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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.

From Jeffrey Side, 2009-04-07

Responding to Jamie McKendrick

Jamie, just to respond to a few points you make in your letter about my Heaney article. I will quote from your letter and add my comments beneath.

“It’s worth the effort subjecting an off-the-cuff remark by Heaney in an interview to a several-thousand-word scholastic investigation.”:

I see no reason why a casual remark should not be examined in depth if it is representative of more considered statements made by Heaney in the past. You will note that the brunt of my article deals specifically with statements made by Heaney in his The Redress of Poetry, which fully rehearses his opinions and theories about poetry, as well as his, sometimes, dismissive evaluations of other poets. Indeed, the article goes into such depth because I anticipated accusations similar to the one you and John Muckle have made.

“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.]”:

Your last sentence is not something that I suggested in my article, therefore, I will regard it as mere pique on your part. Regarding Prynne’s reluctance to be published in mainstream quarters, this certainly is not the case with regard to Bloodaxe, who published his collected poems. And I cannot be sure that he has shunned mainstream publishers in the past, as you assert. You will have to be more explicit to convince me. If other poets ‘affiliated with him have expressed scorn for the larger poetry outlets’, does this mean that such “scorn”, as you put it, was born of offers of publication from such quarters? I seriously doubt it. Such a reaction is likely to be because of a lack of such overtures.

“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?”:

All I can do is to ask you to read my article more closely, and less defensively yourself, and to do some exploration of the sources mentioned in the endnotes.

“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’.”:

I think this is something of a red-herring. Because an area of research has been well mined doesn’t invalidate the veracity of its conclusions, indeed, quite the contrary. Hobsbaum’s poetic ideas (which I have detailed in my article, and elsewhere at even greater length) are reiterated in Heaney’s critical writings, if you would care to look more closely into the matter.

“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.”:

Rather than quoting Heaney’s poetry, I chose to quote from his critical writings, as it was this mode of discourse that my article was grappling with. It is possible that connotation, to some degree, is present in his poetry. Language is naturally connotative; no matter how hard one strives to make it less so. The matter for me is not that connotation can be found in Heaney’s poetry, but rather to what extent Heaney has controlled its effects. Again, my article demonstrates something of Heaney’s cautious approach to connotation regarding his views of John Clare’s poetry.

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