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Masculinities in Transition: Ciaran Carson, Alan Gillis and Padraig Regan in and out of Belfast

Masculinités en transition : Ciaran Carson, Alan Gillis et Padraig Regan dans et hors de Belfast
Daniela Theinová
p. 131-146

Résumés

Dans « Turn Again », son « guide » poétique de Belfast et de sa poésie, Ciaran Carson écrit que « le plan d’aujourd’hui est déjà celui d’hier – les rues qui étaient là ont disparu ». Cet article explore la façon dont Carson suit son propre conseil, et s’interroge sur la manière dont sa poétique de la flânerie a inspiré deux jeunes poètes de Belfast, Alan Gillis et Padraig Regan. Tous trois mettent en avant la marche et les déplacements dans les espaces urbains comme un puissant trope littéraire et un outil efficace de critique sociale. Leurs personnages anachroniquement masculins ou emphatiquement autres nous guident vers la ville parallèle trouvée entre « l’observation et l’invention » (Gillis), qui correspond aux arcades parisiennes chez Walter Benjamin : un lieu dans lequel les couches de temps, d’espace et de conscience se fondent. Tracer des trajectoires d’influence mutuelle entre trois générations de poètes nord-irlandais peut nous aider à apprécier l’effondrement de la hiérarchie du temps dans une société qui risque toujours de retomber dans sa confusion antérieure.

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  • 1 Derek Mahon, interview by John Brown in In the Chair: Interviews with Poets from the North of Irela (...)
  • 2 Maria Johnston, “Walking Dublin…”, p. 492.
  • 3 Seamus Heaney, “The Sense of Place”, in Preoccupations: Selected Prose, 1968-1978, New York, Farrar (...)
  • 4 Seamus Heaney, “The Poetry of John Hewitt”, Threshold, no. 22, 1969, p. 73.
  • 5 Seamus Heaney, “The Makings of a Music: Reflections on the Poetry of Wordsworth and Yeats”, in Preo (...)
  • 6 See, for example, Heaney’s poems “The Peninsula” from Door into the Dark (1969) and “Postscript” fr (...)

1Northern Irish poets, among them Louis MacNeice and Derek Mahon, have long contributed to Dublin’s reputation as the city of rambling literati. Mahon remembered his Trinity years as marked by an internal struggle “between a surly Belfast working-class thing” and the Dublin “flâneurs [he] couldn’t help but admire and envy”.1 Yet Belfast, I want to argue, boasts its own hereditary line of writerly idlers. Maria Johnston maintains that “Irish poets have long shown themselves to be inveterate walkers”.2 Still, the association between poetic imagination and the walk has been critically shaped, especially in poetry from the North, by socio-political, topographical and environmental factors. It has also often proved to be metaphorical rather than actual. John Hewitt is an early example of a Northern poet whose works, as Seamus Heaney argues, “take their inspiration now from the literate historical reading of his place and its culture, now from the illiterate messages beat out in his pulses as he walks our countryside”.3 Although influenced by other confirmed walkers such as “Auden, Dylan Thomas, Larkin and Hughes”, Hewitt’s style, Heaney asserts, evolves “quietly and steadily through movements and fashions at its own pace, ‘a walking pace’”.4 While Hewitt promoted regionally defined identity as a means of rising above sectarian and political divisions, Heaney used movement through space to overcome temporal, cultural and geopolitical borderlines. Nonetheless, despite his thesis that the individual walking pace of a poet is essential for the development of their distinctive voice,5 Heaney himself seemed keener to get behind the wheel than go by foot.6 The three Belfast poets discussed here also frequently set their personae on the move. But whether they walk about the city or travel through its streets and surroundings on wheels, these diverse poetic alter egos mostly accent contrasts and divisions before (occasionally and temporarily) transcending them.

  • 7 Tim Ingold, Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description, London, Routledge, 2011, p. (...)
  • 8 Hazel Smith, The Writing Experiment: Strategies for Innovative Creative Writing, Crows Nest, Allen (...)

2“Ordinary walking”, Tim Ingold insists, is in equal parts “a way of moving, knowing [and] describing”. These might imply immersion, but they also “call for observation”. Since “[b]eing observant means being alive to the world”,7 suggests Ingold, walking has been one of the most genuine ways of being in the world. For the same reason, I would suggest, it has been a perfect metaphor for poetry. Indeed, if the act of walking as observing requires constant readjustment to the changing environment, the relationship between the poem and space can be just as ambiguous and elusive. Thus, although the amount of walking represented by Carson, Gillis and Regan varies, their lyrics retain the essential qualities of the “walk poem” that has been described by Hazel Smith as “improvised, transient and ephemeral”. I am interested in how by moving through the city and its surroundings these poets are “in some senses writing it”,8 as Smith proposes. I am equally curious, however, about how the poem itself is shaped by the movement through the space it emulates, taking account of its conflicts and contradictions. In the poem as a “walk”, the competing capacities of the city to divide and to merge are experienced with the same intensity.

  • 9 Raymond Williams, The Country and the City [1973], London, The Hogarth Press, 1993, p. 233; quoted (...)

3The art of pedestrianism and the poetics of rambling have traditionally been considered a male preserve. Raymond Williams remarks that the “perception of the new qualities of the modern city” had been contingent from the start on “a man walking, as if alone, in its streets”.9 My argument is that, while they foreground movement through urban and semi-natural spaces as a powerful literary trope and productive ontological device, the three poets on whom this essay focuses also revise the culturally masculine figure of the flâneur. While flânerie has been emblematic of masculinity and urban spaces, Carson’s, Gillis’s and Regan’s roaming idlers are ironically or diversely gendered. By way of parody and indeterminacy they bring out the essentially plural character of the flâneur as delineated by Walter Benjamin in The Arcades Project.

  • 10 Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, Howard Eiland, Kevin McLaughlin (trans.), Cambridge, The Belk (...)
  • 11 Beatrice Hanssen, “Introduction”, in Walter Benjamin and “The Arcades Project”, Beatrice Hanssen (e (...)
  • 12 Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, p. 880.
  • 13 Esther Leslie, “Ruin and Rubble in the Arcades”, in Walter Benjamin and “The Arcades Project”, p. 1 (...)
  • 14 Beatrice Hanssen, “Introduction”, p. 4.

4Writing about Paris and its cultural history in order to address the social, moral and aesthetic challenges of modernity, Benjamin keeps coming back in his unfinished opus magnum to the non-linear, labyrinthine world of the city’s famous passages couverts. The arcades, defined as “the holy city of the flâneur”,10 represent a mythical sphere “of subterranean collectivities” that remind one of the “realm of the dead”, the macabre “catacombs and cemeteries”.11 Yet, they are also a “landscape built of sheer life”12 and places of idle loitering that denote a special “spacetime” (Zeitraum) or dream time (Zeit-traum).13 But though he is a critical spectator and a confirmed loner, Benjamin’s flâneur cannot in fact be separated from the city’s milling crowds as he ambles through the streets and arcades, turning them, as Beatrice Hanssen has it, into “a landscape, or a topography of memory”.14

  • 15 Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, p. 108.
  • 16 Pei-Wen Clio Kao, “The Flâneur / Flâneuse and the Benjaminian Law of ‘Dialectic at a Standstill’ in (...)
  • 17 Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, p. 816.
  • 18 Deborah L. Parsons, Streetwalking the Metropolis: Women, the City and Modernity, Oxford, Oxford Uni (...)

5Clearly, Benjamin’s anachronistic iron-and-glass underworld has little in common with the considerably more sinister and exposed spaces occupied by Carson’s, Gillis’s and Regan’s speakers. I would suggest, nevertheless, that drawing an analogy with the Benjaminesque protean walker helps us stay alert to the variously construed (and dismantled) masculinities in the three poets’ works, and explore how their respective flâneurs engage with their spatial and social environment. Drawing on Baudelaire’s model, Benjamin defines the flâneur as a male idler; a “happy observer”.15 Nonetheless, unlike the Baudelairean artist-poet, who possesses and fixes with his voyeuristic male gaze, Benjamin’s explicitly dialectical model of flânerie is based, as Pei-Wen Clio Kao notes, on the dual “gesture of seeing and being seen”.16 This ambiguity reflects the double status of the flâneur marked, on the one hand, by a sense of detachment from the people observed and, on the other, by a strong identification with the place. As such, it makes Benjamin’s flâneur a plausible candidate for “the figure of ‘androgyny’”,17 capable of “resist[ing] the male-dominated experience of gaze and observing”, to use Deborah L. Parsons’s words.18 In Benjamin’s conception, flânerie is vague, unfinished, ambiguous and dialectical. It is, so to speak, a concept in waiting:

  • 19 Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, p. 880.

The anamnestic intoxication in which the flâneur goes about the city not only feeds on the sensory data taking shape before his eyes but often possesses itself of abstract knowledge – indeed, of dead facts – as something experienced and lived through. This felt knowledge travels from one person to another, especially by word of mouth.19

  • 20 Ibid., p. 934.
  • 21 Ibid., p. 417.

6It is in its deliberate indeterminacy that the trope is particularly relevant for the discussion of “peripatetic” texts by Carson, Gillis and Regan who all place great emphasis on the idea of the poem as the result – as well as a source – of such “felt knowledge” (gefühltes Wissen; alternately translated as “palpable knowledge”).20 Benjamin’s notes describe flânerie as inspired by wandering, reading and daydreaming. It has its origin in “an immense [19th-century] literature”, the study of which “constituted a second existence, already wholly predisposed toward dreaming”.21 The manner in which the flâneur’s “felt knowledge” passes from person to person, from one generation of writers to the next, is also indicative of how the reciprocal “reading” of each other’s texts by several generations of Northern Irish poets has inspired their mutual “remembering” of the local topographies – present, future and past.

  • 22 Carson remains a cherished ghost and an acknowledged mentor for many poets today, including Leontia (...)
  • 23 Peter Mackay, “Contemporary Northern Irish Poetry and Romanticism”, in The Oxford Handbook of Moder (...)
  • 24 Edna Longley, “The Currency of Poetry”, Fortnight, no. 479, September 2020, p. 57.

7Indeed, while I focus on these three poets because of their obvious links and differences, I want to comment on the specific notion of time and chronology manifest between their mutually imbricated oeuvres. Carson, in his authority as a leading chronicler of Belfast, and the director, for many years, of the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queens, has left an indelible stamp on several generations of Northern Irish poets.22 But Carson’s own writings, notably in his later career, show how closely acquainted and genuinely engaged he was with the poetry of his younger colleagues. Such bidirectional flow of poetic influence has, after all, been a staple of Northern poetry for decades. Peter Mackay points to an unusual “degree of dialogue between […] generations”, the result of which is “Heaney […] ‘influenced’ by Muldoon, and Carson by Alan Gillis”.23 My argument is that considering these generative “conversations” between poets and poems24 can help us understand the collapsed hierarchy of time in a transitory society whose future always threatens to relapse into its earlier confusion.

  • 25 Ibid.
  • 26 Ibid., p. 54.
  • 27 Jahan Ramazani, Poetry and Its Others: News, Prayer, Song, and the Dialogue of Genres, Chicago – Lo (...)

8Assessing the “current” state of poetry from Northern Ireland, Edna Longley plays with the term’s temporary and monetary implications. While poetry’s value lies, Longley suggests, in the circulation of “aesthetic” values, the fact that poetry still “has a little more ‘currency’” in Northern Ireland is due to how it has dealt with “our indigenous ‘identity politics’”.25 It would be wrong, she warns, to want to draw a clear line under the past for, just as “[p]oems about war are also poems about peace”, to “talk of ‘post-Agreement’ poetry” can mean “to categorise prematurely”.26 The poems discussed below avoid any neat splitting of time into before and after. In them the “present”, as Longley argues via Jahan Ramazani, is often infinitely “multiplied, echoed, and stretched into the past and future by poetic form and memory”.27

 

  • 28 See Neal Alexander, “Deviations from the Known Route…”, p. 91.
  • 29 Ciaran Carson, “Turn Again”, in Belfast Confetti, Oldcastle, The Gallery Press, 1989, p. 11.
  • 30 Ibid.

9Much work has been done on the typical Carson persona, fluid and flâneur-like, who, as Neal Alexander has it, is both “citizen and artist, a member of the urban crowd and its chief anatomist”.28 A dedicated and detailing observer of the city built on water and sand, Carson frequently depicts Belfast as itself being in constant flow. As a rule, the seeming restlessness with which his speakers move around the city turns out to be a necessity. Alienated in a terrain that is both endlessly familiar and endlessly different, they keep running into their own former selves and into places that are no longer there or have changed beyond recognition. The title of an early poem implies a labyrinthine space in which an eternal sequence of corners requires one to “Turn Again”,29 and again. Unlike ancient mazes, nonetheless, moving through Belfast is rarely a unicursal, or linear, experience. Paths are always multiple and it soon becomes clear that the poems’ speakers are not looking for a way out. Rather than describing the place or, indeed, “writing it” through their moves, they fill out its actual contours – always incomplete and tentative – with the city’s remembered or imagined shapes. “Today’s plan is already yesterday’s – the streets that were there are gone”,30 claims the poem which, included even before Part One begins, has the weight of an instructions manual. The warning is clear: do not take appearances – or streets, poems and instructions, for that matter – for granted.

  • 31 Temple Cone, “Knowing the Street Map by Foot: Ciaran Carson’s Belfast Confetti”, New Hibernia Revie (...)
  • 32 Ibid., p. 68.
  • 33 See Ciaran Carson, “Turn Again”, p. 11.
  • 34 Ciaran Carson, “Question Time”, in Belfast Confetti, p. 57.
  • 35 Walter Benjamin quoted in Howard Eiland, “Translator’s Foreword”, in Walter Benjamin, Berlin Childh (...)

10Since each turn might bring him to a place of no go, Carson’s persona attempts to navigate what Temple Cone refers to as “multiple discursive maps”.31 Nonetheless, although alternative routes are crucial in an environment where “violence can result from spatial, social, or political trespass”,32 as Cone has persuasively argued, memories of places that have disappeared create a sense of continuity in a city defined by change.33 That the “disappointed hunger for a familiar place”34 is not necessarily a mark of failure but a propelling principle in these poems is revealed in Carson’s choice of epigraph for Belfast Confetti, taken over from Benjamin’s recollection of his Berlin childhood:35

  • 36 Ciaran Carson, Belfast Confetti, p. 14.

Not to find one’s way about in a city is of little interest […]. But to lose one’s way in a city, as one loses one’s way in a forest, requires practice […]. I learnt this art late in life; it fulfilled the dreams whose first traces were the labyrinths on the blotters of my exercise books.36

  • 37 Ciaran Carson, “Question Time”, p. 58.

11The same basic pattern of contraction and expansion on the temporal and spatial scale informs Carson’s entire collection. Halfway through the volume, an autobiographical prose vignette entitled “Question Time” contemplates the unstable value of detail. Although in some contexts, detail signifies obsolescence and falls quickly out of sight, in others it functions as an anchor in space and time. While it points us to the sinister present moment, it encompasses the debris of multiple pasts and uncertain futures. Maps are irrelevant, the text explains, since “they avoid the moment”, materialised as temporary “ramps, barricades, diversions, Peace Lines”.37 Whether observed or remembered, details tend to be upsetting, so perhaps “an ideal map” does indeed

  • 38 Ibid.

[…] exist in the [aloof] eye of that helicopter ratcheting overhead, its searchlight fingering and scanning the micro-chip deviations: the surge of funerals and parades, swelling and accelerating, time-lapsed, sucked back into nothingness by the rewind button.38

  • 39 See Howard Eiland, “Translator’s Foreword”, p. viii; and the opening passage of Benjamin’s text in (...)
  • 40 Ciaran Carson, “Question Time”, p. 60.
  • 41 Neal Alexander, “Deviations from the Known Route…”, p. 116.

12In his farewell to the Berlin of his childhood, Benjamin determines to focus on places and things rather than people or events.39 For Carson’s early flâneurs wandering about in Belfast’s deserted streets, solitariness is both a matter of choice and unavoidable. Strangers in their home, they experience the nostalgic longing of an exile. As they are drawn to the murky interface between sectarian areas where change is most visible and disorienting, however, their nostalgia is intermixed with trepidation. Here, encounters are rare and, when they do occur, terrifying. “Question Time” juxtaposes two involuntary confrontations with militarised maleness, one from Carson’s childhood the other from the present moment in the late 1980s. But regardless of whether being accosted by a handful of Protestant boys or a group of nationalist paramilitaries, the experience leaves him “shaky, nervous” and vertiginous from the broken sense of time: “a few moments ago I was there, in my mind’s eye, one foot in the grave of that Falls Road of thirty years ago”.40 No matter whether it has been intentionally or unwittingly crossed, the ostentatiously provisional Peace Line reminds him that, though constantly changing, the city remains stubbornly and dangerously divided. Despite their commitment to “the kinetic, metamorphic, often alienating energies which characterise modern urban experience”,41 Carson’s flâneurs also actively undermine urban peripatetic conventions, namely the invulnerability and scopic privilege of the male idler.

 

  • 42 Alan Gillis, “Ciaran Carson: Beyond Belfast”, in The Cities of Belfast, Nicholas Allen, Aaron Kelly (...)

13In reference to Carson’s style, Alan Gillis remarks that his “language-games are also war-poems in which a predatory realism stalks his emancipatory drives which, nevertheless, remain insatiable”.42 A similar ongoing revolt against the demands of the actual is recognisable in Gillis’s poems which, in their leaning towards hyperbole and inflated buffoonery, simultaneously offer an escape from the real world and make us see it in an undiluted form. Yet, if his verbal frolicking points to inspiration by older colleagues (Carson and Muldoon most notably), the wordplay is undoubtedly Gillis’s own and due, at least in part, to the grotesque masculinity of his speakers. As he makes light of influences and ironically probes notions of “natural” maleness in his militarised or drifting personae, Gillis undermines the timeline and the gendered tensions at play in poetic affiliation.

  • 43 Alan Gillis, interview with the Edinburgh Review, quoted in “Poem of the Week: ‘Spring’ by Allan Gi (...)
  • 44 For an in-depth discussion of the poem and the interactions on the Belfast poetry scene, see Scott (...)

14His first collection, Somebody, Somewhere from 2004, opens with an act of poetic self-disinheritance. Although, when commenting on his open conception of nature poem and ecology, Gillis claims to be “drawn specifically to where the urban and pastoral are in proximity”,43 in “The Ulster Way” he ironically denies allegiance to the “rural prerogative” of the Northern aesthetic.44 Through a persistent use of paralipsis, the pastoral mode is at once evoked and ridiculed in Gillis’s lines:

  • 45 Alan Gillis, “The Ulster Way”, in Somebody, Somewhere, Oldcastle, The Gallery Press, 2004, p. 9.

This is not about burns or hedges.
There will be no gorse. […]
[…]
as you will not be passing into farmland.45

  • 46 Ibid.
  • 47 Associated above all with Hewitt and Heaney.
  • 48 Virgil, Georgica, 3.291-292. For a discussion of Petrarch’s conception of the poetic profession and (...)

15Nonetheless, while there may be “other paths to follow”, “All this is [already] in your head”, the poem insists.46 If the supposed recipient of this address is the poetic self, invoked as a “you”, then the poem is telling us that, for the poet, there is no “walking away” from his formative – material or aesthetic – environment. The journey motif introduces the themes of belonging and emigration that will keep recurring through Gillis’s work. Yet, this truculent manifesto interlaces it with allusions to the various “ways” of (Ulster) poetry which include, besides its foundational pastoralism,47 the tradition’s ambivalence about civic engagement and poetic withdrawal. While the latter issue remains undecided, by ironically renouncing “The Ulster Way” and its implications of a Unionist politics, the lyric evidences a decision to follow above all the “ways of poetry” (as in Petrarch’s “more poetico”).48

  • 49 David McKittrick, “Cautious Steps to a Loyalist Ceasefire”, The Independent, 12 October 1994, onlin (...)

16Gillis’s personae like to flex their muscles but are usually exposed as histrions when their ostentatious masculinity shows to be a sign of vulnerability. In their seeming forthrightness, these grandiloquent blokeish speakers engage in conversation with Carson’s jittery and openly sentimental personae. The title of the next poem in Gillis’s first collection takes us back to “12th October, 1994”, the memorable occasion on which loyalist paramilitaries declared a ceasefire, hailed in the media at the time as providing “the best hope of peace since 1969”.49 As the poem’s speaker enters the portal of an amusement arcade, we find ourselves in an alternative Arcadia – a safe house and a “virtual combat zone” all in one place:

  • 50 Alan Gillis, “12th October, 1994”, in Somebody, Somewhere, p. 10.

I enter the Twilight Zone,
        the one run
by Frankie “Ten Pints” Fraser, and slide the heptagon
        of my twenty
pence piece into its slot. The lights come on.50

  • 51 Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, p. 871.

17What demarcates this particular “Twilight Zone” is not the physical space of the penny arcade but the broader political context of the questionable retreat: the reluctant ceasefire agreements and the fragile peace process. While outside a tentative armistice is trying its luck, here we find ourselves in the midst of an undercover paramilitary meeting. The poem probes the hell-bent underworld of conspiracy, remindful on the page of how Benjamin describes his glinting passages: “a past become space” materialised as “dazzling light and shadowy corners”.51 A plethora of nick-names gets dropped, until it seems the whole world (or its one side, reluctant to give up) has gathered in this parallel universe in order to save the game. The key message conveniently blends (and rhymes) with the white noise of the arcade:

  • 52 Alan Gillis, “12th October, 1994”, p. 12.

The Shangri-Las are playing Remember (Walkin’ in the Sand).
        Frankie says
no, Victor, nobody’s going to fucking disband.52

  • 53 Ibid.

18Yet, at the end all this virile, non-virtual urge for battle is undercut by an anti-climax, followed by a harsh awakening: “Jimmy ‘Twelve Inch’ Lynch says son, not bad for 20p” as our combatant tears himself away from the flashy, bleeping screens and re-enters the bleak mess of the world outside – “I leave the Zone and go / back to the fierce grey day. It looks like snow”.53

  • 54 Mutlu Konuk Blasing, Lyric Poetry: The Pain and Pleasure of Words, Princeton, Princeton University (...)
  • 55 Mutlu Konuk Blasing, Lyric Poetry…, p. 194, note 11.

19The material reality of words foregrounded in an ongoing play of sense and non-sense in Gillis’s poems chimes with the penny arcade and its coin-operated games. As Mutlu Konuk Blasing observes, paraphrasing Anne Sexton, “[p]oetic language works like the ‘lucky screen’: you see three bells, but your hands feel ‘funny and ridiculous’, ‘crowded’ with real coins”.54 Having read Gillis’s poem, our fists (and ears) tinkle with the coins of his words. We share the thrill of gambling in which one’s agency, gender and time is commodified through images on the screen, along with the memory of the lyric’s language. Associated with “chance, luck and with something ‘funny’”,55 it is both openly public and weirdly intimate.

  • 56 Alan Gillis, “No. 8”, in Scapegoat, Oldcastle, The Gallery Press, 2014, p. 34.
  • 57 Ibid., p. 32.
  • 58 Gillis’s poem recalls Raymond Queneau’s Exercices de style (1947) in which the same unremarkable Pa (...)

20The chinking of coins gets even louder in poems in which Gillis’s directionless amblers fall into the pitfalls of a post-Agreement reality. While getting the worst of the new urban jungle, they feel excluded from the shiny world popping up around them. The speaker of “No. 8” from Scapegoat (2014) nervously counts his change before taking a bus ride into “the anonymous / heart of the bruised city”, and out again. To this voyeuristic commentator, the bus is a mobile arcade marked by a dialectical “proximity / disguised as distance”.56 Every line teems with physicality as he eyes the swank downtown crowds while pondering the daily death toll of “preventable poverty”.57 Although this motorised stream of poetic consciousness ticks many boxes in the catalogue of conventional male fantasy, from fetishisation of sex to cars, the gleaming images keep bouncing back as painful reminders of the speaker’s, and the society’s, failure. Despite the sustained verbal bravura and the polyglossic intertextual frame,58 this heady ride through the busy city centre signifies a void.

  • 59 Alan Gillis, “Flat White Afternoon”, in The Readiness [2020], Winston-Salem, Wake Forest University (...)
  • 60 Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, p. 427.
  • 61 See Esther Leslie, “Ruin and Rubble in the Arcades”, p. 103.
  • 62 Mutlu Konuk Blasing, Lyric Poetry…, p. 194, note 11.

21“Flat White Afternoon”, another sarcastic take on the masculinity crisis and the construction of manhood as contingent on consumption (from The Readiness, 2020), follows the city loner into a retail-park café. There, feeling inadequate and deflated, he raves about the “literally miraculous / people in / expensive skin”, their jackpot winnings, exotic holidays, “and modest philanthropy”.59 In other words, all the things he will never be able to afford in this economy sustained by debt. Not only is the cheap coffee referenced in the punning title inconsistent with joie de vivre; it has a definite anti-aphrodisiac effect. The humiliation is complete. Not unlike Benjamin’s flâneur, Gillis’s idler is a keen “observer of the marketplace”,60 disgusted by its mechanisms while at the same time displaying an erotics of consumerism. Yet, if these hilariously funny and utterly serious lyrics illustrate how “cash itself is invested with erotic charge”,61 the same is true of their language. They abide by Sexton’s warning that “[p]oems either work as poems and have an affect or they are dead – mere currency”.62

22The misguided notion that change equals growth is pointed up towards the end of “No. 8”, where Gillis plays with the dual sense of “change”. A passenger who does not have the right fare, claiming she did not know it has changed, is refused the ride:

  • 63 Alan Gillis, “No. 8”, p. 33.

as if these days you could not be aware
that everything changes
except for the principle
that everything changes.63

23Change is omnipresent and so is movement (panta chorei), as Gillis’s flâneurs show us, seemingly static but always moving about in circular choreographies of fitful moves that resonate with those performed by Carson’s city saunterers. “Progress” is shown to be a mere illusion and rhetorical gloss in an eponymous poem from Somebody, Somewhere, which takes us on a virtual stroll through the city, only going backward. The “rewind button” from Carson’s memory piece has been pressed:

  • 64 Alan Gillis, “Progress”, in Somebody, Somewhere, p. 55.

They say that for years Belfast was backwards
and it’s great now to see some progress.
So I guess we can look forward to taking boxes
from the earth. […]
[…]
[…] Given time,
one hundred thousand particles of glass
will create impossible patterns in the air
before coalescing into the clarity
of a window. Through which, a reassembled head
will look out and admire the shy young man
taking his bomb from the building and driving home.64

  • 65 Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften, Rolf Tiedemann, Hermann Schweppenhäuser (eds.), Frankfurt, S (...)
  • 66 Elizabeth Wilson, “The Invisible Flâneur”, New Left Review, vol. 1, no. 191, 1992, p. 11.
  • 67 Birte Heidemann, Post-Agreement Northern Irish Literature: Lost in a Liminal Space?, Basingstoke, P (...)
  • 68 Aaron Kelly, “Geopolitical Eclipse: Culture and the Peace Process in Northern Ireland”, Third Text, (...)
  • 69 Birte Heidemann, Post-Agreement Northern Irish Literature…, p. 8.
  • 70 Pei-Wen Clio Kao, “The Flâneur / Flâneuse…”, p. 125.

24In a situation defined by the messy processes of violence, injustice and retribution it is hard to imagine a way forward or achieve reconciliation. Too much damage has been done. Commenting on the work of Louis-Auguste Blanqui, Benjamin noted in late 1937 that progress was easily denounced as a “phantasmagoria of history”, as “something so old it predates thinking, which struts about in the clothes of the New, as the eternal recurrence of the same, in which mankind figures ‘as one of the damned’”.65 Gillis’s male speakers, to various degrees cocky and crestfallen, testify to Elizabeth Wilson’s argument that the crisis of male authority has been “taking place in the public zone of the urban space”.66 More specifically, their case is a clear illustration of the extent to which the post-Agreement “rhetoric of economic and entrepreneurial ‘progress’”67 has been, as Birte Heidemann argues via Aaron Kelly, “out of reach of the very people in whose name it is supposedly instantiated”.68 Heidemann has analysed the situation using the concepts of “claustrophobic intensity”, “negative liminality” and “liminal suspension”.69 The temporality of these poems, however, also corresponds with Benjamin’s notion of a “dialectic at a standstill” – an “anti-linear and anti-bourgeois”70 temporality presented, with greatest precision, in Benjamin’s ekphrastic account of Paul Klee’s drawing Angelus Novus as “the angel of history”:

  • 71 Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History”, in Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, H (...)

His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise […]. This storm is what we call progress.71

 

  • 72 Deborah L. Parsons, Streetwalking the Metropolis…, p. 11.
  • 73 Ibid., p. 7.

25In Streetwalking the Metropolis, Parsons critically alludes to Le Corbusier’s patriarchal understanding of the public space as navigated by pedestrians. “Man walks in a straight line”, asserts Le Corbusier, “because he has a goal and knows where he is going”.72 Parsons points up the modernist’s forward-looking ideology of clean lines and rigid divisions to comment on the situation of a female subject for whom the vernacular city “operates as not just a setting or an image, but as a constituent of identity”. Yet, Parsons’s concept of “gender-related city consciousness”73 is equally relevant, I would propose, for the variegated and unequivocally other space-consciousness represented by Padraig Regan who identifies as non-binary and explores, in their delightfully sentient texts, different kinds of difference that are to be found in sameness.

  • 74 Ibid.
  • 75 Padraig Regan, The Sensual City, Belfast, The Lifeboat Press, 2022, p. 16.
  • 76 Ibid., p. 17.
  • 77 Ibid., p. 15.

26In an essay on the physical and notional experience of being out in the streets (of a locked-down Belfast), Regan implements a method that Parsons describes as “fusion of empirical and imaginative perspectives”.74 Entitled The Sensual City (and published in 2022), the essay is complemented with frottage images of walls, signs and other telling surfaces found in the city. It sets out to illustrate the “well attested” fact that “public space is made by, for and of heterosexuals”75 and shows how urban spaces coded according to “straight lines” feel to a queer person: like brandishing of heterosexual normativity. Further down, the spatial connotations of “orientation” are explored through a comment on the etymology of the two terms, with “straight” denoting linearity and direction, and “queer” entailing “a slantwise angle, a curvature, an inversion, a turn”.76 In an environment defined by preventive measures against otherness and ambiguity, a queer person is constantly confronted with barriers and aware of disrupting the “usual course of bodies”.77

  • 78 Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, p. 417.
  • 79 Padraig Regan, The Sensual City, p. 29.
  • 80 Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, p. 895.

27While this takes us back to Benjamin’s flâneur, “intoxicated” from wandering “aimlessly through the streets”,78 it also recalls Carson’s manifesto from the start of Belfast Confetti and the benign, as well as the more ominous, implications of his self-command to “Turn Again”. Indeed, although in The Sensual City Regan names Carson as the quintessential Belfast flâneur,79 they come up with their own revision of flânerie, especially its notion as representing “[t]he allegorical […] gaze” of “a man uprooted”, yet one for whom the “crowd is his element”.80 Expressly ambiguous and positively androgynous, Regan’s narrators have their own reasons for being out of their element in the city crowd. They simply cannot afford the luxury, reserved to the “male” idler, to observe others without being seen. For someone who is actually alienated from their environment, it hardly is possible to engage in an “allegorical” gaze. Clearly, the fact that flâneur is gendered male in French and other major languages is not lost on Regan who surreptitiously deconstructs its implications to allude to queer precarities.

  • 81 Padraig Regan, “Glitch City”, in Some Integrity, Manchester, Carcanet, 2022, p. 47.
  • 82 Ibid., p. 47, 48, 54, 55 (italics in the original).

28Carson’s presence is noticeable also in “Glitch City”, from Regan’s collection Some Integrity (2022). The piece, which refers to itself as an essay, though parts of it read like a poem in prose, contains images of invalid maps and virtual ramblings. It opens, nonetheless, by giving us exact coordinates: “On 12 June 2016, I was sitting in Woodworkers, watching – through the huge windows at the front of the pub – rain come down so hard it seemed to pixelate the façade of Benedicts Hotel on the other side of Bradbury Place”.81 It is the day after the mass shooting in Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, which left forty-nine people dead and more than fifty injured. While the massacre constitutes the emotional centre of the text, however, the first thing we are asked to focus on is the “torrential rain shower” outside the pub’s open windows, which the authorial persona mistakes for the glass. What ensues is a meditation on the state of matter and the possible conception of glass as “erotic embodiment” of queerness, the insistent fact of violence, the way that straight men “occupy” space, the magic memory of the “drastically” simplistic Gameboy’s screen and – towards the end – the actual city’s streets, pictured as “a fractured maze of visible & invisible walls”.82

  • 83 Ciaran Carson, “Question Time”, p. 58.
  • 84 Ibid., p. 57.
  • 85 Ibid.
  • 86 Padraig Regan, “Glitch City”, p. 56.
  • 87 Ibid., p. 55.

29Carson’s aerial perspective and the image of the “troubled” city as “micro-chip deviations”83 have been replaced here by the virtual city of the Pokémon game (a screenshot of one of its jumbled “maps” is included). In Carson’s “Question Time” we heard “fresh breeze swee[p] through the gap”84 in the houses, as if these were the scanty teeth of an ancient monster about to disintegrate back into the “sleech and muck”85 on which the city had been built. In Regan’s text, the gap seems to be at once enlarged and symbolic: “To my right, I could just about see the southern end of Sandy Row, one of those gaps in my mental cartography of the city, where I rarely go and if I were to venture into I would affect a name less revealing of my background and try to minimise the outward signs of my queerness”.86 Yet, danger is never figurative in a world where tragedies like the Orlando shooting happen or in a city whose “euphemistic ‘peace walls’ translate the conceptual fragmentation of Belfast into physical truth”.87

  • 88 Kirsten Seale, “Eye-Swiping London: Iain Sinclair, Photography and the Flâneur”, Literary London: I (...)
  • 89 Padraig Regan, The Sensual City, p. 31.
  • 90 Ibid.

30If the frottage technique in The Sensual City allows Regan to translate onto the page an impression of the city as it is now, the essay and many of Regan’s poems foreground a messy and disjointed temporality. While Le Corbusieur’s rationalist approach rests on the vision of a city in which a straight man is straight-walking towards his lined-up future, Regan’s peripatetic persona – similar to Carson’s anachronistic flâneur or Gillis’s loners who ride into the future backwards – seems to be “forever looking to the past”.88 The basic sentiment that the city is always already not there finds a touching reiteration here: “I miss the city I’m in. I miss the street it used to be and the self I was in it”,89 writes Regan in their nostalgia piece. It sings a love song to their home city and former selves, but deals also with poetic influence: “Perhaps, as my movement through the city becomes less regulated and the city once again becomes a place where unexpected pleasure can occur in the only tense it knows, this feeling will recede and these words will become its ghost”.90

 

  • 91 Ibid., p. 30.
  • 92 Carson died of lung cancer in October 2019. The poems in the book were written in the last six mont (...)
  • 93 Ciaran Carson, “Claude Monet, Artist’s Garden at Vétheuil, 1880”, in Still Life, Oldcastle, The Gal (...)
  • 94 Ciaran Carson, “Canaletto, The Stonemason’s Yard, c.1725”, in Still Life, p. 39.
  • 95 Ibid., p. 38.
  • 96 Ibid., p. 41.
  • 97 See Ciaran Carson, “Farset”, in Belfast Confetti, p. 49. In this prose piece dedicated to the city’ (...)
  • 98 David Wheatley on Carson’s Still Life, online on the Wake Forest University Press website: https:// (...)
  • 99 Ciaran Carson, “Yves Klein, 1KB 79, 1959”, in Still Life, p. 63.
  • 100 Ibid., p. 66.
  • 101 Ibid., p. 69.

31“When someone asks me where I live, I remember where I used to live”, writes Carson in “Turn Again”. “If the city is a text, it rarely speaks in the present tense”,91 recapitulates Regan towards the end of The Sensual City, having just cited an earlier passage from Carson’s poem. Time becomes a driving – and binding – principle in Carson’s last works, comprised in the posthumously published collection Still Life from 2019 which the poet knew would be his last.92 The shimmering plurality from his earlier writings is elevated to a method in Still Life which, knowing that time is short, must have everything happen all at once, as it were. Indeed, time is of the essence in these poems which navigate a vast cultural time-space through ekphrasis, allusion and personal recollection. In “Canaletto, The Stonemason’s Yard, c.1725”, time asserts itself relentlessly on the glowing display of the taximeter on a regular trip to the clinic through Belfast morning traffic, through the drip of the chemo infusion into the cannula or “the tick of my mechanical aortic valve”.93 Like every poem in the collection, the piece is titled after a particular painting – in this case an untypical Canaletto scene from an “industrial” Venice, away from the “Grand Tourist view” of “magnificent regattas on the Grand Canal”,94 that has been chosen precisely because of its likeness to contemporary Belfast. But many other paintings, methods and styles are brought up, by way of association, thus creating a vertiginous collage of palimpsests, layers and directions. Yet, despite the teeming simultaneity, there is no sense of haste or anarchic mishmash. While images and observations accumulate, scenes are measured in durations, slowing things down and “offering / The viewer many potential routes through a sometimes considerable length / Of scenery”.95 And “Then there is deep time of the City of Venice, floating on sleech on a city of stilts”,96 which transports us back to Belfast’s own canals and water underworld.97 As David Wheatley maintains, these poems “speak from a place of apparent tranquillity, but one that on closer inspection teems with furious activity”.98 They denote – and ultimately surpass – the dialectic of life and death, of movement and stasis, and the same could be claimed about their ekphrastic subjects. In “Yves Klein, 1KB 79, 1959”, Carson slowly complicates our identification of the painter with monochrome blue canvases as the apparent, all-absorbing uniformity gives way to an endless sequence of “unique textural field[s]”.99 Next, we are reminded of how “Klein was deeply affected by Hiroshima”100 while – through an association of the blue with the “celestial space” and with clouds “blossoming into blue” – a memory is brought up of the 1972 Belfast bombings known as Bloody Friday. By way of his ekphrastic meditations on art and life, Carson explores the heterotopic “counter-sites” found between memory, observation and invention, signification and the lack of sense, as when “Firemen shove[l] into body bags the unspeakable remains of the day”.101

  • 102 Gail McConnell, “Ciaran Carson’s Still Life: Courage and Joy, Miraculous, Ordinary, Tender and True (...)
  • 103 Padraig Regan, “On Reflection”, in Some Integrity, p. 65.
  • 104 See https://www.origersht.com. See also Gersht’s take on Benjamin’s “angel of history” in a short f (...)
  • 105 Padraig Regan, “On Reflection”, p. 65 (emphasis added).

32Many moments in Carson’s Still Life remind us of Regan’s pulsating ekphrases and eroticised descriptions of exotic fruits, dead poultry and soulful clouds collected in Some Integrity. In fact, so much is going on within and between the individual collections that it becomes impossible to tell who influences who in this busy “ekphrastic factory”.102 In their sequence of “Three Poems after Ori Gersht”, Regan offers exquisite reconstructions of the Israeli-British artist’s video installations of blown-up still lives, including a vase of flowers arranged to resemble “those painted by the lesser elder Breughel” and reflected in a mirror. The impression of secondariness is enhanced by the fact that these are “silk, cut & folded” to “perform the role”103 of the (original) flowers which were, of course, rendered in oil on panel. Gersht’s art is motivated by the wish “to explore the difficulties of visually representing conflict” and to show how, in art and media, violence can be both grotesque and attractive.104 Like Gersht’s camera, in “On Reflection”, Regan’s verbal take on the scene focuses on the surface of the mirror and the fact that it is not the flowers that explode in the video but only appear to do so as the mirror bursts and “cracks happen & happen everywhere at once”. It seems that, as “they make their progress to the bottom of the frame”,105 the swarming shards might, at any point, begin to reassemble. They never do, of course, and can therefore remind us of Gillis’s “Progress” and his ironic vision of future as history created by way of erasure and destruction. “Given time, […]”, is a phrase included by Gillis in the geographical and conceptual centre of “Progress”. The manifold delusions suggested by the phrase include the premise that, given enough time, the past could mend itself. It also launches the latter part of the poem in which the debris of a bomb explosion are pulled back into the original surfaces, therefore making the idea of temporal progress as automatically entailing growth and reparation preposterously comical.

  • 106 Hazel Smith, Hyperscapes in the Poetry of Frank O’Hara: Difference, Homosexuality, Topography, Live (...)

33Poems by Carson, Gillis and Regan provoke universal questions about the limits of empirical knowledge and categorical identification. All three poets securely place themselves in the local tradition of Belfast city idlers while constantly undercutting any secure sense of assimilation. Despite starting from a place of strong connection, Carson and the two younger authors frequently also reveal disturbing implications of the peripatetic practice, whenever their perambulations bring them face to face with evidence of sectarian, social or gender divides, the city’s partitioned history and elusive geography. Protean and endlessly variable, Belfast is presented as “a site of difference”.106 Yet, in a truly Benjaminesque manner, Carson’s, Gillis’s and Regan’s texts refuse to give us a key to this difference but rather insist on probing its plural, ultimately ambiguous character.

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Notes

1 Derek Mahon, interview by John Brown in In the Chair: Interviews with Poets from the North of Ireland, Cliffs of Moher, Salmon Publishing, 2002, p. 114; quoted in Maria Johnston, “Walking Dublin: Contemporary Irish Poets in the City”, in The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish Poetry, Fran Brearton, Alan Gillis (eds.), Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2012, p. 495.

2 Maria Johnston, “Walking Dublin…”, p. 492.

3 Seamus Heaney, “The Sense of Place”, in Preoccupations: Selected Prose, 1968-1978, New York, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1980, p. 146.

4 Seamus Heaney, “The Poetry of John Hewitt”, Threshold, no. 22, 1969, p. 73.

5 Seamus Heaney, “The Makings of a Music: Reflections on the Poetry of Wordsworth and Yeats”, in Preoccupations…, p. 61-78.

6 See, for example, Heaney’s poems “The Peninsula” from Door into the Dark (1969) and “Postscript” from The Spirit Level (1996); and Medbh McGuckian’s playful discussion of Heaney’s motoring predilection in “Horsepower, Pass By!: A Study of the Car in the Poetry of Seamus Heaney”, Metre, no. 3, 1997, p. 70-83.

7 Tim Ingold, Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description, London, Routledge, 2011, p. xii.

8 Hazel Smith, The Writing Experiment: Strategies for Innovative Creative Writing, Crows Nest, Allen & Unwin, 2005, p. 263; quoted in Maria Johnston, “Walking Dublin…”, p. 493 (italics in the original).

9 Raymond Williams, The Country and the City [1973], London, The Hogarth Press, 1993, p. 233; quoted in Neal Alexander, “Deviations from the Known Route: Reading, Writing, Walking”, in Ciaran Carson: Space, Place, Writing, Liverpool, Liverpool University Press, 2010, p. 95.

10 Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, Howard Eiland, Kevin McLaughlin (trans.), Cambridge, The Belknap Press, 1999, p. 880.

11 Beatrice Hanssen, “Introduction”, in Walter Benjamin and “The Arcades Project”, Beatrice Hanssen (ed.), London – New York, Continuum Publishing, 2006, p. 4.

12 Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, p. 880.

13 Esther Leslie, “Ruin and Rubble in the Arcades”, in Walter Benjamin and “The Arcades Project”, p. 112.

14 Beatrice Hanssen, “Introduction”, p. 4.

15 Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, p. 108.

16 Pei-Wen Clio Kao, “The Flâneur / Flâneuse and the Benjaminian Law of ‘Dialectic at a Standstill’ in Joseph Conrad’s ‘The Secret Agent’”, Conradiana, vol. 45, no. 2, 2013, p. 127.

17 Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, p. 816.

18 Deborah L. Parsons, Streetwalking the Metropolis: Women, the City and Modernity, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 42. Parsons identifies a “plethora of incarnations” of Benjamin’s and Baudelaire’s urban spectators (from artists to prostitutes) and asks whether these plural, “drifting, placeless figures […] all socially or morally marginalised”, should rather be described by the feminine term “flâneuse” (Deborah L. Parsons, “Flâneur or Flâneuse? Mythologies of Modernity”, New Formations, no. 38, 1999, p. 98).

19 Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, p. 880.

20 Ibid., p. 934.

21 Ibid., p. 417.

22 Carson remains a cherished ghost and an acknowledged mentor for many poets today, including Leontia Flynn, Gail McConnell, Scott McKendry, Sinéad Morrissey, James Connor Patterson, Stephen Sexton and others.

23 Peter Mackay, “Contemporary Northern Irish Poetry and Romanticism”, in The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish Poetry, p. 300.

24 Edna Longley, “The Currency of Poetry”, Fortnight, no. 479, September 2020, p. 57.

25 Ibid.

26 Ibid., p. 54.

27 Jahan Ramazani, Poetry and Its Others: News, Prayer, Song, and the Dialogue of Genres, Chicago – London, University of Chicago Press, 2013, p. 90; quoted in Edna Longley, “The Currency of Poetry”, p. 54.

28 See Neal Alexander, “Deviations from the Known Route…”, p. 91.

29 Ciaran Carson, “Turn Again”, in Belfast Confetti, Oldcastle, The Gallery Press, 1989, p. 11.

30 Ibid.

31 Temple Cone, “Knowing the Street Map by Foot: Ciaran Carson’s Belfast Confetti”, New Hibernia Review / Iris Éireannach Nua, vol. 10, no. 3, 2006, p. 69.

32 Ibid., p. 68.

33 See Ciaran Carson, “Turn Again”, p. 11.

34 Ciaran Carson, “Question Time”, in Belfast Confetti, p. 57.

35 Walter Benjamin quoted in Howard Eiland, “Translator’s Foreword”, in Walter Benjamin, Berlin Childhood around 1900, Howard Eiland (trans.), Cambridge, The Belknap Press, 2006, p. xii.

36 Ciaran Carson, Belfast Confetti, p. 14.

37 Ciaran Carson, “Question Time”, p. 58.

38 Ibid.

39 See Howard Eiland, “Translator’s Foreword”, p. viii; and the opening passage of Benjamin’s text in which he explains his choice to focus on the period of his childhood and to include images that could be most conducive to later homesickness as a means of self-immunising against homesickness once the city (and Nazi Germany) became inaccessible (Walter Benjamin, Berlin Childhood around 1900, p. 37).

40 Ciaran Carson, “Question Time”, p. 60.

41 Neal Alexander, “Deviations from the Known Route…”, p. 116.

42 Alan Gillis, “Ciaran Carson: Beyond Belfast”, in The Cities of Belfast, Nicholas Allen, Aaron Kelly (eds.), Dublin, Four Courts Press, 2003, p. 184.

43 Alan Gillis, interview with the Edinburgh Review, quoted in “Poem of the Week: ‘Spring’ by Allan Gillis”, 15 February 2018, online on the Wake Forest University Press website: https://wfupress.wfu.edu/poem-of-the-week/poem-week-spring-alan-gillis.

44 For an in-depth discussion of the poem and the interactions on the Belfast poetry scene, see Scott McKendry, What Snuck about Hopewell and Other Places and outside the “Imaginative Estate”: Canon, Dialect and Aesthetics in Northern Irish Poetry, doctoral thesis, Queen’s University Belfast, July 2020, p. 74, online: https://pure.qub.ac.uk/en/studentTheses/what-snuck-about-hopewell-and-other-places-and-outside-the-imagin.

45 Alan Gillis, “The Ulster Way”, in Somebody, Somewhere, Oldcastle, The Gallery Press, 2004, p. 9.

46 Ibid.

47 Associated above all with Hewitt and Heaney.

48 Virgil, Georgica, 3.291-292. For a discussion of Petrarch’s conception of the poetic profession and its civic function, see David Lummus, The City of Poetry: Imagining the Civic Role of the Poet in Fourteenth-Century Italy, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2020, p. 115.

49 David McKittrick, “Cautious Steps to a Loyalist Ceasefire”, The Independent, 12 October 1994, online: https://www.Independent.co.uk/news/uk/cautious-steps-to-a-loyalist-ceasefire-paramilitaries-declaration-means-northern-ireland-faces-best-hope-of-peace-since-1969-david-mckittrick-reports-1442563.html.

50 Alan Gillis, “12th October, 1994”, in Somebody, Somewhere, p. 10.

51 Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, p. 871.

52 Alan Gillis, “12th October, 1994”, p. 12.

53 Ibid.

54 Mutlu Konuk Blasing, Lyric Poetry: The Pain and Pleasure of Words, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2007, p. 182. Blasing quotes from Anne Sexton’s poem “Said the Poet to the Analyst” (Anne Sexton, The Complete Poems, Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1999, p. 13).

55 Mutlu Konuk Blasing, Lyric Poetry…, p. 194, note 11.

56 Alan Gillis, “No. 8”, in Scapegoat, Oldcastle, The Gallery Press, 2014, p. 34.

57 Ibid., p. 32.

58 Gillis’s poem recalls Raymond Queneau’s Exercices de style (1947) in which the same unremarkable Parisian scene, observed from the board of the “S” bus, is told 99 times over, each time using a conspicuously different poetic style. Gillis’s lyric contains echoes of many other works and styles, however, including Carson’s and Wallace Stevens’s. Like in so many other of his poems, Gillis illustrates how a poetic style can be achieved by intently and consistently dismantling it.

59 Alan Gillis, “Flat White Afternoon”, in The Readiness [2020], Winston-Salem, Wake Forest University Press, 2021, p. 37.

60 Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, p. 427.

61 See Esther Leslie, “Ruin and Rubble in the Arcades”, p. 103.

62 Mutlu Konuk Blasing, Lyric Poetry…, p. 194, note 11.

63 Alan Gillis, “No. 8”, p. 33.

64 Alan Gillis, “Progress”, in Somebody, Somewhere, p. 55.

65 Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften, Rolf Tiedemann, Hermann Schweppenhäuser (eds.), Frankfurt, Suhrkamp, 1982, vol. V, p. 1256-1257; quoted in Rolf Tiedemann, “Dialectics at a Standstill: Approaches to the Passagen-Werk”, in Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, p. 939.

66 Elizabeth Wilson, “The Invisible Flâneur”, New Left Review, vol. 1, no. 191, 1992, p. 11.

67 Birte Heidemann, Post-Agreement Northern Irish Literature: Lost in a Liminal Space?, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2016, p. 2.

68 Aaron Kelly, “Geopolitical Eclipse: Culture and the Peace Process in Northern Ireland”, Third Text, vol. 19, no. 5, 2005, p. 545; quoted in Birte Heidemann, Post-Agreement Northern Irish Literature…, p. 40.

69 Birte Heidemann, Post-Agreement Northern Irish Literature…, p. 8.

70 Pei-Wen Clio Kao, “The Flâneur / Flâneuse…”, p. 125.

71 Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History”, in Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, Harry Zohn (trans.), Hannah Arendt (ed.), New York, Schocken, 1968, p. 257-258.

72 Deborah L. Parsons, Streetwalking the Metropolis…, p. 11.

73 Ibid., p. 7.

74 Ibid.

75 Padraig Regan, The Sensual City, Belfast, The Lifeboat Press, 2022, p. 16.

76 Ibid., p. 17.

77 Ibid., p. 15.

78 Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, p. 417.

79 Padraig Regan, The Sensual City, p. 29.

80 Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, p. 895.

81 Padraig Regan, “Glitch City”, in Some Integrity, Manchester, Carcanet, 2022, p. 47.

82 Ibid., p. 47, 48, 54, 55 (italics in the original).

83 Ciaran Carson, “Question Time”, p. 58.

84 Ibid., p. 57.

85 Ibid.

86 Padraig Regan, “Glitch City”, p. 56.

87 Ibid., p. 55.

88 Kirsten Seale, “Eye-Swiping London: Iain Sinclair, Photography and the Flâneur”, Literary London: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Representation of London, vol. 3, no. 2, 2005, online: http://www.literarylondon.org/london-journal/september2005/seale.html.

89 Padraig Regan, The Sensual City, p. 31.

90 Ibid.

91 Ibid., p. 30.

92 Carson died of lung cancer in October 2019. The poems in the book were written in the last six months of his life.

93 Ciaran Carson, “Claude Monet, Artist’s Garden at Vétheuil, 1880”, in Still Life, Oldcastle, The Gallery Press, 2019, p. 13.

94 Ciaran Carson, “Canaletto, The Stonemason’s Yard, c.1725”, in Still Life, p. 39.

95 Ibid., p. 38.

96 Ibid., p. 41.

97 See Ciaran Carson, “Farset”, in Belfast Confetti, p. 49. In this prose piece dedicated to the city’s buried river Carson writes of “Belfast’s industrial Venice”.

98 David Wheatley on Carson’s Still Life, online on the Wake Forest University Press website: https://wfupress.wfu.edu/books/still-life.

99 Ciaran Carson, “Yves Klein, 1KB 79, 1959”, in Still Life, p. 63.

100 Ibid., p. 66.

101 Ibid., p. 69.

102 Gail McConnell, “Ciaran Carson’s Still Life: Courage and Joy, Miraculous, Ordinary, Tender and True”, The Irish Times, 17 October 2019. I owe the idea that “ekphrasis wasn’t exactly flavour of the month until [Stephen] Sexton and [Padraig] Regan started doing it”, to Scott McKendry (email from the author).

103 Padraig Regan, “On Reflection”, in Some Integrity, p. 65.

104 See https://www.origersht.com. See also Gersht’s take on Benjamin’s “angel of history” in a short film set in the Pyrenees in 1940 and titled Evaders, online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpGFFoEj-cM.

105 Padraig Regan, “On Reflection”, p. 65 (emphasis added).

106 Hazel Smith, Hyperscapes in the Poetry of Frank O’Hara: Difference, Homosexuality, Topography, Liverpool, Liverpool University Press, 2000, p. 46.

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Auteur

Daniela Theinová

English Department and Centre for Irish Studies, Charles University, Prague (Czech Republic)

Daniela Theinová est maître de conférences au département d’anglais de la faculté des lettres et membre du Centre d’études irlandaises de l’université Charles à Prague (République tchèque). Elle est l’autrice de, notamment, Limits and Languages in Contemporary Irish Women’s Poetry (Cham, Palgrave Macmillan, 2020). Parmi ses contributions récentes figurent des essais et des chapitres dans A History of Irish Women’s Poetry (Ailbhe Darcy, David Wheatley (dir.), Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2021) ; Ar an Imeall i Lár an Domhain : Ag Trasnú Tairseacha Staire, Teanga, Litríochta agus Cultúir (Indreabhán, Leabhar Breac, 2021) ; et Léachtaí Cholm Cille, nº 53, 2023. Elle a traduit en tchèque des poèmes de Vona Groarke, Caitríona O’Reilly, Máirtín Ó Direáin, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill et Aifric Mac Aodha. Elle est membre du comité de rédaction de la Review of Irish Studies in Europe.

Daniela Theinová is senior lecturer in the English Department and a member of the Centre for Irish Studies at Charles University in Prague (Czech Republic). She is the author of Limits and Languages in Contemporary Irish Women’s Poetry (Cham, Palgrave Macmillan, 2020). Her recent contributions include essays and chapters in A History of Irish Women’s Poetry (Ailbhe Darcy, David Wheatley (eds.), Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2021); Ar an Imeall i Lár an Domhain: Ag Trasnú Tairseacha Staire, Teanga, Litríochta agus Cultúir (Indreabhán, Leabhar Breac, 2021); and Léachtaí Cholm Cille, no. 53, 2023. Her translations into Czech include poetry by Vona Groarke, Caitríona O’Reilly, Máirtín Ó Direáin, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill and Aifric Mac Aodha. She is member of the editorial board of Review of Irish Studies in Europe.

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