Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Reading at the Moment

Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney by Dennis O'Driscoll.

I borrowed it from Blanchardstown Library and have read about a third of it. Especially interesting because of the format. Most of the interviews were conducted 'in writing and by post'.

The title is taken from Heaney's Nobel Prize acceptance speech, in which he described his 'journey into the wideness of language, a journey where each point of arrival - whether in one's poetry or one's life - turned out to be a stepping stone rather than a destination'.

One stipulation made by Heaney was that there be no detailed analytical discussion of individual poems but there is still much of interest about individual poems here.

Especially interesting was the section where he discussed the operation of The Group under Philip Hobsbaum in Belfast. This was a Writers Group, meeting at 8 o'clock on a Monday evening and including Michael Longley as well as the young Heaney. "Everything on each page was there to be tested or questioned. Now and again there would be a poem where all that needed to be said was "Well Done" - but you'd feel it was dereliction of duty if that was all you did. You felt you had to workshop, as they say, whatever was put in front of you. That could be embarrassing if the work was useless, but then, fortunately or unfortunately, you can keep up a critical patter just as easily about junk verse as about the read thing - talk about line endings, focus on an image, compare the poem to known poems in the canon".

O'Driscoll asks: "Was there rivalry in The Group?" and "Would you describe the rivalry as having been at all times healthy?". The answers are very carefully crafted.

Interesting to see what others make of the format and the subject. Guardian review here and London times review here.

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