreams of containment, repression, anxiety and claustrophobia … often, I'm lost in an ambiguous labyrinth between the Falls and the Shankill; at other times, the city is idealized and takes on a Gothic industrial beauty. It's a landscape I know almost better than the waking city: so at times I'm disappointed that the complicated scenery of the dream world is not to be found on the ‘real’ map. But then, the real world sometimes throws up details that are contiguous to the dream. Often they are just as surreal, as shocking and bizarre, as nightmares. Perhaps the poems I write are located somewhere between the two worlds.63

The chief interest of this passage lies not the kernel of biographical self-revelation, however intriguing that may be; nor should we interpret Carson's words as an expression of faith in the transcendent powers of the poetic imagination, which would dislodge the prosaic impositions of the ‘real’ in favour of a sublime ‘dream’ world that is both terrifying and beautiful. It is clear that that is not what he is saying. Rather, what is most revealing is the way in which the opposition that Carson initially sets up between the ‘real’ map of Belfast and the shape-shifting cities of his dreams becomes progressively deconstructed as he talks on, and is recast instead as a relationship of contiguity in which dreams can be deceptively realistic and the ‘real world’ of Belfast during the Troubles is apt to appear shocking, bizarre, or surreal. That he regards his own poetry as being ‘located somewhere between the two worlds’ is illuminating not because this recognition provides a resolution to the tension (p.37) described, a satisfying synthesis that would transcend the dialectical opposition, but because it deepens the ambiguity, acknowledging its profundity and its generative possibilities both at once.

Clearly, symbolic or metaphorical representations of space are inflected and conditioned (often indirectly) by the material forces and affective qualities of the physical spaces to which they respond and refer. But equally, such mental projections of ideas and images also act upon and influence (again, indirectly) the lived experience of social space. Or, as James Donald remarks with specific reference to urban space, the city we experience ‘is always already symbolised and metaphorised’: ‘In the subjective life of the city dweller, there is no possibility of defining clear-cut boundaries between reality and imagination.’64 Such conflations are made explicit in Carson's prose memoir, The Star Factory, where recollections of his Belfast childhood are intertwined with accounts of his attempts to navigate the metamorphic city of his dreams. One chapter relates ‘a tangled recurrent dream’ where the dense intersections of streets in central Belfast are described in such hallucinatory detail that the cityscape is rapidly destabilised, merging with its cinematic representation in Carol Reed's 1947 film, Odd Man Out, but also retains an uncanny familiarity and realism: ‘Sometimes, with a doppelgänger jolt, I recognize this is the real world, only slightly altered since I last visited, or was invited, and I acknowledge my shadow’ (SF, 127, 129). Further mutations occur later in the same dream-narrative, as ‘the streets turn into wynds and stairs when least expected’ and each version of the urban plan dissolves spontaneously into the next (SF, 134–5).

A similarly complex imbrication of real and imagined spaces occurs in an unpublished poem, ‘Alphabet City’, which probably dates from the early 1990s. Here, the narrator's dream narrative not only conflates Belfast with a version of Virginia Woolf's London but also overlays the urban plan of the city (via ‘the 1948 street directory’) with the textual spaces of an English dictionary:

  • All this fin-de-siècle drapery and furniture is strangely
  • Familiar – mostly, I see, beginning with A, like aspidistras
  • Antimacassars, aboulia and absinthe; awful acanthus
  • Wallpaper … Ajax … I realise, of course, I'll wake up any minute
  • And find myself somewhere down in the B's – the bourgeois Bloomsbury,
  • Trash-cans overflowing with borscht, the soughing trellised scurf
  • Of bougainvillea, as the bourgeoisie evaporated under the Bruton regime,
  • Leaving us with the dregs – Bible-thumpers, bidet-sniffers, Bolsheviks.65

(p.38) Alliteration becomes a means of orientation (or disorientation) in this poem, as the dictionary's alphabetical index allows Carson to construct the city via a series of arbitrary juxtapositions and linguistic conjunctions. The unfamiliar proximities permitted on the pages of the dictionary between words that are semantically diverse, belonging to widely differing discursive regimes – ‘aboulia’ and ‘absinthe’, for instance – provides the template for a form of imaginative geography in which contemporary Belfast shades into other cities and time zones: London between the wars, Moscow during the Revolution, fin-de-siècle Paris. What such techniques of merging and overlap imply is that Carson's writing emerges out of, and attempts to articulate, the ambiguous and unstable relations between conversant ‘worlds’, mediating between material and metaphorical spaces, or between physical space and mental space.

I have said that Belfast serves as an imaginative focal point for much of Carson's work, yet the interest and fecundity of his work from the perspective of literary geography is by no means confined to his representations of urban space. Even Carson's earliest poetry bears out Gerry Smyth's observation that Irish poetry tends to be ‘overdetermined by spatial concerns’,66 but it does so in a manner that may initially appear anomalous to readers more familiar with his ‘Belfast poems’.67 Certainly it seems so to Peter Barry, who notes that Carson's first collection, The New Estate, tends to draw upon ‘a more traditional rural vocabulary and imagery’ than the urban themes and settings which predominate in his work from The Irish for No onwards. And this leads Barry to claim, mistakenly I think, that Carson's first collection ‘registers and consolidates’ a fairly conventional Irish Nationalist frame of reference that is problematised and undermined in his later work.68 Granted, it is not difficult to find evidence to support Barry's argument, and a poem such as ‘The Insular Celts’ would seem, on first reading, to bear out his remarks in exemplary fashion. It describes, in overtly mythopoeic terms, the arrival of the titular Celts on an unnamed island that the reader is to understand is Ireland, or a version of Ireland, lending shape and meaning to the natural landscapes they encounter through acts of naming and ceremonial burial. The co-dependent identity of people and place is underscored by the mingling of the settlers' flesh and bones with the soil of their adopted homeland, a process that enacts a richly symbolic conflation of land and inhabitants, place and language:

  • They will come back to the warm earth
  • And call it by possessive names –
  • Thorned rose, love, woman and mother;
  • (p.39) To hard hills of stone they will give
  • The words for breast; to meadowland,
  • The soft gutturals of rivers,
  • Tongues of water; to firm plains, flesh,
  • As one day we will discover
  • Their way of living, in their death. (NE, 2)

The equations between naming and possession, language and landscape posited in these stanzas not only point to Carson's self-conscious engagement with the early Irish poetic tradition in several poems from The New Estate, but also carry obvious echoes of contemporary re-workings of the dinnseanchas tradition of Irish place-lore in John Montague's The Rough Field and Seamus Heaney's Wintering Out. The poem's sensuous evocations of ‘warm earth’, ‘hard hills’, and ‘firm plains’ simultaneously sexualise and anthropomorphise the landscape, echoing the practices of Montague and Heaney by presenting place as a living ‘ground’ for authentic communal identifications. As David Lloyd observes, such an equation of language, territory, and identity promises ‘a healing of division simply by returning the subject to place, in an innocent yet possessive relation to his objects’.69

Yet even here, Carson's take on such themes is not merely imitative, nor is it as naively ‘traditional’ or straightforward as Barry suggests. The first indicator that this may be so is the ambiguous title itself, which by drawing attention to the ‘insular’ character of the Celtic civilisation described implies that the narrative of arrival, settlement, and organic belonging that the poem constructs is, in fact, an ironic pastiche of Irish nationalist imaginings rather than a ‘consolidation’ of such myths. As Carson has said in interview, ‘The Insular Celts’ is a poem that ‘speaks very much in inverted commas’: ‘The showiness is subverted by the speaking voice, which isn't me. It's the voice of a proud and foolish Celt. If it's about Ireland, it's about one view of Ireland. And I hope it's a send-up of Tara brooches and Celtic gimcrackery.’70 For all its seeming immersion in a pre-historic, mythopoeic landscape and projection of a Celtic unity of place and community, then, the poem can be read as a de-mythologising commentary upon one dominant strand of Irish Nationalist ideology. It is also a tongue-in-cheek rendition of romantic stereotypes of Irishness as they are constructed and recycled in popular culture and, to some extent, the work of Carson's fellow Northern Irish poets. This recognition further illuminates the poem's concerns with space, which centre on an implicit rebuke of ‘insularity’ both as a socio-political mindset and as a conceptual marker for the (p.40) bounded uniqueness of a given place. Indeed, for Carson, to consider a place in isolation by cutting it off from its contexts is not a means to discover some inherent and essential ‘ground’ through which history and identity can be made to cohere, but rather to render that place effectively meaningless. The meaning of a given place, in a sense, lies precisely in the sum of its contexts and connections with other places; place is ‘always in process, a kind of open field or three-dimensional network with unlimited potential combination and connectivity’.71 Hence, in the insular world of the Celts, history has narrowed to a ‘confused circle’ of wars and cattle-raids, and life appears little more than a sterile and reiterative sham-death that ‘will happen over again/And again’ (NE, 3). Such circumscribed fixity and futile circularity is itself a forgetting of the fact that on first ‘sail[ing] out for an island’ the Celts had ‘left solid ground behind’, and of the lesson inscribed in the intricate patterns of their art, which celebrates ‘the flight/of one thing into another’ (NE, 2–3).

A number of other poems in The New Estate also deal with the theme of ‘insularity’ or hermitage, and each either convey the diminishing effects of such isolation or undermine the illusion of separateness by disclosing the complex web of connections linking diverse and seemingly distinct spaces. Thus, in ‘St Ciaran's Island’ the poet-saint narrator struggles to regard his physical isolation on a remote island as the necessary condition for a closer approach to God via communion with ‘the green things of the world’ (NE, 5). But, as the boundaries of his experience continue to contract, the poem's ironic edge sharpens, revealing his transfiguration to be essentially a diminution of both his self and of the world he inhabits:

  • I will be myself alone.
  • Through the holes in the trellis
  • Falls thin rain. What drizzles
  • Slowly into my skull is this:
  • I will acclimatize.
  • My head will shrink in size. (NE, 6)

The deliberate echo in these lines of the Sinn Féin separatist credo – ‘sinn féin amhain’, ourselves alone – implies criticism rather than endorsement of the ‘insularity’ of much Irish Nationalist ideology, but the poem is also obviously an acutely self-reflexive warning of the dangers attending poetic solipsism or self-isolation from the ‘big world’ (NE, 5) of politics and society. Acclimatisation to this impoverished, inward-looking (p.41) conception of place and the mode of existence it subtends can only be reductive, the poem implies, a becoming-less.

Against such diminution and constriction, Carson's early poetry imparts a subtle awareness of what Henri Lefebvre calls ‘the hyper-complexity of social space’, in which local, regional, national, and global articulations of space interact. ‘Considered in isolation,’ Lefebvre asserts, ‘such spaces are mere abstractions. As concrete abstractions, however, they attain “real” existence by virtue of networks and pathways, by virtue of bunches or clusters of relationships.’72 These networks and clusters of relationships between spaces become apparent when The New Estate is considered as a whole. Not only does the arrangement of poems in the collection describe a gradual shift from the world of early Irish saints and scribes to that of modern, secular Belfast, it also sees the predominantly natural landscapes of poems such as ‘The Scribe in the Woods’ and ‘Winter’ (NE, 1, 39) become progressively intertwined with depictions of domestic interiors and the rituals of home-making, as in ‘Moving In’ and ‘To a Married Sister’ (NE, 29, 33). These, in turn, open onto the more explicitly urban, public spaces explored in ‘The Bomb Disposal’ and ‘The Car Cemetery’ (NE, 21, 31). The latter poem even extrapolates from its street-scenes of traffic flow and parked cars to imagine a world-wide ‘graveyard of defunct bodies’, where scrapped cars rust amid ‘a detritus of lights’ (NE, 31). Moreover, the volume's recurrent preoccupations with issues of habitation, relocation, building, making, and craftwork emphasise the human processes through which places are made and remade, encountered, negotiated, and transformed. So in the title poem a recent move from the countryside to a new urban housing estate, while giving rise to elegiac pangs of loss and a certain sense of disorientation or displacement, also becomes the stimulus for ‘the swaying lines/Of a new verse’ (NE, 41).

The ‘hypercomplexity of space’ is conveyed to deliberately disorienting effect in subsequent poems such as ‘Jawbox’ from Belfast Confetti, where there is a much more rapid and unstable slippage between urban and rural environments, actual and represented spaces, and the reader's confusion is enhanced by the narrator's habit of misinterpreting images and objects, or of providing false perspectives on events. Such strategies are, however, appropriate to the text's concerns with schizophrenia and dissociations of identity, psychological conditions that implicitly allegorise the political and historical circumstances of the city of Belfast and Northern Ireland generally. Initially, the narrator describes a scene from a film in which an unidentified individual reads a magazine article praising the (p.42) old-fashioned charm’ of the Belfast sink – a ‘jawbox’ in Belfast vernacular. The sink serves as a sliding signifier in the text, cropping up again in a 1940s farmhouse kitchen, the garden of a house (as a flowerpot), and a field near the Irish border (as a cattle-trough). Subsequently, it is also linked with acts of violence and political murder that are investigated by ‘Jekyll’ and, it appears, perpetrated by his alter-ego ‘Hyde’. The poem's running intertextual references to Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde imply the schizoid nature of the society depicted, and this is further underlined by the recurrent equivocation that attends the pronunciation of ‘Belfast’, where the decision to stress the first or second syllable is also a dilemma of identity politics:

‘Why Belfast?’, the character begins to ponder – he puts the accent On the fast, as if the name was Irish, which it was (or is); this is how His father says it, just as, being from Belfast, he calls the sink a ‘jawbox’.

(BC, 90)

Later on, when Hyde is fleeing the scene of his crimes he will find himself ‘caught between/Belfast and Belfast’ in a pastiche of a film noir pursuit on board a train (BC, 93).

This is presumably the same cross-border train that Jekyll travels on earlier in the poem and that is stopped by a bomb on the line between Dundalk and Newry: ‘Or Newry and Dundalk, depending/Where you're coming from: like the difference between Cambodia and Kampuchea’ (BC, 91). Carson's shrewd deployment of cliché in these lines not only indicates the importance of how things are said but also underlines the extent to which location and origin (‘where you're coming from’) can define identity in the North. As if to further emphasise this point, Jekyll boards a bus to continue his journey and, in a striking equation of geographical division and physical violence, ‘the border passes through him/Like a knife, invisibly, as the blip of the bus is captured on surveillance radar’ (BC, 92). Of course, the invisibility of political borders and of the surveillant power of the state are crucial to their efficient functioning. Moreover, while ‘Jawbox’ insistently foregrounds the ambivalences and indeterminacies that attend the province's border condition, the text's proliferating metamorphoses are countermanded by a powerful impulse towards order (albeit a murderous one) and the resolution of ambiguity. At the poem's conclusion Jekyll stares into a mirror above the Belfast sink, watching as his reflection turns into that of Hyde – ‘an Englishman into an Irishman’ (BC, 93) – and is subsequently murdered: ‘Jekyll's head/Is jerking back and forward on the rim. Red confetti spatters the glaze.’ Crucially, at the poem's conclusion the (p.43) homicidal violence that Hyde embodies is aligned with intolerance of the very ambivalence – both semantic and spatial – that the poem has sought to foster and augment: ‘Belfast, the voice says, not Belfast. Then the credits roll’ (BC, 94).

In ‘Jawbox’, the chronotope of the border connects spatial division with historical crisis and psychological trauma, allowing Carson to dramatise the schizoid relationships between Catholic and Protestant, North and South, Ireland and Britain. The same chronotope functions somewhat differently, however, in a later poem, ‘Jacta Est Alea’, which comically recasts the fragile political rapprochements of the ‘peace process’ by way of a tipsy encounter in a border pub. Here, the Irish border is conceived less as a fault-line than as a frontier or threshold,73 and as such it connotes an experience of historical transit and transition:

  • It was one of those puzzling necks of the wood where the South was in
  •           the North, the way
  • The double cross in a jigsaw loops into its matrix, like the border was a
  •           clef
  • With arbitrary teeth indented in it. Here it cut clean across the plastic
  • Lounge of The Half-Way House; my heart lay in the Republic
  • While my head was in the Six, or so I was inclined. You know that
  •           drinker's
  • Angle, elbow-propped, knuckles on his brow like one of the Great
  •           Thinkers?
  • (OEC, 44)

The peculiar, liminal geography of the poem's setting constructs a spatial boundary that is oddly fluid or elastic, subject to topsy-turvy inversions and sudden infractions. But the border is also violently restrictive, ‘cutting’ an erratic path across this ‘neck’ of the woods and figuratively severing the narrator's head from his heart and body as he drinks in The Half-Way House.74

Such ambiguities seem fitting given that the poem's punning reference to ‘talks about talks’ places it in the context of post-ceasefire negotiations where the border's contested status had taken on renewed significance. Carson's gloss on the Latin tag of the poem's title – ‘the die is cast’, words attributed to Caesar on crossing the Rubicon – is also accordingly ambivalent, invoking a point of no return or irrevocable step that might as easily lead to war as to peace.75 The semi-farcical conversation that is subsequently opened between the speaker and a fellow drinker may be shadowed by the threat of ‘double cross’, but also promises a crossing-over (p.44) that will be ‘key’ to the creation of political accommodations and new matrices of identity. Significantly, the poem does not offer a resolution either way, leaving the frontier intact and the river still to be crossed: ‘We stagger on the frontier. He is pro. I am con./ Siamese-like, drunken, inextricable, we wade into the Rubicon’ (OEC, 44). Yet Carson's satirical tableau again works to undermine the static nature of binary oppositions, so that ‘pro’ and ‘con’, like ‘North’ and ‘South’, are not only ‘inextricable’ but also liable to suddenly switch positions or bleed into one another in drunken confusion. To this end, Carson's representations of borders and interfaces as ambiguous ‘in-between spaces’ are akin to Michel de Certeau's description of the ‘frontier’: ‘A middle place, composed of interactions and inter-views, the frontier is a sort of void, a narrative symbol of exchanges and encounters.’ Thus, the narrative collocations elaborated in ‘Jacta Est Alea’, and in much of Carson's work, privilege a ‘logic of ambiguity’ that is apt to turn frontiers into crossings, rivers into bridges, boundaries into metaphors, but also vice versa.76

Carson's treatment of islands, borders, and frontiers illustrates Doreen Massey's point that space is inevitably ‘the product of interrelations’ and therefore open to heterogeneity, loose ends, and intersecting stories.77 Similarly, places and locations are to be conceived not as bounded or ‘insular’ but as nodal points in networks that include and connect other places. Indeed, it is possible to identify in Carson's writing a dual focus through which the particular and the paradigmatic, the local and the global, place and space are apprehended simultaneously. Figurations of the familiar sectarian divisions of the Troubles city, and the conspicuous reshaping of Belfast's post-industrial landscapes by planners and paramilitaries alike, are held in productive tension in his work with a range of explorations predicated upon the city's ‘elsewheres’, its unexpected alignments and affinities with other places, and upon a self-consciously utopian retrieval of its lost, forgotten, or failed incarnations. Appreciating the scope of Carson's spatial aesthetic thus means relating his meticulous charting of intimately known localities and places to the often kaleidoscopic intuition his texts disclose of the fractured global spatiality with which such places are ineluctably intermeshed. To this end, we might speak of the imaginative geographies that are produced and described in his work. The term ‘imaginative geography’ was originally coined by Edward Said to describe those literary and cultural projections that distinguish between spaces deemed familiar and unfamiliar, particularly within an imperialist economy of difference and otherness. Just as the geographical and cultural entities known as the ‘Orient’ and the (p.45) ‘Occident’ are understood in Said's work as man-made constructs rather than inert facts of nature, so imaginative geographies permit a strategic circumscription and shoring up of identity by investing space with emotional sense and equating difference with the geographical distance of what is ‘out there’. Accordingly, ‘imaginative geography and history help the mind to intensify its own sense of itself by dramatizing the difference between what is close to it and what is far away’.78

Said discusses imaginative geography primarily as an instrument of imperialist power and ideology, but it might also be considered more broadly in terms of the very production and reproduction of everyday life. Advancing this argument, Derek Gregory asserts that ‘our imaginative geographies (inside and outside the academy) are global as well as local. They articulate not simply the differences between this place and that, inscribing different images of here and there, but they also shape the ways in which, from our particular perspectives, we conceive of the connections and separations between them.’79 In the context of literary and cultural production, then, imaginative geographies would map the alignments, convergences, and interactions between places, characters, and objects that are made and unmade in literary texts, figuratively recasting the relations-between that shape and structure spatiality. As representations of space, imaginative geographies always exist in tension with the material configurations of social space that pertain within a culture at any given moment. Such material configurations are never ultimately fixed or immemorial, however, and by way of their difference from normative representations of space imaginative geographies can highlight the fact that space is always in process, that it is radically ‘open’ to contestation.

Carson's imaginative geographies accordingly pivot upon the relationships of friction and consonance that pertain between here and elsewhere, home and away, Belfast and the world. Paradoxically, the more he strives to record and catalogue the city in all its intimate particularity the more he finds himself describing and exploring its status as a paradigmatic or ‘universal’ modern city. Thus, in The Star Factory, he confesses that he ‘cannot help but see bits of Belfast everywhere’, observing that ‘Berlin, Warsaw, Tallinn, New York, to name some, have Belfast aspects’ (SF, 153). If this suggests a tendency on Carson's part to find Belfast wherever he looks – in the quality of light captured in a book of Parisian photographs, for instance, or the cinematography of Jean Cocteau's Orphée (SF, 153, 267) – and perhaps even an unconscious resistance to the sheer difference of other places and cultures, then it (p.46) also underlines the extent to which he regards Belfast as a frame of reference through which other places may be brought into focus. In ‘Eesti’ the narrator describes his ‘homesick-lonely’ wanderings through the city of Tallinn and its ‘aural labyrinth of streets’ only to discover that this foreign city provides him with an unanticipated perspective on the Belfast of his childhood. Both the tintinnabulation of bells and gongs that fills the city streets and the richly symbolic interior of an Estonian church he visits evoke for him ‘another/Time’, and the narrative segues from an account of his perambulations in Tallinn to a memory of walking with his father to first Mass in the Belfast dawn (OEC, 7–8). In this way, ‘Eesti’ links the present and the past, here and elsewhere, and enacts a moment of clarification or epiphany by way of experiences that include estrangement and disorientation. On the one hand, Belfast serves as a lens upon the world, a familiar template for making sense of what is foreign or unfamiliar. On the other, the analogies or parallels that are formed in this way also overspill this domesticating function, destabilising any secure sense of native belonging and revealing the displacements that condition the experience of place.

Because of its inherent mutability and multiplicity Carson's Belfast is always on the point of revealing its otherness, its uncanniness, its nonidentity with itself. This is the case, for example, in ‘The Forgotten City’, which rewrites and re-contextualises a poem of the same title by William Carlos Williams, providing an intertextual parallel between Carson's Belfast and Williams's home city of Paterson, New Jersey. Rioting in West Belfast forces Carson's narrator to make a detour through an unfamiliar part of the city, which he finds eerily silent and relatively untouched by the ‘disturbances’ that so extensively condition life in his own part of the city. His response combines disorientation and bemusement with studious curiosity in lines that closely echo Williams's own: ‘I had no idea where I was and promised myself/I would go back some day and study this/grave people’ (BN, 44).80 In part an ironic condemnation of the detachment and self-isolation of the city's affluent middle classes during the Troubles, the poem also dramatises the discovery of alterity in the midst of a seemingly familiar environment, an experience that is frequently enacted in Carson's work.

Many of the tenuous and fragmentary recognitions that Carson stages between Belfast and other cities also have the effect of invoking experiences of ghettoisation, economic exploitation, racial or religious tensions, and urban discord that are global as well as local. In his prose piece, ‘Schoolboys and Idlers of Pompeii’, the Alphabet City area of (p.47) New York reminds Carson of Belfast because its roads are ‘pocked and skid-marked, littered with broken glass and crushed beer cans’, while Belfast's most conspicuous resemblance to New York is found in the ‘underground graffiti mural’ that has recently appeared on the back wall of Gallagher's tobacco factory, ‘coded, articulated, multi-coloured spray-gunned alphabet – pointing west by style and implication’ (BC, 52). In the same text, a group of Belfast ex-pats in Adelaide are engaged in ‘reconstructing a city on the other side of the world’, employing memory and imagination in an (ultimately futile) effort to collapse the temporal and spatial distances that separate them from ‘home’ (BC, 53). In this way Carson can be seen to illustrate Elmer Kennedy-Andrews's point that in contemporary Northern Irish poetry ‘home’ is no longer conceived as somewhere stable and fixed, but is ‘produced out of the encounter with other places, languages and histories, in the process of which the opposition between home and away, self and other, rootedness and itinerancy, is inevitably revised’.81 Even in the poem ‘Home’, from Breaking News, Carson tempers any secure sense of belonging with the dynamics of departure and return. The narrator's panoramic vista of Belfast – ‘at last/I see everything’ – is granted only because he is returning ‘from/the airport down/the mountain road’ and, in a further twist, his commanding and rather lofty perspective on his home place is disturbingly conflated with that of a ‘British Army/helicopter’ hovering ‘motionless’ above the city (BN, 12–13). Several other poems in the same collection make narrative connections across space and time that further destabilise Belfast's location, drawing attention to the city's actual and symbolic implication in imperialist campaigns for global conquest. In ‘The War Correspondent’, the long poetic sequence that concludes Breaking News, the narrator's simultaneously fixated and appalled descriptions of the chaotic violence and clash of cultures during the Crimean War spark off a series of geographical and historical parallels with Belfast, where the street map echoes the names of towns and battlefields mentioned in the poem: Balaklava, Sevastopol, Alma, Odessa, Balkan, Serbia, Crimea. Conversely, the poet-correspondent's depiction of Gallipoli is a cumulative inventory that combines, in seemingly endless profusion, buildings, landscapes, people, and objects from across the globe – including the ‘sheds and stalls from Billingsgate’, ‘the garlic-oregano-tainted arcades of Bologna’, and ‘all the oubliettes of Trebizond’ – as a way of underscoring the ubiquitous implications and interconnections of the imperialist project (BN, 56–8). As the narrator of ‘Exile’ remarks: ‘Belfast/is many/places then/as now’ (BN, 51).

(p.48) Such interconnections and complicities between the proximate and the distant, the local and the global, the present and the past are a means of registering the accelerating disorientations of space-time compression in a rapidly globalising world. In a striking passage from The Star Factory, Carson's dream reconstruction of the demolished streets around St Peter's Pro Cathedral in the Lower Falls area implies that Belfast may be everywhere and nowhere at once. In Carson's dream, St Peter's has acquired a broad piazza surrounded by an eclectic melange of buildings that deliberately recall other cities from across the globe:

Chelsea town house, Glasgow tenement, Venetian palazzo, Oxford bookseller's with compass windows, Amsterdam tall house overlooking its reflection in the water, Belfast grocer's corner shop, Parisian boutique, New York deli, Warsaw synagogue, Berlin brothel, Bolognese haberdasher's in an arcade, Delhi shirt-shop, Beijing tea-emporium, Havana humidor, Vienna café, San Francisco oyster bar, Copenhagen doll's house outlet, Chicago kosher butcher's, Dieppe wine-merchant's, Los Angeles thirties automobile showroom, Carson City drive-in movie theatre, Constantinople kiosk, Byzantine bazaar-booth, Buenos Aires private library, Workshop for the Blind on the Shankill Road, the Alexandria Memory Institute, Santiago copper-shop, lonely gasoline pump of Intercourse, North Carolina, Vladivostok ice-store, Tokyo shoe-shop, Kyoto temple, Laredo saloon, Kufra Oasis drinking fountain, Mumbles ice-cream parlour, Roundstone cartographer's, Newmarket bookmaker's, the Boston Aquarium, Cork picture framer's, and ubiquitous McDonald's.

Of course, not all of the buildings on this menu appear simultaneously in any one version of the dream; but the space they occupy accommodates more than would appear feasible, and they are liable to mutate as the dream progresses, depending on what route you take through it; and the facades of the grand piazza will be different every time you enter it. (SF, 199–200)

In Carson's dream vision the Lower Falls has become the navel of the world, a site of intersection for radically different times and places that is both place and non-place at once. His description of this fantastical urban space accords well with Michel Foucault's conception of ‘heterotopias’, ‘places that are outside all places, although they are actually localizable’. As Foucault explains, heterotopias are ‘counter-sites’ that are at once located and dislocated, real and unreal, composites of material and metaphorical space.82 Whereas utopias are absolutely different spaces in their ‘unreal’ perfection, heterotopias are not only different or other spaces, they are also spaces of difference that represent, contest, or reverse the emplacements of ‘real’ space. Indeed, the heterotopia ‘has the ability to juxtapose in a single real place several emplacements that are (p.49) incompatible in themselves’,83 just as the dimensions of Carson's piazza seem capable of accommodating ‘more than would appear feasible’.

The vertiginous telescoping of space that Carson's dream-narrative permits imports distance and difference into the heart of a once-familiar place, while the shifting vectors of the dream constantly unsettle the recuperative ambitions of memory. It is worth noting, however, that difference is both exoticised and commercialised here in an echo of postmodern architecture's indiscriminate mixing of forms, styles, and cultural codes – what David Harvey calls its ‘pot-pourri of internationalism’.84 Carson seems ironically conscious of such models, as the wry humour of his decision to end the list of buildings with a ‘ubiquitous McDonald's’ implies, and the passage as a whole might be read as an elaborately architectonic intertextual joke. Other writers and artists, including Walter Benjamin (‘Berlin brothel’), Jorge Luis Borges (‘Buenos Aires private library’), Matsuo Bashō (‘Kyoto temple’), Tim Robinson (‘Roundstone cartographer's’), and Dylan Thomas (‘Mumbles ice cream parlour’), are alluded to by representative buildings, and Carson even includes himself within the frame via a ‘Carson City drive-in movie theatre’. Moreover, Carson's mutable, heterotopian piazza is a deliberate reworking of the idea of the Aleph that appears in Borges's story of the same name.85 According to one of Borges's characters, the Aleph is an imaginary point in space that contains all other points simultaneously, ‘the place where, without admixture or confusion, all the places of the world, seen from every angle, coexist’.86 The impossible coexistence of places, perspectives, and objects that Carson's dream image makes possible, therefore, conveys the extent to which his writing seeks not only to depict Belfast as dynamically unsettled, internally plural and self-estranged, but also as a place whose social life is always mysteriously bound up with and dependent upon that of other places beyond it. To this end, Carson is concerned to chart the extent and intensity of Belfast's implication in the wider global economy and to explore the disorientations and realignments that this necessarily entails.

It is worth noting, by way of conclusion, that the contradictory effects of this incorporation into global flows of capital and communication are dramatised through the motif of the sea-voyage in several of Carson's poems, most memorably in ‘The Ballad of HMS Belfast’. Maritime narratives provide opportunities for travel and adventure, but also serve to illustrate the co-implication of spaces and places in wider systems of relations that are simultaneously historical and geo-political. On one level, for instance, ‘The Ballad of HMS Belfast’ allegorises Belfast's own (p.50) pervasive indeterminacy of location, which arises from its ambivalent status as an industrial city with strong economic and political allegiances to Britain but established in and awkwardly integrated with an Ireland that was predominantly rural and agricultural.87 As a rewriting of Arthur Rimbaud's ‘Le Bateau ivre’ – which Carson has translated as ‘Drunk Boat’ (FL, 34–7) – the poem also acknowledges Belfast's integration into the far-flung geographic world-systems of imperialism and monopoly capitalism during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a phase of time-space compression in which, according to Fredric Jameson, the experience of the individual subject ‘no longer coincides with the place in which it takes place’.88 Amid such spatial disjunction, hyphenation is perhaps an unavoidable condition of being, and heterotopias abound – not least of which is the ship itself. ‘The sailing vessel,’ writes Foucault, ‘is the heterotopia par excellence.’ It is ‘a piece of floating space, a placeless place’ that is at once self-enclosed and a mobile point on the expanse of the open seas, serving to connect a network of geographically distant ports via an intricate web of trade routes. Consequently, the ship is both ‘the greatest instrument of economic development’ and ‘the greatest reservoir of imagination’ of the high capitalist period.89

It is fitting, therefore, that ‘The Ballad of HMS Belfast’ should begin with an act of dis-placement or dis-location that implicitly conflates Belfast with Belfast, ship with city, a metaphorical exchange that allows Belfast-as-ship to sail away from ‘old Belfast’ and begin a series of drink-and-drug-fuelled ‘cruises to the Podes and Antipodes’:

  •         We gazed at imperceptible horizons, where amethyst
  • Dims into blue, and pondered them again that night, before the mast.
  • Some sang of Zanzibar and Montalban, and others of lands unascertained
  • On maps; we entertained the Phoenix and the Unicorn, till we were
  •         grogged and concertina'ed. (FL, 72)

Belfast turns out to be an appropriately heterotopian space of difference, its motley crew made up of hybrid ‘Catestants and Protholics’, and the ship itself is described as ‘full-rigged like the Beagle, piston driven like the Enterprise/ Express; each system was a back-up for the other, auxilia-rizing verse with prose’ (FL, 71). These lines allow for a promiscuous intermingling of cultural registers (scientific research and science fiction) and modes of transport (ship, spaceship, and express train) that is typical of the giddy confusions and substitutions characterising the poem as a whole. After one particularly drunken binge, the speaker and his fellow sailors ‘felt neither fish nor flesh, but/Breathed through gills of rum and (p.51) brandy’ (FL, 72). The crew's various adventures on board Belfast take them not only across the seven seas but, at one point, 20,000 leagues below as the ship transforms into a Jules Verne-style ‘bathyscope’ trawling the ‘vast and purple catacomb’ of the deep for ‘cloudy shipwrecks’ (FL, 73). The exuberant fantasy and dazzling linguistic playfulness of ‘The Ballad of HMS Belfast’ are, however, the correlates of the economic turbulence and intoxicating sense of opportunity that attends the opening up of new global markets. Notably, the attempts of the ship's captain to ‘bribe’ his crew with ‘the Future’ turn, in an echo of Keats, upon ‘new Empires, Realms of Gold, and precious ore/Unheard-of since the days of Homer’. In these circumstances, boldly going where none has gone before becomes something more and less than a voyage of discovery and exploration; it is an adventure of conquest and colonial expropriation, or a mercenary bid to ‘confound the speculator's markets and their exchequered, logical embargo’ (FL, 72).

Irrationality, intoxication, and antic disequilibrium, Carson implies, do not confound but may actually underwrite the economic and political motives driving imperialism and the creation of a world market. It is therefore important that at the poem's conclusion the speaker should abruptly deconstruct his fanciful yarns and tall tales, awakening the morning after the night before to find himself not in Vallambroso or Gibraltar but in more familiar, and less welcome, surroundings:

  • And then the smell of docks and ropeworks. Horse-dung. The tolling of
  • the Albert clock.
  • Its Pisan slant. The whirring of its ratchets. Then everything began to
  • click:
  • I lay in iron chains, alone, my aisling gone, my sentence passed.
  • Grey Belfast dawn illuminated me, on board the prison ship Belfast.
  • (FL, 74)

Awakening from his ‘aisling’, or dream vision, to the carceral reality of a Belfast dawn, Carson's narrator concludes by undoing the equation he had earlier forged between space and freedom, time and adventure. Now Belfast is a ‘prison ship’ and the rattling of his ‘iron chains’ is echoed by the whirring ratchets and tolling chimes of the Albert clock. The whole poem ultimately sharpens the dialectical character of Foucault's ship, for Belfast functions as a locus of both liberty and incarceration, of carnivalesque fantasy and corporal punishment, as simultaneously a fabulous schooner sailing on the currents of the imagination and as a floating jail going nowhere in Belfast Lough. Indeed, the poem illustrates (p.52) Alan Gillis's point that in Carson's work Belfast is depicted as ‘both uncontainable and utterly subjugated’, and that his pronounced experimentalism ‘remains knowingly and sceptically circumscribed within definite and oppressive historical horizons’.90

If ‘The Ballad of HMS Belfast’ can be read as an allegorical riff on the illusions and realities of globalisation, then its response is profoundly ambivalent. On the one hand, the poem is imaginatively alive to the expanded experience of the world that globalisation promises, with its incessant and exciting traffic of commodities, cultures, and ideas between geographically distant places. On the other, it suspects that these new freedoms of movement and exchange may only mask new forms of restriction and division, the closure of fields of perception and experience by those in power. Moreover, this tension between the imaginative potential that lies in discovering or creating connections between places in space and a deeply ingrained wariness of attempts to order, circumscribe, and represent the totality of such geographical relations is central to Carson's spatialised aesthetic as I have been describing it. His imaginative geographies prompt his readers to reflect upon their own implication in such dilemmas, and to question the modes of alignment and orientation that any version of reality encourages them to adopt.





(1) Derek Attridge, The Singularity of Literature (London: Routledge, 2004), p. 67.

(2) Corcoran, ‘One Step Forward, Two Steps Back’, p. 216.

(3) Peter Barry, Contemporary British Poetry and the City (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000), p. 229.

(4) See Gerard Murphy, ed., Early Irish Lyrics: Eighth to Twelfth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956), pp. 6–7 and John Montague, ed., The Faber Book of Irish Verse (London: Faber & Faber, 1974), pp. 58–9. The poem also gives The Yellow Nib, the literary journal of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry edited by Carson, its name. On the symbolic importance of the blackbird in Irish literature and culture see John Wilson Foster, ‘Blackbird’, The Yellow Nib 1 (2005), pp. 3–11.

(5) John Hewitt, Collected Poems, ed. Frank Ormsby (Belfast: The Blackstaff Press, 1991), p. 129.

(6) Louis MacNeice, Collected Poems, ed. E.R. Dodds (London: Faber & Faber, 1979), p. 17.

(7) In his satirical glossary, ‘Welcome to Northern Ireland: A guide for New Millennium tourists’, Glenn Patterson includes an entry for ‘West Belfast’, which reads: ‘An area that extends further south than much of south Belfast and excludes from its purview some of the westernmost, inconveniently Protestant, districts of the city.’ Glenn Patterson, Lapsed Protestant (Dublin: New Island, 2006), p. 7. A similar lack (p.53) of fit between the actualities of the city's social geography and simplified ideological projections of discrete ‘communities’ can also be observed in East Belfast, which includes areas such as the Nationalist Short Strand.

(8) Ian Davidson, Ideas of Space in Contemporary Poetry (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), pp. 6, 8.

(9) Following its privatisation in 1989, Harland & Wolff pared back its workforce to around 2000 (as compared with 7542 in 1979) and was only enabled to compete in the new global market because it received massive government subsidies. Jonathan Bardon and David Burnett, Belfast: A Pocket History (Belfast: The Blackstaff Press, 1996), pp. 147, 135.

(10) Edward Larrissy, ‘Irish Writing and Globalisation’, in Stan Smith, ed., Globalisation and its Discontents (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2006), p. 135.

(11) Alex Houen, Terrorism and Modern Literature: From Joseph Conrad to Ciaran Carson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 245.

(12) Jonathan Stainer, ‘The possibility of non-sectarian futures: emerging disruptive identities of place in the Belfast of Ciaran Carson's The Star Factory’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 23 (2005), p. 390.

(13) Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972–1977, ed. Colin Gordon, trans. Colin Gordon et al. (Brighton: Harvester Press, 1980), p. 70.

(14) Edward W. Soja, Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Contemporary Social Theory (London: Verso, 1989), pp. 10–11.

(15) Doreen Massey, ‘Politics and Space/Time’, New Left Review 196 (1992), p. 72.

(16) Michel Foucault, ‘Space, Knowledge and Power’, in Paul Rabinow, ed., The Foucault Reader (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984), p. 252.

(17) John Urry, ‘Social Relations, Space and Time’, in Derek Gregory and John Urry, eds, Social Relations and Spatial Structures (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1985), p. 21.

(18) David Harvey, Spaces of Capital: Towards a Critical Geography (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2001), p. 115.

(19) Doreen Massey, for space (London: Sage, 2005), pp. 9, 45.

(20) Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), p. 85.

(21) Soja, Postmodern Geographies, p. 81.

(22) Kristin Ross, The Emergence of Social Space: Rimbaud and the Paris Commune (London: Verso, 2008), p. 8.

(23) Drawing upon Lefebvre's unconventional critical practice, Soja has proposed what he calls a ‘trialectics’ of ‘Thirdspace’ that deliberately eschews binary oppositions in an attempt to facilitate a continuing expansion of spatial knowledge. See Edward W. Soja, Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), pp. 53–82.

(24) Lefebvre, The Production of Space, pp. 11–12.

(25) Soja, Thirdspace, p. 62.

(26) In what follows I am indebted to the lucid and succinct commentary on this aspect of Lefebvre's thinking provided in Andy Merrifield, ‘Henri Lefebvre: A socialist in space’, in Mike Crang and Nigel Thrift, eds, Thinking Space (London: Routledge, 2000), pp. 173–6.

(27) Lefebvre, The Production of Space, p. 39.

(28) Lefebvre, The Production of Space, pp. 231–2.

(29) Lefebvre, The Production of Space, pp. 49–50.

(30) Lefebvre, The Production of Space, pp. 287, 391.

(31) Michel Foucault, Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology, ed. James D. Faubion (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2000), pp. 175, 176.

(32) Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (London: Verso, 1991), pp. 365, 16.

(33) Lefebvre, The Production of Space, p. 25. The reference is to Woolf's 1924 essay, ‘Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown’.

(34) See in particular Andrew Thacker, Moving through modernity: Space and geography in modernism (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003) and the essays collected in Peter Brooker and Andrew Thacker, eds, Geographies of Modernism: Literatures, cultures, places (London: Routledge, 2005).

(35) Stephen Kern, The Culture of Time and Space 1880–1918 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), p. 152.

(36) Jameson, Postmodernism, p. 21.

(37) Massey, ‘Politics and Space/Time’, p. 84.

(38) Massey, for space, p. 55.

(39) Jameson, Postmodernism, pp. 156, 154, 160.

(40) Massey, for space, p. 140.

(41) David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989), p. 240.

(42) Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity, pp. 284, 306.

(43) Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity, p. 261.

(44) Yi-Fu Tuan, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience (Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota University Press, 1977), p. 73.

(45) Derek Gregory, Geographical Imaginations (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994), p. 122.

(46) Massey, for space, p. 130.

(47) Marcus Doel, Poststructuralist Geographies: The Diabolical Art of Spatial Science (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999), p. 9.

(48) Massey, for space, pp. 28–9.

(49) Doel, Poststructuralist Geographies, p. 124.

(50) Marc Brosseau, ‘Geography's Literature’, Progress in Human Geography 18.3 (1994), p. 349. See also Marc Brosseau, ‘The City in Textual Form: Manhattan Transfer's New York’, Ecumene 2.1 (1995), p. 92.

(51) Lefebvre, The Production of Space, p. 15.

(52) Sheila Hones, ‘Text as It Happens: Literary Geography’, Geography Compass 2.5 (2008), p. 1302.

(53) Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin, TX : University of Texas Press, 1981), p. 84.

(54) Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination, p. 243.

(55) Franco Moretti, Atlas of the European Novel 1800–1900 (London: Verso, 1998), p. 5.

(56) Moretti, Atlas of the European Novel, p. 70.

(57) Moretti, Atlas of the European Novel, pp. 35, 43.

(58) See Franco Moretti, Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History (London: Verso, 2005), pp. 53–4, 3–4.

(59) Julian Murphet, ‘Grounding Theory: Literary Theory and the New Geography’, in Martin McQuillan et al., eds, Post-theory: New Directions in Criticism (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999), p. 205.

(60) Edward W. Said, Culture and Imperialism (London: Vintage, 1994), p. 6.

(61) Said, Culture and Imperialism, p. 61. See also Eric Bulson, Novels, Maps, Modernity: The Spatial Imagination, 1850–2000 (London; New York: Routledge, 2007), p. 8.

(62) Andrew Thacker, ‘The Idea of a Critical Literary Geography’, New Formations 57 (2005/6), pp. 62, 63.

(63) Frank Ormsby, ‘Ciaran Carson interviewed by Frank Ormsby’, Linen Hall Review 8.1 (1991), p. 5.

(64) James Donald, Imagining the Modern City (London: Athlone Press, 1999), p. 17.

(65) Ciaran Carson, ‘Alphabet City’, Ciaran Carson Papers, MSS 746, Manuscripts and Rare Books Library, Emory University, Box 19, Folder 4.

(66) Smyth, Space and the Irish Cultural Imagination, p. 56.

(67) It is worth noting that, at the time of writing, the only selection from Carson's poetry in publication advertises itself as ‘a compendium of Belfast poems’ and an ‘indispensable guidebook to a city few will know exists’. Ciaran Carson, The Ballad of HMS Belfast: A Compendium of Belfast Poems (London: Picador, 1999), back cover blurb.

(68) Barry, Contemporary British Poetry and the City, pp. 226–7.

(69) Lloyd, Anomalous States, pp. 20–1.

(70) Brandes, ‘Ciaran Carson interviewed by Rand Brandes’, pp. 80–1.

(71) Davidson, Ideas of Space in Contemporary Poetry, p. 30.

(72) Lefebvre, The Production of Space, pp. 88, 86.

(73) For Bakhtin, the chronotope of the threshold ‘is always metaphorical and symbolic’ and is connected with ‘the breaking point of a life, the moment of crisis, the decision that changes a life’. Bakhtin, The Dialogical Imagination, p. 248. Carson's use of this chronotope shifts the emphasis from the personal and individual to the collective and social.

(74) Edna Longley develops this point in a different direction when she notes that ‘a doubled and fragmented body is dispersed throughout the poem. The narrative's references to “neck”, “teeth”, “throat” and mirror insinuate a subtextual vampirenarrative, a hint of Gothic horror.’ Edna Longley, Poetry & Posterity (Tarset: Bloodaxe Books, 2000), p. 315.

(75) Nonetheless, Carson seems to regard the crossing of the Rubicon as symbolising the achievement of a lasting and equitable peace: ‘I feel I'm in the Rubicon. Maybe we all are. It's a big river, and sometimes the other bank seems very far away. Politically I'm like a lot of people who would like to live in a liberal, allowable state which so far hasn't happened here. A state which allows you to be yourself.’ Brown, In the Chair, p. 152.

(76) Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1988), pp. 127, 128. On the pertinence of ‘in-between spaces’ such as borders and margins for the articulation of cultural differences see Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 2002), pp. 1–27.

(77) Massey, for space, p. 9.

(78) Edward W. Said, Orientalism (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2003), pp. 4–5, 55.

(79) Gregory, Geographical Imaginations, pp. 203–4. See also Derek Gregory, ‘Edward (p.56) Said's Imaginative Geographies’, in Mike Crang and Nigel Thrift, eds, Thinking Space (London: Routledge, 2000), pp. 302–48.

(80) Cf. William Carlos Williams, Selected Poems, ed. Charles Tomlinson (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2000), pp. 140–1.

(81) Kennedy-Andrews, Writing Home, p. 18.

(82) Foucault, Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology, p. 178.

(83) Foucault, Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology, p. 181.

(84) Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity, p. 87.

(85) Carson briefly discusses Borges's ‘The Aleph’ in Fishing for Amber; see FFA, pp. 265–6.

(86) Jorge Luis Borges, The Aleph and Other Stories, trans. Andrew Hurley (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2000), p. 127.

(87) I develop this argument in more detail with regard to literary representations of Belfast in my essay, ‘“Somewhere in the Briny Say”: An Imaginative Geography of Belfast’, in Ruth Connolly and Ann Coughlan, eds, New Voices in Irish Criticism 5 (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2005), pp. 7–15.

(88) Fredric Jameson, ‘Cognitive Mapping’, in Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg, eds, Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1988), p. 349.

(89) Foucault, Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology, pp. 184–5. Carson also discusses the symbolic importance of the ship in interview with Niall McGrath, ‘Ciaran Carson: Interview with Niall McGrath’, p. 65.

(90) Gillis, ‘Ciaran Carson: Beyond Belfast’, pp. 186, 198.