I had only one day at StAnza this year – but even that’s an improvement. In the past, although I knew it was coming up, it always took me by surprise until it was too late. This year, however, I had the Thursday, because it was Seamus Heaney day.
I did go to other things – I heard Jacob Polley and Anna Crowe read and I went to an excellent lecture by Grevel Lindop about myth, magic and the future of poetry, which will need another post to deal with it, but there is no doubt that it was definitely Seamus Heaney day.
The event was completely sold out, and so were the overflow events where the reading was broadcast to other rooms in the building. It was typical of Seamus Heaney’s generosity that during the interval he went up to the other rooms to greet the people there too.
I saw him read once before at the Edinburgh Book Festival (I’d sat on the internet waiting for bookings to open that time too), just before his stroke. That was some performance – completely at home with his work and the audience and the questions, full of humour and generosity. The stroke has taken some of the strength and the confidence, but it hasn’t otherwise diminished him in any way. He read a mixture of new poems, (there will be a new book out in September), personal favourites and requests. My daughters would have been pleased that he didn’t do either The Death of a Naturalist or Digging both of which they still resent doing at school; in fact I think he must feel a certain reserve about Digging himself, because he read instead a poem where “a pen is a pen”. (I know how he feels about that one. I do still read Walking on Water sometimes, but you know, life moves on–).
There seemed to be a lot about death in the set – his father’s, his brother’s, his mother’s, and perhaps looking forward to his own, but there was also a sense of new inspiration, poems about wind and kites and healing that would lead you to think that perhaps post stroke, Seamus Heaney might be slightly less exuberant as a writer and reader, but more quietly and deeply reflective. I can’t wait for the new book.