Site Meter

Thursday, January 22, 2009

From the Small Back Room

Kathleen Byron, who played the smouldering nun in Powell and Pressburger’s Black Narcissus, has died. She also starred in their From the Small Back Room (based on a 1943 novel by Nigel Balchin), a title W.R. Irvine has borrowed for his fine new Festschrift for Ciaran Carson.

Most Festschrifts are shitfests, compost heaps of senior common room pleasantries with one eye on bundling the celebratee out the door at last and breathing that decades-delayed sigh of relief. This is a much more enjoyable contribution to the genre, with poems, fiction, essays and interviews by what must be sixty or seventy contributors.

John Brown remembers writing to Carson and asking ‘If it took a man a week to walk a fortnight how long would it take to sandpaper an elephant into a greyhound?’ To which Carson replies, ‘As long it would take to white-wash Cave Hill in boot-polish.’

Carol Rumens writes skeltonically of the individious position poets occupy in university English departments:

At the Varsity Zoo
It was time for a new
Academic Review.
So the billy goats gruff
And the mice talking tough
About Human Resources,
And the Queen’s horses –
The once-a-month tutors,
The yes-men, the Pooters,
The funding re-routers,
The pre-school recruiters
And government moles
Left their boxes and holes
To form a new Board
Where the crocodiles jawed
About research assessment,
And central investment,
And Jabberwock said
How they’d be in the red
And scholarship dead,
Unless they put lids
On the teaching of classes
And got off their arses
And worked on their bids.

And on it goes, most enjoyably, for another three and a half pages. And Paul Muldoon, in a spirit of more pricks than kicks, considers the porcupine:

I’m thinking of those who,
in the same breath, will kiss up to us and kiss

us off. I’m thinking of a woman who’d flaunt
from her shoulder-blade a tattoo:


There’s a lot happening in Carsonland just at the moment, for those finished digesting their Collected Poems from last October. His novel The Pen Friend is out soon, and another collection of poems, The Night Watch (I think...?), and then there’s a collection of essays about him edited by Elmer Kennedy-Andrews due too. But a less ‘honoured and empty-headed’ older poet, in Yeats’s phrase for Wordsworth in the laureate years, I can’t think of. Carson is one of those few who stay open, alive and urgent over the decades rather than settle into a tribute-band caricature of themselves. For this, and much more, I salute him.


Anonymous said...

Any idea whew one can get a copy of this Festschrift?...Cannot find any references to it online...thanks

puthwuth said...

A URL on the ISBN page -- -- leads to precisely nothing, but there's a postal address too:

736 Saintfield Road
Belfast, BT8 8AT

The ISBN is 978-0-9557985-1-1

Anonymous said...


Richard said...

I apologise for any inconvenience in locating the festschrift - I'm afraid our website is being built as we speak. The postal address is correct, but for a more immediate reply you can telephone +44 (0)7825 604 797.
Many thanks,
W.R. Irvine