November 13, 2013
Poets and writers pay tribute to Seamus Heaney
by Claire Kelley
Irish and American writers gathered to read their favorite Seamus Heaney poems for an overflowing audience in Cooper Union’s Great Hall on Monday night. Heaney’s wife Marie and son Michael were in attendance, and those who read, including Paul Muldoon, singer Paul Simon, and poet Kevin Young knew Heaney personally.
Alice Quinn, the executive director of the Poetry Society of America who organized the event, gave opening remarks. Each presenter read a poem or two and offered contextual notes or short reflections about Heaney as a poet.
Frank Bidart urged the audience to read Heaney’s 1995 Nobel Prize acceptance speech. Sven Birkerts read “Man and Boy” and noted that the Irish phrase “and Bob’s your uncle” in the poem could be understood to mean “and there you go.” Jonathan Galassi, publisher at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, read two Heaney poems that were inspired by Italian poet Giovanni Pascoli. Edward Hirsch read “Bogland” and claimed that Heaney once told him—possibly in jest—that he wrote the poem as he was putting on his pants, and that there is a “relationship between getting dressed and the movement in the poem.” Anne Waldman offered a dramatic reading of lines from Heaney’s translation of Beowulf.
The presentation ended with a recording of Heaney reading “Bogland” which Edward Hirsch had also read earlier in the evening, noting that the bog symbolized the “buried memory of previous generations.”
Below is a list of the presenters and their selections.
Claire Kelley is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House.