Until Before After

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A mere nine months since the publication of On the Night Watch (and that book appeared within a year of his acclaimed For All We Know and Collected Poems), Until Before After accumulates as an intriguing meditation on the passage of time and the persistence of love. Miraculously, this ever-shapeshifting author distils form to a new austerity while comprehending the ‘imponderable / toll time // takes’. Acts of recreation and creation, of forgetting and remembering, fathom ‘the mine-shaft // of until’ and relate how the present moment is constantly threatened — and, by definition, defeated. ‘Otherwise / is where we are,’ he writes, following a series of heart-rending hospital scenes, before ‘both took that step / over a threshold’ in an instance of recovery and return, a haunting presence and continuing present, that prevails in a shared intimacy of feeling and the single notes that become a music that is made and played together

In recent years Ciaran Carson has written books of poetry that are determinedly books rather than collections. Each has its own sound and rhythm, and each has an intricate coherence. Until Before After . . . is a tender, sometimes melancholy book, and it is one of Carson’s most brilliant. The deliberate hesitancy of these poems takes them again and again to the ‘threshold’ of enlightenment, or the possibility of hearing something that language cannot say. Until Before After never crosses that threshold, but it reaches its own summit. It is a book constructed with an intelligent complexity that leads to the purest of poetic simplicity. Even by Carson’s high standards, it is a wonderful achievement.— Colin Graham, The Irish Times

It is practically impossible to quote briefly from the poems in Ciaran Carson’s heartriven pair of new books; the pared-down lines, admitting no boundaries between the inner life, the domestic, the world, shift sense and context as the eye tracks the page, a process in which quotation is only interruption. And you’d no more want to interrupt him than you would anyone in the glare of a hospital waiting room, in middle of learning again that any life can seem the sum of its crises and that for a writer one of these might be the discovery that language does little more than parse the unknowable. Carson’s poems include political and casual violence, a loved one’s death, a partner’s illness, but they offer these narratives as glimpsed and sometimes repeated detail, as obsession’s implication, as what is unresolved. The poems exist where anxiety’s all-too-probable assessment of risk meets denial’s denial, and their sparseness is the line graph of the frustrating failure of things to be, inner or outer, as desire suggests they should be, of the failure of words and their order to make much of a dent in this. For so musical a poet — not only in the poems of his recent Collected, but in the sentences and subject of his memoir, Last Night’s Fun — there is no more telling sign of what’s endured than the refusal of these poems to turn fragment into melody, even when that is what they would most deeply like to do.

— Jordan Smith, Antioch Review


 


Lingering on the threshold

In recent years Ciaran Carson has written books of poetry that are determinedly books rather than collections. Each has its own sound and rhythm, and each has an intricate coherence. Until Before After . . . is a tender, sometimes melancholy book, and it is one of Carson’s most brilliant. The deliberate hesitancy of these poems takes them again and again to the ‘threshold’ of enlightenment, or the possibility of hearing something that language cannot say. Until Before After never crosses that threshold, but it reaches its own summit. It is a book constructed with an intelligent complexity that leads to the purest of poetic simplicity. Even by Carson’s high standards, it is a wonderful achievement.

— Colin Graham, The Irish Times



The poems here are made up of short couplets
dominated by a haunting use of monosyllables, so that sentences are slowed right down and the gradual unfolding of syntax allows possible meanings to emerge and flicker past: “Through swing // door after swing / door I follow // him until / where he is to // leave me as I leave / well after midnight // it is so quiet in / the hospital . . .” Here familiar phrases become disjointed and individual words are carefully foregrounded before their place in the sentence becomes apparent. An extraordinarily prolific writer, Carson has always been fascinated by form, each book adopting a fresh architecture, a fresh way of shaping and arranging his material; this new collection is divided into three impressively crafted sections, each consisting of 17 groups of three poems.The opening group establishes the central theme of death and grieving — “His last words // were the story is not / over” — and the book is full of an obsession with minute shifts in time and memory, the rhythms of forgetting and recalling, with calibrating the quiet processes of loss, “that without you / I still see // you as hooked / to the life- // supporting apparatus / you looked at / me as I looked at / you as you // smiled . . .”

— Charles Bainbridge, The Guardian

Year Published: 2010
Details: 128pp
ISBN PBK: 978 1 85235 490 9
ISBN HBK: 978 1 85235 491 6

The Gallery Press