Literary works document history. Each piece of literature can tell the readers something about the past – it may be events, ideologies, or stories of people. As a reflection of thoughts however, these literary pieces often do not relay accurate events. Rather, such works only provide vague interpretations of the authors. In this paper, the researcher will try to analyze the poem “Belfast Confetti” of Ciaran Carson of Northern Ireland.
By analyzing the events which probably inspired the creation of the poem, this paper will serve as a historical criticism of the award-winning piece.
The title, “Belfast Confetti” is not one which Carson creates imaginatively. Rather, it is a common slang term used to refer to the easy-grip collection of debris often used by rioters during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The Troubles was the period of conflict that roughly began during the 1960s and seemingly ended in 1998 through the Belfast Agreement. It was considered as a period of conflict that resulted from the political conflict between the catholic/nationalist minority and the protestant/unionist majority. The worse of these years were from 1970 to 1972, when almost five hundred people died.
Most of these killings took place in Belfast, the city where Carson was born, and lived his whole life. (English) Other the common slang term, the word “Confetti” in the title can be interpreted in a number of ways. It can be regarded as the collection of screws, nails, bolts, and other sharp objects used as shrapnel for IRA bombs. (English) If coupled with imagination, the term “confetti” can bring the reader right into bombing scene, where one can witness the “confetti” of various fatal elements dropping from midair.
Also, “confetti” can suggest a feeling of confusion and disorder embracing the mind of the author as he took himself right into the hostile hotspots of Belfast. As noted by Mahony, “Belfast confetti uses three quite different image patterns, all conveyed as being disrupted, to try to recreate for the reader in a linear fashion, the very non-linear experience of living through a bombing. ” (Mahony) “Suddenly as the riot squad moved in, it was raining exclamation marks” (Belfast Confetti, copied from BBC)
The situation depicts a usual day during the period of the Troubles when riots were common day-to-day events. According to Carson, each time the riot squad moves in, that meant that it was time for a “raining” of “exclamation marks”. Raining is often used to imply “a multitude of” or “plenty of”. As for the “exclamation marks”, such can be interpreted following the actual purpose of using the said punctuation mark – signifying strong emotions during the onset of violence. Thus, Carson notes that when riot squads come, then a variety of strong emotions set in the people of Belfast.
This variety may refer to mixture of revolutionizing and insistent emotions of the squads, distrustful and aggressive reactions of the military, and apprehensive and distraught feelings of the civilians. “Nuts, bolts, nails, car-keys. A fount of broken type. And the explosion. Itself – an askerisk on the map. This hyphenated line, a burst of rapid fire…” (Belfast Confetti, copied from BBC) The description of diverse emotions is then followed by a seeming narrative of what actual takes place during Belfast’s destructive era.
Through these lines, Carson takes the readers again in a picturesque gallery of memories where the rioters throw in the cocktail of “nuts, bolts, nails, car-keys” and the air fills up with fountain-like debris (“a fount of broken type”) much like what happens when an active volcano spews dust, smoke, and stones up in the sky. In response to the noted revolutionary action is an explosion – which then leaves awkward marks on the city’s map as it inevitably eradicates social structures. In writing, asterisks are often used to indicate anonymity – to conceal, taking the place of letters within a word.
Carson then uses the word “asterisk” to describe what explosions often did to Belfast before – destroying its structures and people into obscurity. As noted by Mahony, “Carson tries to project a debris-strewn labyrinth where once there was order. ” (Mahony) Carson also uses the phrase “hyphenated line” to describe the “burst of rapid fire”. Hyphens are used to join words. By “hyphenated”, Carson reflects on continuous nonstop gun fires. “I was trying to complete a sentence in my head but it kept stuttering” (Belfast Confetti, copied from BBC)
In the next line, Carson then describes what he felt when he was in the city at the time of the Troubles. He explains that at times when the guns were firing, civilians would try to create a sentence (which is defined as ‘a set of words with a complete thought’). Sentence here should not be taken as a mere line in a poem. Instead, it can be noted that Carson relays that in the midst of the gun fires and explosions, people would try to devise a “sentence” or a “complete” explanation of the devastating event which is happening around them.
Unfortunately, they would just “stutter”, or fail at devising an adequate rationalization. “All the alleyways and side streets blocked with stops and colons. ” (Belfast Confetti, copied from BBC) Following Carson’s fondness of punctuation metaphors, the “stops” would refer to “periods”. Periods are use to end a sentence and colons indicate discontinuities within sentences. Both suggest that people caught in the midst of violent Belfast bouts would try to find a way to escape through alleys and side lanes but nevertheless only to find dead ends.
“I know this labyrinth so well – Balaclava, Raglan, Inkerman, Odessa Street – Why can’t I escape? Every move is punctuated. ” (Belfast Confetti, copied from BBC) In this line, Carson injects his own history in his literary piece. As one who grew up in Belfast, he knew the place quite well. Implying that he is very familiar of the place also tells the readers something about Belfast’s geography. The city is small with lots of intertwining streets, which just like Carson suggests – looks like a maze. The question of escape however, supports the overall theme of the poem.
Carson suggests that people who were caught in the Troubles could not find a way out of the conflict. Apart from the civilians, those who were directly involved within the problem could not find a way to effectively resolve the persisting crisis. The politicians, activists, republicans, loyalists, and paramilitary forces were unable to find an efficient solution even through a series of ceasefires and agreements. The people of Belfast and that of the whole Northern Ireland couldn’t find a way out even up to now as sporadic killings still happen. (English)
As noted by Carson, every move is “punctuated” or as what its literal meaning suggests, “interrupted at frequent intervals”. (Collins Dictionary) It should be noted that despite attempts to end the Troubles through the Sunningdale Agreement, the establishment of the group ‘Peace People’, open talks, and paramilitary ceasefires. However, all of these struggles towards peace are often interrupted by bombings, armed campaigns, and killings. (English) The same also happens at the individual level as attempts to escape are also interrupted by indecisions.
“Crimea Street. Dead end again. A Saracen, Kremlin-2 mesh. Makrolon face-shields. Walkietalkies. ” (Belfast Confetti, copied from BBC) Carson also further addresses the existence of military forces through an enumeration of what they often use at war. For people who live in Belfast, the enumerated warfare gears are considered as typical daily paraphernalia. However, the familiarity of such things disrupts the commonality of normality as suggested by the next line: “What is my name? Where am I coming from?
Where am I going? A fusillade of question- marks. ” (Belfast Confetti, copied from BBC) The series of questions may be equated to the disgruntled thinking which the people of Belfast experienced during the Troubles period. These can also be interpreted as the common questions based upon what the authorities often ask to the city constituents as part of standard security interrogations. In an interview in The Guardian, Carson relays his own experience as he was interrogated by the authorities:
When somebody comes to you and says ‘OK, mate, over here, against the wall’,” he says in exaggerated Cockney, “and you’re asked who you are, where you’re from, and you say: ‘I’m from here. ‘ (Quoted from The Guardian) Another interpretation is that it is a question of identity that troubles civilians who do not belong to either of the conflicting parties. As a result of the confusion that surrounds them, civilians felt that there was a need to participate to the war. As noted by Carson, he himself felt that taking a side was necessary.
In the same interview with the Guardian, when asked whether he felt like joining one of the conflicting political parties, Carson responses: Kind of close at times, but … you know – no. And why not? I don’t know. One could easily have done so. I was scared maybe. (Quoted from The Guardian) The “fusillade” meaning ‘simultaneous and incessant firing’ of questions emphasizes the uncertainty of the civilians. In conclusion, the poem ultimately tells Carson’s story of living through the Troubles and facing daily bombings, riots, and violence.
As noted by Wheatley, “The chaos of violence (which, once again is creative to the same extent to which it can be destructive) “is made scriptable in metaphors drawn from writing and printing in ways that emphasize the explosive effects on any pretence of realist representation. ” (Wheatley). Carson injects metaphors in his interpretation of the events so as to dramatize and emphasize the frustration posed by the bombings, and seemingly take the reader to the actual events. Works Cited: BBC. “Poetry: Belfast Confetti”. BBC Northern Ireland Learning. 2 May 2009 <http://www. bbc. co.
uk/northernireland/schools/11_16/poetry/war. shtml> “Collins Essential English Dictionary”. HarperCollins Publishers, 2004, 2006 English, Richard. “Armed Struggle: The History of the IRA”. Oxford University Press, 2003 Mahony, Christina Hunt. “Contemporary Irish Literature”. Palgrave Macmillan, pp 79-84 The Guardian Staff. “A life in poetry: Ciaran Carson” Guardian. co. uk. 17 Jan 2009. 2 May 2009 <http://www. guardian. co. uk/books/2009/jan/17/poetry-ciaran-carson-belfast-ireland> Wheatley, David. “That Blank Mouth: Secrecy, Shibboleths, and Silence in Northern Irish Poetry”. Journal of Modern Literature. 25 (2001): 1-16
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