Saturday, 31 August 2013

What to think of Seamus Heaney?

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I hear that the writer Seamus Heaney has died - someone who won the Nobel Prize for literature, and who was regarded by some as a great writer.

My tutor at Durham University was Dr DKC Todd, and he had taught Heaney at Queens University, Belfast - and the apocryphal story went around the department that the undergraduate Heaney had shown him some poems, but after reading them Dr Todd had advised him not to bother continuing on that line...

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Well, the joke was understood to be mostly about how hard it was to discern promise in apprentice work, and how judgment may come back to bite us - but I have to admit that I do not regard Heaney as a poet.

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It's not that he was a bad poet, but that he just wasn't a poet at all - I have read quite a lot of his stuff over the years, and so far as I understand poetry, this isn't it.

That sort of reaction only really became possible from the mid-twentieth century; until than there was no problem about who was a poet, but only about how good a poet.

But now, by my judgement, someone can be the most respected poet in the world - but not a poet...

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