Shortly after a man and a woman meet for the first time in a second-hand clothes shop in Belfast, a bomb goes off. It is some time in the 1970s. They become lovers. For All We Know is their story, told in the recent past: a meditation on love, place, memory, loss and language, how people know each other, misunderstand each other, or translate each other, not to mention the events and circumstances which are beyond their control. Gesturing towards a conventional sonnet sequence – the poems consist of fourteen lines, or multiples thereof, in lines of fourteen syllables – Ciaran Carson’s novelistic book also references film noir, Cold War thriller, fairy story, and the art of the fugue. In its uncanny music, repercussions and reprises, its mysterious unfolding of what happened or what might have been in Paris and Dresden (or was it Berlin?), For All We Know is a sequence of poems like nothing you’ve ever read before.
‘The collection is in two carefully arranged halves, the poems mirroring each other, conversing back and forth. The way the narrative is presented is subtle and enthralling, built up of a series of recurring events, of moments that are continually being retold – “You know how you know when someone’s telling lies? you said. They / get their story right every time, down to the last word. // Whereas when they tell the truth it’s never the same twice. They / reformulate”.’ — Charles Bainbridge, The Guardian
Ciaran Carson’s new collection offers us love poetry as elegant and mysterious as its heroine, Francophine Nina . . . It is also an intricately-worked psychological and political thriller, where bombs in the streets of 1970s Belfast echo the fire-bombing of Dresden. Like his award-winning 2003 collection, Breaking News, which addressed the Crimea, Carson’s For All We Know locates the Troubles within the wider Euorpean theatre of war. This is a marvellously shifty book, in which every narrative may be a lie . . . Carson’s formal conceits are the ver opposite of arid . . . Each would be resonant by itself; together they create a strategy, not illustrating this shadowy story but instead deepening and complicating it.
For All We Know is rich with mystery, wise to the shadows events and possibilities cast on each other; . . . It would be unfair to give away the ending. But Carson’s resolution is satisfying and necessary even as it throws us back on ourselves, and on big human questions about time, identity and the ‘Forest of Language’. That it does so at the same time as performing the elegant footwork of fugal self-reference, and in a music which resonates still more profoundly at each reading, makes this touching, masterly book unique. If there is a canon, For All We Know will surely enter it.
— Fiona Sampson, The Irish Times
Earlier this year, I doubted any collection would match Ciaran Carson’s astonishing sequence For All We Know, in which a fugue of 14-line, 14-syllable but six-beat sonnets conducts a mystery tour through love and political intrigue. It’s like Graham Greene crossed with a passionate Bach.
— Bill Greenwell, The Independent, Books of the Year
Poetry Book Society Choice
‘a remarkable work, richly detailed, subtle, intricate and moving’
— PBS Choice citation
Year Published: 2008
ISBN PBK: 978 1 85235 439 8