“and don’t those terms fairly put the wind up you?”

The Guardian Review today has a collection of extracts from Denis O’Driscoll’s Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney. Photo: Felix Clay.
Seamus Heaney

One extract

In your “Place and Displacement” lecture you said that your generation of writers felt it was not necessary to deal directly with political issues because “the subtleties and tolerances of their art were precisely what they had to contribute to the coarseness and intolerances of public life”. Looking back, would you say that this approach continued to sustain you and the Ulster poets throughout the Troubles?

All of us, Protestant poets, Catholic poets – and don’t those terms fairly put the wind up you? – all of us probably had some notion that a good poem was “a paradigm of good politics”, a site of energy and tension and possibility, a truth-telling arena but not a killing field. And without being explicit about it, either to ourselves or to one another, we probably felt that if we as poets couldn’t do something transformative or creative with all that we were a part of, then it was a poor lookout for everybody. In the end, I believe what was envisaged and almost set up by the Good Friday Agreement was prefigured in what I called our subtleties and tolerances – allowances for different traditions and affiliations, in culture, religion and politics. It all seems simple enough. But here and now I sound far more civic and clarified than I ever was at the time.

A caveat to that answer from another interview.

“Let me quote my hero, Milosz: ‘Poetry below a certain level of awareness does not interest me.’ I think there’s a problem with political poetry that is howling that it’s aware.”

There’s more civilising to be done..


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