Poetry Ireland Review Issue 113 Editorial
Poetry Ireland Review Issue 113
A Seamus Heaney Special Issue
The best-selling Seamus Heaney Special Issue is dedicated to the memory of the late Seamus Heaney and contains 46 poems by Seamus Heaney with essays on the poems from 50 distinguished poets. Issue 113 is now also available as a clothbound hardcover with dust jacket.
He was our best poet, by a country mile. Since Seamus Heaney’s death on 30 August last year, nothing about Irish poetry is, or can be, the same. When I was invited to take up the editorship at Poetry Ireland Review, I knew the first thing I’d want to do was to put together an issue dedicated to him. Being the person he was, many poets and friends and colleagues had already paid warm tribute to his gifts as a poet and as a man. Instead, I wanted to focus on the work, on the rich haul of extraordinary poems he has left in his wake.
Reading his work is a way of seeing what poetry is capable of; what a well-made poem, in its wildest dreams, can manage to achieve. We all learn from him. So I invited fifty (mostly) younger poets from Ireland, the UK and the USA to write a short essay on a single poem that mattered to them. ‘Younger’ because I thought it would be a working gauge of the depth and breadth of his poetic heritage. The countries I chose because Seamus had a presence, professionally and personally, in each.
What I hoped for was a close reading, a careful and insightful probe at how each poem worked – something akin to looking inside a longcase clock from the eighteenth century to examine the mechanism. I knew it wouldn’t explain the thing, that a poem doesn’t work mechanically (and that this might be exactly why we love a poem, when we do), but I thought it would be interesting to open up the back of the thing and have a wee peek anyway. Typically, the response I got was that nothing would give the poet more pleasure than to sit with a Seamus Heaney poem and try to work out just how it was that he pulled off the magic tricks of his most magical, much-loved poems.
I left the choice of Heaney poem entirely up to each poet. I thought it wouldn’t matter if there were crossovers; that this would be, in fact, an enjoyable bonus for the reader, to see the one poem approached from different sightlines, different footholds, as it were. In fact, there are precious few crossovers. It seems a simple thing to say that his achievement is so profound and his influence so ample that so many poets love so many different poems, but it is not. Is there, I wonder, another poet for whom the same claim could be made?
Guidebook, handbook, tribute album: the essays in this issue are even more than I’d hoped for. I’m very grateful to each poet for taking on the task with such grace and enthusiasm. Wise, generous and alert, these fifty essays prove, I hope, a fitting honouring of a poet who mattered so profoundly to us writers and readers, for whom his work so marvellously endures.