Poetry News

'into a world that is eerie, strange, and fantastic': An Interview with Ciarán Carson

By Harriet Staff

Head over to The Spectator for this interview with poet and translator Ciarán Carson.

Most the discussion centers around his recent translation of Rimbaud's "Illuminations." A sample:

How heavily did you lean on previous translations that exist of Illuminations for this project?

I began by working from Louise Varèse and Oliver Bernard’s translations. I also looked at several others, including John Ashbery, who I had been an admirer of, but I was disappointed with his take on Rimbaud, which I felt was ponderously literal and flat. But all the translations I read helped me in one way or another.

Can we see what Rimbaud was trying to express in Illuminations, as both his horror, and fascination, with the 19th Century city?

I don’t know if ‘express’ is the right word for what Rimbaud was doing; that word implies that the poet begins with some kind of manifesto, which he then illustrates in poetry. The poems are visceral reactions: they come out in their own weird and zany logic. In retrospect, we can read some of them as critiques of industrial society. Rimbaud was fiercely anti-respectability, and took a certain delight in squalor, therefore his reactions to the horror and opulence of cities is indeed complicated.

Is trying to find definite meaning in any poetry a futile exercise?

The kind of examination question which used to be put, ‘What did the poet have in mind when he said…’ is an assumption that the poet clothes his thought in verse, whereas, the poet often doesn’t know what he has in mind: he follows the language, and sees where it might lead him, which is usually a very different place from what he thought at the onset. If you know exactly what you are going to say in a poem, that poem will be a failure. Besides, there is no interest or fun, in saying what you already know. Poems are devices for learning what you never knew until you wrote the poem. They take you elsewhere. Rimbaud’s poetry certainly does anyway: into a world that is eerie, strange, and fantastic

Full interview here.

Originally Published: November 6th, 2012