WFUP poet Ciaran Carson, native of Belfast and resident still, has written intimately about his experiences in the most urban sections of the city. This week, The Irish Times published a review of a new book of photographs taken in the late 1960s through the 1970s on the Falls Road, a portion of Belfast known for violent clashes, redevelopment and, more recently, the celebration of traditional Irish culture. The photographer, Vincent Dargan, is a contemporary of Carson’s, having grown up in the area and attended the same school just a few years before.
Dargan’s street photographs help illustrate some of Carson’s most vivid writing about The Troubles and the daily life of the working class in urban Belfast. In Belfast Confetti, Carson’s 1989 tour de force volume, he muses on Belfast the place. “Question Time” is in the voice of a returning native, whose Belfast is not as familiar as it once was and is, in fact, “changing daily.” The speaker draws us into a photograph of a rioter, stone in hand, aimed at a few British soldiers; from the details he tries to discern what is happening outside of the frame. He tries to remember, “was I there that night, on this street littered with half-bricks, broken glass, a battered saucepan and a bucket?”
Melting into memory, the speaker describes the tricky navigation of children through Belfast side streets which their parents have warned them to avoid. Each one has its own history and consequence. The speaker, leaving memory and returning to the present, rides his bike “past vanished public houses . . . past drapers, bakers, fishmongers, boot shops, chemists, pawnshops, picture houses, confectioners and churches, all swallowed in the maw of time and trouble.”
In his poetry, Carson brings us down to street-level, as do Dargan’s photographs. The two volumes are good companions: street-wise, time-tested, and telling.