“If I do write something, Whatever it is, I’ll be writing for myself.”

In today’s Observer Henry McDonald notes a recent post by Danny Morrison on his blog where he takes issue with an account by Seamus Heaney of a chance meeting between the two on a train – a meeting which informed part of a poem in his 1996 collection The Spirit Level. The account appears in the recently published collection of interviews with Heaney by Denis O’Driscoll, Stepping Stones. From the Observer article.

In the recently published book of interviews with Heaney, Stepping Stones by Dennis O’Driscoll, the poet recalls the train journey when he is asked a question about his 1996 poem The Flight Path, which also recounts the incident. Heaney replies: “The account of what went on in the train is as it happened, yes. I make the speaker a bit more aggressive than he was at the time, but the presumption of entitlement on his part, which was the main and amazing aspect of that meeting, is rendered faithfully.

“It was all done pretty discreetly, actually. My interlocutor was the Sinn Féin spokesman, Danny Morrison, whom I didn’t particularly know at the time. He came down from his place in the carriage and sat into the seat in front of me for maybe eight or 10 minutes … I didn’t feel menaced. It was a straightforward face-to-face test of will or steadiness. I simply rebelled at being commanded. If anybody was going to pull rank, it wasn’t going to be a party spokesman.”

“This was in pre-hunger-strike times, during the ‘dirty protest’ by Republican prisoners in the H-Blocks. The whole business was weighing on me greatly already and I had toyed with the idea of dedicating the Ugolino translation [his version of an episode in Dante’s Inferno] to the prisoners. But our friend’s intervention put paid to any such gesture. After that, I wouldn’t give and wasn’t so much free to refuse as unfree to accept.”

Those lines from the poem The Flight Path

So he enters and sits down
Opposite and goes for me head on.
‘When, for fuck’s sake, are you going to write
Something for us?’ ‘If I do write something,
Whatever it is, I’ll be writing for myself.’
And that was that. Or words to that effect.

According to Danny Morrison,

“I saw Seamus Heaney sitting two seats down across the carriage from where I was. I went over and asked if he minded me sitting down and talking to him. He was very polite. Back then I would not have had the media profile I later had so I explained who I was. I told him about the dire situation in the jails and the fact that the prisoners were talking about going on hunger strike. I asked him to consider if there was anything he could do on their behalf, if he could add his voice to the growing complaints. For example, Archbishop O Fiaich had, by this time, visited the H-Blocks and, to the embarrassment of the British government, had compared the prison to the sewers of Calcutta.

Seamus told me he was writing a poem and had been thinking about the prisoners. He told me the story from Dante’s Inferno of Count Ugolino who was imprisoned with his children and grandchildren underground and left to starve, Ugolino’s eating his dead children’s flesh to delay his own starvation. Seamus said he imagined that this could be some sort of metaphor for hunger striking though I was lost as to what he meant.”

Which doesn’t actually contradict Seamus Heaney’s account. Both men could have been perfectly polite during the exchange and yet the request, “to consider if there was anything he could do on their behalf, if he could add his voice to the growing complaints”, would clearly imply a taking of sides on the part of Heaney.

Danny Morrison also, helpfully, includes this in his post

In ‘Stepping Stones’ Seamus Heaney elaborates further on 1981. O’Driscoll says: During the H-Block hunger strikes, it must have been impossible not to feel something like guilt at not being able to help alleviate the situation or contribute to its resolution.

“It was impossible, yes. This was during the time when ‘Station Island’ was being written, and the self-accusation of those days is everywhere in the sequence. Also in individual poems such as ‘Chekhov on Sakhalin’ and ‘Sandstone Keepsake’ and ‘Away From It All’. Because of my earlier brush with Mr Morrison on the train, during ‘the dirty protests’, I was highly aware of the propaganda aspect of the hunger strike and cautious about being enlisted. There was realpolitik at work; but, at the same time, you knew you were witnessing something like a sacred drama. If I had followed the logic of the Chekhov poem, I’d have gone to the prison, seen what was happening to the people on the hunger strike and written an account of it, ‘not tract, not thesis’. In truth, I was ‘away from it all’ during those months: at a physical remove, living in Dublin, going on holiday in France.” [added emphasis]

In ‘Frontiers of Writing’, you touch on the evening when the body of Francis Hughes – a neighbour’s son and the second hunger striker to die – was being waked in his home in County Derry. You were not only in Oxford when he died, but staying – of all places – in a British cabinet minister’s rooms.

“It was bewildering. Charles Monteith had brought me as his guest to that year’s Chiceley dinner in All Souls College. The Fellow’s room I was assigned for the night was one that belonged to Sir Keith Joseph, the then Minister of Education in the Thatcher government. It took me ten years to come back to that occasion and see it as emblematic of the general stalemate. Francis Hughes was a neighbour’s child, yes, but he was also a hit man and his Protestant neighbours would have considered him involved in something like a war of genocide against them rather than a war of liberation against the occupying forces of the crown. At that stage, the IRA’s self-image as liberators didn’t work much magic with me. But neither did the too-brutal simplicity of Margaret Thatcher’s ‘A crime is a crime is a crime. It is not political.’ My own mantra in those days was the remark by Milosz that I quote in ‘Away From It All’; ‘I was stretched between contemplation of a motionless point and the command to participate actively in history.’ [added emphasis]

Heaney has spoken elsewhere about the risks to a writer of “being enlisted”

On his refusal to lend his support to any given political cause: “Once a writer is levied or enlisted you have lost your self respect, which is a writer’s only passport to the future”.

And on Czeslaw Milosz, from one of my earliest posts on Slugger

Within characteristically dense but measured prose Heaney pays tribute to Milosz and his “wish that poetry in general should be capable of providing an elevated plane of regard” while the poet should seek to imbue the work with “awareness of the triteness and tribulations of other people’s lives [that is] needed to humanise the song”. A duality of being that Heaney identifies in Milosz’s work as “the speech of the whole man.”

And from another interview with Heaney

“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.”

Or as Derek Mahon said

“There was a time when people – much more English people than Irish – would ask, ‘Why don’t these Ulster poets come out more explicitly and say what they are for?’ But there is all this ambiguity. That is poetry. It is the other thing that is the other thing.”

But I suspect much of that will be lost on many too..

If it is lost, consider this instead – “the first step is to act with good authority by telling the truth to your own tribe”

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  • veritas

    “Morrison gained notoriety in the early 1980s after he claimed at a party conference that the republican movement would take power in Ireland “with a ballot box in one hand and an Armalite in the other”. In recent years he has been a vocal supporter of the peace process.”

    Again the revisionist mcdonald comes to the fore…would his notoriety not having anything to do with his miscarriage of justice?

    As usual the olde Lagan social boy is sticky with the truth…

  • Pete Baker

    veritas

    Feel free to play the actual ball.

  • kensei

    Pete

    Which doesn’t actually contradict Seamus Heaney’s account. Both men could have been perfectly polite during the exchange and yet the request, “to consider if there was anything he could do on their behalf, if he could add his voice to the growing complaints”, would clearly imply a taking of sides on the part of Heaney.

    Actually, it does contradict. The request made is explicitly for Heaney to take sides. It’s not simply that this would be natural for someone involved with the RM at this era, it’s Danny Morrison’s actual job atb the time. Look at what Heaney is actually saying.

    but the presumption of entitlement on his part, which was the main and amazing aspect of that meeting, is rendered faithfully.

    The problem very explicitly isn’t with the request itself — why exactly should that be an issue any more than any other request for support? – the problem is with the manner in which it is made; according to Heaney Morrison presumes “entitlement”.This is vastly different from

    I told him about the dire situation in the jails and the fact that the prisoners were talking about going on hunger strike. I asked him to consider if there was anything he could do on their behalf, if he could add his voice to the growing complaints.

    which is deferential and polite.

    So total failure to live up to your normal standards of pedantry. Given the choice between the prickly artist and the PR man, I think I’ll pass on this particularly footnote.

  • Danny Boy

    In spite of how they contradict each other, it seems likely they both really experienced, or at least remembered, their encounter differently. It’s like Sinn Féin calling at your door to give you a lift to the polling station – some receive it as a convenient, neighbourly gesture, some as an intrusion or implied threat. I think individual shinners can still be surprisingly unaware of how their advances can come across to audiences that aren’t from communities well-trained to accept them, and that was probably much more true in 1981. The sense of ‘entitlement’ Heaney feels from Morrison sounds like the sincere disbelief of someone who isn’t used to encountering nuanced, ambivalent points of view that are different from their own. I believe both of them.

  • Rory Carr

    So. Two men meet on a train and have a short conversation. Years later they have slightly different remembrances of how each felt about that conversation at the time. So far, so good.

    What happened next?

  • kensei

    Also, while I’m here: you can lend support a cause without being “enlisted”; it’s perfectly possible for a poem to capture the ambiguity inherent in some of these things (“A terrible beauty is born”?); and moreover it is perfectly possible to be an Artist and combine power political statements with great Art – for a random example, let’s use Guerica.

    There are of course dangers, but then there are dangers ot inaction to. If Heaney doesn’t believe in it, or doesn’t care, or doesn’t want to be involved, they are all perfectly valid choices. No reasons are required. But, please, spare me the bollocks.

  • fin

    “It was bewildering. Charles Monteith had brought me as his guest to that year’s Chiceley dinner in All Souls College. The Fellow’s room I was assigned for the night was one that belonged to Sir Keith Joseph, the then Minister of Education in the Thatcher government.”
    Possibly he had already chosen his side……….

  • lorraine

    I make the speaker a bit more aggressive than he was at the time……….

    now why would he do that?

  • consider this instead – “the first step is to act with good authority by telling the truth to your own tribe”

    Pete, there would appear to have been several tribes at that meeting and, at best, Harris can only have been articulating a perception: “neither Roy Johnston nor myself dreamed that the noble dream of NICRA was doomed to be diverted into the sterile struggle of the Provisional IRA.” Apparently some of the ‘dreamers’ were contemplating revolution not reform.

  • ulsterfan

    Lets give Heaney credit for staying impartial and strong enough to resist pressure.
    He would have been aware of the struggle between Irish Republicanism and Unionism as well as any man on this island.
    He is entitled to his own views which he might wish to keep private.

  • Archie Purple

    Ould Seamus was lucky Danny and his mates hadn’t put a bomb on the Belfast – Dublin line, as so often happened….had it been Jimmy Simmons that Danny met, Jim could have quoted his ‘The Ballad of Claudy’ to him, to remind Danny of his ilk’s murderous deeds.

  • I too feel both men are telling the truth as they see it. What I do find interesting is that Seamus seems to feel he has a ‘right’ to stand aside from the reality on the ground. I can understand an artist having a duty to think outside the box, but a right beyond what us common men have, no.

    Why did he think Danny sat down beside him, to have a chat to make the journey less boring. Morrison represented men and women who belonged to the same organization as him and who were in desperate need of support.

    It appears, if we can believe this, that Seamus pride was hurt when Danny demanded/asked nicely that he offer public support to these people. Instead of walking away, shruuging his shoulders, thinking despite that cheeky bastard, these people need my support, what good it will do them. He took umbridge,
    and with drew the support he had already decided to give the Blanketmen etc.

    Danny is Danny and I will say no more, but some of us might have expected better from Seamus.

  • Dave

    “…but some of us might have expected better from Seamus.”

    Why? It would have harmed his career if he said anything on NI that was critical of the official British line at that time. He did the smartest thing he could to further his own selfish interest and kept his mouth shut (bar the occasional oblique and politically innocuous reference such as in Digging and The Cure at Troy). Any writer who took a different tact was savaged in the British media political literary reviews, branded as a republican apologist, and quickly exiled from literary awards. Likewise, U2 were smart enough to know that they should sit on the fence (only climbing off of it on the ‘right’ side) if they wanted to avoid a savaging in the British media. Perhaps you expect writers and such not to align themselves with a higher path and not to be so self-serving but that is a mistake.

  • Mick Fealty

    Jaysus lads, some of us would be as well reading a bit more poetry and a lot less of the factional polemics.

    Heaney is only saying here what he’s argued through his collected prose; published as Government of the Tongue in 1989. Pardon my French, but it has feck all to do with ingratiating himself with either the British or the Irish media establishment.

    It may have been a snippet from this collection that gave Danny the impression Seamus was open to a more direct engagement with the experience of the hunger strikers:

    “…the truth-telling urge and the compulsion to identify with the oppressed becomes necessarily integral with the act of writing itself.”

    This truth-telling lies at the heart of all artistic pre-occupation, whether it’s poets, novelists, musicians or visual artists. Orwell parodied what Heaney clearly saw as an attempt at co-option of art into politics as the Ministry of Truth in 1984.

    In short, if a poet loses the self governance of his tongue he loses his art. Heaney is no Poet Laureate, nor, I suspect, has he any wish to be one.

    In case any one thinks this is a purely personal, mundane or provincial view, the Polish artist Krystof Wodiczko speaking at a cultural round table hosted by Interface at the Arts College a couple of years ago had this to say on the matter of politics:

    “I left Poland in search of democracy and found it was more like a phantom always shifting and constantly lingering on the horizon. Once it is given to someone, it changes. In fact, it needs to be remade every day. It requires the consistent disruption of silences and the [utterance] of things that people do not want to hear.”

  • Sam Secole

    This all speaks of the inherently fascist nature of Irish republicanism: if you’re not with us you’re against us. No room for independent thought be you artist or “common man”.

  • Reader

    Mick Hall: I can understand an artist having a duty to think outside the box, but a right beyond what us common men have, no.
    I don’t think SH ever claimed any more right not to give political cover to the IRA than I did. And I’m certainly ‘common’ enough. Don’t you think I had that right? And therefore, so did he.

  • Dave

    Yawn. And it is as if Sunday Sunday never happened in his city. In ‘North’ he climbed up on the fence and stayed there ever since. Good career move for an English language writer.

  • Dave

    Bloody Sunday*

  • joeCanuck

    This just demonstrates that there is no such thing as “absolute truth”. Two sides have slightly different recollections of one event. Nothing at all unusual about that. Shows that people are individuals.
    I would never convict anyone solely on eyewitness testimony. Too dangerous.

  • Mick Fealty

    Dave, can I just say that you seem to be talking entirely through your hat.

    Heaney boarded at school in Derry, but was raised in the Co Derry countryside. And he’s had plenty to say about his home turf. Bloody Sunday gets a mention in “Casualty”, in Field Work, published in 1979 for one. See North and the Cure at Troy for other obvious observations. The cultural traces of previous Troubles are referenced here and there in his first volume, Death of a Naturalist, 1966.

    He’s a feckin’ poet. A moderately good one too. Outside Andrew Motion, they rarely write to order these days. Nor do good novelists, or good playwrights. Nor should they. Nor should we, for that matter!!

    It’s not clear to me from this exchange at least that that is necessarily what Danny asked him to do, but it is the way Heaney interpreted it. That consistent with his work and his drawn thoughts, not the wholly imagined knee jerk reaction being implied by some on this thread.

  • spirit-level

    always admired the poem,
    the spirit-level is what is required in Ireland

  • Dave

    I don’t own a hat, Mick, so whoever owns the webcam you managed to switch on my some clever hacking, it wasn’t me.

    And the rest of your post is refuted by my first post: “He did the smartest thing he could to further his own selfish interest and kept his mouth shut (bar [b]the occasional oblique and politically innocuous reference[/b] such as in Digging and The Cure at Troy).”

    He said so little about so much, eh? Just enough so that he could offer token refutation of the charge, but not enough to gain him savage reviews in the Times Literary Supplement that were typically inspired more by the politics of the reviewer than by any literary critique. Like everything else in the British (and Irish) media at that time, censorship and vitriolic condemnation of any commentary that diverted from the official British line on NI was the standard practice.

    Whatever you say, say nothing. 😉

  • Mick Fealty

    Yeah, right:

    http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/act-of-union/

    And on the day you say did not happen in Heaney’s world:

    http://www.ibiblio.org/ipa/poems/heaney/casualty.php

    It was a day of cold
    Raw silence, wind-blown
    Surplice and soutane:
    Rained-on, flower-laden
    Coffin after coffin
    Seemed to float from the door
    Of the packed cathedral
    Like blossoms on slow water.
    The common funeral
    Unrolled its swaddling band,
    Lapping, tightening
    Till we were braced and bound
    Like brothers in a ring.

    But he would not be held
    At home by his own crowd
    Whatever threats were phoned,
    Whatever black flags waved.
    I see him as he turned
    In that bombed offending place,
    Remorse fused with terror
    In his still knowable face,
    His cornered outfaced stare
    Blinding in the flash.

    Or was it another kind of poem you look for in your enlisted poets?

    (Double jobbing at this time of night btw: changing a nappy; reading poems)

  • Shore Road Resident

    It seems pretty clear that Dave will not be satisfied with anything short of “Ooh, ah, up the ‘RA”.

  • Mick Fealty

    Interesting that lost lives calls that particular death in a very different way from Heaney.

    Which particular hat were you talking through Dave; as a matter of academic interest?

  • Reader

    Dave: Bloody Sunday*
    We’re constantly being told that the IRA had nothing to do with Bloody Sunday. So, since he was being asked to demonstrate support for the IRA, Bloody Friday would be more relevant. In which case, you can’t blame him for his decision.

  • Mick Fealty

    Reader,

    Sorry to be a pedantic pain, but I fear this conversation is taking place on stilts, between people who have not actually read the man’s work. Not even, it seems, the parts I’ve kindly linked and quoted.

    Using Dave’s statements on this as any kind of as reliable marker is simply hoisting the imaginary stilts several yards higher into the imaginary air.

    If you think it matters, please do follow the links and read the poems. If it doesn’t matter to you, then please ignore what Dave is saying. He is actually acquainted with very little of the knowledge he pretends.

  • Mick F

    I note you did not deal with my point about Seamus using Danny’s stance as an excuse not to do the following. { I had toyed with the idea of dedicating the Ugolino translation [his version of an episode in Dante’s Inferno] to the prisoners. But our friend’s intervention put paid to any such gesture.}

    I agree with those who claim here that Seamus had every right to make up his own mind on this matter, but that does not seem to be what he did. He himself says that it was Danny’s manner that led him to put all thoughts to one side of giving support to the prisoners.

    Dave is right to make his point, as Seamus would have been aware of the consequences to his career if he had given even the mildest support to the prisoners. The profession of the poet is precarious at the best of times and to be branded a fellow traveller of the Provos at this time would have undoubtedly had consequences.

    However Seamus was not unique in this, it was a decision people from all walks of life had/have to face when they oppose something they regard as being unjust or plain wrong.

    Best regards

  • picador

    An interesting thread. Kudos to Pete for his efforts.

  • Mick Fealty

    Mick,

    Dave’s contributions here have one big problem: he’s just plain wrong. It’s clear he hasn’t read Heaney after doing the school cannon we all did.

    His point about career fades like snow off a ditch to anyone who reads the poems above. These are powerful and carefully weighted texts. They are also honestly and truthfully told; as anyone who lived through those times would tell you.

    In general, Heaney’s work dealing with the Troubles is of the highest degree of consciousness and honesty. That’s all that can be asked of a poet. They provide insights that cannot be gleaned from newspaper articles, or ethnographic accounts of contemporary lives.

    As for ‘excuses’, PROs and journo generally mix well. Uneasily perhaps, but they do understand each other and legitimate bargains can be struck.

    But Seamus ain’t no journalist, nor is he some kind of a hack Apollonian rhymster. Attempting to judge him (as you insist on doing) in those bounds, betrays not simply a lack of knowledge of his work, but the provenance of art and poetry in general.

  • kensei

    Mick

    In general, Heaney’s work dealing with the Troubles is of the highest degree of consciousness and honesty. That’s all that can be asked of a poet.

    I should have thought all that could be asked of a poet is good poetry, but there you go. I’m not entirely aware of the seering honesty and deep insight in “Macavity the Mystery Cat” but I enjoyed it all the same.

    But Seamus ain’t no journalist, nor is he some kind of a hack Apollonian rhymster. Attempting to judge him (as you insist on doing) in those bounds, betrays not simply a lack of knowledge of his work, but the provenance of art and poetry in general.

    For the love of God spare me. Seriously, nuke every Arts department on the planet and set them doing something useful where they talk less balls. Heaney can be judged as a person, in which case he is perfectly capable of refusing requests based on fear of consequence. Not that I believe he did, but we are talking about a talented local poet, not a fucking demigod.

    He is also perfectly capable of writing on a topic without losing his intergrity or descending into hackery if someone requests soem support and he decides after reflection that it is something he feel strongly about. It’s moot anyway, the request wasn’t for a poem, the request was for some show of support — the suggestion in this thread was a dedication.

    He didn’t. He was well within his rights for justa bout any reason. Years later, he recollects differently from the other party. None of us will know the truth unless someone comes up with a time machine, but both men probably sincerely believe their versions. The End.

  • For the record – I did not ask Seamus Heaney to support the IRA prisoners but to consider speaking out about the mistreatment of the prisoners – which is now generally accepted as having happened though it was denied at the time. What was in my original blog has been left out of this discussion. In 1979 and 1980 I had approached many people in public life to ask them to make some kind of statement objecting to the treatment of the blanket men and the women in Armagh Prison. For example, I saw Douglas Gageby, the late editor of the ‘Irish Times’, in Dublin Airport as both of us were returning from abroad and I lobbied him. He agreed to meet up and I had a meeting with him in Westmoreland Street which resulted in Gageby writing an editorial in the paper. Similarly, Archbishop O Fiaich spoke out about the conditions in the H-Blocks. That was all I was asking of Seamus Heaney.

  • “But Seamus ain’t no journalist, nor is he some kind of a hack Apollonian rhymster. Attempting to judge him (as you insist on doing) in those bounds, betrays not simply a lack of knowledge of his work, but the provenance of art and poetry in general.”

    Mick,

    I do not think that is what I am doing, i’m judging him as a man, who had decided to give the prisoners a degree of public support, but reversed that decision after feeling insulted by Danny’s attempt to pressurize him. Perhaps I am missing something, but to me this is what this all boils down to. One does not have to understand, like or dislike Seamus’s work to feel a little let down that he took this stance.

    As to the provenance of art and poetry in general, that is a different issue and something this thread has provoked me to look at sometime via my blog. As to poetry, I do not see it as being any different from any art form, we all view it through the narrow prism of our own prejudices, likes and dislikes, etc. You included.

  • Mick Fealty

    Many thanks for that Danny!!

    And an ‘indeed’ to your last there Mick. I am more than happy to argue it out.

    My case here has been based on a close-ish reading of two things: one, Heaney’s actual work; and, two, his own polemics on the uneasy relationship between the poet’s art in those troubled times and the political world around him.

    It was an issue that pre-occupied him for a large chunk of his working life. Something that seems to come to a certain equilibrium in his book Spirit Level as, erm, ‘spirit-level’ hinted earlier. You can ignore or exclude that from your consideration of the arguments here, but I would suggest that that’s only pushing those imaginary stilts up the higher.

    I don’t have Heaney on the top of my own personal preferences of poets. But then again this particular discourse is not, as Ken tries to suggest, simply about poetry or art. It’s about intellectual and emotional freedom to tell the truth steadily in what has been a relatively closed and polarised society.

  • Kensei

    But then again this particular discourse is not, as Ken tries to suggest, simply about poetry or art. It’s about intellectual and emotional freedom to tell the truth steadily in what has been a relatively closed and polarised society.

    Me? Oh no. My point is that I want to get my utter distaste for arts people using any argument containing anything any words similar or related to “provenance of arts and poetry”.

    http://xkcd.com/451/

    🙂

  • It’s about intellectual and emotional freedom to tell the truth steadily in what has been a relatively closed and polarised society.

    Mick

    Surly we all need to admit to ourselves that our truth is based on how we see things. So when it comes to art, is there any absolute truth?

    It is not a case of me deliberately ignoring what you say was an issue that pre-occupied Seamus for a large chunk of his working life. I am sure you are correct in this, It is just I am not a great lover of his poetry [and I have struggled with it] thus it is not something I have spent much time mulling over.

    Such is the way with many of us who have not been formally educated,[uni etc] thus when it comes to art we tend to spend our time with things we like or enjoy 😉

    What I still cannot get my head around, is after talking with Dan, Seamus withdrew from his previous position of probably going to offer the prisoners a degree of public support. If this is true, what other reason could be given for his decision than he put his own hurt and pride before the suffering of the prisoners.

    If he was in all probability going to dedicate a poem to the prisoners before Danny spoke to him and decided not to for the reason he has given after their conversation, what other conclusion could a rational person draw.

    Either the prisoners deserved his support or they did not, we are told he decided to support them and Morrison basically cocked it all up, which to me sounds like a bit of a get out of jail argument and is totally unfair to Danny given his then job and links with the prisoners.

    But hell what do I know about poets, I’m a fan of Smokey Robinson and Bob Dylan.

  • Dave

    “Dave’s contributions here have one big problem: he’s just plain wrong. It’s clear he hasn’t read Heaney after doing the school cannon we all did.

    His point about career fades like snow off a ditch to anyone who reads the poems above. These are powerful and carefully weighted texts. They are also honestly and truthfully told; as anyone who lived through those times would tell you.” – Mick Fealty

    Mick, despite your verbose waffle, you still haven’t produced even a snippet of text from Heaney that refutes my original claim that he was no more controversial than producing “the occasional oblique and politically innocuous reference” to the nature and causes of the conflict in NI.

    The lines you quote would not have gained him hack reviews that were awarded to other Irish artists who were critical of the British state, would they? Therefore they did not threaten a market that was a key one for any English language writer coming out of Ireland to break.

    You seem, rather innocently, to assume than you have refuted the charge that he was careerist by claiming that he did not seek to become Poet Laureate in the UK as if any reasonable person would conclude that is what was meant by furthering one’s writing career.

    In fact, keeping his mouth shut was a tactic that was well rewarded by the British media. While people won’t remember how self-censorship was subtly promoted among Irish writers by the expedient of damning ‘literary’ criticism of those who didn’t hold to the official British line on the nature and causes of the conflict in NI, most will have observed the progressive remnants of it in the condemnation that was heaped on such films as Michael Collins (hysterical) and The Wind That Shakes the Barley (less hysterical).

  • Mick Fealty

    Dave, that’s not for me to refute so much as you to prove. You said he’d ignored Bloody Sunday; turns out he hadn’t.

    Try at least to approach the original material, then we might at least be ‘game on’…

  • Dave,

    Seamus Deane came out in support of the hunger strikes. Never did the reviews of his books in the British academic press any harm whatsoever. Perhaps you can provide examples of what you are saying?

  • J O’Donovan

    Seamas Heaney is a rich man’s Paddy Kavanagh.
    Bangers Morrisson is a poor man’s Brendan Behan.

    Both are writers, of a sort. I particularly liked Bangers’ leeter in the Irish Times complaining of the food on the Belfast Dublin train. Kevin Myers’ reply was, as they say, priceless.

    By the way: was Bangers the only Provie big wig who was not on the MI5 pay list?