Letters from the Alphabet: Carson’s and Muldoon’s Contigent Poetics



Like Seamus Heaney’s later work, the poetry of Ciaran Carson and Paul Muldoon from the generation following his has increasingly foregrounded notions of contingency. In ‘Revised Version’, one of the prose passages inserted into the middle section of Belfast Confetti, Carson relates the way in which the city, as seen in a book of photographs, has changed across history to the way in which the city is constantly changing in his own experience, ‘For everything is contingent and provisional; and the subjunctive mood of these images is tensed to the ifs and buts, the yeas and nays of Belfast’s history.’1 In the opening poem of the long sequence which forms the second part of his 1994 The Annals of Chile, Muldoon envisages the gradual sweeping away of everything on the land by the streaming yarrow plant which gives the sequence its title. That knowledge dawns as the recognition:

…that the row of kale would shortly be overwhelmed by these pink and cream blooms, that all of us would be overwhelmed.…2


Language Game Quotation Mark Prose Passage Subjunctive Mood Ordinary Speech 
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  1. 23.
    Jonathan Bardon, A History of Ulster (Belfast: Blackstaff Press, 1992), pp. 818–20.Google Scholar

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© Steven Matthews 1997

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