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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.

John Muckle

On Seamus Heaney

Letter to the Editor: 2009-03-25

‘Rooted normality’ seems an odd phrase for Robert Lowell’s point of view. He explored his roots, but in a somewhat disturbed way — obsessively concerned to belittle his father, and to aggrandize himself as a Bostonian. He wrote in the remorseful phase of manic outbursts that had to be curtailed with drugs and electric shocks, and yet, Heaney is right, he is one of the most powerful public poets of his day. That cement-mixer image is very typically Heaney — always wanting to present himself as one of MacAlpine’s fusiliers, a spokesman for the Irish working-class. I think perhaps he means that great poetry should have a level of mundane consciousness in it as well as grandiose historical or intellectual content. That’s true of Ashbery certainly. I don’t see what’s wrong with his comparing himself to Ashbery: both have had long and distinguished careers whether Jeffrey Side likes it or not. 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. Heaney is saying he recognises them as serious poets, but doesn’t personally like their work very much: that’s what the phrase about ‘rooted normality’ means. You know where you are, who is speaking and so forth, and it has a recognisable social viewpoint. ‘Rooted in the soil’? It sounds like he’s saying that, he’s been accused of being atavistically nationalistic, but it’s not inherent in what he’s saying here. Seems odd — off-beam, I’d say — to enlist notorious Prynne-hater James Fenton’s English nationalism against Heaney. Oh well, so it churns on, and doubtless the cement and sharp sand will soon be another batch of concrete.

All best

(John Muckle)

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