Seamus Heaney’s books were events in our lives
Colm Toibin via the Guardian
Two years ago I invited Seamus Heaney to read at the Kilkenny arts festival in Ireland. The venue was St Canice’s Cathedral, one of the most beautiful churches in Ireland. It was here almost 40 years earlier that, as a young poet, he had met Robert Lowell, who had become a friend and a mentor. Heaney admired Lowell’s utter dedication to his craft, his ability to change, his absolute belief in the importance of poetry. When I suggested that Dennis O’Driscoll, who had done a book of interviews with Heaney, should introduce him on stage, Seamus said he would like that, but he would prefer it if Dennis would read as well. Dennis, he said, had done enough introducing; since he was also a poet, he should get equal billing. It was typical of Seamus’s generosity.
That evening, I suggested to him that he should do no signing of books after the reading, but go and have a drink with the theatre director Peter Brook, who was in Kilkenny and wanted to meet him. As we left by a side door and walked away from the church, he sighed and said that all his life after readings when everyone else was free to walk out into the world, he would spent an hour or more signing books and meeting people. He was the most tactful and careful and scrupulous of men. He used a deep-rooted conscientiousness in his work, but it also came across every time you met him. He had a way of holding back, watching every word, weighing the moment. In his public readings he had a real command; privately, he was almost shy, always thoughtful.
“I returned to a long strand,
the hammered curve of a bay,
and found only the secular
powers of the Atlantic thundering.”
-North from Opened Ground: Selected Poems 1966-1996. Continue reading