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Heaney Agonistes

[»»] Jeffrey Side: The Dissembling Poet: Seamus Heaney and the Avant-garde

[»»] Rob Stanton: ‘A shy soul fretting and all that ’: Heaney, Prynne and Brands of Uncertainty

[»»] The Group in Belfast, 1960s
(Seamus Heaney: The Early Years)

Letters to the Editor from: [»»] Ira Lightman; [»»] John Muckle; [»»] J.P. Craig; [»»] Jamie McKendrick; [»»] David Latané; [»»] Aidan Semmens; [»»] Ira Lightman (2); [»»] Jamie McKendrick (2); [»»] Ira Lightman (3); [»»] Desmond Swords; [»»] Todd Swift and Jeffrey Side; [»»] Jeffrey Side, reply to Desmond Swords; [»»] Jamie McKendrick (3); [»»] Ira Lightman (4); [»»] Jeffrey Side responds to Ira Lightman; [»»] Jeffrey Side responds to Jamie McKendrick; [»»] From Desmond Swords, 2009-04-07; [»»] From Jamie McKendrick, 2009-04-09; [»»] Jeffrey Side responds to Jamie McKendrick; [»»] Andrew Boobier

To send a letter to the editor, click here: [»»]. I would prefer not to change what is published here; if you have second thoughts, please send a second letter.

David Latané

On Seamus Heaney

Letter to the Editor: 2009-03-30

Dear Jacket,

Jamie McKendrick asks a good question in his response to Side’s attack on Heaney; after quoting a bit of duff prose he asks, “And why should severe difficulties in writing a single coherent sentence be an obstacle to judging the supposed intricacies of poetry?” Jamie — I’ve read every single prose sentence Wordsworth ever published, and it’s clear that writing a clunker or two (hundred) was no obstacle to composing great poetry! — but perhaps judging it is different.

As a teacher of British and Irish poetry for some decades I’ve been frustrated by Heaney’s fame — it’s as if the US market could only tolerate one poet from over there at a time, and Heaney’s wife wasn’t an American who killed herself preventing him from ever coming to the USA and schmoozing with MFA students so he got the nod over Ted. Heaney faced, I think to the detriment of his gift, powerful currents from outside pushing him to the center and asking him for a seemingly endless sequence of pronouncements about poetry in the form of acceptance speeches, essays, interviews, etc. He had to live the role of the poet-mensch during the Troubles, and too many people perhaps offered reverence. He would have been much better served by shutting up, but then — dare I say it? — that’s not his national characteristic, or the spirit of the late-twentieth-century. (I’m yapping here, after all.) This outpouring of Heaney’s often rubs me the wrong way — especially when it spills over into his more dire “great tradition” poems. It makes him a sort of brocken spectre bard, looming in the atmosphere with phony sublimity. But, to switch metaphors, pare everything away and Heaney’s ouevre’s no onion — there’s a fertile core, even if it’s smaller than it seems, and shrinking him back to size — at least for readers of eclectic taste — is less important than enjoying the best of what he’s written.

David Latané
Richmond, Virginia

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