back toJacket2

This piece is about 2 printed pages long.
It is copyright © Jamie McKendrick and Jacket magazine 2009. See our [»»] Copyright notice.
The Internet address of this page is

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.

Letter to the Editor

From Jamie McKendrick, 2009-04-02

Dear Editor,

Lightman has his own “rules of common English” which make my comment on his incoherent letter mean that I think him “a sad loser… who only talks to other people who read small presses” and therefore that I would only engage with him if I had heard of him “on the circuit". A whole set of imagined slights seems to have sprung into his mind à propos of nothing I’ve ever written or thought, and a whole set of assumptions about my “ignorant” views. Now I am told to “calm down". I wasn’t aware of being het up: just dismayed by the way so much is assumed because of some pre-formed notion of a writer’s position. What does Lightman know of my attitude towards the small presses or of my relation to an imagined "circuit"? This is what I was objecting to in the original article, so I should really have expected nothing less.

Lightman now claims to honour Heaney’s “casuistry” but what about his alleged “dissembling"? Side is accusing Heaney of bad faith. Hence his title. Perhaps Lightman hadn’t noticed this because he was struggling with his personal feelings about Blair. But I think he had: which is why his original letter claims that Heaney is feeling “terror in the thought that neo-Georgian poetry cannot go on". Let’s leave aside that hapless slur of “neo-Georgian” but does he genuinely believe Heaney’s words betray “terror"? He assumes that Heaney would just have dismissed Prynne’s work before his Bloodaxe publication. What makes him sure that Heaney’s views have in any way changed? Also on no evidence whatsoever he assumes from Heaney’s response that “Language writers, namechecked with the usual insouciance, do not really exist as poets of poems here, they are the bogeyman of the bigot.” Wild assertions indeed, and unfounded accusations.

Lightman writes about his first letter:

"I said in my letter that I liked Heaney before that, and didn’t like his answers in his interview. How this makes my letter "invective” except to someone who isn’t bothered to engage with me at all, is a mystery.”

Nowhere in his first letter does he say he liked Heaney and I hope the mystery of why I called it invective is now cleared up. Lightman, and Side too, could do well to think further, in relation to themselves, about that phrase “the bogeyman of the bigot".

Who knows, the antagonism between different poetic practices might not be quite so irreconcilable if weren’t perpetually being fuelled by fantasies.


Jamie McKendrick

Copyright Notice: Please respect the fact that all material in Jacket magazine is copyright © Jacket magazine and the individual authors and copyright owners 1997–2010; it is made available here without charge for personal use only, and it may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced, or used for any other purpose.