Eccentric Sonnets: Ciaran Carson’s poetics in The Twelfth of Never


  • Miriam McIlfatrick-Ksenofontov



sonnets, originality, otherness, eccentricity, cognition, recognition


The dialogic nature of language use and the impossibility of an uninfluenced work of literature complicate the notion of poet-as-originator. Yet originality persists as a sought-after quality in literature for both writers and readers. The article focuses on the Northern Irish poet, writer, and translator Ciaran Carson, known for his fascination with language as a medium and his linguistic experimentalism. In 1998, Carson published two collections of poetry: The Alexandrine Plan, translations of sonnets by Mallarmé, Baudelaire and Rimbaud, and The Twelfth of Never, a sequence of his own sonnets – both in rhyming alexandrines, suggestive of simultaneous composition. In its borrowed form, The Twelfth of Never offers a kaleidoscopic montage of motifs and discourses from Irish history, literature, folklore, music, and myth, and flits to and fro between Ireland, France, and Japan, evoking a never-land in which “everything is metaphor and simile”.

The article adopts a neuro-anthropological view of human culture as distributed cognition and of art as a way of knowing and self-reflectively putting the world together for both artist and audience. The analysis of Carson’s poems seeks to explicate how recognisable characters, emblems, and rhetoric appear in and are altered by unfamiliar guises and settings; how cultural symbols and literary forms are interrupted in the act of representing; and how the dreamlike quality of the collection depends on the looping and metamorphosing of motifs, images and voices from one poem to another. I suggest that this does not generate a chaotic textual product but amounts to an engaging reflection on the nature of originality in the making and making sense of poetry.


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