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A Wind Freshened and an Anchor Weighed: Reflections on the Career of Seamus Heaney, NEMLA 2015, 9/30/14; 4/30-5/3/15
full name / name of organization:
Bill Waddell / Northeast Modern Language Association
When Seamus Heaney died last August, he seemed to be a kind of figure the literary world had not known for some time: a poet who had academic cachet and a common touch, and perhaps more to the point, a general readership; a poet absorbed by his own art yet seemingly equally at home as a critic; a fiercely exacting writer who was also something of a smiling, public man on two continents; a thoroughly international presence who never let go of the local. For this session, I’d hope to assemble a range of presentations that would explore from various perspectives the nature of Heaney’s particular (to stop short of saying ‘unique’) career and achievement, and the inferences we might draw from it about poetry and its audience(s). On what will his achievement ultimately stand? On what should it? What might it mean that arguably the most celebrated poet of the late 20th and early 21st centuries has visible and audible roots in what at least looks like a pre-modern pastoral culture? Or that his best known “digging” metaphor for his work seems to point so resolutely to the past? Are we wrong in seeing it that way? How do the principles of Heaney’s criticism illuminate his own work? What do they offer, what does his example offer, to contemporary poets going forward? Is his aesthetic, his evolving sense of purpose, shareable? Is anyone’s? It’s early, no doubt, to be attempting any sort of retrospective on Heaney—and most of us would much prefer to be looking forward to his next book anyway—but he has been eminent for so long that it feels as though we’ve been preparing for just this task for some time.