I watched a documentary on Heaney from the BBC via YouTube. Out Of The Marvellous. Well the last word is appropriate. In it, in a discussion with Paul Muldoon, he says that the role of a writer [someone who wasn’t tied to the world of farm and sweat] was almost revered but he didn’t deliberately see it as his route out!
Thursday 12th January 2016
Another dreek day. Cold, wet, darkish and that was just the day encapsulated. Staying in does not help either of us as we need the outdoors even just to walk. Spent most of the day reading through Opened Ground paralleled by Corcoran’s Critical Study. If I merely followed the poems with the text analysis, I’d be there forever. I’ve taken to reading the selected section ahead of the crit. There are some gaps and I’ll have to amend this deficit somehow as I seem to have either lost or given away much of what was my early Heaney poetry. Having said that, I’m interested in what Neil has to say although I do find him a tad ‘professorly’ at times [a crueller man would say pretentious] but as I never studied English at this level at any time nor moved in his circle of academe, I can’t say much more than overly professorial.
Reading itself is a great pleasure especially in an area where I feel a kinship. The times I argued poetry at TASC with John, John, Eddie, Caroline & co, plus the input from Reevus and Pete Saunders are warm memories if starting to disappear in their own historic golden realm of myth. Below are the lines which first hooked me and I guess countless others in the mid to late 60s and were to be drilled into countless O Level and GCSE kids thereafter.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.
Did Heaney consciously see Poetry and being a professional Poet as his route out of the rural poverty envisaged by Kavanagh; but not the experience of Heaney as a child or was it just the reality of being what he was, a great Poet in the making?
Description of ‘Peasant’ by Patrick Kavanagh
Although the literal idea of the peasant is of a farm labouring person, in fact a peasant is all that mass of mankind which lives below a certain level of consciousness. They live in the dark cave of the unconscious and they scream when they see the light.
Well that was a starting title for a post 2017 moment. After sitting on the couch for what seems weeks, watching a lot of TV of the Lewis, Cracker kind, a start had to be made into the seeming piles of books stored away in the wardrobe. Trouble is I began with Neil Corcoran’s The Poetry of Seamus Heaney .and that was the first mistake; I’m a sucker for Heaney. That lasted through the first few pages of background biography and then came the curve ball; Patrick Kavanagh! I seem to remember trying to read him at TASC maybe 46 years ago or even more. God, I do wander off……….
Well, in Neil’s link to Kavanagh, and the influence on Heaney, the obvious route he pointed to was the rural rumination. Not the bucolic romanticism of John Clare but the man of the land who has used his experiences and addressed his needs as a poet through his vernacular. [ Jeeze, I sound like a Corcoran!]
Anyway, off I went on the tangent / curve and found myself immersed in The Great Hunger. What a revelation of the earthiness and loneliness of rural Irish peasantry and poverty; not only physical but also the mental.[ Reeves and Reeves’s dad would skin me for being so petty minded] The single state of many of the blokes who filled my world in Carlisle KSC and some of the lads at TASC derives from that world where the dominatrix mother keeps her kids celibate and close to the apron strings. Patrick McGuire is the man in The Great Hunger but he could be anyone of many. There but for god etc.…………
The sexual tension, the repression, the insensibility to many of the things going on around, the repressed or averted futures, all lost in a promise of something better will come tomorrow or next year or next birthday. Think of the two Johnnies in the KSC, no family to return to in Carlisle and , no homeland, no anything beyond the bottle and the betting shop, Think of big Liam at TASC who had the same flaws but thought at least he had a future as a teacher once he’d shrugged off his past. Think of us, the better educated working class / lower middle class English kids who saw a different future through the eyes of a different past. Although it was the Irish lads who mocked him, we just looked on and wondered. Ok, my great grandfather was a train carriage cleaner and his son was seemingly a journeyman tailor, but all their experiences were urban, the rural from Antrim or Armagh were far behind them. Grandma Mary T was a teacher as was her sister. The rural, bucolic was very far behind.
more will follow on this theme
Nope, not the series on Tv much loved by my son but rather that which marks out someone as being ,for real, in this world. I don’t count the cheapness of the myriad friends some may have on Face Book but the real friends one can rely on in times of love, laughter, cares, woes, successes, grief, pain and happiness.
Another quote for the day, from W B Yeats
“Think where man’s glory most begins and ends,
and say my glory was I had such friends. “
The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost
I guess I’ve cited this so many times recently that I have to copy it into these pages. There have been so many chance taking of directions over the years and the realisation that where I am with the family and friends I have is down to taking one route then another route from this then another ad infinitum. I can’t look back and say that I should have done this or that because I can’t reinvent the past and I’m not a Hinu or evn a Buddhist believing in a cycle of rebirth. I am what I am, so as with Frost, I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I have a great deal of sympathy with this poem as charting personal history in my head, I sometimes get wistful and replace some of the tiles which make up my personal jigsaw.
What if ………………………………..
I’d stayed the course at seminary?
Not met Gordon Head and been persuaded that I’d be better off with a higher qualification and career than insurance?
I’d stayed in Yorkshire after TASC and settle to a career as an Art or English teacher, Delma, Diana or whoever?
I’d missed out on Norway, Dalston, Slough, Heythrop, STM etc?
I’d not met Mary & had kids?
I’d not ended up in Brent Knoll?
The progressions are infinite and the honest answer is that time is fixed but events flow. You can’t step into the same river twice.
Just sent the PBS link below, to Paul for Frances’ niece who is a big advocate for native Americans/First Nations. The content reminded me closely of the comments we heard on PEI in 2015 when we visited a reservation and its small museum. Churches once again figure highly in the stories.
Will be worth opening and reading again at a later date.