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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: 2009-03-31

Dear Editor,

I’m just as confused by Ira Lightman’s second letter, complete with c.v., as I was by his first, but I agree with him that my reference to “queues” and sales is “crass” — and I had (too late!) tried to change it. I can, however, reassure Lightman on two points - the remark had nothing to do with his letter and, to speak candidly, the sales of poetry books have no significance to me as a marker of aesthetic value. My point is that if Prynne and others have eschewed certain publishing opportunities, that is their right, but it’s not something that should be blamed on the “mainstream” as Side would have it. Heaney’s reply in this respect seems accurate and morally neutral.

To clarify once again: I believe that this insistence, among critics such as Sheppard and Side, on a shared aesthetic between the Movement and Heaney is astonishingly lazy and unconvincing. It assumes that Heaney and others such as Michael Longley would blindly and continuously follow directives from a poet who just isn’t their equal. And I don’t mean in terms of sales, as my parodic first letter might suggest, but in terms of quality.

Lightman’s “model” engagement with my own poems is touching though I don’t see their relevance to this discussion. And I am genuinely perplexed by what he writes in his last paragraph, especially by this:

“His insinuation that I am some kind of sad loser who only talks to other people who read small presses is ignorant, insulting and a mark, to me, that he only wants to engage with me if he’s heard of me “on the circuit” — if there might be money or kudos or “tenners” in it, to use his own revealing word.”

I have no idea where he has discovered such an insult or insinuation since I’ve written nothing of the kind. He then asks me to prove something I have never said, or even thought. My apparently cryptic reference to “tenners” moves in exactly the opposite direction: it was meant to imply that hardly any poets (of whatever standing, mainstream or not) make any money with which to be sponsoring the whole business. What I was objecting to in my letter were the series of low insults and snide insinuations about Heaney ("practiced in casuistry and dissembling") in the original article by Side, and these insults were enthusiastically seconded by Lightman, as far as I can understand what he’s arguing. I agree wholeheartedly with John Muckle’s sane observation that “Heaney is saying he recognises them [Prynne et al.] as serious poets, but doesn’t personally like their work very much” and likewise with his rebuttal of Side’s entire procedure: “I don’t think that second-guessing or psychoanalysing Heaney’s comments on Prynne in the way that he does is legitimate — just wild defensive assertion.”


Jamie McKendrick

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