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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.

Jeffrey Side

a reply to Desmond Swords

From Jeffrey Side, 2009-04-01

Desmond, your personal attacks on me are uncalled for, and you make several assumptions about me that are wrong (such as that I am still doing my PhD, when, in fact, I completed it some time ago). Nowhere in your response to my Heaney article do you address the issues I raise, being more content to make sweeping statements and attempts at wit—badly typed by the way.

You assume, without any evidence whatsoever, that my motivation for being critical of Heaney is because of a secret admiration for him, when you say that my ‘impelling force on a human level, is the good old green eye’. But let me assure you that this is not the case. If it were so, I would have written a criticism of Ashbery who I do admire and who far outstrips Heaney in poetic talent and modesty. I am one of those people who when they admire someone keep silent about it. It seems to be you who is envious of whoever it may be, as may be indicated when you say about yourself: ‘I am a bloke in a bedsit trying to get my own laughably titled career up and running’. I am sorry you are in this position, and I know how hard it can be getting heard, but projecting some of your insecurities onto me is hardly called for.

Another thing you seem overly upset about is that I write in an academic register, rather than colloquially. I am sorry for that, but it is something of a habit, and I have always considered such a register respectful to readers. I am also sorry that you see my writing as devoid of wit or humour and that it has, as you say, ‘a notable absence of gags’ (whatever that means).

When you quote the following from my article:

‘It should be pointed out that defamiliarisation is dependent upon vision in order to revive our awareness of objects that have become over-familiar through constant exposure to them. To this extent, it is an empiricist mode of writing. Seen in this light, Heaney’s transfigurations are not as transcendental as they initially appeared to be.’

Then say:

‘This language serves as an example of why the evidence for the prosecution is so unconvincing. Side takes the very poetic qualities in Heaney’s word play, and attempts to hold them up to a super-rational light of linguistic inquiry which displays none of the inventiveness and originality he seems to be arguing for’

You do not address the cogency or otherwise of the quote, but the manner in which it is written. You confuse the language of academic register with that of poetry. Perhaps this distinction should have been mentioned to you at some point in your poetic journey.

Finally, I have to take issue with you when you say: ‘what struck me about Side’s rant, is the earnest, serious, self-righteous po-facedness of it all’, because it is you who seems to have an elevated sense of your own importance regarding poetry. Here are some extracts about yourself from your blog (

‘This site you are now reading was kept by me for 8 months as a means to explore and bring to the surface the various disparate voices in my head; part of the process called finding your voice. It is the place I left the lyric poetry I wrote. The other sites linked to this blog (click view my complete profile on your immediate right) house the other styles of writing. Scalljah is comedy, Desmond Swords—Poetics started out as a place to put my avant-garde poems, and after a while developed into a place for experimental prose, and As/Is is a collaborative blog I still post on and is where I honed my L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry skills under the silent tutelage of the conveyer belt of Post Modern verse, Sheila E Murphy, who is a natural and very generous poet.’

‘I trained for 3 years at writing school in my home town of Ormskirk on the West coast of the UK, (BA Hons Writing Studies and Drama) before decamping to Dublin to chase the dream of becoming a poet, which seems to be what has happened.’

‘What I wrote on 14/11/06 was just another piece of writing on my journey to self confirmation as a poet.’

‘I write in all genres of poetry and prose, which is why it’s taken a few years for the voice to come through.’

‘Lots of people calling themselves poets but only very few actually are.’

‘I didn’t know if my dream of wanting to be a poet was me fooling myself or if the spark of intuition that set it off was based in something real, so I decided to cover my backside by learning to write in all poetical forms, from strict meter to cutting edge avant-garde and slam; and to centre my practice in memorisation, just like the Irish Fili, or “bards” who were in existence for about 2000 years up until Cromwell came to Ireland at the start of 17C and this ancient tradition collapsed.’

You then go on to include a very poor poem that you have written called ‘Ormskirk’ that begins like this:

I grew up in the womb of West Lancs, where
skinheads dwelt in bushes by train tracks and
cut childrens’ heads off if ever they dared
go under the tunnel after the last
light had sunk signalling it was time to
come home. Playtime finished at sunset when
I was seven, and in the darkness spooks
ghosts, ghouls or Father Christmas could descend
into the night depending on what time
of year it was.

Now who is it, I wonder, who sounds self-righteous, earnest and po-faced?

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