This is one of those epoch-making books that colors how you see everything that comes after it. At the height of the painfully certain 1980's, with Thatcherism and Reaganomics out there telling everyone just how it is, Ciaran Carson came along with his marathon Whitman-inspired lines and his almost naively inquisitive tone, and presaged the decade of uncertainty that was the 1990's.
But I don't think this book sets out to redefine anything. Instead, it strips away layers of definition, its long irregular lines reflecting the shapelessness of the ideas Carson seeks. Violent Belfast, which through most of the Twentieth Century was the opposite of a literary city, here becomes a beacon every bit equal to Leopold Bloom's Dublin. But how can a person find himself in a city where maps lie, where memory is unreliable, and where indirection is the rule rather than the norm?
Of course, he can't. And that is the message Carson brings to the fore with this slim volume. Carson evades the grim despair that pervades much current poetry, but his formless indecision is an accurate reflection of the search for purpose and shape we see so often today. Really, Carson seems almost optimistic, even downright happy, in the lack of specificity that his city imposes on his life. Why, there are so many ways to grow!
Recommended for lovers of poetry, students of history, and devotees of human nature. Carson's "The Irish for No" is one of those rare books that has already influenced you in ways you don't know. And once you read it, the influence only becomes that much more powerful.