Feature Articles

THE SEAMUS HEANEY CENTRE FOR POETRY by Alan Gillis

(Poetry Ireland News, March/April 2004)

The Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry is an exciting new venture for Irish poetry. Attached to the School of English at Queen's University Belfast, the Centre aims to consolidate and perpetuate the dynamic tradition of poetry writing and criticism that Alan Gillishas bloomed in Belfast over the past four decades. In the spirit of that tradition, we aim to be an international centre of excellence, deeply rooted in the local community, but branching out to embrace the rest of Ireland, Britain, and beyond. We are both an academic institution and a public centre, of benefit to students and scholars, writers and readers of poetry in the community, and the public at large.

Director of the Centre is Professor Ciaran Carson, the acclaimed author of such prize-winning and ground-breaking works as The Irish for No, Belfast Confetti, First Language, The Star Factory, Shamrock Tea, and Breaking News. Widely acknowledged to be as important for Belfast as Joyce is for Dublin, Carson's translations of Doinas, Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Rimbaud and, most recently, Dante, exemplify the international and historical depth and breadth of his oeuvre. As such, Carson personifies the Centre's high standards of excellence, and its high-spirited blend of local rootedness and global openness. As someone who both plays and writes about traditional music, moreover, his versatility will ensure that the Centre facilitates ideas of poetry as an art form deeply entwined with music and the visual arts, with its roots creeping into every aspect and element, nook and cranny, of our culture.

A flourishing MA in Creative Writing is housed within the Centre, tutored by poet Medbh McGuckian, novelist Glenn Patterson, and playwright Daragh Carville. These influential and innovative writers have offices in the Centre, as does the writer-in-residence, Sinéad Morrissey (recently short listed for the TS Eliot Prize), who tutors creative writing workshops and reading groups that are generally free and open to the public (details on website, see below). Exciting new poet Leontia Flynn is also at work in the Centre.

Whilst the MA is central to our creative writing culture, Sinéad's work exemplifies the degree to which we are very much a public institution, open to the wider community beyond the University. Indeed, in a beautiful new Reading Room, the Centre is building up a library of contemporary poetry which will be the first of its kind in Northern Ireland, and which will provide a major new resource for writers, critics, and lovers of poetry from home and abroad. This library will include a major new archive of Seamus Heaney's television and radio appearances, which we have plans to build upon, creating the most comprehensive multimedia poetry archive in Ireland. This Reading Room, and all such resources, will hopefully be open very soon.

The heartbeat of the Centre pulses through its vibrant series of literary events for the general public. To date, these have included readings by Fleur Adcock, Ian Duhig, Alasdair Gray, Vona Groarke, Robert Minhinnick, Sean O'Brien, Dennis O'Driscoll and Don Paterson; lectures by Neil Corcoran, Robert Crawford, Roy Foster, Andrew Motion and Justin Quinn; and creative writing workshops by Douglas Dunn and WN Herbert. All these events have been free of charge for the audience, as are a series of upcoming readings. On top of this, the Centre contributes to the artistic culture of the community by liasing with, and contributing to, local festivals such as the annual Belfast Festival at Queens, and the Between the Lines Festival at Belfast's Crescent Arts Centre. We also have plans to work with institutions such as (among others): Poetry Ireland in Dublin, The Verbal Arts Centre in Derry, and The Poetry House in St. Andrews, Scotland.

In terms of criticism, the Centre is staffed by Professor Emerita Edna Longley and, in the near future, Michael Allen. These critics have, for thirty years or more, consistently defined and challenged our understanding of twentieth-century Irish and international poetry, and we are delighted that they will continue to research at the Centre and contribute to its bustling hive of activities. Moreover, Fran Brearton, author of The Great War in Irish Poetry, and a forthcoming book on Michael Longley, is the Centre's Assistant Director, whilst Alan Gillis, author of the forthcoming Irish Poetry of the 1930s, is at work as a Research Fellow. The efforts of these critics are augmented by staff from the School of English such as Brian Caraher, David Dwan, Eamonn Hughes, and Michael McAteer, who provide a wide range of expertise on writers and subjects from the Romantic era to the Postmodern.

The Centre will soon be home to researchers at PhD level, and has plans to host post-doctoral scholars and visiting international critics (we have already housed a guest scholar from China). Our explicit aim is to provide a setting in which both writers and critics of poetry can meet, chat, challenge, and inspire one another. To this end, we plan to stage critical lectures, workshops, and seminars that will be at the cutting-edge of academic scholarship, but which will also be of interest to the general reader and writer of poetry. The Centre further aims to gain on its momentum through producing a top-rate literary journal, a pamphlet series, a regular stream of residencies, and, bi-annually, a major international poetry conference.

The Centre was officially opened by QUB Vice-Chancellor Sir George Bain, Seamus Heaney and Ciaran Carson on Monday, 16th February of this year. The emblem of the Centre is the blackbird: a symbol of song and freedom; of beauty and mystery; of clarity and beguilement; of voices heard from the margins; of local colour; of flight and cunning. We very much hope to provide a vital and lasting contribution towards the enjoyment of poetry by everyone, and we warmly welcome you to contact us and join us at The Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry, The School of English, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast BT7 1NN; tel. 028 9097 1070 (048 9097 1070 from RoI), Mon-Fri, (9am to 1pm);e-mail shc@qub.ac.uk; visit the website at www.qub.ac.uk/heaneycentre

Alan Gillis is Research Fellow at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry. His debut collection, Somebody, Somewhere was published by Gallery in 2004.

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