Talking, as I was in my last post, of getting back to words, I must write about a memorable poetry reading that I was lucky enough to catch last Saturday. I happened to be up in Manchester the day Paul Muldoon and Don Paterson were reading as part of the Manchester Literature Festival.
Seamus Heaney was to have read with Muldoon, and so this proved to be a moving event. Barely two weeks after Heaney’s death Paterson and Muldoon paid tribute, bringing the spirit of Seamus into the Cosmo Rodewald Concert Hall.
Don Paterson prefaced his set by saying he made no apology for the sadness embedded in his choice of work. Clearly still in melancholy mood at Heaney’s passing, Paterson recalled the text message he’d received from another poet on hearing the news. It read: We’re on our own now. He’d had to agree, said Paterson, “it’s as if the head of the household has gone.”
He then read with great affection a clutch of Heaney’s poems, including 'St Kevin and The Blackbird,' before moving on to reading his own recent and unpublished work – all sonnets. Paterson admitted he’d had a period of two years not writing poetry and that it is to Heaney’s work he turns when needs to be reminded of how poetry works.
Paul Muldoon also paid tribute to the influence Heaney had had on his own work by first reading a Heaney poem, then moving on to one of his own that, in some way, owed a debt to or had a corresponding image.
As this reading was also part of the British and Irish Contemporary Poetry Conference, the audience was thick with poets, among them: David Wheatley, Kathleen Jamie, Deryn Rees-Jones, Helen Mort and Amanda Dalton.
There was much murmuring of agreement when Muldoon ended the evening by saying, “The spirit of Seamus will hang over us for a long time,” then, as if to prove the point, read Heaney’s ‘Harvest Bow’ with such tender pacing, particularly in the last stanza:
end of art is peace
Could be the motto of this frail device
That I have pinned up on our deal dresser—
Like a drawn snare
Slipped lately by the spirit of the corn
Yet burnished by its passage, and still warm.