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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.

Jamie McKendrick

On Seamus Heaney

Letter to the Editor: 2009-03-29

Dear Editor,

Contemporary criticism owes a huge debt to figures like Jeffrey Side who fearlessly expose the lies and subterfuges of the mainstream. It’s worth the effort subjecting an off-the-cuff remark by Heaney in an interview to a several-thousand-word scholastic investigation (and with proper footnotes too) if it can serve to show just how nefarious these tendencies really are. How dare Heaney suggest, for example, that J.H.Prynne and his followers have avoided publishing with commercial presses when the blame can be laid at the mainstream’s door? Even if Prynne himself has declined to be published in certain commercial anthologies and other poets affiliated with him have expressed scorn for the larger poetry outlets, that doesn’t let the mainstream off the hook. What’s to stop them subsidizing experimental work out of their own pockets, amply lined as they are and stuffed with undeserved tenners? [ten-pound notes — Ed.]

As Side has so unequivocally demonstrated, pretty well everything Heaney writes in his criticism clearly comes from a defensive attitude towards his posthumous reputation. What could be clearer? Like other figures in the mainstream he can sense the tide is turning. These days there are queues forming down many high streets for the work of poets whose reputations Heaney is now subtly trying to undermine.

And it’s good to see that point about Heaney’s aesthetic subservience to the Movement reiterated — an argument on which figures like Robert Shepherd have lavished much critical care - for surely no-one can now doubt that the principles of composition learnt at the feet of Eric Hobsbawm, when he was a teenager, have shaped and powered Heaney’s entire ‘career’. It’s obviously an irrelevance that no-one now reads Hobsbawm and hundreds of thousands of readers know and enjoy Heaney’s poems. In this respect, it’s also wise of Side to refrain from quoting a single line of Heaney’s poetry because that would unnecessarily complicate his brilliant insight about Heaney’s un-connotative use of language.

It was also heartening to see Ira Lightman’s invective: a prose style like his must take a certain aesthetic commitment — his last paragraph, no small feat, almost outdoes Side in its sharpness and vehemency:

“Political efficacy (vote for me, buy my book) is all about having carrying a certain gravitas of applying counter-intuitive theoretical earnest with just a touch of demagoguery, while having a strength in being, if Blair, at least not son of Blair with no theoetical earnest and a borrowed coat of many colours."

And why should severe difficulties in writing a single coherent sentence be an obstacle to judging the supposed intricacies of poetry? Finally, I don’t see why Mr John Muckle thinks he has a right to step in with his seemingly logical and unruffled observations. Can’t he just see how cunning and defensive and dissembling Heaney is? To doubt Side’s own veracity would be a typical mainstream ploy.


Jamie McKendrick

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