Seamus Heaney 1939 – 2013

On the first anniversary of his death, some words of wisdom on poetry from Nobel Prize winner and former poet-laureate, Seamus Heaney.

On good poetry:

“Good poetry reminds you that writing is writing, it’s not just exploration or self-regard or a semaphore for self’s sake. You want it to touch you at the melting point below the breastbone and the beginning of the solar plexus. You want something sweetening and at the same time something unexpected, something that has come through restraint into felicity.

– Salmagundi, 1988

On the vocational nature of writing poetry:

“The command which is unspoken but deep in the mystery of poetry is to somehow abdicate from audience, from self-promotion or self-alignment, and to go towards the subject, to give yourself over and disappear.”

RTE Radio 1, 1994

On the ambition of the poet:

“We want what the woman wanted in the prison queue in Leningrad, standing there with cold and whispering for fear, enduring the terror of Stalin’s regime and asking the poet Anna Akhmatova if she could describe it all, if her art was equal to it.”

Crediting Poetry, 1995

On memory:

“My poems almost always start in some kind of memory… It’s like a little beeper going off in your mind. Some little thing awakens excitement, and it gets connected with some other things. Ideally, it’s like an avalanche — a little pebble begins to move, gathers a lot of energy and multiplies itself.”

The New Mexican, 2003

On the power of poetry:

“When a poem arises from the psychic deep, it can possess soothing force. The emotional mark it makes can be so unexpected that it feels more like impersonal revelation than personal utterance. And when a poet gets in this close and this deep, you stop admiring and start being commanded.”

Poetry Ireland Review, 2003

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