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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.

Aidan Semmens

On Seamus Heaney

Letter to the Editor: 2009-03-30

From Aidan Semmens, 2009-03-30

I’d like to consider myself avant-garde, but I rather fear Seamus Heaney is right to describe it is a historical term. Also, to paraphrase what Chris Hamilton-Emery has suggested in Pages, the paratactical and related techniques (and attitudes) that set ‘us’ (whatever we decide to call ourselves) apart from the neo-Georgians have become so widespread in their use they have become ‘mainstream’ (I don’t myself believe that’s quite true, for reasons I have also cited in Robert Sheppard’s Pages blog, but I can see Chris’s point). On the other hand, if ‘avant-garde’ and ‘modernist’ (in all its variations) are old-hat, how should I describe, maybe to the person with only a passing interest if any, what sort of thing this is that ‘we’ are involved with? ’Post-avant’ seems altogether too self-mocking. This may seem a trivial question, but I’m sure I’m not the only one in these parts who would find a good answer useful.

Other observations arise from the Heaney interview which Jeffrey Side takes as his starting point.

I find it interesting that the work of his own that Heaney most often refers to there is North, which is now 34 years old. Can we infer that ‘success’ has softened him up, removed the hardness and grit, reduced him to a self-parody? He wouldn’t be the first or last to suffer that fate.

Heaney talks of “people like JH Prynne" — but are there any people like Prynne? I know of many who have been influenced by him, perhaps even tried to emulate him (in many ways I find his influence on others more interesting and significant than his own work). But is there really anyone else like him? Heaney’s use of this casually inaccurate construction is sadly indicative of sloppy linguistic thinking.

And as for “charlatan work” - there’s a title crying out to become a magazine if ever I heard one. Perhaps some Jacket reader might like to take it up… ?

As Ira Lightman has already intimated here, Dennis O’Driscoll’s questions are generally a lot more interesting and vital than Heaney’s answers. Perhaps Jacket might like to elicit responses to some of those questions from poets of its acquaintance?

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